Saturday, November 26, 2016

“Allied” – Two movies in one.

Sometimes, the toughest question to answer about a movie is “what’s it about?” Trailers almost always lie or mislead you if the movie is more complicated than transforming robots fight with each other. That’s why when people try to guess what a movie is about based on trailers, they always start with “It looks like…” Allied is a great example of this. Prior to seeing the movie, if you had asked me what it was about I would have said it looks like a World War II spy movie with Brad Pitt. That doesn’t really tell you what the movie is about, just its premise. Google “allied movie synopsis” and this is the first thing you get:

“During World War II, intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is stationed in North Africa where he encounters French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Reunited in London, their relationship is threatened by the extreme pressures of the war.”

Right away, you can see that the trailers are leaving out a ton of information, including that this movie is really two small movies lashed together. And, of course the trailers are made this way – they don’t want men to know that the second half of this movie is about relationships. It’s a war movie – keep your Nicholas Sparks out of it, thank you very much.

This is what you came for men.

However, that synopsis is misleading as well. They don’t tell you what the actual plot of the second half of the movie is about because they wrongly think that would be a spoiler. I’ll get to that in a minute, but the important thing you need to know about this movie is that you’re getting two movies for the price of one.

(I will have some SPOILERS that are actual SPOILERS, but nothing major.)

Allied is about two spies and their time together. The first half of the movie covers how they meet and the mission they undertake together – an assassination attempt of a high ranking Nazi official in Casablanca. Right away, you should be thinking about the movie Casablanca and that there are probably all kinds of parallels and homages to it by Allied. If you spot them, let me know, because I barely remember Casablanca.

A lot of time is spent getting to know Max and Marianne and this first hour has to sell you on their chemistry together in order to set up the second half. Unfortunately, it’s less than convincing, basically boiling down to them having sex in a car during a haboob (I know I could have said sandstorm, but come on…Sex scene. Haboob. Heh. I’m basically a man-sized child). Once the mission is over, he proposes marriage to her and the movie just cuts to “London. Three weeks later.” Because of what I knew from the trailers, my first thought was “wait – what’s this movie about then?” It’s also very jarring because when the mission is over, the mission becomes a plot device for the second half. If you wanted to leave the theater at this point because you thought the movie was done, I wouldn’t blame you. But, then you’d miss out on a rather good second-half matinee.

Wanna see my haboob?

The second part of the movie stays a spy movie, but Max gets a new mission. A year after Casablanca, Max’s boss, Frank Heslop (Jared Harris), summons him to the base and he’s informed by V-section (think CIA) that they suspect Marianne of being a German spy. They set up a trap for her to prove it and order Max to do nothing different. Naturally, Max ignores this order and investigates on his own to discover the truth before the trap is sprung. This half of the movie is much more dramatic than the first half. It also tells you that the last sentence of the synopsis I quoted you is a flat out lie. Their relationship isn’t threated by the extreme pressures of war, it’s threatened by her possibly being a German spy married to an Allied spy. Don’t worry – I liked this movie so I won’t tell you if she is or isn’t.

I guess this is one way to do it.

What I will tell you is that Cotillard makes this movie worth watching. For starters, she is a Frenchwoman in real life, but looks like she was lifted straight from the 1940s era. The make-up person responsible for her in this film had the easiest job in Hollywood during Allied’s filming. She also does duplicitous better than anyone. Think about her biggest roles. Mal in Inception and Miranda Tate/the-other-villain in The Dark Knight Rises. Again, I’m not saying she is a German spy in Allied, but you won’t be able to guess. She’s that good. At this point, she probably has the same reaction as Ron Perlman does when they get a script. He knows who he is when the script says “deranged freak walks in” and she knows that she’s getting the character “who isn’t who she seems.” When Robert Zemeckis was casting for her role, do you think he even bothered auditioning anyone else?

I mean, look at her.

While I did like this film and recommend people give it a view, I think it would have been much better if they’d woven the two stories together. That would have allowed them to do a better job building the chemistry and relationship between the two and also would have allowed them to stage the reveals better rather than just having a mysterious V-section guy just tell us everything in an interrogation room. The flow of the movie would have been much better instead of the intermission we ended up with. But we at least got a decent movie and a good movie without having to pay twice. That’s far better than one dull Nicholas Sparks flick. Am I right, men?

