CVIndependent

Mon08192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

If you are looking for a good, standard action-thriller to put into your Netflix queue, Triple Frontier is a safe bet. Maybe it’s too safe, in fact, but regardless, after a one-week theatrical release, the movie is now available for streaming.

The latest from the streaming giant sends the likes of Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal and Charlie Hunnam into the jungle to rob a South American drug lord’s house of millions of dollars.

Former special-forces operative Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Isaac) has become bored to death as a military adviser to police making drug busts. During a particularly bloody mission, he overhears a captured dealer divulge the location of a drug lord’s personal home, where he keeps all of his money. Pope gets to thinking and then calls upon some of his former Special Ops buds to pay the kingpin a house call and relieve him of some of his dirty money. The catch: The mission will be off the books, of course, and totally illegal.

After years of military service with nothing to show for it, Pope and his buddies Redfly (Affleck), Ironhead (Hunnam), Ben (Hedlund) and Catfish (Pascal) are looking for a little payback. Tom “Redfly” Davis is the most reluctant at first, but a divorce and child-support payments prompt him to eventually go all-in.

The first stage of the mission has the men attempting what is supposed to be a quick, easy theft of the money while most of the family is at church, and the drug lord is left behind. This gives director J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All Is Lost) an opportunity to present an effectively chilling heist inside a jungle mansion. Of course, things don’t exactly go according to plan.

The next stage has the boys getting into some skirmishes in the jungle and in a small village; again, things aren’t going as easily as Pope proposed in his initial plans. The third stage has the men moving hundreds of pounds of money toward and eventually through the Andes—first on mules and then on their backs, as they try their darndest to salvage the mission’s booty.

All three stages are well-done, although there are not many surprises. Triple Frontier doesn’t rack up points for originality, but it does score with the casting, with all five main leads making solid contributions. They are all good enough to distract you from the fact that the movie itself is almost completely devoid of originality.

That’s OK. Sometimes a great cast and some decent firefights are all you need to quench your action-thriller thirst; in that sense, Triple Frontier hits the marks.

Also, it’s fun to watch this movie if you pretend that Affleck’s character is actually a retired Batman who has come upon hard financial times and is forced to sell condos for a living. I admit that this notion was playing in my head, especially in the moments when Redfly (That could be a bat’s nickname!) gets all dark and brooding.

Of the performances, Isaac’s is the most memorable—no big surprise, considering he’s easily the best actor in the bunch. Pascal is good as the down-on-his-luck pilot who needs some scratch to offset the legal cost of his latest blunder. Hedlund offers some decent comic relief as the angriest and most impatient of the group.

The movie does boast one sequence—a helicopter flight over mountains that is in danger of crashing due the large quantity of cash dangling from its bottom—that is a truly original moment. Otherwise, Triple Frontier is the sort of film like the ones Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger used to turn out. While that’s not high praise, it’s hardly a condemnation. There’s a time and a place for a good junk-food movie—and Netflix knows it.

Triple Frontier is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in Reviews

Come on, DC Films! You did so well with Wonder Woman, and Justice League was your chance to really establish your superhero universe!

And you blew it.

Justice League is an expensive mess in which some of our favorite superheroes battle an apocalyptic force, while two seriously different directors, Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, battle with their filmmaking styles.

It’s no big secret that Zack Snyder (who created two execrable duds with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) had to leave deep into production due to family reasons. Joss Whedon (The Avengers) stepped in for post-production and major reshoots. The resulting catastrophe is like a swig of boxed wine that has been left out in the sun for three weeks, chased by a big chug of Sunny Delight. Neither is a taste you want in your face.

The action picks up after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), with Batman (Ben Affleck) still brooding as Gotham is invaded by bug-like alien creatures. It turns out they are the envoys of Steppenwolf, the worst special-effects/CGI bad guy you will see ever in a big-budget blockbuster.

