Film Brief: The Accountant [u]

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Just as quickly as The Accountant builds up periods of true entertainment, it dashes them on the rocks.  Sort of like when the Chargers are up by 3 touchdowns going into the fourth quarter: you know they’re going to lose.  5/10

Notes: Comparison: strangely enough, I didn’t think of any other films when watching this one.  Maybe because in the dull moments I was thinking of enchiladas.  Other: Normally I don’t include the trailer for movies I don’t recommend, but I hold no animosity toward The Accountant.  I was very fond of certain moments and most of the cast — centered on Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick.  But as I said the film was bungled… or fumbled, to draw back the Chargers analogy.

You could even say it’s some kind of masterpiece compared to the dismal Girl on the Train.

UPDATE (1/28/17) — Yes they dropped the ball here.  But there’s a nice entertainment factor that shouldn’t be wiped away.  And Anna Kendrick… gotta love her.  6/10

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To the Wonder of Roger Ebert

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Sometimes I believe in fate.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball on To the Wonder being the last review of Roger Ebert, published two days after his death.

That it was this film, and not something more banal — say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles VI, or The Avengers Chapter XVI: Cataclysm of the Abominable Silver Snow-Surfer — that it was this film must be seen as more than coincidence.  Yes, fate.

And it happens I agree entirely with Ebert, who bestowed 3 1/2 of 4 stars on To the Wonder.  So I will defer to him.  But first my two bits: To the Wonder is quite unique.  I was trying to peg it as something like an Iñárritu-made cross between The Loneliest Planet and Blue Valentine, but that doesn’t quite work.  The narrative style — as Ebert wrote:

Although it uses dialogue, it’s dreamy and half-heard, and essentially this could be a silent film — silent, except for its mostly melancholy music.

— this style I’ve never quite seen before — never used throughout an entire film.  It’s a style that turned a lot of audiences and critics away.  Storytelling many found too oblique.  I mused on this, and feel that more conventional dialogue-driven To the Wonder - text blockaction could have told the story in a stronger way — but that would be an entirely different film, and not necessarily for the better.

That’s because To the Wonder is full of lyrical beauty, with a strong yet ambiguous story at its heart.  It’s open to interpretation, and that’s not a bad thing in movies.  Ebert’s final review so aptly — for this movie and his life — concludes:

Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?

There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.

7/10

Availability: Netflix

Roger Ebert - Walk of Fame

Gone Girl, Gone for Good

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For a while I was thinking Gone Girl was like Presumed Innocent turned 360°.  By the end I was thinking The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Desperate HousewivesBasic Instinct, The Last SeductionSleeping with the Enemy and last year’s Side Effects and Prisoners (all recommended) could be mixed in too.  But really, Gone Girl is its own movie, a personal thriller with just enough believable twists to make the whole thing click.

There are a couple moments when the Theory of the Rope is overstretched; as an example that won’t give anything away: very early in the movie, the father of the central character Nick Dunne shows up at the same police station where Nick is being questioned regarding his wife’s disappearance.  His father, at the exact once-in-a-lifetime moment that Nick’s wife disappears, himself goes wandering from the old folk’s home where he lives.  There is no precursor for this occurrence, and neither do we ever see Nick’s father again.  I wasn’t believing it at all, and there was no need for it in the first place.  It served as an unnecessary distraction.  So why put this little tidbit in?  Exactly my point.Gone Girl - text block

There are one or two other moments of incredulity that detract from an otherwise strong film.  And gentle but overloud music in the beginning of the film made it difficult to hear what the wife was saying — another ploy meant to fill a perceived vacuum.  I only mention the misses because if they had been handled better, we would be looking at a truly great film and one of the best of the year.  Another way to put it, this is not a movie that five years from now I’ll be telling someone, “Ooooh!  Remember that Gone Girl movie!??”  No, it won’t win any awards, but it’s a good time at the movies.  8/10

Cinematic Greats: Good Will Hunting

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WHEN MATT DAMON and Ben Affleck burst onto the scene with Good Will Hunting at the end of 1997, I scoffed at the film, dismissing it’s clichéd story of a genius who chooses to work at MIT not as a doctoral student or professor, but as a janitor.  About 10 years went by, and I began to see snippets of it on TV, and my interest was piqued.  Being a big fan of Minnie Driver helped. Eventually I saw the film all the way through, and finally recognized it for the triumph that it is.

Janet Maslin wrote, and I concur:

Mr. Van Sant demonstrates how entertainingly a real pro can direct a strong if not especially groundbreaking story. The script’s bare bones are familiar, yet the film also has fine acting, steady momentum, a sharp eye and a very warm heart.

Good Will Hunting is a bright, spirited picture, and so fundamentally linked to the human experience that I consider it not only a great film but an instant classic and essential viewing.  If you’ve not seen it, do so.

To the Wonder

This is the second trailer from last night.  This looks decidedly more ‘indie’, but with Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem, and written and directed by veteran Terrence Malick, who is becoming very active in filmmaking these days, calling it independent is a push.  My rule is one A-list star allowed per indie.

To the Wonder has a lovely trailer and promises something beautiful.  View on iTunes or below.

Ergo, Argo

I had seen the preview and commercials for this one many multiple times, and at no point became any more interested in watching it than my level of complete ho-hum humdrum upon seeing the preview the first time.  Somehow, like a scheming politician, my feelings toward it evolved to the point that it seemed the singularly best option last Sunday night, especially considering the mediocre reviews that Hitchcock was receiving.

My initial aversion to watching Argo had a lot to do with the way it was marketed, to play up the farcical aspects: Ben Affleck, John Goodman and Alan Arkin are out to make a silly fake movie as part of a ridiculous scheme to extricate a group of hostages from the Iranian embassy crisis of 1980.  I didn’t even like the title.  I was thinking some kind of post-modern Marx brothers nonsense, all failing miserably.  Part of why I decided to go see it over Lincoln (which I will eventually see, before or after it wins Best Picture (assuming it is not unseated by Les Miz)) and Hitchcock was the South Park bump and generally very good reviews, with a 95% Tomatometer score.  South Park commands a lot of respect for me — after all this is where I learned what both Mormons and Scientologists believe — so I figured heck, I’ll give it a chance, how bad can it be?

Argo

Argo

Although there are good and well-placed comic moments in Argo, this is not the farce I expected.  It starts off informing viewers that it is “based on” a true story, an effective ploy to invest the viewer further into the plot.  What follows is not a comedy, but a story of attempted escape and survival, with life and death consequences.

And it succeeds.  It begins with an exciting depiction of the overtaking of the American embassy in Tehran, with a perfect amount of background information to make us understand why the Iranians are so pissed off at Americans.  From there the movie does not let up, but nor does it become fatiguing.  In building toward the climax, Affleck (who also directs) does rely on over trod, worn-out movie mechanisms — this is where I think the “based on” a true story aspects come in.  But unless you’re a jaded movie critic like myself, you won’t give these moments a second thought — at least until you’ve left the theater.  Argo‘s two hours fly by quickly; it is engaging, entertaining, exciting and funny, and will be revisited come Oscar time.  8/10 and a guaranteed one of six dozen movies the Academy nominates for Best Picture, or how ever many they decide to nominate this year since they are completely spineless.

Stick around for the end credits, for some photo comparisons between cast members and those they depict, and a few words from Jimmy Carter.