Synopsis: Sonny Vaccaro, a shoe salesman at Nike, works to sign rookie Michael Jordan to a deal to wear their shoes. Stars: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Julius Tennon, Matthew Maher, Viola Davis Director: Ben Affleck Rated: R Running Length: 112 minutes TMMM Score: (8/10) Review: As someone that watched all ten episodes of the exhaustive (but excellent) Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance, I approached Air wondering if the world truly needed another movie to tell us how great (and wealthy) an athlete Michael Jordan is. Even those unfamiliar with the documentary should have some base understanding of Jordan’s phenomenal talent. With his hands in multiple businesses and media, he’s more of a household name than some global political leaders. Hearing about the upcoming release of Air, I was scratching my head as to what could be so very special about it to attract such A-level talent for what seemed to be a rehash of a small chapter of a longer novel.
The script for Air was quite a hot commodity in 2021, showing up on the famous Hollywood Black List (the annual tally of the most popular screenplays not yet produced). While it didn’t languish there as long as some have, Alex Convery had to have been thrilled to see it get pounced on by Amazon Studios. If director Ben Affleck stuck close to the original script, and with the fast turnaround for casting/filming I have every reason to believe he has, you could see why it held appeal as a slick, showy approach to the history of the creation of a landmark partnership that changed the face of the retail market, and the way corporations were challenged to compensate their athletic collaborators.
In 1984, Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck, Gone Girl) was considering possibly laying off his entire basketball shoe division. The running shoe company couldn’t compete with popular brands like Adidas or Converse without a signed major athlete. Sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon, Downsizing) was striking out in scouting high school players and unhappy with the limitations being put on him by his boss. As the season draws near, the options look grim except for one name none of them (especially Jason Bateman’s character, executive Rob Strasser) think they can get: Michael Jordan.
Jordan (through his representation) had stated publicly that he wasn’t interested in Nike, so it appeared the game was already lost. Sonny wasn’t deterred, though, seeing something in the player and his family that sparked him to make a series of bold moves that put his team and company in a precarious position, all in the hope of making a deal. Bypassing Jordan’s cantankerous, foul-mouthed agent (Chris Messina, She Dies Tomorrow) and appealing directly to the family’s decision-maker, Jordan’s mother (Viola Davis, The Woman King), Sonny had limited time to work with designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher, Live by Night) and resources from Knight to take a shot that will save them all.
Is it too early to talk about Best Actor hopefuls for 2024? I know, the thought weirds me out, too, but Damon’s doing something damn special in Air. It’s the daddyiest of all dad films, but take those scenes away, and you have Damon getting passionate about little things that, in turn, make us care about the outcome we all know is inevitable. A rah-rah speech Damon delivers near the end to Jordan is so confident and inspiring that I thought I could play basketball for the Bulls after. Also…the boldest move ever would be to recognize Messina for his foam-mouthed agent from hell. Talk about an unforgettable supporting performance that resonates throughout the rest of the film!
Affleck (or the script) makes the interesting move never to show Jordan’s face during the film, opting for archival footage in intervals to flash forward to the superstar athlete the young man with his back to the camera will become. Instead, we deal primarily with Deloris Jordan (it’s said that Michael Jordan’s only request to Affleck was that Davis plays his mother) with her husband James (Davis’ real-life husband, Julius Tennon) sitting close by watching her work. Allowing this aspect of Jordan’s deal with Nike to be fleshed out was fascinating, and while this public knowledge wasn’t a big reveal, Davis and Damon play these final scenes with a hint of suspense that keeps us creeping to the edge of our seats.
That’s what shocked me about the Air experience in general: how much of the film I felt like I was holding my breath as to what would happen next. When I already knew what would happen next. That’s the sign of a filmmaker (Affleck) and screenwriter (Convery) with a confident grip on the audience. Playing with an almost documentary-like feel, Air flies high with skilled performances (and ample ’80s needle drops) and demonstrates again that Affleck is a director never to be counted out.
Synopsis: A well-to-do husband who allows his wife to have affairs to avoid a divorce becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance of her lovers. Stars: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Dash Mihok, Lil Rel Howery, Jacob Elordi, Finn Wittrock, Kristen Connolly, Rachel Blanchard Director: Adrian Lyne Rated: R Running Length: 115 minutes TMMM Score: (3/10) Review: The gossip-grabbing headlines that have followed Deep Water from its filming during the later months of 2019 through its numerous release delays have been the stuff that set the tongues wagging of both viewers and critics alike. Audiences with their home screens set to Page Six are keen to know if the relationship between the stars of the film, Ben Affleck (The Last Duel) and Ana de Armas (Knives Out), equated to erotic chemistry in this adaptation of a 1957 Patricia Highsmith novel. On the flip side, critics were increasingly desperate to watch the return of director Adrian Lyne after what would turn out to be a twenty-year gap between films. When the film was announced to debut on Hulu in March of 2022, Affleck was back with Jennifer Lopez, and de Armas is doing just fine on the cusp of A-list stardom. On the other hand, Deep Water should have been submerged at the bottom of a shallow creek.
I actually went into Lyne’s first film since 2002’s Unfaithful with hope all the early lousy buzz was wrong, the result of too many eager beavers ready to tear the movie to shreds. We’ve certainly had those films before. Unfortunately, this is not one of those cases. Highsmith’s novel is about a husband and wife in a loveless marriage stained with adultery who use the men the wife sleeps with as pawns in their psychological torment of one another. When one of these games goes too far, it creates a fissure in their routine that changes the rules they’ve seemingly agreed to and ups the ante for unpredictable danger. While Highsmith’s novel isn’t as overt as the screenplay from Zach Helm and Sam Levinson (Malcolm & Marie), its framework would have made for a sophisticated (and, sure, sexy) adult drama that Lyne could have molded to his style. It’s absolutely in line with the films he has overseen before, like 9 ½ Weeks, Indecent Proposal, and Fatal Attraction.
So why is Deep Water so shallow and dull? Perhaps it’s because there’s no chemistry between the leads, a strange occurrence for the actors who found romance offscreen. You don’t once buy for a second that de Armas would choose the lean and lanky boys she flounces around with over Affleck’s more mature and handsome frame. Even if she’s trying to provoke him into what eventually happens, the character de Armas is playing is supposedly repulsed by the thought of being with her husband. It just doesn’t come across as believable. In that same vein, Affleck is tasked with having to act like he’s above all of the flirting de Armas does in front of him and his friends (more on that later), but the most addled he gets is contorting his face as if he has a piece of rice stuck in a back molar.
More than anything, Deep Water has no erotic edge to it. Lush lust might have saved the film from its rather bland exchanges between husband and wife, and let’s face it, some of Lyne’s previous films were significantly assisted by the suggestive content. Instead, we get several large dinner parties where the most exciting thing that occurs is de Armas playing the piano badly at one and de Armas asking her newest boy toy (Jacob Elordi) to tinkle the ivories at another. At that particular party, when he starts playing, you would have thought Amadeus himself was playing Elvis Presley the way the guests begin to jive to the melody. Also, Lyne films each of these gatherings so gauzy and dimly lit that I swear it felt like it would erupt into a key party at any moment. All of their friends seemed a little…too friendly.
If I told you there was a murder mystery at the core of Deep Water, would it excite you any more to see it? It shouldn’t because it’s barely part of the plot, though previews might make you think otherwise. No, most of the movie is focused on Affleck looking jealous of de Armas and de Armas apparently hating her life with Affleck and their young daughter. It’s hard to feel much sympathy with anyone involved; even the people that are intended to be helpful are pretty abysmal. Lyne also includes one of the most bizarre scenes to show over a closing credit in some time. It’s almost entirely a miss, recommended only for the curious that don’t mind giving away two hours of their time to have nothing to show for it.
Synopsis: In 1386, Marguerite de Carrouges claims to have been raped by her husband’s best friend and squire Jacques Le Gris. Her husband, knight Jean de Carrouges, challenges him to trial by combat, the last legally sanctioned duel in France’s history.
Stars: Jodie Comer, Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Ben Affleck, Marton Csokas, Harriet Walter, Clare Dunne, Zeljko Ivanek, Nathaniel Parker, Michael McElhatton, Alex Lawther
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Length: 152 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: With the big summer effects bonanzas being on hold for an entire year and the prestigious costume dramas pushed out for better positioning at award chances to later in 2021 or even 2022, audiences have been lacking in the area of the grand epic for going on two years. Sure, we’ve had the occasional Marvel film here and there to satiate some sense of wonder but I’m talking about those films that make you feel like you’re back in Hollywood’s heyday when everything was made on a studio lot and extras numbered in the thousands. As recently as a decade ago we were still getting these movies, but they’ve taken a backseat to films that are easier to produce with limited involvement from humans that are added in post-production. The sets aren’t real, and the overall ambiance feels phony…making the stakes not feel quite as high for historical epics involving swords, sandals, arrows, chainmail, etc.
One director out there hasn’t shied away from continuing on the legacy of the epic and that’s Ridley Scott, a filmmaker often taken a bit for granted in the business for his tendency to lean into fare of the sheer entertainment variety. Though primarily an action director, he was also behind Thelma & Louise, Matchstick Men, and A Good Year so he is known to stretch when the mood suits him. That lighter touch helps a bit in Scott’s newest film, The Last Duel, based on Eric Jager’s 2004 non-fiction novel “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat” which details the final legally recognized duel that was fought in France. One man is accused by another of the most heinous act of violation against his wife, a charge that leads them to the highest court in the country where they leave it in God’s hands to decide who is telling the truth. If the defendant dies during the duel, it will prove the woman was telling the truth. If the accused comes out of the duel alive and kills his accuser, well then, he is telling the truth and the man’s wife will be burned alive for her lie. Not the soundest execution of justice and back in 2019 when the film was first announced, not the most promising of a plot description for a town just settling into the first wave of post #MeToo productions.
Adapted by stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (yes, they did win an Oscar for Good Will Hunting), the two were wise to ask Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) to join them in their journey in bringing Jager’s novel to the screen. This not only brought some needed balance to the screenplay and gave a stronger voice overall to the script but allowed for the central female character to not be written from just one point of view. The result is a surprisingly swift feature broken into three chapters that tell the same story, just from the perspectives of different characters. Employing a Rashomon-style technique in storytelling isn’t anything revelatory but in the hands of pros like Scott and his cast, the small similarities and even smaller subtle differences unique to each version of events keeps this one in a gripping space where the edge of your seat moments extend far beyond what happens during the titular duel.
Audiences are wise to buckle up and pay attention for the first thirty minutes which sets the stage for the friendship and eventual rivalry between knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon, The Martian) and squire Jacques Le Gris (Annette). Though Carrouges has the more noble name and throws himself into harm’s way for the honor of his king, he’s unliked by most that know and fight alongside him because of his selfishness and constant need for recognition. That’s the opposite of Le Gris who, at least at first, is content to just be welcomed in by people in a higher status and be a trusted confidant. Over time, this skill with ingratiating himself to nobility pushes Le Gris ahead of Carrouges, a sleight that causes a rift in the friendship that cannot be mended.
While the men are sorting out their business, widower Carrouges meets and marries his second wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker) and moves her in with his cruel mother (wickedly nasty Harriet Walter, Herself) who picks away at her while he is away in battle. Unable to conceive a child during their years together, the two are at odds when he takes a trip to the city the same day his mother decides to leave Marguerite alone for the day. Of course this is the same day Le Gris, who has been obsessed with Marguerite ever since meeting her when Carrouges decided to bury the hatchet, pays a visit.
Some version of these events plays out three times until this point and it mostly is the same story with tiny tweaks to attitudes depending on who is telling the tale. In Carrouges version, Marguerite is much more docile, to hear Le Gris tell it, Marguerite was flirting with him and encouraged his visit, but in Marguerite’s retelling, or ‘The Truth’ as the words linger longer on the screen insinuate, neither man read the signs correctly. Watching different iterations also means audiences have to witness a brutal rape twice so here’s your warning this unpleasant encounter is on display and though absent of nudity or gore, is more gruesome than anything that plays out later in the vicious battle royale between Carrouges and Le Gris. Can a scene like this be shot with any kind of sensitivity? I doubt it, but Comer bravely gives it her all and Scott allows her room to breathe.
Speaking of Comer, with the amount of male energy flying around and the dueling taking up such a major piece of the action, it’s saying something the actress is far and away the winner of the evening when the credits roll. Making a splash on television even before her award-winning run in the acclaimed spy series Killing Eve, Comer graduates to the A-list with a star making (and surely Oscar nominated) turn as a woman unwilling to back down or be intimidated from anyone or anything, even a horrific threat of death. Already victimized once, she refuses to go through it again via her husband or even the highest court in the land…and believe me, the court sure tries.
Backing Comer up in the acting department are Damon and Driver who dial back their oft-tendency to grandstand with Driver in particular making a strong case for himself as capable of even more than his most loyal fans have thought. True, he’s playing a pretty despicable guy but for a while he’s almost endearing and definitely more tolerable than Damon’s character. I mean, the hair alone on Carrouges is enough to drive you crazy. In past films, Damon tends to gnaw at the scenery when he gets worked up but anytime Affleck (Live by Night) is onscreen in The Last Duel there’s nothing left to consume because he’s swallowed up the entire caravan of costumes by Janty Yates (Prometheus) and the sumptuous set decorations courtesy of Judy Farr (Rocketman). Of all the people that were bound to overact, I wasn’t expecting it to be Affleck but with his blond hair and a blond goatee that looks like a tennis ball was just cut in half and stuck on his pointy chin, it’s a performance that treks into high camp. And he doesn’t even go all the way with it. There are several scenes where his lothario character is meant to be scampering around chasing after women and they’re all naked and he’s fully clothed – we all know this character would be naked as a jaybird without a care in the world. It’s a small detail but became a major one in my mind considering what the movie puts the Comer character through.
I initially thought I’d find long jags of the film slow but with Scott at the helm it moves like a locomotive, peppered here and there with his trademark flair for a well-staged battle scene. With the R-rating firmly in place he’s able to make these incredibly violent and in your face, leading up to and including the final duel between the two men. It all makes for an experience that has a solid impact with parallels to victim-blaming that resonate even today. The Last Duel might be about the final official battle over honor in France, but it leaves audiences with the recognition that the war was just beginning.
Synopsis: Determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions.
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Ray Porter, Jesse Eisenberg
Director: Zack Snyder
Running Length: 242 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Has there ever been a more bizarre and divisive situation of nerdom than the one surrounding the twisted tale of Zack Snyder’s Justice League? By his own request, the director was replaced during the final weeks of production on the 2017 release (including editing and reshoots) so he could deal with the emotional recovery of the death of his daughter. It was the right choice for Snyder but it left the film in the hands of Joss Whedon, the Marvel marvel who couldn’t find the same tone Snyder was going for and leaned into a more studio and populous theater friendly piece that didn’t serve the darker storyline that was imagined. Not unexpectedly, though the film was ultimately credited to Snyder it bore little resemblance to his original vision and was hampered by many of Whedon’s trademarks, down to cringy bits of humor that didn’t work and a stupefying amount of bad special effects.
With Warner Brothers and the DC Universe riding high off the phenomenal success of Wonder Woman released earlier that year, the dismal failure (and tepid reception) of Justice League put a nail in the coffin for Henry Cavill’s Superman and encouraged Ben Affleck to exit a solo Batman project that was in the works. It also derailed a planned film for The Flash and bumped the Wonder Woman sequel out, not to mention leading to some troubling accusations from co-star Ray Fisher on how the studio treated him after voicing concerns about unprofessionalism on set. All in all…a big mess. While a subsequent Aquaman film performed well and looked encouraging for Jason Momoa’s future as a box office star, Wonder Woman 1984’s bow in late 2020 was met with true vitriol (all very unfair in my eyes) so the shaky ground remained.
While all of this was going on, though, a strange groundswell was starting that began almost as a joke but started to catch on before turning into a full-blown movement by comic book and franchise fans. This was of course the birth of the # phenomenon and it was hard to avoid the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut pandemonium that took over Twitter. Everyone knew that Snyder had expressed some displeasure that his vision wasn’t seen through to the end and that so much of what he shot wasn’t included or scenes he had wanted to shoot weren’t shot at all. What people were clamoring for was to see Warner Brothers to hand the movie back to Snyder and let him re-edit the movie into the “Snyder Cut”… which is not exactly unheard of. They’ve done it before with 1980’s Superman II, replacing director Richard Donner before filming was over but releasing his (not as good) version decades later. Director’s cuts are fairly standard for releases now but there was something about this particular movie that kept both sides tight-lipped, with Warner Brothers even claiming at one point that there would definitely be no Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Here we are, though, and HBOMax is releasing a four-hour cut of Snyder’s reassembled film that aligns with his original plan. Running a full two hours longer than the 2017 release, Snyder used material that Whedon chose not to go with and also shot quite a lot (a lot!) of new footage – so much so that this feels almost like a remake of the film everyone thumbs down-ed four years ago. We all know that longer doesn’t equal better but in the case of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, it most certainly does. My original review of Justice League pointed out that the film’s introductions to the new characters felt rushed and not a lot of the movie felt cohesive due to the streamlined runtime. With four hours to work with, Snyder is able to give each character their due and then some, providing more than enough character building to have the head spinning finale actually mean something this time around.
By and large, the story is mostly the same. After burying Superman at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Live by Night) begins to assemble a team of other individuals with superpowers while Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, Ralph Breaks the Internet) returns to her civilian life with the occasional crime fighting break now and again. Batman has a sense that a darkness is coming and the need for a team of united strength is important and it’s only after Wonder Woman gets a desperate sign from her homeland with the key to a hidden message that she joins him in the recruitment process. Together, they seek out Aquaman (Momoa, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) who has remained a mystery man in the waters off Iceland, The Flash (Ezra Miller, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) a kind-hearted social outcast that can run faster than the speed of light, and Cyborg (Fisher) a former high school football player saved from death by his scientist father (Joe Morton, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) now struggling to adjust to his altered appearance and overwhelming technological access.
Their combined powers will be needed to defeat Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds, Closed Circuit) a ghastly beast that has arrived on earth searching for three boxes that, when united, will call forth a dangerous entity that will destroy Earth. As he travels around the globe gathering the pieces of the puzzle from clans that have an impact on Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the group realizes that the box possesses multiple powers. (Yes, you’re correct in thinking this is all hokey pokey stuff and it’s just as absurd as it was the first time around…but with more time to add in context and backstory, it goes down just a little easier.) In addition to vanquishing all life, the “unity” can also restore it and bring the dead back to existence. A fairly good tool to have when you’re down one superhero and know where he’s buried…
Like I said before, everything about Zack Snyder’s Justice League, is just…more. There’s more story, more action, more blood (when people get thrown against walls, their heads tend to explode quite messily), and more gritty language than what you’ve come to expect. It isn’t anything gratuitous and only adds to the all-encompassing feeling that Snyder has returned to the film. I couldn’t shake off the feeling while watching it that it was the kind of event entertainment that back in the day networks would have shown once a year and the entire family would watch as a group. Could the film have been trimmed down a bit – absolutely – but I was fairly enraptured with it all from the moment it started until it ended. It may run 240ish minutes but it definitely doesn’t feel that long.
Not to say there weren’t some clunkier moments along the way. At times, when the action dips you start to try to pick out which scenes were new and which ones were previously shot and it’s fairly obvious by tracking Affleck’s face which switched between expertly chiseled and comfortably fuller throughout. Several scenes were clearly filmed on a soundstage that doesn’t match the rich detail of the other production design so one moment you’re with Diana as she’s traveling through a cave, Indiana Jones-style, and the next you’re watching a random actress silently acting out an overly cliché scene that’s there to show Cyborg’s softer side. There’s more than a handful of effects which come off like a video game or Saturday morning animation than the polished inspired moments they could be.
Speaking of the effects and visuals, aside from the occasional sketchy etching a great effort has clearly been made to right some terrible wrongs seen in the original, namely the horrible job done on Cavill’s (Enola Holmes) face to digitally remove a mustache he had while filming reshoots. Either those scenes were jettisoned completely, or the hundreds of digital techs credited at the end had their work cut out for them because by and large the movie looks sharp and excellent. A number of action sequences have been restored and they haven’t been carelessly re-inserted – they’ve all been smoothly incorporated into the rest of the movie. An early sequence of Wonder Woman stopping a bank robbery/bombing has been elongated and made it far more intense, visceral, and displays more of Wonder Woman’s abilities. I went back and watched the same scene from the original and its so watered down and brief that it barely registers as a bout of action for the heroine. Now it’s suspenseful and doesn’t feel like it minimizes the superhero or the plot.
Divided into six parts and an epilogue (which has about three or four endings within and several whopper surprises), Zack Snyder’s Justice League, is big big BIG and doesn’t quit until it’s good and ready to. Its release renders the previous version totally obsolete in my book and this will be the only Justice League that I’ll recognize for future rewatches because it appears to tell a full story with a better overall picture of where these characters are headed. Or were headed. Last time I checked Cavill and Affleck were out and a new Batman movie is due out soon with Robert Pattinson in what looks to be the darkest take on the Caped Crusader yet. Who knows what will come of this group for future outings but we do know that another Aquaman is swimming into production and due in 2022, the same year as The Flash movie which is rumored to have Affleck in it as well. Despite those off-the-mark reviews for the recent sequel, a third Wonder Woman film has thankfully been greenlit. Perhaps we’ll get a Cavill appearance in one of those films…or maybe Snyder will benefit from another Twitter grassroots campaign and a Justice League II will come to pass. No matter what, Snyder’s vision is finally out there and whether you were a strong supporter of this cut being released or think the studio caving to fan demand is the most terrible thing ever (um, why?) this a film that demands some attention and a little admiration as well. It’s goes for the brass ring with bold gusto.
Review: With the rousing success of Wonder Woman this summer, you had high(er) hopes for Justice League too, didn’t you? After the gloominess of Man of Steel, the critical drubbing lobbed at Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the just plain awful debut of the Suicide Squad, the first solo outing of the Amazon princess made a huge splash with a snazzy film that signaled the floundering DC Universe might be getting back on track. Alas, it was not meant to be because five short months later Justice League arrives with a huge thud, halting any momentum Wonder Woman had kicked off.
The problems are evident from the beginning. It should be noted that original director Zack Snyder had to be replaced shortly after filming ended while the movie was in post-production due to a family crisis. Joss Whedon (The Avengers) was brought it to touch up the script, and handle reshoots. Huge mistake. Whedon did good work with his involvement in the Marvel Universe but his humor doesn’t translate to the DC world that’s far darker and leaves itself less open for flights of fancy. His attempts to inject jokey humor crash and burn, especially seeing that they are awkwardly inserted into sequences already filmed by Snyder.
Another elephant in the room to discuss is Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), or, more to the point, Cavill’s mustache. After wrapping his scenes for Justice League, Cavill had grown a mustache to film a role in the next Mission: Impossible film and when he was called back for reshoots Paramount wouldn’t allow him to shave it. So he filmed his new scenes with facial hair that was then digitally removed…badly. Cavill comes off looking like a creepy puppet, with the bottom half of his face strangely not in communion with the upper. He’s in the first shot of the movie and it’s a jarring image that sets the tone for the rest of this schizo outing.
The first half of the film is occupied by a bewildering series of episodic vignettes where we meet characters that the movie treats us as if we already know but in reality have never seen before. We’re plopped right into the stories of Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) without much in the way of introduction or origin, almost like these were clips from a previous entry that was never released. We’re supposed to know and care about these characters instantly, but their arrivals are treated with such little fanfare it’s hard to warm up to any of them. Miller winds up being the most intriguing; his loner character is secretly desperate for friends and is brought into the fold by Batman (Ben Affleck, Gone Girl, checking out so much I can see why he’s trying to get excused from The Batman, a planned solo shot for the Caped Crusader) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Keeping Up with the Joneses).
What I always enjoyed about the previous incarnations of Batman and Superman was how they were up against villains that seemed somewhat plausible…at least for a comic-book foe. From the Penguin to Lex Luthor, the heroes were battling adversaries that sought awesome power, not ones that already had other-worldly talents. The villain in Justice League is Steppenwolf, a poorly rendered CGI baddie voiced by Ciarán Hinds (Frozen) that’s as generic as they come. This is a bad guy that might have worked better as a Marvel rival but definitely not one the Justice League should be working to thwart. Steppenwolf is on the hunt for three Mother Boxes that form a trinity that can, snooze, give him power over all earth. Yawn, boring, wake me when it’s over.
Poor Wonder Woman. That’s what I kept thinking throughout Justice League. Gadot looks miserable having to carry this film, it’s clear the plot was tweaked at some point to give her character more to do and capitalize on the success of Wonder Woman. Her ascension to co-lead comes at the sacrifice of a bunch of familiar faces that get sidelined. Diane Lane (Inside Out) and Connie Nielsen pop up in brief cameos as the mothers of Superman and Wonder Woman, J.K. Simmons (The Snowman) doesn’t even have to glue down his toupee, and Amy Adams (Her) wears multiple bad wigs but does get the most unintentionally funny line of dialogue in the film: “I’m no longer Lois Lane, dedicated reporter”.
The effects of the hand-off between Snyder and Whedon really sink the film in its last ¼, when the Justice League works together to stave off Steppenwolf before he can unite the Mother Boxes. There are a few decent action sequences but they’re so darkly lit it all becomes a blur, especially when you add in Steppenwolf’s drone warriors that fly around in a head-spinning frenzy like wasps. It’s a blessing the movie is as short as it is, but it still feels pretty long when the content is as forgettable as this. You keep wanting to find something, anything to root for but no one seems interested in being memorable in any way shape or form. It’s like everyone was forced into making this and are waiting for their final scene to be shot.
There’s a post-credit scene that does nothing to get you excited for the future, it feels like it was shot last week with the actors involved under duress. Based on his performance here, I shudder to think about Momoa’s Aquaman film coming in 2018, wish that Wonder Woman 2 wasn’t two years away, and am intrigued at a chance to get more info on The Flash in 2020’s Flashpoint. At this point, whatever the creative team behind these DC films are doing, it’s not working. Not only do audiences deserve better, but so do the actors locked into contracts for future films.
Synopsis: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.
Release Date: November 17, 2017
Thoughts: With Wonder Woman becoming the top-earning movie at the summer box office, the producers behind the DC Comics franchise are riding a wave of positivity right now. Let’s hope they can keep that goodwill going strong as the November release of Justice League draws near. I didn’t mind Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice nearly as much as my colleagues did but the unrelenting darkness of this franchise has kept it from truly taking off. Wonder Woman was a nice reminder of what these films could be while director Zac Snyder deals with a family tragedy, Avengers mastermind Joss Whedon was brought in to oversee postproduction so I’m hoping Whedon can bring a little Marvel spark to the DC Universe. This extended look at Justice League gives a few more clues for audiences to decipher and one cliffhanger that already has the internet abuzz.
Review: I’m not going to go into the strange vitriol directed at March’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice but will say that had Live by Night received a larger release in 2016, it would have been the second most mis-understood Ben Affleck film of the year.
There’s going to be a lot of people that don’t like this movie and maybe for good reason. It’s an uneven throwback picture that feels comfortable in its gangster era trappings and broadly drawn characters several tiny degrees removed from Dick Tracy-esque caricatures. It has about twelve endings with only the first three being the least bit satisfying and its director/star traipses around in an array of unintentionally humorous XXL zoot suits and wide brimmed fedoras locking lips with two very different broads. Pushing the limits of two hours, it’s slow (but steady) and a far cry from the slow burn films Affleck has directed previously.
So why the moderately high score, you may ask? Gosh…I just liked it…flaws and all. I’m a big believer in just going with your gut and not letting films like these stew too long in the brain. My advice would be to catch Live by Night when you’re in a forgiving mood and aren’t looking to have your socks totally knocked off. Had Affleck (Gone Girl) not directed as well as starred in this and had it arrived three or four years ago this might have gone down a bit better because the expectations wouldn’t be quite so high.
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (an author Affleck has adapted before in Gone Baby Gone), it’s a relatively straight-forward tale of a Depression era small-time crook lured by love into a war between an Irish gangster and an Italian Mafioso. Overseeing a rum-running business during Prohibition, Affleck balances making his boss a mountain of cash while plotting revenge on his enemy for a betrayal years earlier. Oh…and there’s a minor subplot involving the KKK that feels judiciously lifted from another Lehane tome.
With its big budget and handsome production, there’s little question the movie should have been better but what’s there isn’t anything to cry over, either. Affleck doesn’t quite have the emotional well the role calls for but he gives it, as usual, his best effort. It’s Chris Messina (Cake), with fuzzy eyebrows and gnarled up teeth as Affleck’s short fused sidekick, that kept me wondering how the movie would have been had Messina been given the chance to star. Alas, from all accounts this was Affleck’s passion project and we’re too far along into the picture when we realize the casting snafu.
The supporting cast fares better than our leading man, though. Brendan Gleeson (Edge of Tomorrow) finds several nice moments as Affleck’s law enforcing father and as Affleck’s love interest, Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furance) feels like an equal match to her partner. Chris Cooper (The Company You Keep) and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) are father and daughter, and while both eventually find some focus they struggle mightily with the tone of the picture for most of the film. Surprisingly, it’s Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) that leaves the most lasting impact…but I’m not totally convinced it wasn’t her robust Irish brogue or her unnerving porcelain doll make-up in her final scene that caused her to remain so prominent in my memory.
Bound to come and go with so many other films for grown-ups building on the strong word of mouth this one isn’t destined to gather, Live by Night may be a minor infraction on Affleck’s so far so good resume but it’s not a totally wasted effort.
Synopsis: As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.
Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jean Smart, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Running Length: 128 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Here are a few professions I wouldn’t have a hard time believing Ben Affleck to have onscreen: firefighter, steel worker, bartender, caped crusader, kingpin, suburban dad, cowpoke. One profession I couldn’t see? Accountant. Look, Affleck has matured into a solid actor (Gone Girl) and talented director (Argo) during his time in Hollywood. There’s little he could lend his name to that I wouldn’t willingly sit through and for the most part, The Accountant is a solid thriller that’s predictable but nonetheless entertaining. Yet try as he might and squint as I may, I never fully bought Affleck playing an on the spectrum number cruncher by day and gunslinger by night. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.
I’m naturally squirmy when I go to the movies. I’m a habitual watch checker, sometimes in desperation to see how much longer I have to spend in movie prison with drek like Mother’s Day or to attempt to halt the clock hoping to have more quality time with the movies I do enjoy. I almost feel my ratings should be in watch checks and if I did, The Accountant would have scored high. It took me 105 minutes to get the itch to check and that’s in large part due to the film’s entertainment value as a throwback vehicle for its star.
Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an autistic savant posing as a small-time CPA that’s great with numbers but not so great with people. He’s so good at his job in fact that all sorts of unsavory clients come his way, most of them in need of finding the leak in their amassed fortunes. This talent brings him to the more legit high-tech robotics company owned by brother (John Lithgow, Interstellar) and sister (Jean Smart, Hope Springs) needing to uncover the mole that’s been skimming millions off of their bottom line. Working with a curious but overly talkative whistle-blowing employee (Anna Kendrick, Cake), they aren’t even 24 hours into the investigation when someone winds up dead and their services (in the office and on earth) are no longer needed and are targeted by a mysterious hitman (Jon Bernthal, Sicario). While all this is going on, a Treasury Department agent (J.K. Simmons, Zootopia) blackmails a young analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Star Trek Into Darkness) into finding out who this rogue accountant is so Wolff winds up having two factions after him.
The Accountant is structured in a way I happen to love. Random threads in the beginning half start to slowly tie together as Bill Dubuque’s (The Judge) screenplay introduces a multitude of twists and turnbacks all the way until the final frame. There’s one big reveal that seemed to come as a shock to some audience members that was clear as day to me an hour earlier. This isn’t an attempt to toot my own clue following horn but it’s not as landmark of a bombshell as the movie wants it to be. There are a few strands that don’t get a proper tie off or even a deeper explanation after they’ve been introduced, but Dubuque keeps his head in the game most of the time.
Stuck behind a pair of glasses with a square haircut and stiff suits, Affleck commits to the piece and does what he can in a part he ultimately just isn’t right for. It’s not a knock against him in the least, sometimes the spark just isn’t there. Kendrick has played this type of chatty pixie before and, aside from holding her own in a claustrophobic fight scene, she seems to be coasting. Same goes for Simmons who has a monologue right before the final reel that slows the film to a jarring halt…that’s when the watch got a peek, by the way. For me, Addai-Robinson was the real find for me, though her promising arc feels forgotten before the movie was half over. Director Gavin O’Connor fills the rest of the cast with interesting character actors like Smart and Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover Part III) that I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of.
While I was energized by the fact the movie was born from an original script and not an established property or novel, The Accountant finds some trouble when it comes time to sum itself up, falling prey to curse of one too many endings. You’ll be half out of your seat in anticipation of the credits rolling until O’Connor adds in another unnecessary establishing shot of something we already understand. All nitpicks aside, for the fall movie-going season The Accountant represents entertainment at its most cozy and I engaged with it more than I thought I would. It’s not going to rock your world but it’s a nice way to spend a few hours of your time. It’s not even tax season yet, but take some time to audit The Accountant.
Synopsis: Set in the roaring 1920s, when Prohibition hasn’t stopped the flow of booze in an underground network of gangster-run speakeasies, the opportunity to gain power and money is there for any man with enough ambition and nerve.
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Thoughts: Fall is here and the Oscar hopefuls are awakening from their summer slumber. Now that the big blockbusters of the year have beat their bombastic drums at the box office, the “prestige pictures” are gearing up for their glitzy season. It’s still up in the air whether Ben Affleck’s fourth film will get a qualifying release to be considered for the 2016 Oscar race…but judging by the first trailer released for Live By Night Warner Brothers would be crazy not to put all their chips in on this one. Affleck has proved three times already he knows how to deliver a strong film and his Oscar nomination snub for directing Argo in 2013 still stings. Adapted by Affleck (Gone Girl) from the novel by Dennis Lehane and co-starring Scott Eastwood (Texas Chainsaw 3D), Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon), Sienna Miller (American Sniper), Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furnace), and Brendan Gleeson (Song of the Sea), this looks marvelous and right up Affleck’s alley.
Synopsis: Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’ most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs
Release Date: March 25, 2016
Thoughts: As I mentioned in my review of the first teaser for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice I wasn’t a huge fan of Man of Steel and was pretty reticent that we needed another Batman entry so soon after Christopher Nolan’s quite satisfying trilogy wrapped up. Well, an extended trailer released at the 2015 Comic-Con convention in San Diego has got my attention and while I’m still iffy on this sequel to a sub-par Superman reboot there’s a growing kernel of anticipation for this one that I can’t totally ignore. Like the recent preview for Suicide Squad, I was a little taken aback that the trailer was so long but while it shows audiences what they can expect from the March 2016 release, thankfully not every plot development has been laid out for us. Give it a look…I think, like me, you’ll like what you see.