Steppenwolf looks like the late singer of Alice and Chains had sex with a California Raisin, and then the offspring had sex with a Meat Loaf album cover. Finally, the Meat Loaf-album-cover baby had sex with an Atari video game console from the early 1980s that had an E.T. game stuck in it. That ugly-as-shit creature then went for a walk in Hollywood; Zack Snyder crossed its path, and, for some ungodly reason, he put a dopey helmet on it and screamed: “Behold! My next film’s villain!”

Anyway, Steppenwolf comes to Earth looking for the Mother Boxes, the DC Universe’s version of the Marvel Universe’s Infinity Stones. They combine to rule all worlds, or some bullshit like that. Batman thinks this is bad, so he gathers the planet’s superheroes, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg, aka the Worst Superhero Ever (Ray Fisher).

A big piece of the blockbuster puzzle is missing with Superman six feet under, so Batman decides to bring the corpse back to that ship where Lex Luthor made Doomsday out of Michael Shannon. It made no sense in BvS, and it makes no sense now, but, yes, Superman comes back, Jesus-style, and the only thing that looks worse than Steppenwolf in this flick is Henry Cavill’s freaky face. Cavill had a mustache during reshoots that he was contractually obligated to keep for another movie, so they had to digitally remove it in much of his footage. To say that his face looks altered would be an understatement: This is a very handsome man we are talking about, but he looks wonky for much of his screen time, like his face is a high-definition video trying to load on an older cell phone. He looks all smudgy and garbled. It’s not a good look for him.

OK, back to the stupid movie: The Justice League gets together and battles Steppenwolf in a sequence that offers no surprises and features more terrible special effects and editing. It isn’t only Steppenwolf and Henry Cavill who look like shit in this movie; the humans don’t blend well with the CGI, and always look inserted into an unwieldy gigabyte maelstrom. It’s hard on the eyes.

Godot still rocks as Wonder Woman in every moment she’s onscreen, and Miller makes a fun Flash. Affleck seems a bit tired of the Batman role, while Momoa is just a wisecracker as Aquaman, and Fisher is dreary as Cyborg. The Superman parts could’ve been cool, but the uneven face messes things up. It really brings out his teeth in a bad way; they are frighteningly pointy. He looks like a scary Superman vampire.

Whedon was handed a morose mess by Snyder, and Whedon didn’t have enough time and post-production talent to save the enterprise. Based on past work, I’m thinking the few moments in which the film brings a smile have everything to do with Whedon, and nothing to do with Snyder, who needs to move on to other projects.

Justice League is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Director Ben Affleck’s Live by Night is a period piece/costume drama that looks like a lot of work went into it, although it never feels like a cohesive picture.

Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin, one of those gangsters you just gotta love, fighting the gangster fight during Prohibition in sunny Florida. Joe rises to the top of the gangster field, despite being the son of a cop (Brendan Gleeson), and despite basically being an all-around good guy.

The problem is that Affleck fails to give his central character a true identity and emotional toolbox. The character feels stilted, and the movie around him feels like a costume party. It’s as if Affleck was afraid to make Joe the truly bad guy he should be. The fedoras and sweet suits all look good, but it’s in the service of a story that has been told before—in far more powerful ways.

Sienna Miller is good as Joe’s early love, and Elle Fanning, who had a great year with The Neon Demon and 20th Century Women, is also good as a disgraced actress who finds a new career in preaching. Again, the movie looks good, and Affleck’s performance is OK, but the story feels like a rehash of every gangster movie ever made.

Live by Night is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Accountant is a ridiculous, implausible thriller, in some ways even more ridiculous than the recent, somewhat weak film The Girl on the Train.

So why did I end up liking it?

I don’t know. Maybe it was because I was super-high on weed and mescaline, and I got an extra check in the mail from an employer goof-up that gave me all the money I needed to buy a new couch and lots of snacks.

No, wait … I don’t do drugs, and I only dreamt that I got that check. My couch still sucks ass. Instead, I liked The Accountant because it has a fantastic Ben Affleck, and the movie sort of plays out like a deranged Batman pic—with calculator action!

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a high-functioning autistic man who has managed to harness his extreme intelligence with numbers and physical tics—into the strangest of professions. By day, he’s an accountant who, for example, helps a farm owner find tax loopholes to save a few thousand bucks. By night, he’s some sort of accountant ninja who can take out a room full of mob guys with a dinner knife and some Batman-style forearm blasts to the face.

Yes, Christian takes jobs fixing the books for dirty folks the world over, and while he does have a modest, sparsely decorated home, he also has a mobile man cave (or, should I say … Batcave!) that keeps all the spoils of his riches (like money, gold, Jackson Pollock paintings and, yes, collectors’ items like Batman comic books).

During one job, he is tasked with finding missing money for a prosthetics company led by John Lithgow, and he takes a liking to fellow accountant Dana (the invaluable Anna Kendrick). They conspire to find the missing money … something that, of course, some people don’t want to see happen. Christian and Dana find themselves in loads of trouble, which eventually leads to shootouts and more Batman-style forearms to the face.

Director Gavin O’Connor balances out all of the craziness and outrageous turns of events to deliver a film that, despite a few sleepy parts, is thoroughly entertaining. Affleck is good here, basically playing a dude with repressed rage and childhood trauma issues, minus a cowl.

Kendrick offers up a capable “WTF is going on?!” performance in her fifth movie this year. (She’s busy.) The rest of the supporting cast includes an excellent Jon Bernthal a bad guy much worse than Affleck’s kind-of-bad guy. (Bernthal is essentially this movie’s Joker.) J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson are good as two Treasury Department agents who combine to create the movie’s Commissioner Gordon. And Jeffrey Tambor plays a father figure who rooms with Christian and amounts to this film’s Uncle Ben. Oh, wait … wrong superhero.

Maybe I’m the only one who sees this movie as Batman doing taxes. Maybe that makes me some sort of amateurish idiot who likes movies that are actually kind of lame, just because they play out in a weird way in his overreaching mind. But then again, maybe I am not alone.

Maybe The Accountant will have a sequel in which Christian battles with an even stronger, out-of-town accountant whose mother has the same name as his mother, and who mopes a lot because his dad, the guy from Field of Dreams, died in a tornado accident. Oh, god, please … no.

The Accountant is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The end credits of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice give a thank-you shout-out to Frank Miller, author of The Dark Knight Returns. That’s the groundbreaking graphic novel that inspired the late-20th-century rebirth of Batman, influencing everything related since Tim Burton’s Batman.

Considering what transpires in the 2 1/2 hours before Miller’s name appears onscreen, Warner Bros. should be offering him an impassioned apology.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is definitive proof that director Zack Snyder should be banned from the DC universe. The man who gave us Sucker Punch has effectively knocked the wind out of two great comic-book heroes. This film is a crime against every geek who has ever picked up a graphic novel.

Hell, it’s also a crime against hard-core Ben Affleck fans. Affleck could be a fine Batman. Actually, he could be a great Batman. But, like George Clooney before him, he winds up looking quite ridiculous, running around in a messy movie in which his character simply doesn’t fit. A nice effort by Affleck to portray a nuanced, older, somewhat weary Bruce Wayne (in a badass suit!) is utterly wasted.

As for Henry Cavill’s Superman, I’m longing for those short-lived days of Brandon Routh as Kal-El. While it isn’t entirely his fault, Cavill’s Supes is officially a dud.

A sequel of sorts to the dreary Man of Steel (also directed by Snyder), Batman v Superman is a soulless step in the wrong direction. Snyder, who made a great graphic-novel movie with Watchmen, seems to have completely lost the ability to put a cohesive, exciting movie together.

The film meanders aimlessly, accompanied by an alternately sluggish and bombastic score by Hans Zimmer. Like Michael Bay before him, Snyder has become too reliant upon useless, unnecessary slo-mo. He follows these slo-mo scenes up with noisy CGI action that is often incoherent.

The movie commits many of the same sins as last year’s party-pooping Avengers: Age of Ultron: It’s nothing but a setup—a setup for a big battle that everybody knows will have a lame ending (and, boy howdy, is the fight resolution lame). It’s also a setup for future superhero and Justice League movies. It’s just a big marketing ploy.

The first true Justice League movie is set to begin production soon. Yes, Batman v Superman is making big money, but it would behoove Warner Bros. to step back, take a breather and consider giving this franchise over to a more-capable director, like George Miller. Christ, even Bay would be an improvement.

Snyder wants to get a bunch of characters (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash) up to speed so we can get a Justice League movie that’s the equivalent of Marvel’s Avengers movies. He wants to get it done in one fell swoop, and it all feels forced and manipulative.

His film has no life, no pulse. It drags, drags, drags. By the time Batman and Superman are slugging it out, it’s just one element in a film that has way too many plot threads that aren’t getting proper attention.

It dawned on me while Batman and Superman were fighting that I didn’t really want to see these two incarnations of the characters fighting at all. It’s just kind of dumb. For a good, surreal Batman v Superman battle, read The Dark Knight Returns, or watch the animated movie adaptation that WB put out three years ago. The cartoon handles the battle in a much more convincing and logical way.

Subplots involving Lois Lane (Amy Adams, looking bored) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, embarrassing himself) are howlers. Luthor’s nefarious plot to make the superheroes fight and ultimately face off against Doomsday is preposterous and pointless. 

My geek heart has taken a kryptonite spear to the chest with Batman v Superman. Yes, Affleck is good, so it is not a total loss, but, please, get Zack Snyder away from the DC playground. He represents the complete absence of fun.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

David Fincher apparently set out to create the nastiest movie ever about marriages gone bad with Gone Girl.

I think he has succeeded.

Fincher and Gillian Flynn (writer of both the novel and screenplay) come up with a toxic cocktail laced with dark humor, scabrous satire and blistering performances. Anybody who has suffered through a bad relationship, or doubts aspects of the relationship in which they are now, will feel the power of Gone Girl.

On the day of his fifth anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home after sulking at the bar he owns with his sister (a funny Carrie Coon). There’s a problem: His wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is missing. Nick calls the police and the in-laws, and quickly finds himself sucked into in a media circus that leaves him dazed and confused. His demeanor in public is a strange combination of a malaise and ill-timed smiles. Yeah … he’s a suspect.

Through a series of narrated flashbacks, we hear the story of the Dunne marriage from Amy’s perspective, as chronicled in her diary. Everything started sweet enough, with the two of them being impossibly perfect for each other. However, family deaths, money troubles and lapses in moral judgment leave them stricken with loathing and regret by the time the “wood” anniversary arrives.

Nick is skewered on TV by a Nancy Grace-type “journalist” (a snooty Missi Pyle), and the detectives investigating his case (the deadpan Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) have little faith in his innocence. The evidence against Nick becomes quite daunting as it piles up. The whole thing plays a lot like the Scott Peterson case, involving a husband who killed his pregnant wife and dumped her body in San Francisco Bay 12 years ago.

Then, at about the halfway point, the movie goes completely and wonderfully insane. I recommend that you accept what happens—even though it’s totally nuts—and enjoy the rest of this messed-up ride. Gone Girl becomes a nightmarish fantasy, a hyper-sensationalized “what-if” that thrives on its implausibility. Had this movie tried to stick closer to reality, it would’ve killed too much of the fun.

Pike, a British actress perhaps known best for Jack Reacher, gets the role of a lifetime with Amy—and she devours it. We see many faces of Amy, some of them pure, with others as monstrous as Godzilla. What we see early in Amy’s story doesn’t prepare us for what comes later.

There’s nobody better cast than Affleck as Nick. Affleck has often been the victim of unjust tabloid garbage and Internet slagging, so when Nick is required to show media fatigue, Affleck needs only to pull from his personal Battfleck or Bennifer experiences to hit the right notes. He also has an eerie resemblance to Scott Peterson, which helps. Most of all, he shows what has been true throughout his career: He’s a fine actor capable of great nuance.

With this effort, Fincher erases the waste of time that was his adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and gets back to the business of being one of the world’s finest directors. As he did with Fight Club, Fincher gets to the heart of the novel with which he’s working, and does the book more than justice. He makes a great-looking movie, and the score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, will amaze.

Gone Girl will make many of us laugh (especially the single and divorced folks), force some of us to cringe, and cause nightmares for those unsteady couples with rings on their fingers.

Gone Girl is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Was the world aching for a movie about online gambling? If so, was it aching for a movie about online gambling in which Justin Timberlake gets beaten up a lot while looking really scared? Was it aching for a film in which Ben Affleck feeds poultry to his pet crocodiles?

In Runner Runner, Timberlake plays Richie, a college student paying his tuition through online gambling. After possibly getting hustled, he travels to Costa Rica to get in the face of the guy in charge of the gambling site (Affleck). Richie winds up getting a job and thrusting himself into a seedy online gambling underworld that involves running around a lot and acting really confused.

Timberlake is an actor who can look really good—or really, really lost. This time, he’s lost. As for Affleck, I kind of like him in this movie; it’s fun when he plays a bad guy.

Sadly, the movie lets him down in a big way with its silly subplots and failed attempts at being clever.

Runner Runner is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

If you hated Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, you will hate To the Wonder, and if you loved Tree … well, you might be OK watching this.

Ben Affleck stars (sort of) as an American who falls in love while in Paris, and brings the woman (Olga Kurylenko) and her daughter home to Texas. Malick reduces Affleck to sulking, for the most part; it’s a role that never allows him to cut loose. Pitt had a similar assignment in The Tree of Life, but he did a much better job. Affleck looks a little confused, as does Rachel McAdams as an old flame. She’s required to look forlorn, sad and beautiful. She does little else.

The reason to see the film, besides its excellent visuals, is Kurylenko, who shines in the central role. I admire this film in that it tells a complete story in a very different way—but I don’t love it in the way that I’ve loved past Malick films. It’s a mild disappointment.

To the Wonder opens Friday, April 26, at the Cinemas Palme d’Or, 72480 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430.

Published in Reviews

Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated as best director for the movie that eventually went on to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. We all know this by now.

However, surprisingly few people have made a big stink about Affleck’s failure to receive a nomination for best actor in Argo. He is the one who spends the most time, by far, onscreen, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that he should’ve been nominated for his performance? That performance was the driving force behind the best picture, right?

I don’t think Argo should’ve been nominated in any of the major categories, including picture, director and actor. It’s a fine film, and Affleck continues to make very good movies, but this wasn’t the year’s best picture. Heck, it didn’t even make my personal Top 20.

The movie has a nice retro feel, and features great work from Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and, to a lesser extent, Alan Arkin. Arkin received a Best Supporting Actor nomination, another nom the film didn’t deserve.

I was about 11 years old when the Iran hostage crisis went down; Affleck was around 7. So some of his earliest memories probably involve how embarrassing and frustrating this time in American history was.

Argo is very good movie, but it isn’t a great one. That said, I think Affleck has some great movies in his future.

Special Features: This is a Blu-ray package in which the special features are actually better than the movie. A director’s commentary with Affleck is highly informative and entertaining, as is a picture-in-picture feature you can run for the entire film. This feature includes many of the actual hostages and participants in the rescue. Some other decent behind-the-scenes featurettes and an archival documentary on the rescue mission round things out to make this a great disc. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing