REVIEW: The Accountant

11 02 2017

In big-budget cinema these days, I’m looking to get a lot of bang for my buck. So are most Americans, many of whom are far more inclined than I am to browse for a better option on Netflix. Whatever Gavin O’Connor does in “The Accountant” gives me plenty of bang, but the noise comes from lots of big bullets being fired indiscriminately from a sniper rifle.

The film, written by Bill Dubuque, smashes several movies into one. There’s the Jason Bourne-like super assassin narrative, which is the one you sell during sports games. Then there’s the bit about an autistic wunderkind, Ben Affleck’s Christian Wolff, uneasily assimilating into corporate America, which can be emphasized to select audiences to give the film an appearance of thematic heft. And don’t forget an awkward platonic romance subplot between said autistic man and his fumbling co-worker, Anna Kendrick’s Dana Cummings, for … wait, who exactly cares about this aspect?

All of these aspects compete for airtime in “The Accountant” with the latest Greengrass ripoff winning out most often. Whatever extra intrigue that Wolff’s condition might add to the film gets nullified by Affleck’s weak acting, which treats autism like an affect that turns on and off when convenient. The connective tissue of this closet killer to a larger scheme of financial malaise is weak, too, spoiling any chance for a sideshow to serve as pleasant diversion.

In fact, the only thing that O’Connor does manage to do well is advertise. “The Accountant” might represent the most elaborate promo for a Ford F-150 I’ve ever seen. If any clips of these scenes of Wolff driving were posted on social media, I should hope they were tagged with #ad or #sponsoredcontent. C2stars





REVIEW: Zootopia

29 02 2016

ZootopiaTalking animals, a town whose title mashes up “zoo” and “utopia,” the Disney brand – all good signs for an evening of escape away from the madness of the world around us that seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, right? Actually, wrong. “Zootopia,” the latest in-house effort from the Mouse House, actually feels more plugged into contemporary problems than many “issues” movies manufactured during prestige season.

Given the escalation of the American presidential election even in the past month, writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston could not have imagined how relevant the message of their script would become when they started writing back in 2013. The titular city of “Zootopia” is a metropolis of the animal kingdom and a hotbed of diversity, like New York City or Houston. Predatory animals like tigers and foxes have learned to live in harmony with their former prey like rabbits and sheep due to the evolution and adaptation of their culture.

The promise of this pluralism attracts optimistic young bunny Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin. Never one to let her size or species discourage her unbridled enthusiasm for justice, she defies the odds to become the first rabbit cop in Zootopia. The average family film would simply let Hopps flounder for a bit and eventually find her footing by tapping into some inner strength. With all due respect to the charms of “Wreck-It Ralph” or “Frozen,” the lessons of “Zootopia” go much deeper. They examine the very tenets that form the (now seemingly shaky) foundations of our society.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 8, 2015)

8 01 2015

Now that Paul Rudd has officially debuted as Ant-Man, I expect that we’ll soon have to start referring to him as “Marvel’s Paul Rudd.”  Plenty of clueless fanboys will totally think of Rudd as the next Chris Pratt, a comedian that the comic-book magnate picks up from relative obscurity and turns into a bonafide action star.  And I will be sad.

But then, I will wipe away my tears and watch another one of Rudd’s hilarious comedies.  I will think of the time he and I shared a brief word in London, and I will remind myself of how his affable characters appear to accurately reflect his genial real-life personality.  I will remind myself that he is the perfect choice to play me in the movie of my life no matter what career move he makes next (although BuzzFeed recently told me that Benedict Cumberbatch would play me, another choice that suits me fine).

And finally, I will watch one of his comedies that stand head and shoulders above nearly all the other mainstream output.  For the most part, Rudd chooses projects with smarter wit and keener insight than the usual macho lineup of flatulence, misogyny, and homophobia.  Perhaps chief among these is 2009’s “I Love You, Man,” the bromantic comedy that serves as my selection for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  (Yes, I am fully aware this is hardly independent or little-known, although it certainly deserves to be more widely known.)

Rudd, rather than erecting a cool facade, plays his character Peter Klaven as unashamedly dorky and unabashedly earnest.  Though he means well, Peter often stumbles over his own nicety into the verbal equivalent of a pratfall.  The film begins with the happiest moment in his life: proposing to his girlfriend, Zooey (Rashida Jones).  After the initial bliss dissipates, however, things get awkward as Peter seems unable to provide enough groomsmen to match Zooey’s seven bridesmaids.  In fact, he does not even really have a potential best man.

Rather than disappoint his beautiful bride-to-be, and apparently unwilling to suck it up and ask either his father (J.K. Simmons) or brother (Andy Samberg), Peter goes on the hunt for a male best friend.  After a series of hilarious misunderstandings, he comes across Jason Segel’s palatably absurd Sidney Fife, a friendly bachelor that stumbles into one of Peter’s open houses while scouting prospects for a wealthy divorcée.  They hit it off immediately, easily finding conversation topics and mutual interests.

Sidney and Peter’s friendship is purely platonic, yet writer/director John Hamburg replicates the experience of watching a romantic comedy.  We get the beginning stage of figuring out tastes as well as boundaries; we see the way that they bring fulfillment to each other’s lives; we have the classic blow-up fight that turns into a dissolution of an amicable partnership.  As “I Love You, Man” progresses, it exposes the parallels between forging friendships and romantic relationships as well as the absurdities inherent in both.

Peter and Sidney are not just the average dudebro BFFs – they are types to explore and investigate the very nature of human connection.  Although, in the hands of talented actors like Rudd and Segel, they are also fully fledged people that I’d love to slap the bass with any day.





REVIEW: Men, Women & Children

16 12 2014

In 2009, Jason Reitman added a potent subplot to his film “Up in the Air” that dealt with some of the alienation people feel in a depersonalized, technology-laden society.  Five years later, he arrives with “Men, Women & Children,” a dark and moody spiritual cousin to his masterpiece.  It goes beyond the obvious stating that people live text message to text message or email to email.  Underneath it all, they are clearly living orgasm to orgasm.

Reitman finds a new writing partner, Erin Cressida Wilson, to adapt Chad Kultgen’s novel, which is perhaps the only truly honest novel about the realities of living in a digitally mediated society.  The story follows a group of teenagers and their parents, each age group struggling with the temptations of carnality made available at their fingertips.  They all seek intimacy, a rarity in a sea of screen addicts, yet cannot seems to escape their enmeshed existence in the World Wide Web.

It seems as if Reitman, likely by commercial imperatives, had to pull some punches and soften the impact of his film.  How blistering can an excoriation of an Internet pornography obsessed society be if those toxic images are never shown?  How shameful can sexual deviance feel if the acts themselves are artfully avoided?  Reitman did not have to go full NC-17 to make an effective film on this topic, and “Men, Women & Children” suffers from his cautious moves.

Still, the message gets across pretty clearly, provided the audience can put down their iPhones for two hours to listen to it. For once, the youth are neither a fountain of hope nor a convenient object for blame; they are just exploring normal curiosities in the same way that their chief role models did.  In fact, the adults of “Men, Women & Children” are every bit as clueless and juvenile in cyberspace as their kids.  Society is all in this battle together, and no one is above it because it brings out the worst in everyone.

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REVIEW: Whiplash

18 11 2014

WhiplashWhile the film “Whiplash” is about drumming and jazz music, writer/director Damien Chazelle’s intense focus on the physical demands of training and competition essentially transforms art into athletics.  The story follows Miles Teller’s Andrew as he goes through the music conservatory training process, both honing his craft and advancing through the studio ranks.  Andrew aims for nothing short of becoming one of the all-time great drummers, and the quest quite literally claims blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

Chazelle’s filmmaking captures the coexisting violence and agility of drumming with the same sort of madcap, fast-paced artistry.  “Whiplash” probably has the average shot length of a Marvel film, although these fast and furious edits are actually deployed to induce a physiological effect.  Chazelle conducts a cinematic symphony in his quick cutting of extreme close-up shots, cerebrally conveying just how many moving parts have to synchronize in order to create stirring music.

“Whiplash” is hardly a concert film, however, and much of the momentum of these extended bravura sequences comes from attention to and investment in the story and characters.  Chazelle’s script keeps an even keel even with its fairly rapid succession of events, largely stemming from its streamlined attention on Andrew’s quest for musical brilliance.  (Seriously, any more obsessed and he might turn into a swan.)  Even his romantic interest, which seems like a pleasant diversion when first introduced into the film, serves its purpose in advancing Andrew’s plot arc.

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REVIEW: Jobs

15 08 2013

Joshua Michael Stern’s “Jobs” finds itself caught between “Lincoln” and “The Social Network.”  The film teeters uncertainly on the precipice of canonization in the Spielberg/Kushner model and humanization in the Fincher/Sorkin mold.  It ultimately settles on an unhappy median, providing a portrait of Apple founder Steve Jobs that feels like laughable corporate folklore.

Just because the film’s characterization is fickle does not mean that its message is muddled.  Stern is clearly pushing an agenda to persuade his audience that Steve Jobs is the American Einstein, a visionary misunderstood in his early years.  And just like Einstein, we will not fully comprehend his genius until years after his death.  But eventually, we will come to use his name as a synonym for innovation.

Ashton Kutcher does do a half-decent job of resurrecting the essence of Steve Jobs.  The 35-year-old actor takes the icon from his college years, a barefoot braniac that seems to have escaped from a Terrence Malick film, to his introduction of the iPod as a slower sage.  At times, though, it does feel like quite a studied portrayal.  His Jobs is often much robotic imitation, opting for parroting over true personality.

Even with such faults, he’s the only thing that “Jobs” really has going for it.  Stern’s script is an overlong mess where Steve Jobs, even from his days at Reed, speaks not in sentences but in maxims that seem to be adapted from Confucian teachings.  When it delves into emotions and not just events, the drama of “Jobs” becomes quite laughable.  All in all, though, the film just feels superfluous.  Why do I need to sit through a two hour “for your consideration” ad for Steve Jobs to inducted into the pantheon of great minds when practically every computer, cell phone, and music player in my house is an Apple product?  C2stars





What To Look Forward to in … September 2009

17 08 2009

I guess this sort of serves as a “fall movie preview.” With this, I want to present what I’m looking forward to in September, what other might be looking forward to, and hopefully introduce you to some movies that you might not have heard of yet.

September 4

The movie that I’m most excited for opening this week is “Extract,” the latest comedy from Mike Judge, creator of “Office Space” and TV’s “King of the Hill.”  The movie stars Jason Bateman, who has been in nearly every comedy and yet I still have not tired of him, as the owner of an extract factory who is a bit down on his luck.  Also featuring a great supporting cast which includes J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man,” “Juno”), Mila Kunis (TV’s “That ’70s Show”), Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), and Ben Affleck, the movie looks to be truly hilarious entertainment.

Other releases this week include “All About Steve,” a comedy with Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and “Gamer,” a non-stop action film with Gerard Butler (“The Ugly Truth”).

September 9 & 11

Opening on 9/9/09, “9” uses a clever marketing ploy to hopefully drive audiences its way.  But I’m not sold.  The ever creepy and quirky Tim Burton is behind it, and I have never really been into his type of movies.  The story revolves around nine CGI animated rag dolls living in a post-apocalyptic world.  Maybe this will be some sort of a breakout hit, but until I hear buzz from friends or other bloggers I trust, I’m not throwing my money at it.

“9” is the big attraction of the week.  Also opening is Tyler Perry’s latest movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” starring Taraji P. Henson of “Benjamin Button” fame, the thriller “Whiteout” starring the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, and the horror flick “Sorority Row.”

September 18

There are several movies to get excited about that open this weekend.  First and foremost is “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon.  It takes your usual FBI rat story and flips it on its head, turning it into a comedy.  I have always thought Damon has a great knack for subtle comedy, perfectly illustrated in the “Ocean’s” movies.  The director is Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winner for “Traffic,” but has also helmed “Erin Brockovich” and all three “Ocean’s” films.  And the good news is that this is only Matt Damon’s first role of the year with Oscar potential (see the December preview later).

Also opening is “Jennifer’s Body,” which is the first film written by Diablo Cody since winning the Oscar for “Juno.”  It stars Hollywood’s beauty queen Megan Fox as a vampire who eats guys at her high school.  Her presence alone will drive every young guy in America to this movie.  It also features Amanda Seyfried, one of the bright spots in the otherwise disastrous film adaptation of “Mamma Mia!”  I love the quick-witted humor of “Juno,” and although this doesn’t appear to offer similar antics, curiosity (and Megan Fox) will probably get me.

In limited release, “Bright Star” opens, a movie consider by many to be a major Oscar player.  It isn’t the kind of movie that excites me just from watching the trailer, but the buzz surrounding it coming out of the Cannes Film Festival can’t be discarded.  The movie follows the life of the poet John Keats in the early 1800s.  It is directed by Jane Campion, writer/director of “The Piano,” and features a cast of nearly no recognizable names.  I feel obliged to tell you about it because many are sure that you will be hearing about it during awards season and also because so many people love movies set in the beautiful English country with tons of beautiful costumes and people.

Also opening is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” an animated adaptation of one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, their idea of adapting it is taking the basic premise of food raining from the sky and destroying the rest of the original story. Maybe I will check it out for old time’s sake, but I’m not expecting anything special. The week also puts forth a romantic drama “Love Happens” starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) and Jennifer Aniston. And technically, the writer/director of “Babel,” Guillermo Ariaga, releases his latest movie, “The Burning Plain,” to theaters this weekend, but you can watch it on demand starting August 21 if you are that curious.

September 25

Being a musical theater junkie, I feel that it is my duty to push “Fame.”  The movie is a musical that follows a group of talented artists throughout their four years in high school in New York.  At a time in their lives where they don’t know if they have what it takes it to make it big, all the emotions appear to run high.  The movie features no stars. so hopefully this will launch some very promising careers.

For action fans, Bruce Willis is at it again in a high concept sci-fi called “Surrogates,” in which everyone in the world controls a robotic version of themselves from home called a surrogate. Willis plays a detective who investigates the possibility of the surrogates killing the user who operates it.  For sci-fi fans, a screamfest called “Pandorum” with Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster (“3:10 To Yuma”) looks to deliver.  For all those craving a raunchy comedy, a little studio will try to pack you into “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell,” adapted from the tales of drinking and its consequences in the book of the same name.  In limited release, those who like the costumes of “Bright Star” get “Coco Before Chanel,” the story of the legendary fashion designer.  (NOTE: “The Invention of Lying” was pushed back to October 2.)

So, readers, what is your most anticipated in September?  Anything I left off?  Take the poll and let me know.

Until the next reel,
Marshall