I review Bombshell, Uncut Gems, and Underwater. I get straight to the point and explain what worked and what didn't in each film.

Rapid Reviews: Bombshell (2019), Uncut Gems (2019), Underwater (2020)

Kellen Aguilar Reviews Leave a Comment

A movie poster for Jay Roach’s Bombshell. From Rotten Tomatoes: ‘Starring Academy Award (R) winner Charlize Theron, Academy Award (R) winner Nicole Kidman, Academy Award (R) nominee John Lithgow and Academy Award (R) nominee Margot Robbie, based on the real scandal, BOMBSHELL is a revealing look inside the most powerful and controversial media empire of all time, Fox News, and the explosive story of the women who brought down the infamous man who created it.'

Cast: Charlize Theron (Megyn Kelly), Nicole Kidman (Gretchen Carlson), Margot Robbie (Kayla Pospisil), John Lithgow (Roger Ailes), Allison Janney (Susan Estrich), Kate McKinnon (Jess Carr), Malcolm McDowell (Rupert Murdoch), Mark Duplass (Douglas Brunt), Alice Eve (Ainsley Earhardt), Alanna Ubach (Jeanine Pirro), Nazanin Boniadi (Rudi Bakhtiar)
Director: Jay Roach
Writer: Charles Randolph
Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd
Editor: Jon Poll
Composer: Theodore Shapiro
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for sexual material and language throughout.
Run Time: 108 minutes

Bombshell tells the story of how some of the most successful women at Fox News exposed the network’s chauvinistic culture and ended Roger Ailes’s career. At the height of the 2016 presidential election, Fox & Friends morning show co-host Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) sues Ailes (John Lithgow) for sexual harassment after he fires her. She tries to get other women to speak out against Ailes, but her former colleagues are silent or publicly supportive of their boss. Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) is one of the silent ones. Her perspective shows how the inner workings of Fox News kept female employees quiet and allowed Ailes to get way with his predatory behavior. We see its effect on ambitious up-and-comer Kayla Pospisil, played by Margot Robbie. Though Robbie’s character is fictional, her disillusionment over the course of the film is reflected in many women’s stories of working at the titanic conservative news network.

The performances in Bombshell are riveting. The clash between Carlson’s subdued ambition and Pospisil’s go-getter naïveté reveal the gap in experience between the seasoned television host and the newbie gunning for her spot. Lithgow portrays Ailes as a man whose paranoia and impulses are as barely contained as his massive body. Theron is especially convincing as Kelly, right down to her controlled assertiveness and husky voice.

While the performances in Bombshell are worth the price of admission, the piercing look into real life events it sets out to give is somewhat blunted by its approach. The film uses guerrilla-style camerawork and inserts its actors into real news footage. Theron and Kidman wear make-up prosthetics to better resemble the women they are pretending to be. Slideshows with real photographs and fancy transitions deliver exposition like a college capstone project. It suggests the film’s topical subject matter may have been done greater justice as a documentary than a star-studded Hollywood movie.

A movie poster for Josh and Benny Safdie's Uncut Gems. From Rotten Tomatoes: ‘From acclaimed filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie comes an electrifying crime thriller about Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score. When he makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime, Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.'

Cast: Adam Sandler (Howard Ratner), Julia Fox (Julia), LaKeith Stanfield as (Demany), Kevin Garnett (Kevin Garnett), Idina Menzel as (Dinah), Eric Bogosian (Arno), Mike Francesa (Anthony), Judd Hirsch (Gooey)
Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Writer: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Cinematographer: Darius Khondji
Editor: Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Composer: Daniel Lopatin
Genre: Crime Thriller, Drama, Comedy
Rating: R for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use.
Run Time: 130 minutes

In Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler gives an exhilarating performance as an indebted diamond dealer named Howard Ratner. Risk is Howard’s raison d’etre; he is a compulsive gambler who lives to play the odds, even if it means putting everything on the line. The film follows Howard has he wheels, deals, and bets his way around New York’s Diamond District. We see him lend an Ethiopian black opal to Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, then pawn off the ring Garnett gives him as collateral and run to his bookie to place lightning bets on a basketball game.

