Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Casey Affleck writes, directs and stars in Light of My Life, a cross between The Road, Leave No Trace and The Stand. While the film feels a little too familiar, it rises above the unoriginality in its third act thanks to performances by Affleck and his young co-star, Anna Pniowsky.

A father (Affleck) and daughter (Pniowsky) are living off the land after a plague has wiped out most of the planet’s female population. To protect his daughter, nicknamed Rag, Dad has her dress as a boy and tries to keep her out of the public eye.

Much of the movie involves the two telling stories to each other in what feels like improv; those scenes are actually kind of fun. When the two wind up in the home of a friendly preacher (Tom Bower), the film reaches a new level. The last act of the movie is its best, where Affleck gets to show off his chops at directing a thriller.

Elisabeth Moss, in a role reminiscent of Charlize Theron’s in The Road, plays Reg’s mom in flashbacks.

The film isn’t original enough to be an overall success, but the central performances make it worthwhile.

Light of My Life is available via online sources including iTunes and

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Be prepared to get your heart ripped out by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea, one of the more emotionally powerful movie experiences of 2016.

Affleck plays Lee, who must return to his hometown and raise his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Lee is a true mess, and we learn through flashbacks what got him to his messed-up state. He’s battling some major past tragedies on top of his brother’s death, and there’s no telling how things will work out for him and Patrick. The flashbacks are brutal, revealing things that go beyond terrible; it’s no wonder Lee is having coping issues. Affleck has turned in good work before, but nothing like what he does in this film. He’s incredible.

Williams turns in a blistering performance as Lee’s ex-wife, and a scene Affleck and Williams share together is guaranteed to knock you on your ass, and will probably earn them both Oscar nominations.

Hedges is mighty good as the confused teen dealing with the loss of his dad and his somewhat strange uncle. Kenneth Lonergan directs from his own screenplay; he’s put together some kind of movie miracle.

Besides being so emotionally powerful that you might dehydrate from crying, this movie also has some big laughs in it. It is an instant classic.

Manchester by the Sea is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Goddammit, when is somebody going to ban gum-chewing in movies? I’m a card-carrying Keanu Reeves fan, but he started the whole “Gum Chewing Action Star” thing with Speed, and it’s become such a distracting, cheap acting trick.

Well, knock it off, Hollywood actors! You will never surpass the gum-chewing prowess immortalized by Reeves in Speed. He is, always has been, and shall remain the gum-chewing action guy king!

The culprit this time out is Casey Affleck in Triple 9, the latest film from super-reliable director John Hillcoat. Affleck plays Chris, a new cop among a fleet of bad cops who distinguishes himself by, you guessed it, chewing gum a lot.

He doesn’t just chew that gum, either: He cracks it, he pops it, moves it all over his mouth and lets the white wad stick out of the corners. In fact, he makes sure it gets in the way of almost every line delivery he makes in the movie.

If I should ever get to direct an action-cop movie, what with my budding film career and all, I’m going for the gum-chewing title. I will make sure to have my action-cop guy constantly unwrapping pieces of gum and shoving them into his pie hole. I won’t stop at Wrigley’s, either. Nope: I’ll get some Big Red in there, adding to the color palette. We’ll get some Bubble Yum and Bazooka for bigger, longer-lasting bubbles. It’s going to make my action star so freaking tough-looking.

Beyond the gum … the actual movie is pretty good. Like other Hillcoat movies (The Road, The Proposition, Lawless), it’s a dark film with a bleak outlook on humanity. Nobody is happy in this flick, and they are going to let you know that. Only this time, there’s a whole lot of gum-chewing and some fast-moving action scenes to go with all of the brooding.

