mechanical keyboard

Truly Ergonomic Cleave Keyboard Review

I’m no stranger to strange keyboard layouts, but the pre-built Cleave keyboard by the “Truly Ergonomic” company is a truly odd one. The layout on the Cleave is similar to static split layouts, with some big changes. Typical keyboards have the keys arranged in an offset grid layout with both columns and rows staggered in almost the same way they have been for over a hundred years. Static split mechanical keyboard layouts like Alice and Arisu boards split the keyboard down the middle and angle the keys for more ergonomicness (a scientific term), and retain that typical keyboard staggering of both columns and rows that put your S D and F keys offset with the W E and R keys above. Here’s my review of the Wings for an example of an Arisu layout custom mechanical keyboard.

The Cleave rejects tradition and only staggers the columns, which leaves the rows in a more grid-like layout that isn’t as unfamiliar as a truly ortholinear keyboard. Entirely ortholinear keyboards have an exact grid where each key is lined up next to each other in the four cardinal directions without any staggering. Typical full-size keyboards have their number pad in a grid, ortholinear layouts expand the grid that to the entire keyboard and often remove the majority of the keys to concentrate on the letter keys and put the punctuation and quotes and brackets and everything else into layers of modifier keys around the grid.

There is still quite a bit of challenge even beyond the un-staggered rows on the Cleave. Many modifier keys are not where you would expect them. Enter is below and to the left of N and M. Backspace is a tall key just above Enter. Capslock is wisely replaced with a second Control key because Capslock is often a wasted key. I use it to access different layers of keys on truly programmable boards. The second cluster of Cleave directional keys between the left-hand modifiers and the space key are home, end, page-up, and page-down. Handy.

Unfortunately, the Cleave doesn’t work with QMK or VIA and instead uses key combinations to access remapping options with some defaults for different operating systems. This might be preferable if you work with computers where you are locked out of installing software like some workplaces, or if you just don’t want to have install software to remap your keyboard. I’d like more options for what each key does and so it feels a little limited to go back to keyboards that aren’t fully remappable.

The design Truly Ergonomic chose takes up way less space than a Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard without losing as many keys as most of my custom keyboards. You’ve still got an entire F-row here and dedicated keys like reverse-tab, cut, copy, and paste that could be very useful for developers and anyone else who does a lot of writing. The columnar stagger layout may be more ergonomic, I’m not an eronomicist so I wouldn’t know for sure, but it also puts a little more distance between some keys and the modifiers. That’s a little frustrating.

The Cleave has a shape as odd as the key layout with a metal plate in what custom mechanical keyboard nerds would call a low-profile position where the key switches are more exposed. The split halves have a small amount of space between them, and dedicated wrist rests for each half that are pretty tall and aren’t replaceable. These polyurethane foam pieces feel very firm and hopefully will take a long time to disintegrate. Without them the keyboard would look very odd, but you also can’t easily remove them if you didn’t want them at all. I don’t mind the wrist-rests, they work well for me and it is usually difficult to find a wrist-rest that suits this type of split keyboard.

The underside of the keyboard is plastic and has options for channeling the keyboard’s USB cable to the rear, left, and right. The USB cable is not replaceable, and only supports USB Type-A ports. Some computers and devices only support USB Type-C ports now, so a replaceable cable would have been great for compatibility and durability. There is also a sticker on the underside with various certifications, and reminders of a few key combinations to adjust the Cleave’s functionality for Windows, macOS, Europe/ISO and “Custom” along with those for adjusting the backlight and a warning that this keyboard won’t magically prevent your hands from disintegrating.

The Truly Ergonomic company guarantees their keyboards for up to 60 days with a money back guarantee unless it’s damaged by the user. However, they also recommend that users give the keyboards 30 days to learn the layout. It is definitely a substantial change as I haven’t used a solely column-staggered layout before. It took me a few hours to be able to play video games with the Cleave and then a few weeks to get up to full typing speed. Truly Ergonomic also claims that the Cleave is a patented design, so it is disappointing that anyone else would have to license it were they to want to replicate any ergonomic benefit. I’m not sure someone else would, it is a very unique layout, but it would be nice for anyone who does become attached to this layout to know that other keyboards could use it in perpetuity.

There are a few other fully split (two pieces of keyboard that can be positioned anywhere within cable distance) columnar keyboards available but none that I know of that have a static split layout with a columnar stagger like the Cleave.

The Cleave’s keycaps have shine-thru legends and adjustable white backlit SMD-mounted LEDs. The font is very fortunately not the cheap gamer font with broken legends that is so common on some pre-built mechanical keyboards. The legends are fine and it is almost always immediately apparent which key does what. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people will be able to find replacement keycaps to suit the Cleave’s unique layout.

Although the Cleave has hotswappable switches, and you can pick from either quieter browns, loud clicky tactile blues, or red linears when purchasing the keyboardit only supports optical switches  Truly Ergonomic wisely doesn’t refer to these by their color, it has always been confusing for new mechanical keyboard users to understand the differences especially when the colors go beyond brown, blue, and red. There are hundreds of non-optical switch choices out there and you can only replace these with certain other optical switches I couldn’t find any Outemu replacement optical switches online, even Aliexpress didn’t seem to sell them beyond one listing that doesn’t specify a quantity of how many you’re buying. Truly Ergonomic doesn’t even sell packages of switches for their users to replace them. That seems like a missed opportunity. The clicky blues on my review version of the Cleave are fun to type on even if they’re too loud for my family.

Truly Ergonomic claims that the Cleave is dust, water, and snack resistant, I did not test that functionality but one benefit to the Outemu optical switches is the box around the key switch stem that should help prevent crumbs or spills from getting inside the switch mechanism. Another nice thing about optical switches is that the most popular hotswap socket for mechanical keyboards, the Kailh hotswap socket, is notoriously unreliable due to the pin insertion popping out the socket which leaves the user with a damaged circuitboard that requires soldering skills to repair. The way to work around this is to support the socket with your hand while inserting the switch. So these optical switch sockets may be more durable in the long term because the switches don’t have pins to push out the socket.

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The overall look of the Cleave isn’t bad to me, but almost everyone I asked said they didn’t care for the style. I think the long-term health of our bodies is more important than how the tools we use look. The Cleave could be an improvement for some people over traditional keyboard layouts and I am glad to see more ergonomic layout choices although it is difficult to recommend any specific layout, you have to try these keyboards for yourself to know if they’ll help prevent or ease pain. I found that my hand pain was as diminished with the Cleave as it was with other ergonomic keyboards I use, but I can’t say that you’ll have the same experience and the Cleave definitely takes some time to get used to.

The way Truly Ergonomic prices the Cleave keyboard is weird, you can pay either $250 or $330 if you’d like the keyboard to be shipped sooner. Truly Ergonomic labels these options as different “support levels” in some odd conflation of crowdfunding and buying things from a business which is what you’re doing if you choose to buy the Cleave. I don’t know why anyone buying this keyboard would be willing to pay nearly a hundred dollars more for the keyboard to ship slightly quicker. The price for the Cleave is similar to higher-end ergonomic mechanical keyboards like the Kinesis Advantage series, the Matias lineup, and the Ergodox-EZ or ZSA Moonlander, so it isn’t outrageously expensive. A lot of people just won’t be able to afford an ergonomic keyboard that costs this much and will end up with the standard Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard if they’re able to get a replacement at all. That’s what I did for years before getting into custom mechanical keyboards. It’s even costlier to go through multiple types of ergonomic keyboards and switches to find one that actually feels more comfortable as we destroy our hands and wrists through repetitive strain injuries.

If Truly Ergonomic were to update the Cleave I hope they add more material options for the wrist-rest so that it can be replaced if it wears out, switch to regular Cherry MX clone switches, change to a detachable USB Type-C cable for durability and so that you can use it with C-only devices without a hub or adapter, enable full programmability using VIA and QMK, and maybe consider a higher profile design if they haven’t already. However, the layout overall is one thing I don’t think they should change. It is clearly an important choice on their part and you don’t end up choosing a static split layout like the Cleave unless you believe it’s the right one and they should stick with it. I’ll be switching to another keyboard for the switch options and programmability, though this is a perfectly fine choice if you don’t care about switch options and need a static split layout ergonomic mechanical keyboard with a lot of keys that ships soon and fully assembled.

3 out of 5 Keyboard Halves for the Cleave Keyboard.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Cleave keyboard was sent for free by Truly Ergonomic. Truly Ergonomic did not have any influence over this review.

Update January 5th, 2022: An earlier version of this review said that the only switches that would fit in the Cleave’s hotswap sockets are Outemu Optical Switches, this is incorrect and other optical switches may fit though I wasn’t able to test that. The review text has been updated to reflect this.

video games

Deathloop (2021) Review

Deathloop loading

I just finished playing Arkane’s Deathloop. It is a blend of time-looping first-person shooter with some interesting characters, light RPG style looting as is the norm these days, and other elements you might be familiar with from Arkane’s older games, to bring a great deal of good to what would otherwise be just four levels and a dozen or so weapons.

You play as Colt, a guy who wakes up with no recollection of his past which is the perfect narrative device for explaining a wild situation like the plot and gameplay of Deathloop. Colt gets to be ignorant of his surroundings due to the forgotten past as well as being a great character to learn about Blackreef, the island everyone in Deathloop is trapped on.

Blackreef has a ton of well done 1960’s style that is pretty fun and colorful, and the levels change a little bit as you progress between the time periods of morning, noon, afternoon, and evening where you can enter into one of the four different parts of Blackreef and shoot them up only to do it all again the next day. Time does not really progress while you’re in the levels, only in-between them. So you might go into one area in the morning and find that more of it is only accessible in the afternoon due to more ice forming on the water which is otherwise deadly to dip your toes into.

Colt wants to break the time loop in the world of Blackreef with more confidence and attitude than I’ve seen out of any previous protagonist from Arkane. Colt has a fantastic antagonist in Julianna who wants to protect the time loop and harasses Colt both over the radio, a very video game trope that I don’t honestly mind. Julianna also harasses Colt as an invader played either by the computer or other players who can drop into the otherwise single-player Deathloop and hunt down Colt. Blackreef is also protected by the Eternalists, and Visionaries. Eternalists are your run-of-the mill cannon fodder enemies of various stripes and the Visionaries are the rich people and other elites that made their way onto the island of Blackreef either by being rich and terrible, smart and terrible, or just terrible. Visionaries also have similar abilities to Colt and Juliana, so they are tougher to kill.

Deathloop title

Julianna and Colt both share an array of abilities acquired via Slabs, some of which are so familiar to players of Arkane’s prior catalog, like Shift which lets Colt or Julianna teleport for some distance or Karnesis which lets them telekinetically annihilate enemies. Players can upgrade those abilities by killing Julianna or Colt through the invasion process and looting their dropped items, or those dropped by the Visionaries and Eternalists. For example you can get an upgrade to Shift that extends the distance that you can teleport, or pauses any fall in mid-air to select where to teleport to.

Only Colt’s gameplay gets to really progress the campaign and unlock secrets and lore about Blackreef and you can (as Colt) turn off the online invasion system which restricts the game to an AI that is easier to cheese when it invades. Julianna’s progression seems to be strictly level-based progression and she cannot collect items from the levels to bring back to use later. The single player mode with AI invasions is also the only way to get an actual pause while you’re in-game, something I did not understand until I got got by another Julianna while I thought the game was paused.

Speaking of things I did not understand, the time loop on Blackreef lasts for one in-game day and you have the option to infuse weapons and their RPG-loot rarity tiered upgrades with an in-game currency of Residuum and keep them to the next day or choose to sacrifice them for more Residuum.

I had the wrong-headed idea that somehow you could infuse an item like a weapon and then still sacrifice it and get it again the next day. This is not the case and I’m sure the game explains it, but somehow playing well past midnight without enough sleep I must have forgotten that detail and kept starting with hardly anything and not realizing the loss. Embarrassingly, it wasn’t until I streamed Deathloop and someone watching pointed out the mistake I was making that I realized what was going on. Fortunately I at least had some trinkets and weapons that hadn’t been sacrificed and once I reacquired Shift through killing the visionary that drops it, I was more prepared than ever to re-run over the rest of the game and get more and better upgrades and weapons. Like a Souls game, the knowledge you pick up about Deathloop might let you speed through it even when you’ve lost everything else.

Deathloop inventory

I almost exclusively found myself going into levels carrying only the Shift slab that lets you teleport and leaving the second slab slot empty because I didn’t want to miss out on picking up a slab or losing one I cared about. This was in retrospect a real waste because I missed out on gameplay possibilities that are only available if you’re playing with a variety of the slabs. The same thing happened with the weapons, and I only brought one or two guns into the levels so that I wouldn’t risk dropping a weapon I cared about and would have one or two open slots to pick up new weapons of the three total you can bring into a level.

The good news about those loadouts is that you can really pick and choose what kind of gameplay you’re going to have through the items you select. Colt always has the option of a stealthy approach with the accessible machete. Murdering any of Blackreef’s inhabitants does leave behind a bit of smoke when they get got that bothers enemies, and quiter firearms seemed rare to find. After finding a few silenced weapons I embraced them fully and could usually get through most of a level before alerting the entire zone to Colt’s presence. Julianna doesn’t have to worry about that, because she is protecting the loop along with the other characters.

After about 45 hours with Deathloop, played almost entirely as Colt even though there is a completely separate progression system for Julianna, I am very happy with the game with a few exceptions.

For me, Julianna’s invasions are impossible to play. The latency over the internet between my location and any other player was so great that anything I did as Julianna was rolled back, even turning the camera with the mouse. I could gradually fight through the lag but it was always impossible for me to actually be successful as Julianna and kill Colt. Other players on the Steam forums for Deathloop complain about the same thing. When rollback is that painful it isn’t a fun experience for invaders or Colt, and the game might do better to give Julianna the option to quit out and be replaced with a bot, and of course maybe the game could try not to connect players if the network latency between them is so high. I’m not a network engineer, so of course there could be other solutions but either way, the current situation stinks. Most of the people who tried to invade my game had the same problem, but I did see more success on their side in connecting to my computer with lower latency than the other way around.

Unfortunately, the ending to Deathloop is disappointing and feels unfinished. Deathloop could have lent some mystery to the ending, or explained more, but instead you have a few choices and I didn’t really feel like any of them did justice to Colt and Julianna who are the stars of this show. Throughout Deathloop I was pretty entertained by Julianna and Colt taking verbal potshots at each other until one day Julianna literally said she had run out of things to say to my Colt and the radio dialog ended, but this was after I had completed the main campaign and done a bit more.

It is difficult for players to avoid how much Deathloop as a game wants to hold the player’s hand through certain parts by placing objective markers in-game and having two different idea boards that you can access to keep track of where exactly you are with different storylines.

Still, Deathloop is a good time and I’m always down for more of whatever Arkane wants to do with the formula of first-person adventuring and violence that they improve with style and a lot of substance. The time loop is more popular than ever with other games, but the Deathloop is so uniquely Arkane. I loved exploring Blackreef and even up until the end I was enjoying finding hidden spots in the levels and secret areas with more lore about the game while optimizing my loadout.

4/5 Loops for Deathloop.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
mechanical keyboard

The YMDK Wings

Mechanical Keyboards have really taken off in the past few years, and I’ve reviewed a few and in the last two years I’ve gone from buying off-the-shelf boards to building my own. They’re highly customizable and can fulfill a specific need or just look nice and supply you with a chance to test out your soldering skills.

The Alice layout by the designer TGR is designed to be something like a Microsoft Natural keyboard in form but using standard sizes of keycaps while also taking up less of your deskspace. Add a few arrow keys to the lower right to this more ergonomic split layout and you’ve got something more similar to the open-source Arisu layout and this is the layout of the YMDK Wings keyboard I’m reviewing today, with some changes.

This isn’t the first Arisu-layout keyboard I’ve owned, but it was the easiest to build. I’ve had two Gothic 70 keyboards, they’re made of layered acrylic and surprisingly cost about what the Wings cost even though the Wings is made of aluminum (and a thin strip of acrylic for under glow.)

I’ve had Alice layout boards before, but without arrows it’s not super fun to use and it doesn’t look as nice because the arrow keys provide an accent I appreciate. Believe it or not, there are mini-Alice layouts in the form of 40% boards that lack even the number keys and some characters like brackets, those are awesome little boards but brutal to learn.

So here we have the Wings by YMDK, it has arrow keys, it’s aluminum and it only costs $135 plus shipping if you get it without switches. Shipping was a bit more expensive because that came close to $30 for me, but even with that I knew this was a deal. Similar boards have cost upwards of $300 and compared to other boards made out plastic this was an absolute steal.

Still, I wondered how good the Wings could be. I’ve had trouble with value boards in the past. The Gothic 70 keyboards I had included the most beautiful PCB with a wonderful latticework design but that same design also caused electrical shorts that rendered my last one useless. An error with the USB-C connector in the revision 2 board caused it to only work with USB-C cables connecting to USB-C on the computer if the connector was in a certain orientation.

YMDK was upfront about the USB situation and say right on the product page for the Wings that it doesn’t work with C-to-C connections at all. Disappointing, but with a metal board I’m a little less concerned about portability.

One benefit to the Wings is that it isn’t a group buy, most custom mechanical boards are sold where people get together to make a bulk purchase to make the cost more affordable for everyone. That bulk purchase usually includes a wait of anywhere between a few months and at the maximum a year or more. However with the Wings you can get it right away. Shipping was quick and the Wings got here from YMDK in China less than a week after I ordered it and only two days of actual shipping time. Most things from mainland US take more longer to get here.

Upon receiving the Wings it was clear where it was a bit cheaper. The box was a simple black box without any branding. Inside you are immediately greeted by a small resealable bag that contained a USB-C to USB-A cable, optional aluminum and rubber coned feet, parts to assemble a few stabilizers, screws, and black rubber stick-on dots for a simpler foot option. It is very unusual for custom boards to include the stabilizers, cable, and aluminum cone feet but I appreciated it.

Unpacking the actual board revealed the aluminum shell, circuit board, and acrylic underglow layer. Everything was screwed together using typical cross-head screws, and I disassembled the case so that I could solder switches in.

No instructions were included for assembly, what instructions YMDK does make available online are mainly focused at programming the board using their online configurator.

Disassembly revealed that the acrylic layer is incredibly thin. It only lets a little bit of accent lighting through and doesn’t do much to diffuse that lighting, so it is very easy to count the WS2812B LEDs included with the board.

The thin acrylic also has a protective paper backing on either side, this is typical with any acrylic parts to protect them during shipping. I’ve seen warnings about delicately removing that protective backing on much thicker pieces of acrylic in the past so as not to accidentally break the plastic and so I took a lot of time to do that right.

The Wings’ aluminum shell feels sturdy, and the silver anodization on mine came out well. I haven’t noticed any imperfections in the finish. Soldering the PCB with the switches I chose, Boba Silent Tactile U4 switches from Gazzew was fast and easy. I did notice a few things about the circuit board that were odd.

Usually if you’re going to include a split-backspace option, where you can have two 1U keys (1U is the size of a standard letter or number key) instead of a full-size 2U backspace key, you’ll support that with the case. But the Wings‘ case only supports a split-backspace layout, despite the PCB very clearly having a space for a stabilizer under the backspace key. I’ve seen one other user who dremel’d their case to allow for a 2U backspace but I would not buy the Wings expecting that will work.

Single-color, in-switch, LEDs are also supported, but I didn’t know that in advance so I used switches with opaque tops. I might still install some white LEDs later-on but they’re not necessary or even supported by the default firmware. Oddly, the PCB has the cathode leg marked for each LED through-hole solder point but the printing isn’t great so it wasn’t immediately clear if the marking was half of a plus marking the anode or a minus marking the cathode leg of the LED. I confirmed with YMDK that it is in fact a minus for the cathode leg.

Typically a custom mechanical keyboard is built of a few pieces for the top and bottom and then a plate inbetween the two that the key switches pop into and those hold the circuitboard in place. The YMDK wings has what is called a superplate where that plate and the top of the keyboard are one piece. A superplate is easier to assemble in some ways, but it eliminates options for people who prefer to choose a separate material for the plate. Instead of getting to choose brass, fr4, or another material for the plate, you’re using aluminum because that is what the case is made out of. The fit of my case was also a little off, the cutout for one switch above the arrows didn’t match my key switches and it really took some work to get the switch to fit into the superplate there.

Once that was resolved, soldering the switches on was as easy as it should be. No beautiful lattice-work PCB to get in the way. Sadly the cone feet that came with my copy of the Wings included the wrong size of screw and couldn’t be used, but I had another set of feet and screws and they are a standard size. The screw hole for the feet is nicely counter-sunk and if I grab another set of screws I’m sure they’ll work fine.

One thing you’ll notice with the Wings is the incredibly odd default layout of the bottom row:

Practically every Alice or Arisu-layout keyboard has the most designer influence in the default layout in that bottom row, I’ve seen odd choices like backspace on either space bar, but this one is very wacky. The control key belongs on the left, not next to space where the Alt key is. There is also no Windows/Command key at all in the default layout which makes the board practically unusable under macOS.

Visiting the configurator linked in the Wings manual is not at all reassuring. The site is very much not intended for an English-speaking audience and takes a while to load the keyboard options before you can select the Wings board and begin choosing options for the board. If I hadn’t been more familiar with programming keyboard firmware via my own fork of QMK and QMK’s online configurator, I imagine this one would be very daunting to get used to if it is your first and the default layout in the configurator doesn’t match the default layout the keyboard ships with. Compile that by default and you won’t have access to the LED controls at all.

My hope is that someone gets the Wings into mainline QMK and then people can use the stock QMK configurator. However, the main QMK configurator is missing some of the features included in the configurator YMDK points you to. In order to set up LED options you might have to configure those things via manually editing a config.h and compiling on the command-line.
(Update: since this review was written support for the Wings has gotten into mainline QMK and thus the QMK configurator. Support is on the way for Via.)

I rebound the capslock to be the modifier key that accesses the extra layer of controls and put the Windows key onto the key between the spacebar and put the other missing keys back into the secondary layer. Programming the board wasn’t hard after that, but QMK Toolbox can be daunting for anyone new to mechanical keyboards. Via is preferable due to not requiring the Toolbox step and including the configurator right on the desktop program, but getting a board into Via can be a real pain.

Overall, I’m very happy with the YMDK Wings. I’ve been typing on the Wings for a little over a week now and I still appreciate the split layout, and having the arrow keys without having to resort to layers is exactly how it should be. For $135 plus shipping you’re getting a fantastic ergonomic value that looks great and has room for your choices of keycaps. YMDK does have options that include switches for a fair price if you don’t want to solder anything and don’t mind that they aren’t silent. Some might not be happy with the superplate design, but the YMDK Wings is a win for me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Wings is available now directly from YMDK in Black, Gray, Silver, Red, and Blue.


Good Time (2017)

Good Time movie poster

Watching their movies out of order, Good Time was the previous Safdie Brothers film, another criminal thrill feature released years before Uncut Gems.

Good Time features two brothers, Connie (Robert Pattinson) and Nick (Benny Safdie). Nick’s brain is non-typical and his brother Connie manipulates him into a bank heist that leaves Nick locked up for the crime while Connie spends the rest of the film trying to free his brother.

Unlike Uncut Gems‘ Howard (Adam Sandler), Connie seems to actually care about someone besides himself, and there are few enough side characters that everyone gets to have a moment. Connie’s girlfriend Loren, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, does a terrific job depicting someone who is trapped in a bad relationship with both Connie and her familial relationship with her mother.

Ultimately, this film is better for the space it gives those side characters, their realistic portrayal helps the world of Good Time feels more real than Uncut Gems. The spaces the characters visit and inhabit are also true to real city spaces. A Dominos to hide inside with a pissed off manager, a shitty local bank to rob, the home of some nice people Connie takes advantage of will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever struggled to pay for food and find the energy to clean, even the amusement park doesn’t feel fake.

Good Time also comments on stereotypes. Dash (Barkhad Abdi) is a Black security guard that Connie beats into unconsciousness, and doses with enough acid to make The Undertaker hallucinate for a year. Connie races to Dash’s home to conduct business in order to get money for bailing out Nick, but audibly remarks that the apartment is actually well furnished, and it is. This is an apartment that Dash cared about, and he is added to the list of people that Connie undeservedly steps on in order to help Nick.

There is no existence under capitalism that doesn’t involve stepping on other people, and that is true in the fiction of Good Time as well. In the opening, the brother’s bank heist was going well, but the bank teller hides an explosive dye pack in the money bag. Both risking her life, if the brothers-as-robbers were armed during the heist and they realized what was in the money bag, and when the dye pack goes off it caused an unintended car crash that could have been fatal for any pedestrians caught in the way. Just to protect the bottom-line of a bank whose money is insured to begin with.

The characters of Good Time are interesting, the world feels more realistic than other thrillers including the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems, and the movie has an important message behind the thrills about capitalism even if most people will miss it. I like a lot about this movie, but I will note there is a particularly disturbing scene where Connie attempts to sleep with a sixteen-year-old girl in order to distract her before the local TV news program gives a report on the bank robbery. Fortunately, no clothes come off before they are interrupted, but it is another incident where Connie feels he has to do something in order to not create another witness to his flight from “justice.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems’ Poster

Uncut Gems is a very wild thriller. If it were a book, it’d be a “page turner” that has the slightest of statements on how awful it is to step on people who have been stepped on for generations and how bad gambling addiction is.

As with all things that depict some terrible fiction I wonder how many people will watch this and think “gambling is fun” despite the punishment that Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) goes through, and more importantly what his loved ones go through. Sandler’s performance is kind of amazing from someone who is best known for his comedic roles, and those comedy films have been critical failures for years. As Howard Ratner, Sandler is a character that seems to feel no difficulty in putting his family through hell and destroying their lives even if Howard ostensibly loves them and tells them so, it’s clear that this isn’t enough, he isn’t really there for them. The words Howard says when he tells his kids how proud he is are hollow because the film is telling us Howard cares more about gambling than them.

Deriving entertainment from “what will happen next” in Uncut Gems is disturbing. What happens next is always someone getting hurt, terrified, or ruined because of Howard’s gambling addiction and we don’t find out what the consequences are for them, because the film is almost entirely focused on Howard’s perspective.

One of the saddest things about exciting movies like Uncut Gems is the fiction that the protagonist’s behavior is exciting and successful and romanticized. Howard would be very successful at gambling, he doesn’t lose as often as he should even when taking bets that others think are losing bets, if it weren’t for the meddling of another character in the film Howard would succeed, he would be rich. Ultimately, his gambling is a problem only in that the gambling introduces bad people into Howard’s life, but the film says it is those people who cause the worst of the problems, not Howard. I think that is sad, and much like other films about crime it still, pathetically, has a positive outlook on the activities it depicts… if only it weren’t for the violent criminals that get in the way. Much like The Irishman, another recent film that depicts bad people ruining the lives of their families, Uncut Gems makes its protagonist’s life a thrill. The people that suffer along the way? Uncut Gems doesn’t give a shit about them.

As a fiction, Uncut Gems is fine, it is exciting, it is ultimately as meaningless as the latest Marvel film in messaging and challenges practically nothing the viewer already thinks. In the universe of Uncut Gems, women are almost entirely brainless sex objects who only exist in their relation to men, white men are the functional actors but are failures at parenting. Racial minorities in Uncut Gems can only fulfill roles as athletes, sales people, and musicians obsessed with jewelry, money, sex, and success. Few characters besides Howard are anything but obstacles to his obtaining success, or money, or sex, and that’s the only bad thing that we are allowed to see in him.

I like Uncut Gems, but of course I like Uncut Gems. It is a movie built for me, a white male adult.

Rating: 3 out of 5.