BEIRUT (2018) – Complex Thriller Driven by Strong Performances

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BEIRUT (2018) is a complex thriller about a hostage negotiation in 1982 Beirut. Driven by strong performances by Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike, the film does a lot of things well and more than makes up for its lack of supporting character development and peripheral plot.

The movie opens in 1972 Beirut with American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) hosting a dinner party with his wife for a group of dignitaries, including a United States Congressman, where Mason explains the current intricate political situation inside Lebanon. When Mason’s best friend Cal (Mark Pellegrino) arrives with the shocking news that the thirteen year-old boy Mason and his wife have taken into their home and consider a part of their family is the younger brother of the world’s most wanted terrorist, and the U.S. authorities want to extract the boy that very night. Mason refuses, and in the middle of his argument with Cal, gunmen open fire on the party and whisk the boy away before the U.S. agents can take him.  In the process, Mason’s wife is shot and killed.

The story picks up ten years later and finds Mason back in the U.S. working as a mediator and negotiator for local labor disputes. He has left his former life behind him, having walked away from both Beirut and his friend Cal immediately after the shooting, and he hasn’t spoken to his former friend since he left.

But all that changes when he is approached by a group of federal agents who want his help.  It seems that an American was taken hostage in Beirut, and the kidnappers demanded that Mason handle the negotiation.  Mason balks at the idea and says that the kidnappers simply pulled his name out of a hat. The agents then inform Mason that the hostage is his friend Cal.

Against his better judgement but not wanting to abandon Cal a second time, Mason returns to Beirut to negotiate the release of his best friend.

BEIRUT tells a compelling enough story and for the most part keeps its intricate tale from becoming too confusing. It’s a decent screenplay by Tony Gilroy, as one would expect as Gilroy also penned screenplays for the BOURNE movies and more recently he was one of the writers involved with ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016).

BEIRUT reminded me a little bit of ARGO (2012), the Ben Affleck movie which won Best Picture in 2012. Both films share suspenseful hostage stories and international intrigue, although ARGO told the better story by far.

The story BEIRUT tells is not as memorable, nor is it as riveting since one of the weaknesses of the screenplay is the supporting characters aren’t really developed. In ARGO, the audience gets to know the hostages. In BEIRUT, very little is known about hostage Cal, and so even though the proceedings are very interesting, they don’t always resonate as well as they should on an emotional level.

The best part of BEIRUT are the performances by the two leads, Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike. Hamm is terrific as Mason Skiles, although this smooth talking alcoholic character is clearly reminiscent of Don Draper, the character Hamm played so well on the TV series MAD MEN (2007-2015). Fans of the show might have fun imagining that this is what happened next to Mr. Draper. And while Hamm isn’t exactly out of his comfort zone here, he still delivers an enjoyable performance.

Rosamund Pike is also excellent as Sandy Crowder, one of the government operatives who helps Mason when he’s on the ground in Beirut. It’s a solid understated performance by Pike, whose character has her own reasons for wanting to extract Cal. The other dynamic I enjoyed between Mason and Sandy is that unlike most movies where the male and female leads are involved romantically, this time they are not, which I found refreshing.

I like Pike a lot and have enjoyed her recent roles in such films as HOSTILES (2017), GONE GIRL (2014), and JACK REACHER (2012) to name a few.

BEIRUT also has a strong supporting cast.  Mark Pellegrino is very good as Cal, Mason’s shadowy friend, even if the character isn’t developed all that well. For most of the film we don’t really know if Cal is a good guy or not, which hurts the story somewhat.

Dean Norris, Hank on TV’s BREAKING BAD (20080-2013) is nearly unrecognizable with a full head of hair and glasses as Donald Gaines, one of the government agents who recruits Mason. And Shea Whigham is memorable as another of these agents, Gary Ruzak.

BEIRUT was directed by Brad Anderson, who’s directed a lot of movies and TV shows, including the horror movie SESSION 9 (2001).  Anderson certainly does a good job of capturing war-ravaged Lebanon circa 1982, and the film’s location alone is enough to make this one a nail biter.

The story is certainly engrossing as we follow Mason’s efforts to find his friend Cal and navigate the negotiations needed to release him. There are some decent scenes, like when Mason first meets the group claiming to have Cal, as there is a rather unexpected execution right in the middle of it.  And the film heats up every time Mason slips away from his handlers, driving them crazy while he’s off the grid.

That being said, there really isn’t any centerpiece scene in this movie, either in artistic design or in its plot, no part of the film where it kicks into high gear and really becomes something special.

And I would imagine this one is not making a whole lot of money. I saw it with a very small audience. There were fewer than ten people in the theater.

Nonetheless, it’s a solid movie driven by two potent performances by Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike, and it’s certainly worth a trip to the theater.

BEIRUT is also a nice reminder of the value of diplomacy and negotiation over violence, even though when all is said and done, there is certainly lots of bloodshed, which is what you would expect in 1982 Beirut.

—END—

 

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Wonder Woman Leads the Way as Superheroes Save JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

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As a kid, I slightly preferred the Marvel superhero comics to DC, but I pretty much enjoyed them both.

But in the past decade, in the movie world, Marvel’s movies have been far superior to what DC has churned out.  The DC films have been largely problematic. That changed a bit earlier this year with the release of WONDER WOMAN (2017),  the best DC film to hit the big screen since THE DARK KNIGHT (2008).

The upward trend continues with the release of JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017), the tale of a group of DC superheroes working together for the first time.  While not as good as Marvel’s AVENGERS movies, JUSTICE LEAGUE is another step forward, helped immensely by the presence of Wonder Woman, played once again by the astonishing Gal Gadot.

When a JUSTICE LEAGUE opens, Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead, but as every superhero fan knows, the Man of Steel is never gone forever.  Movie fans will know as well, as soon as they see Henry Cavill’s name listed prominently in the opening credits.

With Superman gone, the door is open for the powers of darkness to make Earth their own, because frankly, while other superheroes may be tough, it seems only Superman can keep the truly heinous baddies from strutting their stuff.  In this case, it’s Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) who centuries ago was banished by an alliance between the Amazons, the Atlanteans, and the humans.  With Superman dead, Steppenwolf returns to finish the job he set out to do eons before, namely, to destroy the world.

Realizing that Steppenwolf is a superior foe, Batman (Ben Affleck) assembles a team of heroes, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).  But even their combined strength isn’t enough to take Steppenwolf down, leading Batman to suggest the outlandish plan of resurrecting Superman from the dead, even if his newfound superfriends warn him against doing so. The young Flash nervously worries that such a plan could lead to Pet Sematary-like results.

I really enjoyed JUSTICE LEAGUE.  The script by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon works mostly because it keeps things simple.  The story is not overly ambitious and therefore avoids being overdone and complicated, as was the case with the recent BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) which try as it might failed to establish a convincing relationship between Batman and Superman.  You could actually argue that the story here is rather stupid, but in this case, that doesn’t really matter because the strength of JUSTICE LEAGUE is its superhero characters, and the actors playings these roles all acquit themselves rather nicely.

Joss Whedon of course both wrote and directed THE AVENGERS movies, and his influence is apparent in this movie when the superfriends bicker and take jabs at each other.  And while Christ Terrio wrote BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, a movie I didn’t like, he also wrote ARGO (2012), a film I definitely did like.  There is a lot of smart dialogue in this film, which helps lift it above its very standard plot, like when Batman criticizes Wonder Woman for not having ever taking a leadership role.  He correctly points out that Superman has been a beacon for the world, but he had never even heard of Wonder Woman until recently, and he accuses of her hiding in the shadows during the past century.

It’s safe to say that after the success of WONDER WOMAN, one of the biggest draws of JUSTICE LEAGUE is not Batman or Superman, but Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Gadot does not disappoint.  She was clearly my favorite part of this movie, and when she is on-screen, the film is at its best.  She possesses such a strong screen presence, she’s astonishingly beautiful, and is completely believable as an unstoppable warrior princess.

But Wonder Woman alone wouldn’t be enough to save a movie called JUSTICE LEAGUE, and thankfully, her superhero counterparts are also quite good.

While I didn’t really like the look of Batman’s cowl and costume, Ben Affleck is quite effective as the caped crusader.  It’s a convincing performance, and I liked Affleck even better here as Batman than in BATMAN V SUPERMAN.  There are also plenty of potshots made by his friends at his lack of super powers.  At one point, he’s asked just what his superpowers are, and he answers, “I’m rich.”

Strangely, when Affleck appears as Bruce Wayne, he seemed a bit fleshy in the face which works against the idea that Batman is a fit fighting machine.  There’s also a neat nod to the Michael Keaton BATMAN movies here, as composer Danny Elfman incorporates his original BATMAN theme from that 1989 flick into some of the Batman scenes.

Likewise, Henry Cavill scores high as Superman.  In fact, it’s probably my favorite Cavill performance as the Man of Steel.  He comes off as sincere and is far less troubled than in previous films with concerns over how the world views him.  It seems death has been a good thing for Superman, as while he was gone, the world seemed to have missed him.

Ezra Miller is fun as the Flash, although at times the humor seemed a bit forced.  I also enjoyed Ray Fisher as Cyborg, and really enjoyed Jason Momoa as Aquaman, who gets some of the better lines in the movie.

The film is also helped by a strong supporting cast, led by Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  Adams isn’t in the movie much, but to have Adams in a cast as a supporting player can only add to a movie, and her few scenes are all nicely done.  Jeremy Irons gets a decent amount of screen time as Alfred, and he makes the most of his scenes.

Diane Lane is effective as Clark Kent’s mother Martha Kent, and Connie Nielson reprises her role from WONDER WOMAN as Queen Hippolyta. J.K. Simmons appears briefly as Commissioner Gordon, and Amber Heard is seen all too fleetingly as one of Aquaman’s associates, Mera.

Director Zack Snyder achieved better results here than he did with both BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and MAN OF STEEL (2013). One of the ways that JUSTICE LEAGUE is superior is Snyder controlled himself here and didn’t film action scenes that went on for too long.  They are generally quick, efficient, and well done.

I thought the pacing was especially good.  The film runs for just about two hours, but it flew by for me and felt more like 90 minutes.

Like its Marvel counterparts, there are a couple of after credit scenes.  The first one is well worth the wait, but the second at the very end involves a certain villain played by a certain actor who I really don’t want to see again.  Oh well.

The film also opens with a curious bit featuring Superman, which was enjoyable enough, but I thought at some point in the movie the story would return to this moment, but it never does.

JUSTICE LEAGUE features a straightforward and rather simple if not predictable story, but in this case it seems to be just what these DC films have needed.  The DC films that haven’t worked have been bogged down with plot points that didn’t work and action scenes that went on for far too long.  It truly seemed as if they were struggling to find their identity.

WONDER WOMAN established its identity right away, and while JUSTICE LEAGUE isn’t quite as successful as WONDER WOMAN, it too establishes itself right away.  It sacrifices plot for characterization, using most of the screen time to establish its Justice League personalities, and the film is better for it.

The superheroes here not only save the world, but the movie.

As such, JUSTICE LEAGUE is highly recommended.

—END—

Superhero Movies 2016 – Worst to First

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Here’s a look at the superhero movies from 2016, ranked from worst to first:

batman_v_superman

7. BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE – By far, the worst superhero movie of 2016. The script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer doesn’t work. In spite of the fact that Batman and Superman do not trust or like each other, a big part of the plot revolves around Lex Luthor’s plans to pit them against each other.  Why?  They’re enemies already!  Also, the big moment where Batman and Superman change their tunes about each other is both unbelievable and anticlimactic.

Both Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman are fine, but the story they are in is not.  Also unimpressed with the action scenes by director Zach Snyder.  Best Part:  Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Worst Part:  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

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6. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN- Tecnically, not really a superhero movie, but growing up I always considered Tarzan a superhero of the jungle.

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is a serious good-looking production by director David Yates that suffers from one fundamental problem:  it’s boring.

Alexander Skarsgard is terribly uncharismatic as Tarzan, Margot Robbie somehow doesn’t wow as Jane, and Christoph Waltz thinks he’s still playing Bond baddie Blofeld, hamming it up as villain Leon Rom.  The liveliest lines go to Samuel L. Jackson as Tarzan ally George Washington Williams.  The movie would have been better served had it given this oomph to Tarzan.

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5.SUICIDE SQUAD –  The DC superhero movies continue to struggle, but that being said, I liked SUICIDE SQUAD.  Somewhat.

Whereas she didn’t wow in THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, Margot Robbie more than makes up for it here as Harley Quinn.  Robbie’s electrifying, sexy performance as the bad-girl-turned-good-maybe easily steals this movie.  It’s easy to understand from Robbie’s performance how Quinn is the Joker’s girlfriend.

While I’m not a Will Smith fan, he’s really good here as Deadshot, and his and Robbie’s performances were the main reasons I enjoyed this movie.  The rest of the cast is simply average.  The plot less so.  The screenplay by director David Ayer has all this build up to this squad of misfits only to see them square off against one of their own, a supernatural witch, no less.  This one simply lacks vision.

Also, Jared Leto’s Joker is ultimately a disappointment, partly because of his performance, but mostly because the role is under written.

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4. DOCTOR STRANGE – The first of the superhero movies on this list that I consider excellent.  It’s no surprise that all four of the top superhero movies from 2016 come out of the Marvel Universe, the studio that continues to churn out one superhero hit after another.

Certainly the most imaginative superhero movie of the year.  Not only does it tell a captivating story, but it’s also a visual treat. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Doctor Strange, the obnoxious neurosurgeon turned superhero after a devastating injury ruins his career and sends him in search of healing through the Far East mystic arts.  What he finds is new life as a superhero.

As usual with the Marvel movies, it struggles with its villain, as Mads Mikkelsen really doesn’t get to do a whole lot as bad guy Kaecilius.

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3. X-MEN:  APOCALYPSE –  My sleeper pick on the list.  Critically panned and not really loved by fans, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE nonetheless entertained me from start to finish.

The main reason I enjoyed this one?  The performances by James McAvoy as Professor Xavier, and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. Since taking over these roles when the series rebooted with X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS (2011), McAvoy and Fassbender have made them their own.  It’s difficult to dislike a movie when these two talented actors are helming it.

Of course, Jennifer Lawrence is here, too, as Raven/Mystique, but in all honesty I’ve enjoyed Lawrence in most of her other movies more than here in the X-MEN series.

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2. DEADPOOL (CKF) – For many, DEADPOOL was the best superhero movie of 2016.  For me, it was second best.  That being said, it was certainly the most unusual superhero movie of the year.

Foul-mouthed Deadpool— played by Ryan Reynolds in a role he was born to play— lets loose with an abundance of raunchy language not even George Carlin, Richard Pryor, or Eddie Murphy combined could match.  As such, this R rated superhero movie is not for everyone, but if you don’t mind raunchy language, you are in for quite a treat.

The liveliest superhero movie of the year, as well as the funniest.

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1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – My pick for the best superhero movie of 2016 is easily Marvel’s CAPTAIN AMERICA:  CIVIL WAR.  This one plays more like THE AVENGERS 2.5. Its story about a rift between Captain America and Iron Man is much more believable and emotionally satisfying than the rift between Batman and Superman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.

This one is so good, that even though it’s the third Captain America movie, it belongs in the conversation as one of the best superhero movies ever made.Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo direct this one with high energy and lots of style, and the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is a genuine crowd pleaser.

Also features a phenomenal cast which has no business being in a superhero movie. You’ve got Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, Don Cheadle as War Machine, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Paul Bettany as Vision, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, and Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier.  And with all these folks doing their things and doing them well, the movie is almost stolen by young Tom Holland in his debut as Spider-Man.

An awesome movie.  Marvel has been churning out one quality superhero movie after another going back to IRON MAN (2008), and they show no signs of slowing down.  I’m looking forward to their upcoming releases in 2017, starting with LOGAN on March 3.

And there you have it, my list of the superhero movies from 2016.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.  Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

Worst Movies of 2016

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And here’s a look at my Top 10 List for the worst movies I saw in 2016:

10. HAIL CAESAR!

Coming in at #10 it’s HAIL CAESAR!, a misfire from the Coen brothers.  Don’t get me wrong, this period piece depicting 1950s Hollywood looks terrific.  But the script doesn’t really work.  It has the makings of a screwball comedy, but the Coen brothers opt to play up the drama instead, and so the main character is straight man Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who goes around getting actors and actresses out of the various messes they’ve gotten themselves into, all in the name of protecting the studio’s image.  And so the screwball tale of lead actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) being kidnapped is pushed into the background, downplaying Clooney’s considerable comedic talents. The film is basically a bunch of unfunny vignettes with a serious but dull wraparound story featuring Brolin’s Eddie Mannix.  Should have been much better.

 

9. BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE

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Easily my pick for the worst superhero movie of the year.  Batman and Superman lock horns in a story that never makes much sense.   The two superheroes hate each other in the first place, which weakens the plot point of villain Lex Luthor’s plan to pit them against each other, and later the moment when the two future superfriends make amends simply doesn’t ring true.  Best part:  Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Worst part:  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

 

8. THE CONJURING 2

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A major disappointment.  This sequel to the excellent horror movie THE CONJURING (2013) is a bust, even with the return of original director James Wan, and lead stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  Film offers nothing new.

 

7. THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY

Horribly unfunny comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen about two brothers, one an assassin, the other a full-fledged loser, who team up to take on the bad guys.  This one had a hilarious trailer, but that’s all.

 

6.THE DARKNESS

Another lame horror movie, this one about a demon which haunts a family after they take a trip to the Grand Canyon.  Stars Kevin Bacon.

 

5. MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION

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One of the worst sequels I’ve seen in a long while.  This sequel to one of Jason Statham’s earlier hits, THE MECHANIC (2011), itself a remake of a 1970s Charles Bronson movie, makes no sense and is simply an excuse to have Jason Statham in some action scenes.  I’m a big Statham fan, but not even his presence here could save this turkey.

 

4. THE FOREST

Yet another terrible horror movie.  There are simply too many of these.  This one takes a real place, Japan’s Suicide Forest, with lots of real potential, and reduces it to a mere setting for a silly story about an American woman searching for her missing sister.  This is one forest not worth visiting.

 

3. BLAIR WITCH

Yup, another horror movie, another pointless sequel.  This sequel to the classic THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) drops the ball as its story about the younger brother of the main protagonist in the original film offers nothing new.  Yup, you won’t find any neat revelations here regarding the mysterious events in the first film.  A huge waste of time.

 

2. HARDCORE HENRY

This actioner deployed the gimmick of being shot entirely from the first person perspective of the main character, who we never see since the story unfolds through his eyes.  The result is a movie which plays like a video game, but of course, the viewer isn’t playing this game, so unless you like watching other people play video games, you might want to skip this one.  Not even the presence of the talented Sharlto Copley can save this shallow flick.

 

1. INCARNATE

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My pick for the Worst Movie of 2016 is a no brainer.  Easily the worst horror movie of the year and the worst movie of the  year, INCARNATE wastes the talents of a fine actor like Aaron Eckhart and sticks him in a ridiculous story about demonic possession.  The gimmick here is Eckhart’s character approaches demonic possession from the psychological standpoint, and enters the victims’ dreams to expel the demons.  Kinda like a heroic version of Freddy Kruger, only without the wit.  A mess from start to finish, this one makes little sense, nor does it try to.

And there you have it, my picks for the Worst Movies of 2016.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

THE ACCOUNTANT (2016) – Exciting, Entertaining Flick

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It’s Batman vs. the Punisher!

