Movie Review ~ Miss Sloane

miss_sloane
The Facts
:

Synopsis: In the world of political power-brokers, Sloane takes on the most powerful opponent of her career and will do whatever is required to win.

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alison Pill, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow

Director: John Madden

Rated: R

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Miss Sloane is a timely political drama that has a stacked deck in its cinematic favor.  An Oscar nominated director and multi-award winning actors have been brought together with mostly good, but never great, results.  While that may sound like the movie overall is a disappointment considering the pedigree in front of and behind the camera, it has enough energy to rise above the scenes that enervate its forward motion.

Jessica Chastain (The Martian) plays the titular character, a sought-after D.C. lobbyist as ruthless in her pursuit of winning as she is about making sure her flame red hair is always tucked neatly behind one ear.  (At one point, I doubted she had two ears since we never saw the other).  As the film opens, Sloane is about to go before a congressional hearing to defend herself over accusations of impropriety, charges that could, if convicted, carry a lengthy term in prison.  Showing how the sleep-averse Sloane got into her current hot seat is what occupies most of the picture, tracing her path from a plum job at a high powered conservative lobbying firm to a grassroots boutique agency opposing a gun bill.

The parallels to David and Goliath are evident as Sloane and her recruits take on the big boys who begin to care more about derailing her than they do about pushing through their political agenda.  Sloane isn’t afraid to go up against her former employers, even if they already may know exactly what her next unscrupulous move will be.  Brief forays into high tech spy surveillance (what’s being done with cockroaches might make a PETA supporter reconsider squashing them on sight) and peeks into the upper pill popping Sloane’s personal affairs via clandestine meetings with a kindly gigolo (Jake Lacy, Love the Coopers) thankfully break up the heavier moments with stale political rhetoric being recited expertly by Chastain and the rest of the cast.

The script from first-timer Jonathan Perera is very of the moment, even if it plays like the pilot of a new HBO series.  If you listen carefully, the entirety of the twists the film has in store are given away by one character within the first ten minutes but it’s buried so well by Perera that you don’t notice it until you’re walking to your car.  Director John Madden (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) maneuvers his actors well and keeps the film moving at a nice clip but at 132 minutes there’s probably a good ten to fifteen minutes that could be jettisoned in favor of a tighter running time.  While some may accuse the film of cheating in its final act, I’ll again point to Perera outright telling us what’s going to happen and then delivering on it.

As much as I like Chastian, I have to say that for the first twenty minutes of Miss Sloane I wasn’t sure what the hell she was doing.  Showing a ballbuster temperament on the surface without going very deep, I got worried that Chastain was using this as an exercise in overacting instead of layering in her performance.  Eventually, though, the actress tuned in and that’s when the film really starts to zip along.  Like the best complex characters, there’s not a lot of backstory given to how Sloane came to be how she is and that makes her one of the more interesting characters to show up in film this year.  The race for a Best Actress nomination is a tight one and Chastain might just find herself as one of the five nominees.

Supporting Chastain is Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty) as Sloane’s boss at her new firm and Sam Waterson (The Man in the Moon) as her previous employer who sets his sights on destroying her completely.  Waterston may have more hair on his eyebrows than Strong has on his whole body but Strong easily bests Waterston performance-wise by underplaying expertly.  You can’t totally fault Waterston, though, because the first half of the film finds many characters shouting at each other…guess no one in Washington knows how to use their inside voices.  Though I’m a fan of Michael Stuhlbarg (Doctor Strange), his terribly old-school New Yawhk accent only made me detest his already detestable character more.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty and the Beast) and moon faced Alison Pill (Hail, Caesar!) are the lone prominent female roles and both are afforded showcasing scenes.  As the head of the congressional committee cross examining Sloane, John Lithgow (Interstellar) is his usual blustery self.

