‘Molly’s Game’ grabs your attention and never lets go

Bravo, Aaron Sorkin!

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Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) made a living off the addictions of the world’s most powerful men, and that was after she was an Olympic level skier. Coming from a family of genius minds and DNA gold, Bloom ran the most exclusive poker game for years before it all came crashing down, leading her to adopt the services of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), “the cleanest attorney in town”. She did us a favor in writing a book that became Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game.

Bloom’s story is a riveting one and a perfect match for Sorkin’s Jedi-styled writing style. This is a rise and fall story juiced up on adderall and steroids, highlighting the luxurious yet dangerous life that one woman led without much brakes or hesitation. Instead of adding fuel to the fiery life of a powerful woman, Sorkin just lets her story do the heavy lifting.

Bloom was an Olympic level athlete before one unfortunate accident ended it all, defeating the high hopes set by a demanding father (Kevin Costner, better than ever), yet setting up a different career that didn’t include boring law school. She broke off a taste for the gambling life with Jeremy Strong’s sleazy Dean Keith before going all in on her own, with the likes of Player X (Michael Cera, rumored to be blending together Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck here) and several of Hollywood’s elite. Continue reading “‘Molly’s Game’ grabs your attention and never lets go”

‘Wonder Wheel’ is Woody Allen at his worst

Try not to fall asleep during this flick.

Ginny (Kate Winslet) dreams of the movie star life, a bittersweet medicine that temporarily relieves the pain of her life that seems to be passing her by. Married to a theme park worker, Humpty (Jim Belushi, chewing scenery but effective), Ginny is trapped in a never-ending cycle of robotic family life. She cooks, cleans, deals with her troublesome son, and briefly departs into the fantasy land of the movies. Living next to the Boardwalk in Atlantic City doesn’t seem to help.

When two people, Mickey (Justin Timberlake) and Carolina (Juno Temple), enter Ginny’s life, the seemingly boring life that Ginny dreaded suddenly becomes full of drama.

Woody Allen’s latest, Wonder Wheel,  left me dreaming about what I could have gotten done with the two hours I spent watching this tiresome melodrama. A film where all the characters have faults and thorns sticking out of their sides, which means nothing will end well, and the movie will end coming to a sudden halt before the credits roll. Continue reading “‘Wonder Wheel’ is Woody Allen at his worst”

‘All the Money in the World’ doesn’t live up to the hype

Christopher Plummer isn’t bad, but the entire movie seems arbitrary.

Money can’t buy happiness, or even a good movie at times.

Midway through Ridley Scott’s new film, All the Money in the World, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer subbing in for the departed Kevin Spacey) is asked what he’ll pay for the safe return of his grandson, Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), and his answer is succinct: “Nothing”. That is also what I’d advise you to pay in order to see this movie.

I went into this film wanting to like it all for the wrong reasons. Scott made a courageous gamble in recasting Plummer six weeks before the release, yanking the ugly storm cloud that Spacey would have brought the film. It was a risky move and while the finished product isn’t a bad film, it is quite forgettable. Continue reading “‘All the Money in the World’ doesn’t live up to the hype”

2017 Movies: The great, good, bad, and ugly

Before I break into the good, bad, and ugly of the 2017 year in film, let me put this out there: this was an incredible year for the movies. I am talking about a versatile array of cinematic pleasures that ranged from the boldly adventureous (The Shape of Water) to the pulse-pounding thrills of music and car chases (Baby Driver) to a journalistic trail blaze (The Post).

Filmmakers didn’t have to rely on old tricks or recycle favors from decades before, instead exploring new ground with wide-eyed results (look at The Big Sick combining laughs and tears without forcing it). 2016 put out some fine films, but I felt like it got started very late and couldn’t hang with this year’s slate. Like a flashy looking car with a great engine, but a driver who can’t hang on the backroads or badlands of make-believe.

Let’s no waste anymore of your time, and get to the best and worst films of 2017. First, I will put out my top film of 2017 and then list the rest, before delving into the bottom of the barrel. Pour the coffee and let’s go.

THE BEST FILM OF 2017: THE POST

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Meryl Streep got together and made a film that couldn’t be more timely or affecting. At a time where the free press are having their dignity trashed by a scared President, this drama covering the Washington Post’s uncovering of documents which linked the government’s negligent actions during the Vietnam War hits you in the head and in the heart. Streep blows a torch for powerful women with her portrayal of Katherine Graham, a woman thrust into a leadership role that she was ill-prepared for. She ended up owning the night and Nixon.

Spielberg takes Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s wiz script, and doesn’t waste a second of your time, painting the war room at the paper like the beaches at Normandy, where writers and editors had to decide if the last voice in the room would belong to the President or the people. Similar to Spotlight, Spielberg’s tale is diabolical in its accuracy. He filmed this in less than a year, showing what you can do when an important idea possesses you. Hanks gives a bravura performance that we have come to expect, but don’t sleep on Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) or Sarah Paulson, This film gets better every time.

*Opens in St. Louis on Jan. 12, 2018 Continue reading “2017 Movies: The great, good, bad, and ugly”

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is an ultimate letdown

Rian Johnson turned Luke into a whiny bitch hermit

When it comes to Star Wars films, you either go big or you go home. Like a boxer loading up for one huge punch in the center of the ring, there is no halfway with these science fiction fantasy dramas. The intent should be to blow you away, leaving you in a daze of wonder as the lights come up.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi didn’t blow me away, instead leaving me with a relative nod of approval. A good, but not great, experience in the world that George Lucas dreamed up many, many years ago.

Don’t take this as a distaste for the film, because I enjoyed a fair portion of the overlong 152 minute running time. The Last Jedi is a serious case of individual spectacle with the overall perspective leaving a film fan wanting more from the experience. There were moments where the film rode high, but then long stretches where its intent seemed off and scattershot. Continue reading “‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is an ultimate letdown”

‘Downsizing’ collapses when it gets preachy

The latest Matt Damon misfire.

Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is a good man with kind intentions and ability, but he simply can’t reach his potential. One could say the same thing about Alexander Payne’s movie that houses Paul’s story, Downsizing.

Paul has the makings to be a doctor, but he settled on being a safety expert in a meat factory. He pushed aside his dreams in order to take care of his mother, and kept them stored permanently in order to provide for his wife (Kristen Wiig). Now, his wife wants a bigger home, and when the new wave of technology includes shrinking yourself to live in a controlled environment like a rich person, Paul takes the plunge. Let’s just say things don’t work out for Paul initially, but he keeps trying to make things right.

Downsizing suffers from a strong opening that simply doesn’t know how to progress. Payne’s ambitious premise is set up quite well in the invigorating first half of this film, showing us Paul’s sad state and the brave new world he is entering. When he lands in Leisureland and sees old friends like Dave Johnson (Jason Sudekis playing to his usual baffoon strengths) while meeting new ones like Dusan (Christoph Waltz, who gives the film much needed life), Paul is still an unhappy lug.

This tactic has worked well for Payne in the past, showing us a painfully unhappy man and turning him inside out, for better or worse. Downsizing is the third film in Payne’s “Sad Existential Man” series, following Election and Sideways. Unlike Matthew Broderick’ and Paul Giamatti’s characters, Paul just isn’t that interesting to care about what happens to him. Continue reading “‘Downsizing’ collapses when it gets preachy”

‘Call Me By Your Name’ is drowned by a Hammer

Armie Hammer is the main suspect in this film’s lack of greatness.

What if I told you one scene in a movie was ten times better than the rest of the flick? Would that make sense? First, let me tell you about the movie.

17 year old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) seemingly has it all: a leisure-filled lifestyle in the beautiful countryside of Italy; plenty of girls swooning over him, including Marzia (Esther Garrel); a music fueled mind that is quickly turning him into a prodigy. All in all, he is the twinkle in his successful father’s (the always trustworthy Michael Stuhlbarg) eye. But there’s just one thing: Elio has a crush on his father’s doctorate intern, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Their budding relationship is the backbone of Luca Guadagnino’s film, Call Me By Your Name.

Like its protagonist, this movie wants you to love it badly, and constantly vies for your attention, like Elio playing music with Oliver in the room, or chasing him into town for a lustful getaway to the lake. In the end, Call Me By Your Name fails to register because of one simple reason: Hammer is a bad actor and you never see much chemistry build between him and Chalamet, who doesn’t give a great performance either. Continue reading “‘Call Me By Your Name’ is drowned by a Hammer”