All right, back on point. Affleck’s Chris finds himself rolling with Marcus (Anthony Mackie, aka The Falcon!), a bad cop with a crew doing heists for a crime kingpin (Kate Winslet, aka Rose, sporting yet another weird accent). That crew includes Russell (Norman Reedus, aka The Walking Dead’s Daryl!), his brother Gabe (Aaron Paul, aka Jesse!), explosives expert Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor, aka the guy from 12 Years a Slave!) and other dirty cop Franco (Clifton Collins Jr., aka the guy who played the murderer in Capote and one of the Vegan Police in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!).

The heists themselves are nicely staged, reminiscent of the epic Michael Mann heists in Heat. They make up for the fact that the plot isn’t much; in fact, it’s almost non-existent. Still, that’s a pretty impressive acting crew that is running around shooting at each other, and Hillcoat makes it all look good.

Affleck isn’t the only one resorting to gimmickry in this film. Woody Harrelson (aka Woody!) wears some wacky teeth and smokes a lot of dope as Jeffrey, Chris’s detective brother. Or at least I think they are fake teeth. Woody, if those are your actual teeth, I’m totally sorry, bro. As for the weed, that stuff was probably authentic.

I guess the point of my harping on the gum-chewing is to say that Affleck doesn’t need that kind of bullshit. He’s a commanding actor, and his characterization of Chris is impressive and memorable enough without all the popping and cracking. It doesn’t make his character any tougher or hard-nosed. It just makes him sloppy. It also left me concerned that he might get lockjaw.

The cast does well, for the most part, although Paul is saddled with a dopey haircut (another gimmick), and Reedus is sorely lacking a crossbow (a gimmick avoided). There’s a bit involving Ejiofor and a gift-wrapped package that you will see coming a mile away, but Ejiofor sells it fine.

Triple 9 is a decent-enough action thriller, and it should’ve been sponsored by Triple Mint Refresh Chiclets bubble gum!

By the way, I do see the irony of constantly leaning on the gimmickry of gum-chewing in a movie as a gimmick in and of itself.

I’ll stop now.

Triple 9 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I haven’t been on a boat in many, many years. After seeing The Finest Hours, I have no need to be on a boat in many, many more years.

In 1952, an oil tanker called the Pendleton split into two during a blizzard off the coast of Cape Cod. The eight crewmembers who were in the stern perished; 33 men initially survived in the bow section of the ship.

Upon hearing news of the situation, a four-man crew boarded a smallish Coast Guard 36500 lifeboat and set out in the midst of the storm to assist the Pendleton crew.

Director Craig Gillespie has crafted an exciting movie about the sea—that is, it’s an exciting movie when the action is actually on the sea. Unfortunately, some of the stuff that happens onshore bogs down the movie in schmaltziness. That’s OK: The action sequences, and the performances during those sequences, put The Finest Hours over the top as worthy entertainment.

Chris Pine plays Bernie Webber, who captains the tiny boat tasked with saving more than 30 men. Yes, this means the guy who plays Captain Kirk gets to be called “captain” a lot during the course of this film. It’s a slight distraction, but a good one nonetheless.

As Ray Sybert, one of the unlucky fellows aboard the Pendleton, Casey Affleck is rock-solid as the man who takes charge in the face of great peril. When some crew members think it’s a good idea to board the lifeboats in the middle of gale-force winds, Sybert gives them a demonstration that renders that option moot. Affleck, one of the more underrated actors in the biz, offers the film’s best performance.

Unlike the dreadful In the Heart of the Sea that Ron Howard shat into the ocean last year, The Finest Hours packs a major, exciting action punch with a lot of water. I haven’t felt this freaked out watching people ride into slamming waves since Wolfgang Petersen tortured Clooney and Wahlberg in The Perfect Storm.

Chris Pine rides into the belly of the beast with three crewmembers played by Ben Foster, John Magaro and Kyle Gallner. All four are terrific at looking scared shitless while being drenched and bounced about. When the action covers their voyage, or Affleck struggles aboard the sinking vessel, the movie is top-notch.

Sadly, Gillespie feels the need to make this a love story, too. Holliday Grainger plays Miriam, Bernie’s new girlfriend, and her face-offs with Bernie’s commander (Eric Bana with a distracting accent) at Coast Guard HQ are tiresome stuff. Bernie and Miriam’s courtship is actually kind of sweet in the early part of the movie, but their love story becomes nothing but an unwelcomed distraction once waves start hitting Bernie’s boat.

The film looks and plays like a movie that could’ve been shot in black and white. Some of the faces in this film (especially Foster’s face) have an old-timey look; there were times when I was expecting one of the Bowery boys or Humphrey Bogart to show up and lend a hand.

Pine comes to life when his character is out at sea, but his stilted choices back onshore seem almost gimmicky. He’s very charismatic in most of his roles, yet the sheepishness he portrays on dry land feels forced and overdone. He salvages his work during the action sequences for sure, but the movie does feature some of his career-worst work at times.

If you are looking for a good sea movie with a decent love story, your best bet is still Titanic. The Finest Hours is no masterpiece, but it gets the job done. 

The Finest Hours is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Christian Bale is at his simmering best in Out of the Furnace, a dark, often scary and desolate look at two brothers who get dealt numerous bad hands. Directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), this is not a holiday-season film designed to send you home smiling.

Russell Baze (Bale) is a good-spirited, quiet man working at the town mill. He looks out for his military-vet brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck). Rodney is having trouble adjusting after multiple tours in Iraq that have left him physically and emotionally scarred. This makes Russell ultra-patient when it comes to his bro—even paying off Rodney’s gambling debts behind his back to a local bookie (Willem Dafoe, who somehow makes this sleazy character seem like a nice guy).

Russell, after a brutal and costly mistake, goes to jail, while his brother does another tour. When Russell is set free, he has lost his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana), and his brother is in bad shape. Rodney’s debts have gotten too big, so he starts bare-knuckle boxing. He eventually finds himself in a situation in which he should be taking a dive for a nasty criminal (Woody Harrelson, playing one of the year’s most memorable and lecherous movie villains).

Rodney disappears, and Russell takes matters into his own hands when a local authority (Forest Whitaker) appears to be dragging his feet. At this point, the movie starts to really heat up, thanks to an added element involving the Whitaker character that I won’t give away.

In some ways, Out of the Furnace is a typical revenge thriller, with semi-predictable plot points. However, what makes the movie so worthy of your time is that it commits to a dark, despairing mode—and all of the performers revel in it. It’s a downbeat movie for sure, but Bale and company give it a steady, dark pulse.

Affleck has had a good year with this and the little-seen Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. His Rodney is the sort of tragic figure who feels all too real. You pull for him, but there’s a sinking feeling he can’t be helped. He has a brief face-to-face showdown with Harrelson that counts as one of his career highlights.

Harrelson is pure, unadulterated evil here. His Harlan DeGroat is established in the very first scene as an entity not to be messed with; he’s terrifying. Harrelson is such a good performer that he never falls into caricature. You ultimately get a sense that a moral code may’ve once existed within DeGroat, but that core was decimated by meth, hatred and violence.

Out of the Furnace features one of the more sublime and understated recent Bale performances. (I was reminded of his subtle, brilliant work in Terrence Malick’s The New World.) After every emotional blow, Russell seemingly remains a good man, convinced things can all work out in the end. He has an optimism that is heartbreaking to behold.

Cooper prominently uses Pearl Jam’s “Release” at the film’s start and finish. It’s a powerful song choice that sets a mood that is both triumphant and somber—a lot like the movie itself. He further adds to the mood by casting Sam Shepard in a small but crucial part. Shepard’s presence adds gravitas.

Out of the Furnace doesn’t try to make any grand statements in its two hours. It tells a sad story of two brothers who love each other, the hardships they face, the bad hits they take, and their somewhat regrettable coping choices. The film is no happy party—but it is a showcase for three actors who nail it.

Out of the Furnace is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews