The Way Back

Release: Friday, March 6, 2020

→Theater

Written by: Brad Ingelsby

Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) had a future in basketball beyond high school. Probably beyond college. Once the pride of Bishop Hayes High in the 1990s, he led his team to more victories and championships in his four years than the many iterations managed in the decades since. These days, his alma mater barely manages to field a varsity team. They’re not an also-ran, they’ve been irrelevant for so long cobwebs are forming on those banners hanging from the rafters.

Now they’re without their coach, who has suffered a heart attack. Dan, an algebra teacher (Al Madrigal), pulls double-duty as an assistant but he’s no coach, at least not the one with the capital C. There are a few stand-out athletes running around the gym, but it’s all in disorganized fashion and the average player is as good at sinking three’s as Shaq was at free throws. Miraculously they still have a pep squad and a team chaplain (Jeremy Radin) and despite the dismal win record they abide by basic moral principles of competing fairly and with the understanding that the results of the game, fair or foul, do not define them as students, as young men.

Life after the game hasn’t been rosy for Jack. Working construction, living alone and drinking uncontrollably, Jack is functional but clearly in a good deal of pain. The Way Back slowly, cautiously inches its way towards an explanation as to why he has isolated himself not just from the game but from making social connections. One day he is thrown a lifeline in the form of a voicemail from Bishop Hayes’ Father Divine (John Aylward), imploring him to come and fill in as Head Coach for this struggling team. After a night of booze-soaked introspection and exhausting all possible reasons to turn down the offer, Jack of course shows up at practice and sets about coaching up. His goal is to toughen up the team, improve their fundamentals, make them eligible for the playoffs for the first time since his playing days.

Director Gavin O’Connor, most famous for Miracle (2004) and Warrior (2011), presents yet another character-driven sports drama. I’ve always admired the way he marries realistic, intensely choreographed action with interesting characters going on powerful emotional journeys. The Way Back has all those ingredients and yet the flavor lacks. The drama, whether on the court or off of it, really doesn’t have any surprise plays in its playbook. To its credit basketball is not where the movie really lies; Brad Ingelsby’s screenplay de-emphasizes spectacle for the quieter emotional battles taking place away from the game.

The difference here is the bonafide movie star who delivers the emotion and nuance this patently predictable movie needs. It’s a terrific, authentic performance, not least because it’s often difficult to separate the Movie Star from the character. Affleck does just that though, in fact he succeeds to an almost profound degree, especially in the scenes in which he is forced to confront the source of his pain alongside his estranged wife Angela (the lovely Janina Gavankar). Ultimately, Affleck’s heartbreaking performance — no doubt elevated by this acute awareness of what he himself has gone through over a prolonged period — is what redeems the movie.

Recommendation: Empathetically told and impressively acted, The Way Back (not to be confused with the 2010 drama The Way Back . . . or for that matter, the 2013 indie comedy The Way Way Back) is yet more proof of the natural, amiable personality of director Gavin O’Connor. It hopefully marks a rebound for actor Ben Affleck as well. Word of caution for fans expecting on-court drama and personal tension on a Hoosiers level: don’t uh, don’t do that. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 108 mins.

Quoted: “You want to know why they’re leaving you open? It’s because they don’t think you can hit the ocean from the beach.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: IMP Awards; IMDb 

Live By Night

live-by-night-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 13, 2017

[Netflix]

Written by: Ben Affleck

Directed by: Ben Affleck

Even when Ben Affleck is off his game he still makes more thoughtful, involving pictures than many others who give it their all. Live By Night isn’t an example of Affleck giving it his all, but because the writer/director just does not know how to make something that’s not intriguing on some level his latest is a modest success.

I don’t really want to damn with faint praise something I quite enjoyed but there’s ample evidence throughout his second adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel — this time a Prohibition-Era, Florida-set thriller about a rum runner and reluctant gangster — to suggest Affleck is running a little low on the creative juices. Live By Night is a fine way to spend two hours but there’s not even an outside chance Affleck finds himself back up on the stage in the Dolby Theatre this February. The tale simply is unable to find any separation whatsoever from like-minded mob movies.

Live By Night opens as Affleck’s Joe Coughlin has returned to his native Boston from the Great War, scarred by the loss of life around him and by what he did — mercifully he never shows us what that was. He leaves that to our imagination. In a voiceover Joe reflects on how he has come back a changed man, vowing to never kill again. Perhaps the real erring on the part of Affleck, commander in chief, is in his failing to safeguard against our intense skepticism.

In fact the moment he tells us he won’t kill again is the same moment we become convinced that he will. This is that type of film, where the inevitable is just so obvious when it finally happens it is sort of underwhelming. The prodigal son of police captain Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson) finds himself blackmailed into doing the dirty work for a violent Italian mafia boss when he’s caught in a love affair with the mistress of a rivaling, Irish mob leader by the name of Albert White (Robert Glenister). Joe’s girl is an Irish immigrant, like himself, played by the chameleonic Sienna Miller. Joe must eliminate White, or face being . . . well. Yep.

His fortunes change when he is sent to Ybor City, a rough area just northeast of downtown Tampa, where he finds success expanding his employer Mr. Pescatore (Remo Girone)’s rum empire. With the help of his partner Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina), Joe helps to secure much of the southeast as a viable marketplace for other business ventures like gambling and drugs. But Joe constantly maintains he will have no part in the murderous aspects of his trade. He insists on being considered less a gangster and more an outlaw. He’s one cape and cowl away from becoming a bootlegging vigilante.

Speaking of outfits, everyone who appears in the film comes dressed to the nines. The costuming and production design are so authentic you feel as though you are walking these streets and enduring these hard times along with the characters. A few of the get-ups verge on the ridiculous — see Affleck in a white suit that’s the equivalent of NFL jerseys back in the ’80s and ’90s  — and more often than not you can’t help but think the lavish design is meant to distract from the lack of original material.

The trappings of the hard-knocked life are all here: the threats, the beatings, the back-stabbings. The boozing and the repentant behavior that’s far too little too late. The latter is of course what we’re ultimately anticipating, and what presumably Lehane’s book builds toward as well — the price tag attached to all this moral turpitude. In Live By Night it comes in the form of Chris Cooper‘s Sheriff Irving Figgis and his goody-two-shoes daughter Loretta (Elle Fanning), both devout Christians whose own moral fiber becomes tested when daughter ships out to Hollywood only to return a drugged-out prostitute. At the behest of her father Loretta starts preaching the good word in Ybor City, vowing to put a halt on the development of the very casino Joe and his cronies are working to build.

Whatever is a non-violent (but very violent) bandit supposed to do when he’s shouldering the burden of one crime lord to get back at another? Turn to the Lord? Fall in love with another woman in a place where he is becoming a nuisance? (Spoiler alert: he does one of the two.) As with a great many gangster dramas, religion and family play a prominent role. There must be consequences to our actions. Affleck obligingly includes those elements as a measuring stick to help us judge how bad Joe really is, despite how gentle and caring he may seem when not on the clock.

Admittedly, subtlety is not among Affleck’s many (strong) suits this time around. Live By Night does not bow out gracefully. The way it ends is something close to terrible but it’s not quite enough to bring down the entire thing. It does, however, add an exclamation point on the argument that this is nothing more than a generic crime thriller. If you’re looking for shock value or inventive deaths, twists and turns you never expected — you won’t find them here. It’s not even really that violent. The action is kept to a minimum, which is actually refreshing in the sense that it allows Affleck to explore moods and mindsets rather than showcase how scary bad men are with guns.

Live By Night won’t be remembered for much, but it’s by no means a sign that Affleck has become truly lost (cue Liam Neeson from Batman Begins). It demonstrates a clear appreciation for the kinds of people and experiences that have shaped the nation into what it is today. Affleck taps into a period in American history in which drinking was outlawed but racism and violence were given the thumbs up. There’s something beautifully contradictory with the way he juxtaposes these realities. I just wish he did so with a little more inventiveness.

live-by-night-1

3-5Recommendation: Far from original or top-notch Ben Affleck in terms of his directorial prowess (though his performance is appropriately ice-cold, and in the same fascinating way he was in The Accountant as an anti-social enigma), Live By Night should suit fans of the writer/director/actor as well as those who don’t set their standards too high when it comes to the genre. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “This is heaven. Right here. We’re in it now.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Accountant

the-accountant-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 14, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Bill Dubuque

Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

In Gavin O’Connor’s new film Ben Affleck plays a small-town certified public accountant with a keen interest in some very private accounts. Sure, he’s good with numbers but he’s even better with bullets (and belts, seemingly). This is a guy who doesn’t sleep with a pistol under his pillow but rather with a mini gun in his garage; someone whose line of work obligates him to convert his storage unit into a Russian nesting doll designed to bury or at least obscure his real identity.

And there’s the million-dollar question: just who is The Accountant? Or perhaps that’s just part one, for the why is just as important as the who. O’Connor, working from a script by Bill Dubuque, ceaselessly chases after the child that prefaces the adult in this nature-versus-nurture dramatic action flick. Part two of that question may be something we’ve asked of ourselves ad nauseam, but it’s still one worth mining in the movies: why do we become what we become? To what degree are we products of our environments?

Christian Wolffe (Affleck) is a high-functioning autistic and the survivor of his father, a military man who moved the family 34 times in Christian’s first 17 years of life. That’s a quite literal matter of fact, by the way. He didn’t just outlive his father; it’s something of a miracle he survived such a childhood — a childhood largely spent taking on school bullies in the streets and sparring with martial arts trainers well past the point of being bloodied. Yes, dear old Dad was the sort who actively denied his children happiness, believing boys should be bred tough. The sort who couldn’t possibly be pleased to hear one of his sons may have special needs.

O’Connor envisions the savant as a very nearly tragic character, someone whose violent actions in the present are inextricably linked to his brutal past (read: not to his mental health). In so doing, his film flits back and forth rhythmically between childhood memories and his present situation, teasing out a character study that is as entertaining as it is intriguing, even if the sum total of the experience is far from revelatory. Ultimately, The Accountant is another action romp fashioned around an enigmatic antihero, but it needn’t make apologies when it’s this well performed and this engrossing.

Suffice it to say the movie becomes less so when we get away from Christian Wolffe. Several subplots work their way into the mix, each of which try to match the gravity of that which is pulling them all into orbit. Even though they don’t draw the same power as this bonafide A-lister, they manage to be perfectly entertaining diversions, products of the immensely talented cast O’Connor has once again assembled. More importantly, they each add a layer to the discovery process, be they government agents (J.K. Simmons) who have wasted enough of their career on this sort of wild goose chase, or potential romantic prospects in the form of other awkward professionals (Anna Kendrick) whose earnestness is all but lost on a cold, calculating man.

Though the likes of John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor and Jon Bernthal play pivotal roles in the saga, there are two notable relationships on the periphery worthy of some page space here. One is constructed out of a fascinating tension between Simmons’ Treasury agent Raymond King and Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s Marybeth Medina, a hot shot looking for a promotion but who neglects to mention her history as a juvenile delinquent. Since lying on a federal form is a felony, her willingness to track down a very dangerous man becomes driven more by a deep-seated fear of regression rather than the pure pursuit of justice. Meanwhile the dynamic between Kendrick’s sweet-natured Dana Cummings — who works for the top-flight robotics company Christian has decided to make his next client — and the saucerful of secrets that is the accountant himself, remains mercifully platonic.

O’Connor is a filmmaker with a strong grasp on setting mood and establishing atmosphere, and those elements remain front-and-center while Affleck’s tremendous performance pulls us into a strange world, somewhere between the legal and the illegal, somewhere between righteous antagonist and morally corrupted hero. The Accountant bares many of the director’s trademarks — if you have seen Warrior you shouldn’t be too surprised by at least one of the many twists that surface — but there’s also a requisite (and substantial) suspension of disbelief that hasn’t really been there in O’Connor’s previous output. All the same, given all the elements that work and work really well, the discovery process is just too fascinating to write off the books.

just-another-boring-accountant-doing-typically-boring-accounting-stuff

Recommendation: If you like Gavin O’Connor’s style you’ll lap up The Accountant. It’s another study of how familial history and relationships play a part in shaping who we grow up to be, along with a myriad other environmental factors. I can’t outright declare the film as something you’ve never seen before, but there are enough things going on here to distinguish it — namely yet another strong lead performance from Ben Affleck (who says the guy can’t act?!) and universally fun performances from the whole cast. A fairly strong recommendation from yours truly.

Rated: R

Running Time: 128 mins.

Quoted: “Do you like puzzles? Tell me what you see . . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Suicide Squad

'Suicide Squad' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 5, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: David Ayer

Directed by: David Ayer

Sigh.

Suicide Squad is neither a disaster nor a revelation. It’s just really, really uneventful and in that way, crushingly disappointing.

Let me grab a calculator and get back to you, because the math really doesn’t add up. I don’t quite know how you commit the cardinal sin of moviemaking with this cast, these characters, and this competent a director. When considering the myriad ways in which this utterly routine action adventure manages to bore and underwhelm, the difference between what we might have imagined and what we ultimately get kind of becomes this scintillating mystery. What the hell happened here? What could this have actually been? (In fairness, it could have been worse.) Would Suicide Squad have been better off with a less restrictive MPAA rating?

It’s been some time since so much potential has been squandered this efficiently. This callously. Not since this 2013 debacle have I left a theater feeling so utterly deflated and unmotivated to stand in line for another event picture anytime soon. The main culprit is an exceptionally shoddy story, one seemingly cobbled together by crayon-wielding first graders. It’s shocking Ayer turns out to be that first grader. He kicks things off with brief introductions to the cadre of miscreants before randomly launching into a perfunctory doomsday plot involving Midway City and some bullshit concerning Cara Delevingne-shaped meta-humans drenched in bad CGI. From the word ‘go’ the production reeks of unpreparedness, disorganization, even chaos.

Hashtag awkward. Hashtag clumsy. Hashtag done-with-this-summer-of-movies.

In the beginning everyone’s hanging out at the famed Belle Reve Penitentiary, doing hard time for various crimes. The first two we immediately recognize to be our ringleaders: Will Smith‘s Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot, is seen getting his punching bag on (in preparation for that big action scene later!) and Margot Robbie‘s gleefully unhinged Harley Quinn, formerly known as psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel, inhabits her super-secure steel cage like a PG-13-friendly Hannibal Lecter. We meet the others as well but for insultingly brief periods, time enough I guess to prove the film’s disinterest in the ‘Squad’ part of its title. There’s the pyrokinetic ex-gangster Chato Santano, a.k.a. El Diablo  (Jay Hernandez); a boomerang-wielding guy named . . . Boomerang (Jai Courtney); a surly man with a scaly skin condition who dwells in city sewers, appropriately called Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They’re joined also by a mercenary named Slipknot (Adam Beach) and Japanese warrior Katana (Karen Fukuhara).

Our little ruffians are kept under the thumb of intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), an antihero of a different breed with her considerable lack of compassion and morally-dubious methods of wielding governmental power. She’s a high-ranking official who will do whatever it takes to prevent World War Three from breaking out. Or something like that. Anyway, she’s a pretty bad egg whose motives become increasingly suspect, a trend that neatly paralleled my own suspicions. Waller enlists the help of Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinneman) to keep all her disposable, criminal pee-ons in line. When Flagg reads them the riot act that’s our cue to get ready for action. Hooray — it’s the Suicide Squad and now shit is going down!

Only, nothing does. With writing that lacks inspiration or a strong reference point — or any point, period — getting excited becomes an unreasonable challenge. The bleakness of the world in which this non-drama occurs bleeds over into the experience itself, but bleakness is less of an issue. I say let this thing be dour — this isn’t Marvel. But along with that bleakness comes the joylessness. With joylessness, a sense of aimlessness. Few of the members of Suicide Squad are stoked about undertaking a mission that will very likely get them killed, and if random gunfire doesn’t do it a frustrated Waller will if they so happen to fail or step out of line. That psychology may ring true to the comics but the cast wear their broken hearts on their sleeves a bit too much while, ironically, no one outside of Robbie’s freewheeling Harley and Jared Leto’s not-half-bad Joker seem to have that same muscle invested in any of this.

As the movie shuffles begrudgingly onward, alarming amounts of material fail to materialize, leaving Ayer’s efforts to introduce this infamously savage group to the world-at-large to disintegrate like used toilet paper. Unconvincing sob stories are stapled on to a few characters who lurk in the background behind Deadshot and Harley Quinn, but this isn’t enough to justify an excess of shots designed to show why this idea should work. (Here’s a radical 21st Century concept: show, don’t tell.) All those precious moments going to waste watching the film’s most interesting character (by far) out-act her colleagues might have been better spent doing something else. Something other than trying to convince us that the movie knows what it is doing with such damaged cargo.

With all of that in mind, damages really come down to a (granted, rather large) misjudgment of plot substance, and a lack of personality to give us a reason to get over that issue. The DCEU’s Guardians of the Galaxy this is not. Even still, there are some really great performances to take away, namely those of the volatile core of Robbie, Smith, Davis and Leto. The former seem to be heating up since their days working on Focus, while the latter have some fun tossing a shitload of ham around. Davis overshoots her goal of becoming the film’s Surprisingly Evil Element while Leto lets out his inner psycho in a turn that recalls vintage Jack Nicholson while wisely skimping on Heath Ledger inflections.

The Suicide Squad Joker is actually really good. He’s a nasty son of a bitch and his twisted romantic subplot with Harley Quinn is the most compelling. Too bad Leto’s commitment is virtually all for naught. As has been widely reported, many of his scenes were cut. Leto’s response to a question concerning his lack of screen time late in the film is especially damning. Even he wants to know what the Joker was doing for so long without visual confirmation of his scheming ways. His absence is microcosmic of a larger problem. I’m not sure anyone, not even the studio, rumored to have played a hand in production delays and re-shoots, knew what kind of gem they were holding in their hands.

Suicide Squad is not a bad film but it is frustratingly mediocre and that’s enough to drive me crazy.

Jared Leto as the new Joker in 'Suicide Squad'

Recommendation: Suicide Squad suffers from a lack of plot mechanization. What is the purpose? Why are we here? Why can’t the story be about something more interesting? For the longest time, the story never seems to be going anywhere. The pacing is choppier than damn it and not much of David Ayer’s directorial touch can be found here (ya know, other than the hordes of heavily armed, well-built people parading around a war-zone). I don’t really know what to say, other than this film basically sums up the year we have had so far when it comes to big event pictures. Mostly disappointment. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “Love your perfume! What is that, Stench of Death?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.variety.com 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

'Batman vs Superman - Dawn of Justice' movie poster

Release: Friday, March 25, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Terrio; David S. Goyer

Directed by: Zack Snyder

I see civil war erupting between the die-hards and the casual-hards (and let me quickly interrupt myself here: casual-hards are people like me who don’t really have a firm grasp on either the mythos or even all of the character trajectories in the source material, we’re just here for the spectacle, that is, the overall product not simply the CGI spectacle). Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is no mould-breaker but it does provide in its last half hour set one of the most intense assaults on the senses that cinema has ever created.

It’s overlong, it’s melodramatic, it’s preachy and more often than not it’s a child kicking its foot in the dirt with hands in pockets because it doesn’t know how to play nice with everyone else and now is forced to spend time alone. Maybe its playing out so scornfully is a function of a super-human sense that no matter what it does, some critics are just going to tear it limb from limb. Similar to how the fanbase is likely to poke holes all through its not-so-textured skin, columnists at large — probably not Lois Lane or Perry White though — are going to have, and have been having this week, a field day trying to convince the rest of the populace why it’s not something you should go and see. Hilarious. That’s like an armor-less Batman going toe-to-toe with a Kryptonian and expecting to emerge the victor.

Despite the film suffering once again from gorging on an overabundance of material, the overarching narrative remains simple and simply compelling: this is the episode where the Batman and the man of steel get into a bit of a spat. An older, wiser and ever more embittered Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) fears the powers of the metahuman known as Kal-El/Superman (Henry Cavill) will perpetually go unchecked unless he intervenes. Meanwhile, the other guy doesn’t think much of all the vigilantism in Gotham that has only succeeded in perpetuating the “weed effect,” as a dejected Batman himself puts it — you crush one weed and pull it out only for another to grow in its place. He’s talking, of course, about criminals. The Dark Knight hasn’t done shit in the way of gardening in the last several years when we first swoop in to meet him.

Zack Snyder, putting himself in the crosshairs much like J.J. Abrams did last year, reaffirms that his gritty style challenges the senses, and that your eyes and ears in particular best come prepared in this bombastic epic that pits the stealthy deceptiveness of Batman against the brutal physicality of Superman — a being, it ought to be said, finds himself falling out of favor with much of mankind following the destructive events in Metropolis two years prior. There’s much anticipation for how a modern film could or should handle the DC Universe’s version of the Neo-Agent Smith battle (sans the whole thing about one of them being a total psycho bent on the unequivocal destruction of man), and yet, for all that’s at stake, Snyder impressively manages to contain his excitement, teasing out the relationship patiently . . . perhaps too patiently for some.

That’s why half of the film manifests as a relatively slow meditation on a number of more human concerns: things like aging, losing one’s relevance, sense of purpose and the loss of innocence are all touched, though never harped upon. Some areas could use some expansion, surely. And yes, that would mean sacrificing a bit of the pixelated action sequences later on. But it’s the steady camerawork of Larry Fong that guides us through the seedy streets of a broken Metropolis, as well as a still-despairing Gotham, an observance of how both time and people have moved on. There’s a bittersweetness to the way Affleck carries himself as a 40-ish-year-old man in a cape whom most have forgotten about by now. There’s a longing for a return to the time when Kal-El first thundered his way to earth, an aura of mystery (or is that terror?) swirling about his godly physique and impossible strength.

Dawn of Justice is most powerful when it’s sending up the deific Kal-El; there are some unforgettable shots of the man in the red cape, one in particular of him hovering above a flooded town, a mother reaching out to him from the rooftop of a submerged house recalls Regan’s possessed soul clawing for the form of Pazuzu outside her window, only in this case we’d like to think the reach is one towards heaven and not hell. Then there’s the image of Cavill’s face imploding in the vacuum of space, his body dangling in suspended animation before awakening once again. If you were asking me which figure is done the most justice (e-hem), I favor Cavill’s Superman. As an image, he’s too powerful, too ferocious, too graceful to ignore. And the Brit looks comfortable as ever in the suit.

It’s not for a lack of trying for Affleck. Unfortunately he’s in a similar position as Jared Leto, attempting to put his own spin on an icon that has been so solidified in the most recent Dark Knight trilogy that any steps taken to divorce from that image will inevitably be labeled as at best inferior and at worst unholy. Affleck doesn’t seem to mind the pressure though; he’s convincing as a surlier, lonelier billionaire with a penchant for creating lots of fancy, shiny new toys and Jeremy Irons as Alfred makes for wonderful companionship but it’s just not the same as Christian Bale and Michael Caine. It’s just not. For these most somber of circumstances though, perhaps this is the Dark Knight we deserve.

For all of its visual symbolism and the bravado with which Cavfleck (please let me be the person to coin that one) carries itself throughout, there are some questionable decisions that hold Dawn of Justice back from becoming the classic it is so close to being. I’m not referring to Jesse Eisenberg’s brilliantly unhinged performance as the evil genius Lex Luthor — his nervous, passive-aggressive and awkward countenance isn’t a natural thing to watch at first but the guy builds some serious strength as the movie plods forward and as his position in this universe becomes slightly more clear. I’m also not referring to the limited screen time afforded Gal Gadot’s ass-kicking Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (though this was an aspect that let me down considerably).

No, the concern is more of a financial nature, and how the studio seems to have mishandled the responsibility of allocating resources properly. For a film budgeted at an estimated $250 million (you can make 25 movies for that price tag), it sure doesn’t look like it. Perhaps part of the issue here is inherent in the sprawling ambition of the story. Because we are dealing with so much complexity, one of the battles Snyder and company picked was to close the physical gap between Metropolis and Gotham, such that only the Delaware River separates these two disparate worlds. When human-Krypton-Bat drama eventually reaches critical mass and the ultimate threat is revealed, so much happens in one indeterminate pile of rubble that nothing looks good.

In some ways the quasi-headache that the action set piece becomes finds us at the threshold of ridiculousness; our demand for quality superhero cinema shouldn’t rely on CGI orgies to get the job done. But that’s old news since the superhero movie fad took off (thanks Iron Man). The only way it seems possible to hit home how crazy these creations are is to go upwards, in one direction. In keeping with what Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch decrees during one of the inevitable government intervention scenes, unilateral decision making is bad for business. But that still doesn’t really answer the mystery as to why, with all of this money, the CGI renderings in particular stand-out moments look like extracts from films in the late ’90s and early 2000s. It’s bizarre.

What’s not bizarre is the critical derision Dawn of Justice is suffering. This is what happened with Man of Steel, remember? Superman stepped in and parted the red sea of fandom. Dawn of Justice is mind-blowing in some aspects and lacks restraint, thereby quality control and thereby consistency, in others. It’s huge and it’s a few trims shy of a true final cut. But it is at the basic level, entertaining and that’s all this little dude wanted out of a movie of this scale. Maybe I regret not being a fanboy?

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 7.02.01 PM

Recommendation: . . . do I . . . do I have to say something here? Really? Okay. Well, if you’re on the fence about this, the good news is that Ben Affleck isn’t a disaster (he’s also no Christian Bale) and that the film also makes some room for female talent and as macho as the film is, the timing of Wonder Woman is spine-tingly well-judged. She’s reason enough to go see this. So is Jeremy Irons. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 153 mins.

Quoted: “The Red Capes are coming! The Red Capes are coming!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.ernest93.deviantart.com; http://www.imdb.com

Gone Girl

gone-girl-poster

Release: Friday, October 3, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Gillian Flynn

Directed by: David Fincher

Not to be confused with the Ben Affleck-directed Gone Baby Gone from 2007, Gone Girl is yet another exceptionally entertaining thriller from David Fincher, a director guilty of association . . . with rock-solid filmmaking, that is.

I don’t know why that would be confusing, but for some reason lately I have been having trouble untangling the two names. Since seeing the recent adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel I have also come into the understanding that the film experience is merely half the picture; that reading what Flynn is able to elucidate in greater detail in print is somehow more compelling than the visual spectacle of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike operating at extremely high levels.

Right now it feels as though I’m trying to compare a giant to a goliath. Whatever it is about the novel that makes it so great I can’t exactly attest to but I know what I saw in this film and I understand the anticipation for Gone Girl has been unlike many other films this year, save for the latest Hunger Games installment and the upcoming Chris Nolan spectacular. What I also know is that Big Bat Ben has been able to explain his dry, bland style of acting a little better to me in recent years, perhaps speaking up a bit louder with this role. Stepping in front of the cameras rather than remaining behind them in the midst of a hot streak as director, Affleck plays Nick Dunne, husband to Amy (Pike) and soon-to-be pariah of the national media in the wake of his wife’s strange disappearance.

On the day of the Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick comes home to find an open front door, some smashed glass on the floor and a house devoid of that breeze of blonde hair. As far as appearances are concerned, she’s gone. A husband in immediate panic begins the search for his dearly beloved on solid ground, recruiting locals to help in a missing persons rescue effort. Sure footing and stable ground are soon lost, though, as his cooperation with Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and her partner (Patrick Fugit) is overcome with an awkwardness that’s difficult to put a finger on.

The first of many pressing questions that naturally arises is one of a judgment upon his character. Is he having this much difficulty processing his current reality, or is there something more to him that we ought to be afraid of? As the story unfolds, we are forced into questioning far more than his character.

David Fincher — excuse me, Gillian Flynn — is fascinated with subtlety. Flynn knows that in this world, under these circumstances, it’s not necessarily what you say that gets you into trouble, it can also be what you don’t say. Physical gestures speak volumes. A side long glance can mean one thing, a weird stutter something else. There should be a code word for how ingenious Flynn’s screenplay really is.

As the circumstances and evidence begin to pile up against Mr. Dunne, Nick’s behavior only increases in bizarreness. From our point of view, a more forgiving one than that of media pundit Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) — a woman who makes Nancy Grace seem pleasant by comparison — the severity of the situation is running him ragged. How one is supposed to handle themselves in the public eye in these situations, I don’t know. This is merely one question Fincher and Flynn in tandem aim at getting to the bottom of.

In the hands of others, Gone Girl does have the potential to become an unwieldy, even pretentious machine. It isn’t enough to simply peg contemporary (televised) media as something of a gladiatorial arena in which the individuals being examined are paraded out in front of the masses only to be slaughtered on live television in the form of brutal interviews. No, it’s the institution of marriage and how we act as a society — at least, as society pertains to American culture — that also comes under fire. Under Fincher’s direction and in Flynn’s mind, the two go hand-in-hand. What better way to link the frenzied collective’s desire to revert back to Salem Witch trial tendencies in the face of such confronting aberration. A husband who has not only seemed to have made his wife vanish into thin air also admits to have cheated on her beforehand? That’s not good. That’s actually really not good.

Gone Girl is extremely ambitious, but never does it overreach. It’s as entertaining as it is perplexing and disturbing. It’s also surprisingly witty. Affleck’s reactions to certain situations, while may not be appropriate, often conjure up some laughs that feel earned rather than forced upon the scene. There’s nothing humorous about a loved one going missing. But of a film that manages to reflect the fine details of how we as people are able to judge so quickly without knowing the full story, the entertainment value skyrockets. It’s a police procedural, murder mystery and a dark comedy all rolled into one. What a beautiful matrimony.

gone-girl-1

4-5Recommendation: Gone Girl appears to be one of the first truly great films of the fall season. Readers of the book have been singing the film’s praises already for its authentication. Not a surprise when the novelist also penned the script but there are often times when that transition is not so naturally made. Here it’s clear there is natural harmony. I at times get ancy with films running over two hours (his 2007 crime drama Zodiac is a good example, despite its strong narrative) but here I hated the fact I was watching the end credits already. I wanted more. I think Mr. Fincher has a tendency to do that.

Rated: R

Running Time: 145 mins.

Quoted: “I’m so much happier now that I’m dead.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Runner Runner

103991_gal

Release: Friday, October 4, 2013

[Theater]

WRITTEN BY KEVIN HITE

Runner Runner is a film that was meant for gambling enthusiasts and ultimately appeals to. . .well, just about no one. The film, in fairness, was probably a good idea. The standard gambling film of the past few decades has concerned either basement-style high stakes poker (as in Rounders) or the glitzy scenes of Las Vegas card tables (as in 21). However, gambling in everyday life has shifted enormously in this span, and now concerns a consumer audience focused largely on Internet gaming.

Internet poker has been a major industry for well over a decade at this point, but the online gambling industry has shifted enormously in recent years, to the point at which online casinos now offer, in a sense, the fully experience. For example, the industry has progressed from crude online poker environments to the Intercasino format, which essentially consists of a full range of arcade and slot machine games, in addition to standard card options. These days, when we visit an Internet casino, we aren’t just looking for simulated poker — we’re looking for the full experience of Las Vegas, from the comforts of our own home. 

It’s this idea that Runner Runner attempts to play off of, not only via the scope of its fictional Internet casino, but through the weighty significance attached to its gambling risks. Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is not just an Ivy League online poker genius – he’s one who’s so thoroughly engaged with his hobby that he earns the attention of the scheming masterminds behind the websites. And when Furst feels that those same masterminds have ripped him off, he demands a meeting. 

From there, Runner Runner is essentially a slippery slope, from a gambling film looking to capture the modern culture of gaming, to a sort of crime thriller you don’t really see coming until it’s upon you. Furst burrows his way into trouble until he secures a meeting with Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the yacht-toting criminal genius behind a sketchy online gaming empire who, you know, feeds his enemies to ravenous crocodiles and whatnot. 

Here the film makes a turn that’s actually somewhat interesting. Instead of fully denying that his site cheated Furst, Block invites a partnership, suggesting that Furst is too smart to walk away from the opportunity, and tempting him with the riches and glamorous lifestyle associated with running a crooked online gaming empire. This is where the real dilemma ensues: will Furst, a needy student in over his head but incredibly adept with numbers, strike it rich helping Block run his empire? Or will he ultimately cooperate with the FBI unit attempting to bring Block down? This is the question viewers are meant to ask throughout the second half of the film, and frankly it’s all abrupt and convoluted enough that we don’t really care what the answer is. 

225987-film-review-runner-runner

1-5Recommendation: There’s one, and only one reason to check out Runner Runner: if you’re buying into Ben Affleck’s career evolution over the better part of the last decade, go ahead and give it a look. The film is poorly conceived, devoid of substance in its attempt to be sexy, and ultimately just a bit dull. Furthermore, Timberlake delivers a disappointingly stale (for those who enjoyed him in The Social Network) performance that sort of sours the film, though it’s really more the script’s fault than his. But Affleck is a bright spot in the film, establishing himself delightfully as a dick-ish gaming titan who somehow manages to be exuberant and bored at once. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 91 minutes

Quoted: “Everyone gambles. They may call it something else, like the stock market, or real estate. But make no mistake, if you’re risking something, you’re gambling. And if you’re gambling, then I’m the guy you want to see.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com