Rating: Ask for two dollars back for the first half and fifty cents back for the second half.

Friday, November 18, 2016

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – So close.

The Harry Potter universe is like having a dog. At first, it’s very exciting. For the first few months, you have a lot of fun. You go to sleep happy and look forward to the next day. Everything is fresh. Eventually though, the novelty wears off, but if you’re lucky you have a well-behaved dog that doesn’t crap behind the couch when you’re not looking. You have a pleasant relationship that falls into a routine for a few years, with only the normal hiccups along the way. When the end starts to draw near, the poor dog is slowly and aimlessly wandering around the house and you wonder if it’s time to take the dog to the proverbial farm. When it’s over, you miss your friend, but you’re in no hurry to get another dog. A few years later, a friend offers you a puppy from their litter and you accept because you remember how much you liked your previous dog. Is that a tortured metaphor? Yes it is. But it’s also apt. It’s been five years since the last Harry Potter movie and you definitely wouldn’t mind a new movie set in the same universe as long as it’s not actually another Harry Potter movie and as long as it doesn’t crap behind your couch.

I reread my reviews of the last three Harry Potter movies and the final one is far funnier now. I sarcastically lamented that Harry Potter was over forever and not only do we have a new movie (albeit one that has nothing to do with Potter), but multiple additional stories have been written, including a play. Like I said, that review was sarcastic – I didn’t actually want more Potterverse, especially if J.K. Rowling was doing the writing – so I guess I got what I deserved. Not that I didn’t expect it to happen. Rowling is a one-hit wonder and a fame-junky; of course she wasn’t going to stop. And that’s not even a bad thing, but she insisted that book seven would be the end. Plenty of authors live in their singular literary worlds for decades (hello George R. R. Martin), but they usually don’t keep telling us how they are done with it while continue to write more of it. But, like I said, we remember the movies were at least fun until the last couple, so getting a new one is probably okay after five years. And this one turned out to be pretty okay, but not without its flaws.

The good guys.

(I never read the book this movie was based on, so I don’t know if anything in the movie can be considered a SPOILER. But here’s your SPOILER warning anyway.)

Fantastic Beasts is set decades before Harry Potter, but not so many decades that there aren’t still connections to Potter. If you think Rowling can go an entire story without mentioning Dumbledore, as is done in this film, you haven’t been paying attention (and can someone please explain to me why Rowling is obsessed with Dumbledore’s sexual preference?). Anyway, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has travelled from London to New York in search of someone who can help him breed a particular rare and magical beast. Newt carries with him a suitcase containing what can only be described as a portal to his personal zoo. For whatever reason, this suitcase has some serious security flaws in that creatures can escape when it is open. But only sometimes. It doesn’t make sense, but you just have to accept it.

While chasing around one of his escaped critters, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a former auror, arrests Newt for violating a magical law. She takes him to the unimaginatively named MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) for processing, but they ignore the both of them and send them on their way. However, one auror, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) takes an interest in Newt’s case and demands to see inside it. When they open it, it’s filled with pastries and Newt realizes that a non-magical person (also unimaginatively referred to as no-maj’s), Jacob (Dan Fogler), accidentally switched cases with him. Much of the movie is then spent with Newt, Jacob, and Tina trying to round up the rest of Newt’s creatures. This is the fun part of the movie and enjoyable part of the movie. As it turns out, the beasts really don’t have anything to do with the actual plot of this movie, which is pretty much par for the course with Rowling’s stuff.

We're looking for some lost animals. Dangerous? No - they're fine.

Backing up all the way to the beginning, the movie starts by showing us newspaper articles of a dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald running amok. This occurs some indeterminate amount of time prior to the actual events of this movie, but Grindelwald basically vanishes without a trace. Cut to the events of this film and if you can’t guess who Grindelwald is within the first five minutes of the film, then you’ve never seen a movie in your life. If that’s true, welcome – movies are fun.

Graves has been tasked with tracking down a mysterious force that is rampaging through the city. Crossing paths with Newt provides a convenient excuse to lay the blame on Newt and his creatures while he continues his search for the real culprit. Now, just in case you missed the previous SPOILER ALERT, you might want to avert your eyes – Graves is up to no good. This is almost comically obvious from the moment you see his slicked-backed black hair, aka the Slytherin look, to his manipulation of Credence (Ezra Miller), a young man he only meets with in alleys as he tries to find the MacGuffin. I mean, as he tries to find the rampaging force that will allow him to start a war between muggles (I refuse to use the other term) and wizards. Yes, he is most definitely a precursor to Voldemort, but without the big snake. Graves also appears to be quite powerful, so one wonders why he needs the force to start a war when he could just…start a war without it.

If I was a good guy, would we be meeting in an alley?

So, if you’re counting, this movie has two separate plots that only intersect at the end and a third subplot that I didn’t even bother wasting your time with (Credence’s mom beats him and is on a literal witch hunt to expose the wizarding world). Even knowing all that, the movie is still quite entertaining. Until the end, that is.

Two things happen at the end of the film that, in my opinion, were awful artistic choices and were really the only two things I didn't like about this movie. The first involves Jacob and the President of MACUSA insisting that his memory must be wiped, no exceptions. Considering a theme of this movie is discrimination between the wizards and muggles, accepting a muggle into the wizarding community seems like a good first step towards resolving that issue. Unfortunately, it’s easier to Brexit the decision. I mean Trump the decision. I mean put your head in the sand and continue discriminating for no reason other than bias. The worst part of this choice is that Jacob is the most interesting and endearing character in the entire movie and the movie immediately decides to go back on the decision by walking Tina’s sister into Jacob’s bakery (the two were basically in love by the end of the ordeal).

The second is the inclusion of Johnny Depp. I’m not annoyed that Johnny Depp got to be in this film, it’s how he was inserted. (Again, SPOILER) When Graves is finally captured, his face changes into Grindelwald’s and it’s Johnny Depp. Why? WHY? And how shitty does Colin Farrell feel about this move? They are almost literally telling Farrell that he is an inferior version of Depp. Just, ouch.

I realize that this review sounds pretty negative, but I enjoyed the vast majority of this movie, even with the weak plot lines. The characters were all very good and the actors really brought them to life. Fogler and Waterston were especially fun to watch and I hope we get to see more of them in future movies. Heck, even in a future sequel to this movie (which you know is coming) because we just got this new puppy. Just keep it out from behind the couch.

Rating: Ask for a dollar back. The end is just inexcusable.

Friday, November 11, 2016

“Arrival” – Just wait for it.

I wanted to shoehorn in some jokes about the now-completed Presidential election, but I decided that wound isn’t worth poking right now. You’ll just have to believe me when I say I was planning on a good segue into a dumb political point in Arrival, but I didn’t want the worst of the Internet hijacking a movie conversation so they can continue to bitch about emails and Russians. Just remember that no matter which way the election went, half the population was going to say we’re fucked and the other half was going to say neener-neener. Yes, that is most of America right now. That is also how I know aliens have never been here. They monitored our airwaves and decided it was best to steer clear, much like you do when you see a couple fighting with each other in the frozen aisle of the grocery store. HERB – CLEANUP ON AISLE 7.

Arrival is a movie that will probably get missed, opening between Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. That is a shame because it’s better than Doctor Strange and most likely better than Fantastic Beasts. It’s also very different from those movie. Actually, it’s even different than your typical alien invasion movie. In Arrival, there’s only one explosion, no laser guns, no space scenes, and the aliens do not resemble humans, not even a tiny bit. It’s a quiet movie in which twelve alien ships show up in Earth’s skies and park themselves in random places. And I know it’s random because the movie verbalizes this more than once. They even show us a globe with bright red dots. In fact, the bulk of the movie takes place in a field in Montana.

Excited now? No? What if I told you the main plot of the movie is that the government hires a linguist, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), to learn the aliens’ language? Ehhhh? Wait…where are you going?

Where is my assistant?

Well, now that the short-attention span people have left, you’ll be happy to know that this movie is a throwback to classical science fiction. It’s much more interested in exploring a concept like two species that don’t even think the same way laboriously learning how to communicate with each other than space battles or podracing. Kind of like Kevin Costner and the Sioux in Dances with Wolves, but without the dead bison. A large amount of time is spend with Dr. Banks as she is deciphering the aliens’ language, which is a series of circles with splotches around the edges (just picture a water ring left by your coffee mug) repeating the words she has shown them on a white board. Wait…where are you going?

In place of chase scenes and shootouts, the movie builds a palpable tension. The entire mission is to find out why the aliens have come to Earth, meaning Dr. Banks’ goal is to get them to understand the question “What is your purpose on Earth?” Think about it for a moment – what was the last alien invasion movie that spent more than eight seconds on that question?

This is where gravity gets weird.

Now you should be wondering what’s at stake in this movie that makes it so tense. Well, other countries are also trying to communicate with the aliens (and everybody is sharing, at least for a while), but they, like those readers who left this review, got impatient. And some of those countries have itchy trigger fingers. It’s paramount that Dr. Banks get an answer to the question before some idiot starts a war with intergalactic travelers. And this would be where the stupid political content comes in.

(SPOILER ALERT BEGINS)

Four soldiers decide to let their hatred and fear of foreigners get the best of them, so they decide to plant a bomb in the spaceship. This scene sucks for so many reasons, not the least of which is a commentary on a certain group of Americans who hate immigrants for wanting a better life and a shot at the mythical American dream. Yes, that first group sucks, but making them four soldiers who start shooting at their fellow soldiers to ensure the bomb is not disabled? Really? The film includes news clips of people rioting and states of emergency, providing plenty of evidence of fear and anger without stooping to making four soldiers stupid enough to believe attacking super advanced aliens is a good idea. Compounding this awful scene is the cliché of our heroes being saved as the bomb timer shows 0:01. I get that this scene was there to catalyze the conflict, but there are so many better ways they could have done this. Not to mention the aliens conveniently develop telepathy only when the bomb timer is down to a few seconds. Did you learn nothing from Galaxy Quest?

(SPOILER ALERT ENDS)

Aside from that scene, my only other complaint is that Jeremy Renner’s character, theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, is there for no reason. You’d think he’d be there to study the alien technology, but he just giggles at their ability to manipulate gravity and his job appears to be secretary/assistant to Dr. Banks. All we ever see him doing is setting up equipment, holding Dr. Banks’ whiteboard, and occasionally staring at a computer monitor. Did the military really need a physicist for this job? On the flip side, the film pulls a gender role reversal that makes you wonder if the filmmakers deliberately made Donnelly a superficial character who only matters to one small subplot, but is otherwise pointless. In other words, he’s the minimized “other gender” who is only there for emotional support. Well played, filmmakers.

This is pretty much his whole job.

I don’t want you to think those two things ruin the movie because they really don’t. They’re just minor flaws. Nearly everything else in this movie is fantastic, from the music to the stunning visuals to the introduction of the aliens to the way the aliens’ arrival is depicted (we watch people’s reactions to the news rather than watch the news itself) to the terrific performances (rounded out by Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma, and Michael Stuhlbarg) to the excellent screenplay and story (Eric Heisserer and Ted Chiang, respectively). Mostly, I’m glad that the filmmakers, including director Denis Villeneuve, are patient people who made a patient movie that painstakingly builds the suspense while keeping the audience in the dark on the aliens’ purpose until the end of the film. If you stayed with me for this entire review, then you’ll like Arrival as much as I did.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and hope we stop fighting so the aliens don’t avoid us forever.

Friday, November 4, 2016

“Doctor Strange” – Starring Bunsonburner Cucumberpatch.

If you are a fan of BBC’s Sherlock and haven’t laughed like a hyena lately, check out the ways people have gotten his name wrong (intentionally and unintentionally). What I love is that everybody knows who we’re talking about – as is mentioned several times in that link – and you probably read right past me referring to just ‘him’ without a second thought. That’s the power of Bartleby Scratchanitch and might be why he’s been cast in seemingly every movie for the past five years. And not just random movies for paychecks either. He’s starred in The Hobbit trilogy, Star Trek: Into Darkness, several prestige films, cameoed in TV shows and other movies, was nominated for best actor as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, given us possibly the best Sherlock Holmes portrayal in history, and now is playing a prominent superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – Doctor Strange. He’s like Nicholas Cage, but getting roles that Cage can’t even sniff at any more (also, Shaggypants is a much better actor).

If he hadn’t already played Sherlock, I would have been skeptical of Bishandchips being cast as a super hero. As it is, casting him as an acerbic, arrogant, superhero who has to learn some humility is pretty much par for his course, especially since Robert Downey Jr. is already Iron Man. Much like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange is another unknown Marvel property that exceeds expectations partly because of superb casting. In addition to Biddlebosh, Doctor Strange features Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams. Wait…that can’t be right – they got four Oscar nominated actors and a James Bond villain in this movie? Holy $#%^. Also, they were all really, really good.

(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Perhaps the trickiest component of the film was giving the audience a character with an origin story that seems far more suited to a Harry Potter movie than an MCU film. In a nutshell, Strange is a surgeon who loses his livelihood after a car accident maims his hands. In desperation, he goes to Nepal to track down some magicians after Benjamin Bratt explains how they helped him heal from paralysis. Yes, that Benjamin Bratt. Strange learns magic, is taught about the infinite universes (multiverse) by The Ancient One (Swinton), and trains with Mordo (Ejiofor) in a Hogwarts-like setting. Except without all the dragons and elves. But, there is a lot of hand waving and library scenes. And magical circles and teleportation. If not Potter, then at least The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Huh….Cage…anyway.

Dumbledore looks weird bald.

Strange learns that this group is charged with keeping the Earth safe from a world-eating cloud monster (Dormamu) from another universe and Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to help Dormamu eat the Earth by destroying the three buildings on Earth that keep him at bay. I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous and it is. But it also works within the context of this film, as well as the MCU. And because this movie is following a classic playbook (the hero’s journey), Strange rejects the quest at first (he just wants to heal his hands), then reluctantly agrees to fight for the cause. I’m not saying it’s a great plot. In fact, there are plenty of faulty pieces that would have been much more glaring if the other components of the movie didn’t make up for it. For all you pouty DC fans, a couple of examples are Strange’s cape is very inconsistent (it’s alive…or something, and protects him…sometimes), the mirror universe seems to be there strictly for Inception-y special effects (they can bend buildings in there), and why doesn’t Kaecilius steal some other powerful artifacts and books in addition to the two pages from one book he steals at the beginning of the movie? I mean they’re literally just sitting out in the open. There, happy now?

In the mirror universe, Leonardo DiCaprio is still dreaming.

Even though they left some things underdeveloped and even though making the noob fight the most powerful and dangerous entity in all the universes seems a tad clichéd, the movie is still immensely entertaining. Like all MCU movies, the comedic relief hits every mark, things introduced early on have importance later in the movie, the romantic subplot between Strange and Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) doesn’t feel trite, the chemistry between Strange and Mordo is great, and Swinton crushes every scene she’s in, even when she’s fight-acting. I didn’t know she could do that. The movie even manages to include a “crossing the streams moment” that works on multiple levels. Yes, it’s a deus ex machina, but Marvel manages to make it fun instead of eye-rolling.

And she didn't even say hi-yah.

So, what do I think of it overall? Well, I can’t just completely dismiss those earlier complaints. But, with a cast including Bumpysplash and a summer filled with middling popcorn flicks, we’ve been looking forward to this movie for months, so it automatically gets a little slack. Not to mention expectations were high because Marvel hasn’t whiffed on any of their films since The Incredible Hulk. But most importantly, Barslap Cooneylatch was so good and fun that the movie could have been much worse and I still would have forgiven it. Luckily, it wasn’t.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, and thanks to Binneyloon Crazypants for having such an awesome name (and being a great sport about it).

Friday, October 28, 2016

“Inferno” – The seventh circle of huh?