Uncut Gems struggles to keep pace with Howard, who’s energy never dips below full-throttle. The film’s editing and sound mixing sometimes seems like a whiplash-inducing flurry of garbled scenes that threatens the narrative’s coherence. Like any addict, Howard doesn’t know how to push the brakes. His mind never stops scheming new angles to work, just as his mouth never stops moving. It is exhausting to watch Howard operate. His thirst for thrill alienates his wife (Idina Menzel) and daughter, draws out debt-collecting goons, and attracts hangers-on, like his mistress Julia (Julia Fox).

Though overstimulation is probably directors Josh and Benny Safdie’s goal, Sandler holds Uncut Gems together and keeps us from tapping out. The former Saturday Night Live star has taken on notable dramatic roles in films like Punch Drunk Love (2002), Reign over Me (2007), and the The Meyerowitz Stories (2017), but his performance in Uncut Gems may be the best of his career. In an interview with Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air, the Safdies explained that there is something ineffable about Sandler that made him the right person to play Howard. Is it that Sandler makes Howard real? Human? Worthy of empathy? Deserving of disgust? You can try to describe it in words, but when you watch Howard in motion, you simply believe it.

A movie poster for William Eubank's Underwater. From Wikipedia: ‘Underwater is a 2020 American science fiction horror film directed by William Eubank and written by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad. The film is produced by Chernin Entertainment and stars Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, and T.J. Miller. It follows a group of scientists at the bottom of the ocean who encounter a group of creatures after a mysterious shaking destroys their laboratory. Underwater was released in the United States on January 10, 2020, by 20th Century Fox. It received mixed reviews from critics and has grossed $15 million worldwide.'

Cast: Kristen Stewart (Norah Price), T. J. Miller (Paul), Vincent Cassel (The Captain), Jessica Henwick (Emily), Gunner Wright (Lee), John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie
Director: William Eubank
Story: Brian Duffield
Screenplay: William Eubank, Adam Cozad, Brian Duffield
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli
Editor: Brian Berdan, Todd E. Miller
Original Music Composer: Brandon Roberts, Marco Beltrami
Genre: Action, Horror
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language.
Run Time: 95 minutes

Underwater is a B-movie mash-up of the disaster and monster genres set miles below the earth’s surface. Our protagonist is Norah, a mechanical engineer played by Kristen Stewart. Norah tells us when you live underwater for too long, it becomes hard to know when you’re dreaming and when you’re awake. A rumbling in the rig she’s stationed on breaks her reflections. She investigates, but is knocked off her feet as the walls around her collapse and water rushes in. She escapes and regroups with five other survivors. To get off the wrecked rig, they must walk across the ocean floor of the Mariana Trench and face whatever is out there to reach the last remaining escape pods.

Underwater boasts strong, if heavily inspired visuals. The set and costume designs are detailed, dark, and gritty in ways that call back to the grungy claustrophobia of the Nostromo from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Director William Eubank riffs off the space horror classic in several other ways, such as the characters’ science and blue-collar backgrounds, an elusive company putting profits over people, or Norah’s boyishness in homage to Ellen Ripley. There is even what could be described as a reverse chest-burster scene. On the plus side, this all makes Underwater‘s aesthetic feel consistent and immersive.

While Underwater is interesting to look at, it suffers from poor writing and sound. The script hits all the familiar narrative beats, but does little to set Underwater apart, save for a forced environmental message and a reveal in the third act that ups the ante. The result is a movie that drags in the middle, especially when the special effects overcompensate and make it difficult to tell what’s happening on-screen. With the exception of Stewart’s Norah, the characters are generally flat. One of our protagonists is only referred to as “the Captain,” and while Vincent Cassel does well in the role, an Arthur Dallas he is not. There is a contrived romance subplot, and T.J. Miller’s ill-timed humor and quirkiness make him seem miscast. But the film’s most annoying quirk is that its sound mixing is murkier than its setting, making the dialogue near-unintelligible throughout.

For all it’s shortcomings, I appreciate that Underwater is movie that sets more modest goals than rethinking science-fiction horror. It wants to entertain in a contained way; the movie doesn’t sequel bait or try to start a cinematic universe. Fans of the Alien franchise and similar films will have some love for Underwater‘s look and feel. For those searching for more complexity in their underwater horror media, I recommend checking out something like Frictional Games’ survival horror video game, Soma (2015), which delivers compelling meditations on the intersection of consciousness, technology, and humanity through an environmentally and existentially terrifying scenario.

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