Well, not really, but THE ACCOUNTANT (2016),  the new thriller starring Ben Affleck as a math savant who uncooks the books for some of the most dangerous criminals and terrorists in the world, does pit Affleck—Batman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)— against Jon Bernthal, who plays The Punisher on Marvel’s DAREDEVIL TV show.

In THE ACCOUNTANT, Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an accountant with a penchant for working with menacing clients.  As such, he has attracted the attention of Treasury Department head Ray King (J. K. Simmons) who handpicks agent Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to track down and learn the identity of this mysterious accountant.  With the feds on his tail, Wolff decides to lay low and  work next for a legitimate client.

Wolff is hired by a robotics company run by the philanthropic Lamar Black (John Lithgow) where their young accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) has discovered a discrepancy on their books.  It doesn’t take Wolff long to uncover the root of the problem, and when he does, he finds out that this “legitimate” job is just as dangerous as the shadier ones.

And not only are the feds on Wolff’s trail, but there’s also a mysterious enforcer (Jon Bernthal) closing in on him.

I liked THE ACCOUNTANT a lot, and it’s one of those movies where the less said about the plot, the better.  Not that it’s full of surprises, but it does tell an intricate story with enough twists and turns to keep its audience off balance yet satisfied.

There are a lot of things about this one I liked.  I particularly enjoyed its take on autism.  Wolff has autism, and it’s not shown here to be a disability but simply a different ability, which is consistent with contemporary thinking on this condition.

Now, young Wolff learns his fighting skills at a young age from his hard-driving military father (Robert C. Treveiler) who refused to put his son in a special school and instead taught and trained him by himself, with the mindset that he had to make his son face his fears and toughen him up.  I found these flashback scenes particularly frustrating because the father’s ideas for helping his son are questionable at best, but these scenes work because they explain how Wolff became such an effective killer.

That’s right.  There’s a reason why he has survived all these years working for dangerous clients.  Wolff is rather dangerous himself.  He’s quite the assassin and could give Jason Bourne a run for his money.  Actually, there was something about the early training scenes here that reminded me of Marvel’s DAREDEVIL.  In DAREDEVIL, Matt Murdoch learns how to be a superhero in spite of his being blind.  Here, Wolff becomes super hero-like in spite of his autism.

Again, I really liked the way the film approached autism, not viewing it as a disability but as something that simply makes people who have it different, but no less complete than those of us without it.

THE ACCOUNTANT also boasts a very strong cast.  I really enjoyed Ben Affleck here, much more than his recent portrayal of Batman.  Of course, he’s working with a better script here.  The screenplay by Bill Dubuque tells a compelling story, creates likable characters, and contains lively dialogue.

But back to Affleck.  He really captures what it’s like to be a man like Christian Wolff.  He gets inside Wolff’s head, and he lets us know what he is thinking, which is impressive, because the rest of the cast is confused by his autistic personality.  Affleck nails the autism part, and we see him struggling to be sociable, as we know he wants to be, but it just doesn’t come easily for him.  When he makes a comment that is misunderstood at one point, he quickly quips “it was a joke,” and we know immediately that the line is simply a cover-up to mask his embarrasment.

Affleck also is completely believable as the math savant, as well as making for a cool unruffled assassin.  The scenes where we see Wolff in action are among the best in the movie.  I’ve really been enjoying Ben Affleck in recent years, in films like GONE GIRL (2014), RUNNER, RUNNER (2013), ARGO (2012), and THE TOWN (2010).  Heck, even though I did not like BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) at all, I thought he was pretty good as Batman.  For me, I first became an Affleck fan after seeing him portray George Reeves in HOLLYWOODLAND (2006).  His performance here in THE ACCOUNTANT might be his best since ARGO.

And Affleck is supported by a fine supporting class.  J.K. Simmons is solid at Treasury Chief Ray King, and I enjoyed Anna Kendrick as accountant Dana Cummings.  I particularly enjoyed her scenes with Affleck, thought they shared some chemistry, and I wish she had been in the movie more.

Cynthia Addai-Robinson was okay as Treasury Agent Marybeth Medina, as was John Lithgow as company owner Lamar Black.

Jeffrey Tambor makes his mark as Francis Silverberg, a man Wolff meets in prison and who is instrumental in helping Wolff get started in his new “career.”  And as shadowy hitman/enforcer Brax, Jon Bernthal is once again very good.  I seem to enjoy Bernthal now in nearly everything he does, and so it was fun to see him here as the man who’s tracking down Wolff from the other side of the law.  Granted, I enjoyed Bernthal more as the Punisher on DAREDEVIL, and I’m looking forward to his own PUNISHER  TV show, but still, he’s enjoyable here in THE ACCOUNTANT.

And I thought Robert C. Treveiler was particularly effective as Wolff’s hardnosed military father.  I wanted to hate the guy, but there was something redeemable about him, the way he saw things through.  I didn’t agree with what he was doing with his sons, but at least he was there for them.

I thought director Gavin O’Connor did a fine job.  I liked the way he told the story. It was clear that opening scene was holding back information, and I liked the way the film went back to that scene later to fill in some plot points.  I enjoyed the action scenes here, especially the scene where Wolff comes to the aid of two of his clients, an elderly couple, when some unsavory characters show up at their farm.

I also thought the ending was handled well.

THE ACCOUNTANT drew me in early and kept me there, with well-written characters, an interesting plot, solid peformances all around, and some decent excitement.

It all adds up to one very entertaining movie.

—END—

 

 

 

 

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) – Cool Characters Stuck In A Not-So-Cool Movie

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Things are so bad— how bad is it?

Things are so bad, it’s no longer enough to have superheroes fighting for you.  Nowadays you need supervillains on your side.

That’s the premise behind SUICIDE SQUAD (2016), the latest superhero movie from DC comics. Unlike its rival Marvel comics, whose superhero films have been for the most part high quality flicks and box office hits, the DC movies have struggled.  The previous film in the series, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) was a dud and struggled with believability, as its rift between Batman and Superman was forced and contrived.

Today’s movie, SUICIDE SQUAD, struggles with a similar problem.

SUICIDE SQUAD opens after the events of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE and finds government officials increasingly wary of the unchecked powers of superheroes, or as they are called in these movies, metahumans.  Officials are worried that the next Superman might not be so friendly.

Enter government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) whose solution to this problem is to assemble a group of supervillains— a suicide squad— who she claims she will control by injecting each of them with a chip containing a miniaturized bomb.  They cross her in any way, and she’ll blow them up.

They will do the nasty work of the government– defeating super bad guys— because they will have no choice in the matter, and if they fail no one will know because the entire operation will be kept under wraps, nor will anyone care since these guys are all villains.    For Waller, it’s a win-win situation.

For me, it’s a head-scratcher.  Wouldn’t you rather just hire Batman and some of his friends?  It seems like a lot less trouble.

The SUICIDE SQUAD consists of Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin who never misses; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who happens to be the Joker’s girlfriend, and she’s just as crazy as he is; Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian who uses razor sharp boomerangs as weapons; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a monstrous creature with crocodilian abilities; Diablo (Jay Hernandez) a guy who uses fire as a weapon and makes the Human Torch seem like a puny match; and a few others.

Among these others is Waller’s trump card, the Enchantress, an all-powerful witch who Waller controls by keeping her heart in a brief case.  In human form, the Enchantress is scientist June Moone (Cara Delevingne).

But Waller’s plan falls apart when she loses control of the Enchantress, who then summons her all-powerful brother to join her in conquering the human race.  Waller is forced to use her Suicide Squad to take down the Enchantress and her brother.  In effect, their first mission is to attack one of their own.  So much for taking on outside threats.

SUICIDE SQUAD is full of cool characters, but it’s not a cool movie. Far from it, it’s silly and contrived, and it has one of the more ridiculous superhero plots I’ve ever seen. A wicked witch who wants to take over the world?  Puh-lease!   Still, it’s not all bad, and there were some things that I liked.

It’s two strongest characters are Harley Quinn and Deadshot.  Of the two, Deadshot is far less interesting, but Will Smith delivers a strong performance nonetheless.  I’m not much of a Will Smith fan, but this is one of the better characters I’ve seen him play.  When he’s on screen, the movie is that much better.  He also has some of the best lines in the movie, which is a rarity, because surprisingly, there aren’t many memorable lines in this film.

Even better than Smith is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.  By far, she’s the best part of SUICIDE SQUAD.  Quinn is the most interesting character in the film, and she also has the best story, a love story between her and the Joker (Jared Leto).  It’s the one story in the entire movie that works.

Margot Robbie is phenomenal as Harley Quinn.  She makes her as zany and unpredictable as she’s supposed to be, and she also instills her with a wild and potent sexuality that pulsates off the screen.  Robbie played Jane Clayton earlier this year in the tepid Tarzan tale THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016).  She was also in WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (2016) with Tina Fey, and she also starred in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013).  Her work here in SUICIDE SQUAD is better than anything I’ve seen her do before.

Remove Will Smith and Margot Robbie from this movie, and it’s a complete mess.  They pretty much carry the film, but since it’s entitled SUICIDE SQUAD, and not HARLEY QUINN MEETS DEADSHOT, they don’t entirely save it.

The other members of the squad are simply not as developed as Deadshot and Harley Quinn, and as a result, are not as interesting.

The villains here are the worst part.  Enchantress?  A witch as the villain?  Seriously?  I half expected to see Chris Hemsworth show up as the Huntsman!  Things were so bad I was almost pining for Loki.  Almost.  Her dialogue is also laughable.  Seriously, I challenge you to listen to her lines in her final scenes and not laugh out loud.  She also does this bizarre hip movement thing which looks like Elvis animated by Ray Harryhausen.

Government Agent Amanda Waller as played by Viola Davis is a ruthless despicable character.  It’s clear she hates the Suicide Squad.  It’s also clear she’s out of place in a superhero movie.  She’d be more at home as the heavy in a Jason Bourne film.

Jared Leto plays the Joker, and he has enormous shoes to fill. The last time we saw the Joker in a movie, he was played by Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), and his performance as the Joker is arguably the greatest performance by any actor in a superhero movie.  I thought Leto was okay, and given more to do, he may have been even better than okay, but sadly, the Joker remains a secondary character throughout this movie, and as such, Leto never really grew on me, nor did he have a chance to make this role his own.

SUICIDE SQUAD was directed by David Ayer, and I can’t say that I was impressed.There aren’t really many memorable action scenes, which is not a good thing in a superhero movie.  I also wasn’t that impressed with the look of the film.  Most of it is shot on dark rainy streets, and visually it didn’t do much for me.  Even the 3D effects weren’t that impressive.

The weakest part of SUICIDE SQUAD, as was the case with BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, is the script, here written by director David Ayer. First off, I didn’t like the way it told its story.  The backrgound stories to the Suicide Squad are revealed in staccato flashbacks which play out like a series of YouTube videos.  There’s no sense of pacing or drama.  They’re just played to us as if we’re clicking on a computer screen.  The result is a rather disjointed and slow opening third to this movie.

When things finally do pick up, the Suicide Squad immediately is thrust into the ridiculous storyline of defending the city against an all powerful witch and her brother. It’s a story that just doesn’t work.

I also didn’t like the way the members of the Suicide Squad were forced into working for Waller.  They obey her or they die.  The result here is they are not allowed to exhibit much of their personalities.

The only story that works is the love story between Harley Quinn and the Joker.  It’s the only part of the film that resonates and that doesn’t come off as forced.  I really hoped the Joker would become more involved in the main plot of the movie, but alas, this film is not that ambitious and he remains largely in the background.

Likewise, an uncredited Ben Affleck plays Batman here, but again, he’s only in the background, as he only appears in the flashbacks.  It’s kind of a waste.  I wanted to see Batman involved in the action, seen from the perspective of the Suicide Squad.  That would have been interesting.

But a film that contains two powerful performances like the ones that Will Smith and Margot Robbie deliver cannot be all bad, and SUICIDE SQUAD is not a complete clunker by any means.  It has its moments, most of them when Smith and Robbie are on screen, and while the other members of the suicide squad are chock full of potential, sadly, they’re all stuck in a story that is about as compelling as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The difference being that Harley Quinn is no Snow White.

—END—

 

 

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) No Victory For Storytelling

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BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), the latest DC comics movie pits their two most famous superheroes against each other, Batman vs. Superman, and from the outset, this seemed like a silly premise to me.

Seriously, is there any doubt about the outcome?  Does anyone seriously believe that when all is said and done, and the dust has settled, that one of these two will emerge the victor, or that they will remain enemies?  Don’t we all know that at some point there will be a big fat superhero kumbaya moment?  Of course we do!

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE gets off to a very good start as we witness Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) watching the horrifying destruction of Metropolis at the hands of Superman and General Zod in the battle they waged at the end of MAN OF STEEL (2013) and the terrible toll it takes on human life.  So we see from the outset why Wayne aka Batman is so down on Superman.  He’s outraged and a little bit afraid of the destruction Superman caused.

And he’s not alone.  The rest of the nation is also questioning Superman’s loyalties, including Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) who is holding hearings and being very vocal in the press about the need to hold Superman accountable for his actions and to put a lid on his acting unilaterally, although the last time I checked Superman didn’t work for the U.S. government.

As a result, Superman (Henry Cavill) is having an identity crisis and is going through some serious soul searching. Just who is he and what is his role here on earth, he’s asking?  He’s also asking if he can be Superman and still enjoy his beautiful girlfriend, Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

Superman is not having an easy time of it in this movie.  Perhaps a better title to this one should have been GET SUPERMAN!  because everyone in this film seems to have it out for the Man of Steel.  The government’s trying to control him, public opinion has turned against him, Batman wants to kill him, and oh yeah that new young villain Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has gotten his hands on both kryptonite and General Zod’s ship and the technology that goes along with it.  And just what do you think Luthor will do with all this stuff?  Why, take down Superman of course!

Well, sort of.  Luthor actually has bigger plans.  I mean, why take down one superhero when you can take down two?  Which is why he sets his sights on playing Don King and arranging the bout of the century, Batman vs. Superman.

Of course, when you think about it, you realize it’s rather a dumb plot point, because Batman and Superman hate each other and they’re on a collision course on their own.  They don’t need Luthor’s help.

Which brings me to the number one reason why I absolutely did not like BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE one bit:  it’s the storytelling, stupid.

While I have little problem with the performers here, I can’t say the same for the story and the way director Zach Snyder goes about telling it.

Remember how I said the film began with Bruce Wayne watching the brutal battle in the sky?  That’s not quite accurate.  Before this scene, we get to see yet again another variation of the scene where Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed.  Why?  How many times do we have to see this part of the story told?  Right off the bat, I’m thinking, what a weak way to begin what is supposed to be an epic superhero tale.