I am a big fan of books like Inferno – action/adventure treasure hunts featuring loads of historical references. James Rollins, Steve Berry, and, of course, Dan Brown are just three of the authors known for these books. For those of you who missed The Da Vinci Code craze, Inferno is the fourth book in Brown’s Robert Langdon series (The Da Vinci Code is the second in the series) and it has all the elements of the previous installments. There’s plenty of action and chasing, there are people who aren’t who they seem, there’s symbologist Langdon (Tom Hanks) who must follow a series of clues hidden in religious and historical art to discover the location of something that could end the world, and there’s a girl on Langdon’s hip for much of the adventure. It’s exactly what everyone wants from Dan Brown. And, if you don’t scratch the surface of the plot, it’s a very entertaining movie.

(Since I think this movie is worth a viewing – well, almost worth a viewing – you should probably stop reading at this point or skip to the last paragraph because I’m going to scratch the surface. In other words, SPOILER ALERT for the rest of the review.)

The premise of the film is that a crazy, billionaire, geneticist named Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) believes the human race is in danger of extinction because of overpopulation so he’s going to release a custom-designed virus to kill half of the human race. Yes, it sounds contradictory, but when he explains it, you’re still confused. I think he’s trying to say that overpopulation will render the entire planet uninhabitable (and in less than 100 years, no less), so everyone will die, but all he can talk about are previous plagues and a clock measuring the existence of humans (we’re currently at 11:59, he says). Plus, how does he know the virus won’t just kill everyone rather than the conveniently round number of half? As a bonus, during a lecture he points out that population growth went from 4 billion in the 1970’s to almost 8 billion in just 40 years, so his plan is…to set humans back to disco? He wants to kill 4 billion people just to buy the human race 40 years? I’m not sure you’ve fully thought this one out, Berty.

I love treasure hunts.

Unfortunately, that’s the easy part of the story. As the film progresses, the plot turns into a tangle of confusion as the curtains are pulled back on various groups, individuals, motives, and events. The film begins with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence with a slight case of amnesia. Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) is explaining his situation to him when an Italian Carabinieri (national police) officer starts shooting at them. That’s right, we’re getting right to the action in this film. After Robert and Sienna escape, Langdon discovers a cylinder in his pocket containing a special flashlight that projects Botticelli’s depiction of Dante’s map of hell from Dante’s Inferno – aka, the first clue. Thus begins the hunt where the prize is the virus. Oh, and the virus is in a special water-soluble bag that will burst at midnight (it’s submerged in water) because every treasure hunt needs a timer and James Bond-ian doomsday device.

I know this means something, I just can't remember what.

Also chasing after the virus are a team from the World Health Organization (WHO), a guy who wants to sell the virus to the highest bidder, a security group hired by Bertrand to protect the flashlight, and Bertrand’s girlfriend. The connections between the various groups change as people die and hidden motivations come to light, but by the end it becomes everyone trying to stop the girlfriend from releasing the virus. At this point, you have all the information needed to form a plot itch you can’t help but scratch.

Question 1: If Bertrand wants to release the virus, why not just release it when it’s ready? Why the elaborate setup?

Answer: Maybe Bertrand is a big James Bond fan and likes elaborate doomsday devices. Yeah, let’s go with that.

Question 2: Why would Bertrand leave clues leading to where he hid the virus if it doesn’t require human interaction to be released or for anyone to find it? Why create the flashlight at all?

Answer: …

Question 3: Bertrand tells his girlfriend that if anything happens to him, he’s made sure that the flashlight will get to her. Same question as 2.

Answer: Oh no.

Question 4: Bertrand refuses to tell her where he hid the virus (she asks), so why would the flashlight need to get to her if he doesn’t want her to find the virus?

Answer: He secretly hates her?

You see what I’m getting at? There is no logical reason for Bertrand to have created the flashlight in the first place or the elaborate treasure hunt. And, let’s assume for the moment that the virus did need human interaction (which defeats the purpose of hiding it at all) – it wouldn’t make sense to create an elaborate treasure hunt to make it difficult for her to find and release the virus. I’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to conceive of any logical reason, no matter how flimsy, to justify Bertrand creating the flashlight and I can’t do it. And now my head hurts.

There's always a tomb.

(Side note: This is the level of plot hole that ruined Signs for me, though I didn’t notice the hole in Signs during the film; my brother brought it up later.)

Like I said, if you don’t look beneath the surface – or first circle, if you will *wink, wink* – the movie is a perfectly fine action flick. Try not to listen too closely to some of the explanations thrown out there for certain actions. Do listen closely to Langdon’s historical lectures. Enjoy another fine Tom Hanks performance. Smile at Felicity Jones proving she can handle an action role because Star Wars: Rogue One is right around the corner. Mostly, enjoy the treasure hunt because who doesn’t love a decent treasure hunt, even if it’s existence defies logic?

Rating: Ask for four dollars back and go buy the book. It has to make more sense than the movie.

Friday, October 14, 2016

“The Accountant” – Two is the only number that matters.

On the Movie Fixers podcast, we have started a list of unforgivable sins, i.e. things that should never happen in movies. One of those things is not double-tapping an enemy. If you’ve seen a horror movie at any time in your life, you know what I’m talking about – the hero takes out the bad guy, but doesn’t hit/shoot/crush him again to ensure he is dead. Inevitably, that bad guy “comes back from the dead” to wreak more havoc. This does not happen in The Accountant. Ben Affleck (playing the title character), double-taps, and sometimes even triple-taps every bad guy in his wake. The best part is that my friend and I weren’t the only ones in the theater to cheer for this. I heard at least two other people literally say “double-tap” and I’m I could feel them fist bump from several seats away. It was glorious.

(SPOILERS coming, but they will be mild and few. You can count them if you like.)

But that’s not the only reason I liked The Accountant. It’s a pretty good action flick that makes the most boring profession on the planet (sorry, Dad) interesting. Affleck plays Chris Wolff, an autistic accountant who specializes in finding money. You read that right – autistic – and this isn’t solely to give Chris a quirk/superpower. It’s used to great effect to develop his character, comes into play with regards to at least one reveal, and makes you realize they are paralleling Leon in Leon: The Professional. Most of Chris’ clients are drug lords or weapons dealers or other uncouth characters, but he decides to take on a seemingly straight-laced job working for a robotics company helmed by Lamar Black (John Lithgow). One of their employees, Dana (Anna Kendrick), discovered some missing money during her accounting and Lamar brings Chris in to find it. After a night of going through the books, Chris has confirmed that money is indeed missing, but is shut down by the company before he can figure out where it went. And if anyone is going to be bothered by an unfinished money puzzle, it’s an autistic accountant.

The boring part.

The movie kicks into action gear as the people who know about the missing money start getting gunned down by Brax (Jon Bernthal) and some other hired mercenaries. I don’t need to tell you what happens for the rest of the movie because it should be fairly obvious. Action, action, and more action, completed with the missing pieces to the money puzzle. We also get treated with how an autistic accountant is also an insanely dangerous assassin and it’s very believable. I know – I was surprised as well.

As much fun as all of the action and mystery was, the movie has a secondary plot involving US Treasury agents Ray King (J.K. Simmons) and Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) trying to identify and track down the accountant (it’s more fun to call him that than Chris, which is why they refer to him like that so often in the movie). Unfortunately, this plotline is as pointless as the cops in Fargo and No Country for Old Men – the cops never really get close to catching their quarry. To be fair, in all these cases they are used to further develop the main characters or villains, but they end up never really mattering to the plot. They are basically us (the audience), but getting paid better. Simmons owns every scene he is in (because of course he does, the man kills it in insurance commercials), so the scenes are enjoyable. The problem is they bring the movie to a standstill and never advance the plot. I think the tension of the movie could have been ratcheted up had the agents actually gotten into it once or twice with the accountant. It could have been worse though, as Terminator: Genisys so aptly proved.

The not-boring part.

Before I go, I want to leave you with an observation and lack thereof. There’s a clever little reveal at the very end of the flick that I didn’t pick up on. My friend was surprised that I missed it and my reason was that because the conflict was over and the movie had been resolved, I had stopped thinking about the movie. It’s not a great reason, but there it is. However, he was still a little incredulous so I pointed out a clever little bit of filmmaking that he missed – early on when Chris first goes to the robotics company’s building, he is standing in front of a picture of a human hand touching fingers with a robotic hand. Chris is placed in front of the robot hand and Lamar is placed in front of the human hand. See? Clever. My point is that this movie definitely had some thought put into it and that’s why I think it was very good. That and the double-taps.

Rating: Ask for one dollar back for the Treasury agent’s scenes. They shouldn’t have been the most boring thing in a movie about an accountant.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

“The Girl on the Train” – If that didn’t happen, and that didn’t happen, then what did happen?

The easiest comparison for The Girl on the Train is 2014’s Gone Girl. Both are based on books, both feature a messed-up title character, and both are thrillers revolving around murder. The big difference is Gone Girl gives up its big reveal just forty minutes in, while The Girl on the Train saves it for the climax. The bigger difference is that I knew how I felt immediately after watching The Girl on the Train (unlike with Gone Girl in which I’m still unsure how good that movie was) – I liked it quite a bit. Moreso, in fact, than Gone Girl.

(Mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Have you seen this girl?

As stated, the biggest reason I liked The Girl on the Train more is because the suspense of the murder is kept up for the entire film. On top of that, the movie keeps throwing curveballs to keep the viewer from guessing which of the four major characters is the actual murderer. Granted, I managed to guess who it was before the reveal, but that’s only because I’ve seen hundreds of movies and have learned to spot the little things that foreshadow reveals. Though, it wasn’t so much that I figured out who the killer was, it was whom I was able to eliminate early on. But enough patting myself on the back (you’re welcome), let’s talk about the meat of this film.

Was it she?

The girl on the train is Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee living with her sister (Laura Prepon). Every day, her train ride takes her past her old home where she sees her husband’s new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby. In addition, she sees the neighbors, Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett), who she fantasizes as the perfect couple with the perfect love. One day, while staring at Megan, she notices that the man with her isn’t her husband. She gets off the train, has a confrontation with a blond woman (who could be Anna or Megan), then wakes up much later on the side of the road. She goes home, only to discover that Megan has gone missing and eventually turns up dead. Right away, you’re probably doubting that she had anything to do with it because that is your natural inclination toward the main character of any film. However, the film spends a good amount of time convincing you that she is a terrible person fully capable of such dastardly deeds. Yes, I said dastardly.

Was it he?

Just when you start to think that Rachel might just be the murderer, the film starts throwing those curveballs and they have some nasty bite to them. As the second act moves along, we get far deeper looks into Scott, Anna, Megan, and Tom (Justin Theroux), Rachel’s ex-husband. There are affairs, abuses, haunted pasts, shady therapists (Edgar Ramirez) – essentially the full gamut of soap opera plot lines, but with much better execution and writing. A character will start off as either likable or unlikable, then the movie will try to convince you otherwise. By the end of the second act, if you haven’t noticed those subtle little clues, you will equally suspect Scott, Tom, and Rachel, as well as Anna to a slightly lesser degree (though equally as plausible). Even as sure as I was about my guess, I was still on the edge of my seat because of the suspense. They even pull that stunt with Rachel’s previously mentioned confrontation, causing you to keep second guessing what really happened.

Surely not her?

There isn’t much more I can tell you without ruining the film, but I can tell you that the acting was superb, most notably by Emily Blunt. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Blunt is fantastic, but she’s somehow one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. She pulls off beat-down alcoholic as well as anybody’s proverbial drunk uncle. And kudos to the hair and makeup people who had the daunting task of making Blunt’s appearance match her performance. She looks at least a decade beyond her actual age (33) and I could almost smell how bad she looked.

Possibly him?

Like I said, the easy comparison to this movie is Gone Girl, but I think The Girl on the Train is much more interesting due to the whodunit nature of the plot. That’s not to say Gone Girl was an uninteresting movie, it just wasn’t as suspenseful. Personally, I enjoyed the subterfuge and mind games The Girl on the Train plays with the audience. In short, if I’m picking between these two films to rewatch, I’m picking The Girl on the Train.

Rating: I wouldn’t ask for any money back, but if you think Gone Girl is better, ask for a dollar back because it’s very close.

(Note: A quick shout out to comedian Mike Birbiglia, who is the originator of my tagline.)