At the center of Miss Sloane is a debate over gun control that continues to be a hot button issue in this increasingly political climate.  Even as a work of fiction, Miss Sloane makes some interesting points about the current state of affairs regarding the NRA and the landscape of big business in our nation’s capital.  In setting out to tell this story, Perera and the cast aptly keep the conversation going without letting the movie be solely about that important issue.

An intelligent, well-read picture, Miss Sloane may be overstuffed and take some time to let its actress find her way but it winds up being a pleasing film with good intentions.  If it had been made as the first episode for a cable series, I’d be setting my DVR to record future episodes.

The Silver Bullet ~ Nine Lives

nine_lives

Synopsis: A stuffy businessman finds himself trapped inside the body of his family’s cat.

Release Date: August 5, 2016

Thoughts: Well…I just…I mean…where do you start?  Two time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (Working Girl) stars in this late-summer release family film that finds him playing a snooty businessman inhabiting the body of his pet cat.  Surprise!  He hates cats!!!  If the trailer has me watching in horrified amazement, I can only imagine what emotions the finished product will produce within me.  Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (or, to quote the poster, ‘the director of the Men in Black movies’) I guess I’m not all that shocked to see Jennifer Garner (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) pop up here since she’s made a career of saying yes to any and all movies. As much as I think Spacey is a monster in real life, I can’t for the life of me figure out why he’s attached himself to this cheap looking mess. August cannot come fast enough.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Transporter Refueled

transporter_refueled

Synopsis: A reboot of the story of transporter Frank Martin.

Release Date:  September 4 2015

Thoughts: My first thought when seeing the trailer for The Transporter Refueled was more surprise than anything that the franchise was getting a reboot a little over ten years since the first film was released.  Then I remembered that Sony has rebooted Spider-Man TWICE in the last two decades and decided to give this one a (slight) pass.  After three films, original star Jason Statham (Spy) declined to reprise his role as special-ops badass Frank Martin so newcomer Ed Skrein hops behind the wheel in the part.  Skrein seems to have the same steely grimace the role calls for and with its early September release I can see the film turning a small profit but not breaking any box office records.  I opted out of this franchise after the first film but after a summer of heady action films this could be a nice excuse to check my brain at the door and let The Transporter take me away. 

Movie Review ~ Lucy

lucy

The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-Sik Choi, Amr Waked

Director: Luc Besson

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Viewing Luc Besson’s Lucy I found myself asking the age old question many film critics face: is it worse for a movie to be merely bad or simply boring? I’m of the mindset that I’d prefer to sit through what would be considered a bad movie over a film that can’t keep my interest for more than a few minutes at a time. Like the shiny bit of foil that a trapped raccoon would rather grasp in its claws than release and be set free, Lucy is a 90 minute exercise in European bonkers cinema that’s as nutso as the day is long but fires on all cylinders.

The second film of 2014 that affords star Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin) the opportunity to capitalize on her ability to make dazed cluelessness look arty, Lucy is first and foremost a nice return to form for writer/director Besson. Known mostly for his string of flashy visual feasts in the 90s (La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional, & The Fifth Element) before turning his attention to less bombastic directorial endeavors, Besson has been dipping his Gallic toes into the artpop cinematic waters by writing/producing a string of surprise action hits (The Transporter and Taken series of films) during the last decade. Though 2013’s The Family fizzled, it had numerous visual hints that Besson was reclaiming his style.

An action film with such a short run time has to really blast out of the gate and Lucy surely does that. Opening in Taiwan as dopey Lucy’s (Johansson) bad choice in men gets her handcuffed to a briefcase full of a powerful synthetic drug, it isn’t long before she’s an unwitting drug mule for a freaky gangster (the dependably psychotic Choi Min-Sik, I Saw the Devil, Oldboy). When the drug is accidentally released into her system, its mind-altering effects take over, allowing Lucy to tap into the full potential of her brain capacity.

Besson’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink script keeps things moving so fast that audiences don’t have time to sort out the logic from the looney. Intercutting the film with a plethora of overwhelming visuals signifying the amount of information we’re presented with daily, Besson keeps things deliberately off-kilter as Lucy hops countries, teaming up with the French police (Amr Waked) and a noted scientist (Morgan Freeman, Now You See Me, more invested here than he has been in his last five films) to make good use out of her knowledge while staying several steps ahead of the gangster and his henchmen.

As it moves toward a trippy ending with the focus of a laser beam, Lucy’s journey is persistent in its engagement. My overall recommendation of the movie comes with the caveat that one critic’s engagement is another’s piffle of an eye-rolling action adventure. Held up against some of the dreck released in recent months that takes itself too seriously, Lucy is overall worth the headaches it may cause.

Movie Review ~ The Family

family

The Facts:

Synopsis: The Manzoni family, a notorious mafia clan, is relocated to Normandy, France under the witness protection program, where fitting in soon becomes challenging as their old habits die hard.

Stars: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, Domenick Lombardozzi

Director: Luc Besson

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in to see The Family.  As a fan of Michelle Pfeiffer, I knew that my seeing this was an inevitable event but based on the trailer and seriously boring title I just didn’t know how the whole thing was going to turn out.  Would it be another in a long line of Robert De Niro films that seemed to get made only because he signed on the dotted line?  Or would it be the kind of daring European action film that director Luc Besson first rose to fame for?

Well, it turns out that the movie can’t ever really decide what genre it wants to fit into so it instead just lays down and rolls around several different themes all at the same time.  That may not work for most movie audiences and it’s not surprising that people are coming away from the film feeling a little empty, but I found the film to be an interesting potpourri of tones that worked more often than not – even if it’s more than a little odd.

Moving into a new European town after an incident necessitated their hasty retreat; a family in the witness protection program find themselves in the quaint/quiet town of Normandy in France.  Taking up residence in a money pit-esque dwelling, the Manzoni’s clearly are getting old hat at the process of moving from one town to another.  Dad (a more low-key than usual De Niro, Being Flynn, Silver Linings Playbook) just wants to settle in and write his memoirs, to the horror of the long-suffering FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln, Hope Springs) assigned to their case.  Michelle Pfeiffer (Dark Shadows, People Like Us) is De Niro’s wife with anger issues of her own, eventually turning to the church for help, spilling her secrets in confession that leads to a moderately nice payoff.  The kids (Diana Agron and John D’Leo) are fashioned as doppelgangers of their parents and both give off a playful vibe, even as they find themselves in hot water at school.

As the family is getting acclimated to their new town, we also follow a creepy crime henchman (Jon Freda) that continues his hunt for De Niro and his brood after De Niro became a turncoat to his Mafia family.  It’s in these scenes that wind up leading to an out of left field tension filled finale that the film may confuse some people.  The passages with the family are given a light touch that belies the darker tone brought on by Freda’s intense chase.

For me, it worked.  I enjoyed that the film feels different than what it would have been were it produced in your typical Hollywood fashion.  That it was made in Europe by a European crew and director has given the film a golden hue and the chance to take risks with its twists and turns.  By the time the film reached its finale I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work out for everyone involved.

Sure, the film has several extraneous storylines that could have been trimmed to keep the running length to 90 or so minutes but the actors play these moments so well that it’s forgivable.  It may be harder to forgive one of the most laughably contrived cases of coincidence since, well, ever, but by that point the movie had won me over enough to just brush it off.  There’s also a wonderfully weird bit where De Niro is feted by a local film society who has asked him to come and speak to the finer points of the classic film…no…no…I won’t spoil that moment for you.

Returning after several years of being absent from the director’s chair, Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element) brings his trademark cinematic flair to The Family and navigates it’s up and down and crisscrossed tones with ease.  I’ve always enjoyed Besson’s creative way of cutting from one scene to the next and he keeps the pace going, even when his screenplay based on the novel Malavita doesn’t fully support itself.

The Family isn’t a movie that you’ll need to see in the theaters but would make for an interesting watch when it finds its way into the home viewing market.