Then we get to the battle, and this scene does work.  It’s one of the few scenes in the movie that I did enjoy, and it sets up perfectly Bruce Wayne’s feelings towards Superman. But then the movie progresses in a series of scenes that do not flow together well at all.  I’m not exactly sure what the problem was, but the first 30 minutes or so contains scenes that just do not seem to flow seamlessly into the next.  Part of the problem is there is so little dialogue at the beginning.  The movie is begging for dialogue early on.

Then there’s the odd choice of scenes.  There are two in particular that I thought were poor ways to introduce out superheroes.  The first has Lois Lane held hostage by terrorists in the middle east.  There’s suddenly a firefight, and Superman arrives and rescues her in a scene that lasts about 30 seconds, and the next thing you know Superman is being blamed because a lot of innocent people were killed.  Huh?  This is a key plot point because it further sets up the public’s mistrust of Superman, but it’s muddled in its execution.  All I saw was Superman rescue Lois Lane.  Where’s the controversy in that?

For Batman’s first appearance, we see this really bizarre scene where two cops enter a dark building, find a group of terrified people who are babbling about some being who you can figure out is Batman, and one of the cops sees Batman lurking in the corner and opens fire at him before Batman flees without a word— there’s that lack of dialogue, again—.  His partner chastises him, telling him that he shouldn’t shoot at the good guys.  They also discover the criminal which Batman had left for them, and they see that Batman—now even darker than ever—oooh!!!—branded the Batman insignia into the bad guy’s flesh.  Holy cow poker, Batman!  Again, just a bizarre, confusing scene.  It seems to be implying that Batman is bad, but then again, it shows he’s good, but really I think the filmmakers hadn’t a clue, and it shows.

The entire movie is muddled in its storytelling, a combination of weird filming choices by director Snyder and a less than remarkable script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer.  Terrio wrote the script for ARGO (2012).  This is no ARGO. Meanwhile, Goyer wrote the screenplay for BATMAN BEGINS (2005) and MAN OF STEEL (2013).  The screenplay for BATMAN V SUPERMAN should have been better than it is.  It tries to do dark and foreboding, but without strong characterizations, it gives us dull and dreary.

The superheroes here do not fare well at all.

I’m a fan of Ben Affleck, especially in recent years, and while I don’t think he does a bad job here as Batman/Bruce Wayne, there are simply too many factors working against him here.  The script doesn’t provide him with anything worthwhile to say. In fact, it’s the opposite.  He says some pretty ridiculous things in this movie, chief amongst them his forced speech at the end of the movie, and his quick change of heart regarding a certain flying superhero.

His Bruce Wayne is dreary beyond belief, a man with zero charisma.  As much as I loved the DARK KNIGHT trilogy, I was never a huge fan of Christian Bale’s Batman, but I found myself missing Bale here.  Of course, my favorite film Batman/Bruce Wayne remains Michael Keaton, which always blows my mind, because Keaton is such a terrific comic actor that it’s amazing to think that he made such a cool Bruce Wayne.

I also did not like Batman’s robotic suit in this movie.  Can someone say, “Iron Man wannabe?”  It didn’t work for me at all.

Superman doesn’t fare any better.  For a lot of the movie, Superman really isn’t Henry Cavill but a special effect zipping here and zooming there.  In the scenes where he has dialogue, he’s actually pretty good, and I found myself enjoying his performance a bit more here than in MAN OF STEEL.  But he still lacks that special something to make Superman work. There’s just something not-larger-than-life about his interpretation of the role.  He’s sort of superman with a lower case “s.”

Now, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who makes her debut here is another story.  I liked Wonder Woman.  A lot.  But she’s in this movie for all of five minutes.  So much for Wonder Woman!  Again, bizarre choices by the filmmakers.

I also did not like Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation of Lex Luthor at all.  In fact, he’s probably my least favorite Lex Luthor ever.  I think I even prefer Kevin Spacey’s over-the-top performance as Lex in SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) more.  Eisenberg’s Lex is sort of going for the chaotic insanity of the Joker, but he’s not even close.  So here we have yet another disappointing superhero movie villain to add to our ever-growing list of weak superhero movie villains.

As much as I love Amy Adams as Lois Lane here, and make no mistake I enjoyed her in this movie, she really doesn’t have much to do in this movie other than be rescued by Superman.  Jeremy Irons actually made for a pretty interesting Alfred, and I have no complaints about Irons at all, but you know things are bad when you’re talking about Alfred instead of the superheroes!

Likewise, Laurence Fishburne turns in a respectable performance as Perry White, reprising the role from MAN OF STEEL.  I also really enjoyed Holly Hunter as Senator Finch, and some of her scenes were some of the better written scenes in the film.  I liked the plot point of the public’s mistrust of Superman, and Superman’s own questioning about his role in the world, but again, the filmmakers didn’t really roll with this.  It dies midway through the film.

It’s also a very long movie, clocking in at 151 minutes which for me was way too long.  I was longing for it to end.  I also saw it in 3D, and it was about as unspectacular as a 3D movie could be.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE is a dreary muddled movie that doesn’t seem to know how to tell a story to save its life.

Batman and Superman definitely deserve better.

—END—