2 Stars Movies

Netflix’s Triple Frontier is aggro, macho horseshit

J.C. Chandor’s Triple Frontier, Netflix’s latest high-profile exclusive, aspires to be a serious Expendables. It draws surface-level inspiration from the likes of Heat and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but forgets that you need more than square jaws and gun porn.

There’s some dramatic potential in the premise of a heist orchestrated by veterans left behind by their country, fancying themselves a band of Robin Hoods robbing from criminals. Certainly none of them are Merry Men, and it fails to seriously grapple with what should have been interestingly conflicting motivations: moral duty vs. financial need vs. greed vs. vengeance. It instead becomes yet another macho gun movie where grim white dudes growl at each other and shoot Central Americans in the head for two hours.

Aggro, macho horseshit.

2 Stars Movies

Exhaustively exhausted: Ben Affleck’s Live by Night

Has any topic been more exhaustively dramatized than Prohibition-era gangsters?

Live by Night seems especially redundant so soon after HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which covers a lot of the same ground: the Florida/Cuba liquor pipeline, the Irish/Italian mob conflict, the pivot to legal gambling, etc. The explanation being pretty simple: original novelist Denis Lehane also contributed to Boardwalk Empire. The few elements not already done to death by the gangster genre, including additional conflicts with evangelicals and the Klan, are in this case simultaneously not enough and too much.

Also, did Ben Affleck always play every role as a man in a deep depression, or is this a recent development?

Two out of five stars.

3 Stars Movies

The Accountant is A Brilliant Mind meets Death Wish

You can imagine the elevator pitch: “A Brilliant Mind meets Death Wish! Ben Affleck! Anna Kendrick!”

Director Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant flirts with righteous anger at big business financial corruption, but wimps out by ultimately fingering a single venal individual with a hired army of faceless mercenaries. There’s nothing engaging about a plot that can be resolved by the hero shooting a few people in the head.

Only a fool would go to a violent action flick and complain about its violent action, but I’m a fool, so here you go: I found The Accountant’s gunplay and brutality a little hard to take. The protagonist has high-functioning autism, with its corresponding problems with empathy and emotional intelligence. But his capability to cooly execute without remorse seems to me to be more in the realm of psychopathy. Even the brainwashed supersoldier Jason Bourne was tortured with remorse, making him more of a tragic figure than a gunslinging Dirty Harry.

It does have an enjoyably twisty plot, but cheats by untangling much of its complex backstory in a lengthy expositional infodump near the end (thankfully ameliorated by the ever-capable J.K. Simmons’ delivery). The suspense of waiting for certain character backstories to be revealed is entertaining, but the particular mystery the movie saves for its climactic reveal is also its most obvious.

Anna Kendrick can’t help but be charming and likable, but she’s given almost zero characterization here. I wish more had been made of a young, idealistic professional who naively blows the whistle on a poisonously dangerous corruption. But she’s is pretty much a blank love interest with an incongruously swank, well-appointed loft apartment. And she throws herself at Affleck a little quickly (but I’ll chalk that up to PTSD and Ben’s pretty chin dimple).

All of that said, there’s a lot to commend The Accountant. It’s an original story, not a sequel, adaptation, or remake. And while I’m uncomfortable with its equation of autism with psychopathy, the movie mostly avoids either romanticizing or exploiting the disability.

4 Stars Movies

Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy is his best film

Chasing Amy is far and away Kevin Smith’s best film, and not coincidentally his most heartfelt. I think Smith’s achievement is to tell a universal guy’s story while still featuring significant and sympathetic female characters. Yes, Chasing Amy is spectacularly profane and the characters are prone to giving extended on-the-nose speeches perfectly explicating their inner motivations, but the central theme is worthy and true: love can be a mixture of elevating another to a height to which you can’t measure up, while paradoxically needing to have them do the same to you. More literally, Holden (Ben Affleck) feels both fascinated and threatened by what he perceives as Alyssa’s (Joey Lauren Adams) more adventurous and worldly sexuality, but also needs to believe that he has power over her and has somehow tamed her.

Out of Smith’s oeuvre, the closest to Chasing Amy is Jersey Girl. But his personal meditations on fatherhood required more of his trademark raunch to offset the treacle than the PG-13 allowed. It did, however, feature the single cruelest joke I’ve ever heard: Andrew Lloyd Webber is “the second-worst thing that’s ever happened to New York City.” Zing! Nobody, not even Lloyd Webber, deserves that.

Chasing Amy
Not one to pass up an opportunity to cite Jaws

A far better writer than I has already been here and done that: please refer to Matthew Dessem’s review on The Criterion Contraption. I disagree with his obvious dislike of the film, but every point he makes against it is fair.

4 Stars Movies

Ben Affleck’s pervasively grim Gone Baby Gone

Good ol’ Bahstuhn Cahtholick Ben Affleck is an all grown-up, big-boy director now, and lookit, he made himself a pretty decent movie. That said, Gone Baby Gone is a big plate of grim, with side order of depressing.

Affleck makes excellent use of location footage and local color. And not surprising for a movie directed by an actor (recently, Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris and George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck), Affleck privileges the characters and performances over the plot. We also see plenty of B-roll footage of the faces and voices of Bostoners on the streets, in the bars, and on local TV screens.

Ben Affleck directs Gone Baby Gone
How many times I gotta tell you, bro? I pahked the cahr down on the yahds

Gone Baby Gone is one of the first movies to poach some of the excellent acting talent premiered in HBO’s superb series The Wire. Doubtless by accident, Michael Kenneth Williams and Amy Ryan both play characters diametrically opposed to their TV counterparts; Williams is a sardonic po-lice resolved to the corruption around him (compare and contrast with The Wire’s Omar, a parasite that feeds on the drug trade), and Ryan plays a coked-out winner of bad-mother-of-the-year, the exact opposite in every way (including accent) of her salt-of-the-earth B’more Port Authority po-lice on The Wire.

Ed Harris and Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone
Pay no attention to my rug

The few bad points to mention (other than the aforementioned pervasive grim tone), are Ed Harris’ inconsistent rug and a middle section papered over almost entirely by voiceover narration.

2 Stars Movies

John Woo’s Paycheck isn’t fun, weird, or subversive enough for a Philip K. Dick tale

When it comes to action cinema maestros like John Woo — I can enjoy the the hyped-up action and weirdness of something like Face/Off, but find that the extreme violence and gunplay can sometimes cross the line from escapism into being inhumane. Paycheck, scoring a mere PG-13 from the MPAA, is less violent than most of Woo’s others, but also unfortunately less weird or even fun.

It’s also not as smart or subversive as a Philip K. Dick adaptation ought to be. I think Minority Report is the first so far to capture what made Dick’s tales so timeless and relevant.

Uma Thurman, following her star turn as the Kung-Fu action cinema goddess in Kill Bill, plays backup love interest to Ben Affleck, who himself is no great shakes here. He was funny and self-deprecating when recently hosting Saturday Night Live, if a little juvenile. His 90’s goatee-wearing, ironic geek guy in Chasing Amy was actually quite realistic. Even his Daredevil hinted at the suffering and isolation in the midst of all the superhero silliness (there’s a chilling scene where we see him return home after a night of crime-busting, where he painfully strips off his protective uniform to reveal more than a few bruises and scars, and then blithely chews a handful of pain-killers straight). But he doesn’t read as a convincing engineer in Paycheck, and his good looks and physique directly contradict dialog in the film that describes him as just a regular guy, and not a secret agent action hero.

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