The Old Man & the Gun

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck
Directed by: David Lowery (“A Ghost Story”)
Written by: David Lowery (“A Ghost Story”)

If legendary actor/director Robert Redford is really hanging it up after 60 years in Hollywood – he announced his retirement in August – his final film, “The Old Man & the Gun,” is just about as perfect of a swan song as any thespian could hope for. With “Old Man,” Redford has come full circle in his career and found his way back to playing the charismatic scoundrel he was known for in classic films like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting.”

At age 82, Redford hasn’t lost any of that appeal. In “Old Man,” writer/director David Lowery (“Pete’s Dragon”) has crafted a story that underscores Redford’s talents as someone who can command a screen even when portraying restrained characters. Redford has never been a showy actor, but he’s always been a showstopper.

He does the same in “Old Man” as Forrest Tucker, a notorious career criminal who spent his entire life in and out of jail for robbing banks until his death behind bars in 2004. The year before he passed, The New Yorker ran a profile on Tucker – which Lowery used as the basis for his screenplay – in which he said that during his bank-robbing escapades, he was able to successfully escape from prison a whopping 18 times.

“Old Man” introduces audiences to Forrest in the early 1980s doing what he does best – looting a bank and wearing a fashionable blue suit, brown fedora and wry smile. As most bank tellers and managers can attest while being held up, Forrest was polite and gentlemanly – the ideal target for Austin police officer John Hunt (Casey Affleck) to admire, but also track down.

While on the run, Forrest charms his way into the life of Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a widow who is quickly enamored by his nonchalant demeanor and mysterious air. Redford and Spacek, who surprisingly had never starred in a film together before, are wonderful in the few scenes they share. With the film’s old-school cinematic look and feel, Lowery takes moviegoers back in time to witness the noteworthy pairing as if it happened 40 years ago. It’s romantic, nostalgic and awfully adorable.

In Lowery’s hands, “Old Man” becomes more than just a biopic about an aging outlaw. It’s a tribute to Redford and the lasting effect he has left behind on the film industry. In one of the most poignant scenes of the year, Lowery packages all 18 prison escapes Forrest allegedly pulled off. During one of those escapes, viewers get a glimpse of a young Redford’s face, a scene borrowed from 1966’s “The Chase,” and edited flawlessly into the montage. It’s a bittersweet farewell to Redford and one that Lowery, as he does with the whole film, treats with the highest regard.

Manchester by the Sea

December 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count On Me”)
Written by: Kenneth Lonergan (“Gangs of New York”)

Tragedy and grief are some of the universal occurrences that every human on the Earth experiences. It is where we, as people, often find ourselves at the lowest. It is also a test of strength. Many films this year will deal with how people, sometimes normal, sometimes in the spotlight, deal with that tragedy. “Jackie” for example, follows Jackie Kennedy in the hours and days following her husband’s assassination. But perhaps no film this year quite explores the wake of tragedy like “Manchester by the Sea,” a powerful ensemble character study of a devastated family.

After the death of his brother, Lee (Casey Affleck) must return to the Massachusetts fishing village that he left years ago to take care of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Reluctantly, Lee tries to deal with his current situation while simultaneously dealing with past experiences with his now estranged ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Through these experiences, Lee and Patrick try to bond and make the best of an unenviable situation.

Leading the way of the ensemble is Affleck, who is primed to nab his first Oscar nomination since 2008 and is likely the frontrunner to win. It’s a subtle and subdued performance, but also one that has nuance and depth. There’s a certain pain in Affleck’s face that is visible in almost every scene. His character has lost the ability to interact and function on a normal level and Affleck displays this perfectly with vacant eyes that stare off into the distance. Not to be outdone, Affleck’s performance is matched by newcomer Hedges who employs a fantastic Boston accent, and is at times reminiscent of a young Matt Damon. Hedges’ character is a bit rascally, but the way he is able to maintain a level of sweetness as well as display some serious acting chops make for a really empathetic character.

Credit should be given to screenwriter/director Kenneth Lonergan for refusing to pull any punches. Make no mistake: “Manchester by the Sea” is not an easy watch. There are some devastating revelations throughout and many characters face impossible situations. It would be easy for the film to teeter towards melodrama, but it’s a testament to the strength of the screenplay that Lonergan is able to balance these heavier moments with levity and humor, mostly between Affleck and Hedges who continually butt heads.

The film slowly reveals its details, and despite the enormity of the situations, consistently feels grounded and extremely realistic. Perhaps it’s the working class look of the picturesque landscapes of Manchester, or even Affleck’s blue collar job as a handyman, but “Manchester by the Sea” feels authentic and true. Some may find it slow, but those parts are important to show the depths of Affleck’s despair, which is the most important narrative factor of the film.

As Oscar season heats up, “Manchester by the Sea” is undoubtedly a player. Acting nominations will be aplenty and Lonergan’s absorbing script is sure to get some notice. It’s a pretty basic story, with some pretty dramatic turns and although the plot may seem slight, the film is certainly anything but.

Triple 9

February 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: John Hillcoat (“The Proposition,” “The Road,”)
Written by: Matt Cook (debut)

There’s a compelling desperation to much of John Hillcoat’s work – a seething, a clawing, a straining-to-survive in a world that seems indifferent and unforgiving at best and actively predatory at worst. “Gritty” suggests itself. “Ruthless” does nicely. His protagonists, set-jawed, tired-eyed men often caught between two irreconcilable inevitabilities or in the tangles of an impossible decision, strive against wounds corporal, emotional, and psychic in a landscape swaddled by corruption, murder, and greed.

Pairing Hillcoat, then, with “Triple 9” – a twisting, ensemble yarn of doublecross and dirty-coppery in which good is often bad and bad is almost invariably worse – would seem a sound and promising (ahem) proposition. Whereas the director’s previous outings have been set in past or projected timelines, alternate or isolated realities that may at best only invite pointed comparisons with our own, the Atlanta-set, aggressively “real” “Triple 9” marks Hillcoat’s first opportunity to spin a tale of human frailty that’s happening right here, right now. As is often the case, the extent to which the narrative lands or not may depend at least partly on the viewer’s expectations sitting down.

In Georgia’s apparently-crime-ridden capital city, here doing its best approximation of “Robocop”-era Detroit, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Michael Atwood leads a sub-rosa gang of police, ex-police, and ex-military mercenaries obliged to pull off a pair of increasingly tricksy, increasingly high-stakes, occasionally pyrotechnic data thefts to sate the desires of the Kate Winslet(!)-headed Jewish-Russian mob to whom they are in hock. Very soon, it becomes apparent that certain of said gang (a trigger-happy Collins, Jr.) are more comfortable with the particular brand of carnage and casualty required than are others (Mackie, as an active-duty gang-unit officer named Marcus). Ties begin to fray when the first job goes a bit screwy thanks to the sloppiness of junkie-loose-cannon Gabe (Aaron Paul), and, with the police force now alerted and a near-impossible mission to break into Homeland Security (beat THAT, Ocean’s Eleven), the crew decide to buy time for the heist by creating what the film tells us is the ultimate calling-all-units distraction: the titular “triple nine,” or 999 – police code for “officer down.”

Enter Chris Allen (Casey Affleck): idealistic, new to the force, and Marcus’s new partner. He gnaws gum, meets everyone and everything with an unflappable Mona Lisa smirk, wants “to make a difference.” He is, it is summarily decided, the perfect mark. What then unfolds is a somewhat Byzantine cat-and-cat-and-mouse-and-more-cats-and-other-cats-dressed-as-mice game, as the appointed time approaches, various dramatic arcs play out, and the important questions (Will Mackie do it? Since they’ve got Ejiofor’s kid, he’s kind of a good guy, right? Are those fake teeth on Woody Harrelson?) are blurred, come into focus, and get re-blurred again.

With Hillcoat at the wheel and a humiliation of casting riches, “Triple 9” rolls into town behind prohibitively towering expectations. The fact is, it’s a serviceable crime drama, with solid set pieces and some nice acting moments (Mackie and Affleck forge a genuine and endearing chemistry; Harrelson adds some characteristic oddball charm; Michael K. Williams does much with a brief but vibrant cameo), but it seems to fall short of what its pedigree might suggest. Some acting beats miss marks, some plot turns are foreseeable, some dialogue feels like frank exposition. The result, alas, is conventional: something like a pulpier “Heat,” or a less-kinetic “The Departed.” Which, depending what you’re up for, might be fine.

The Finest Hours

January 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger
Directed by: Craig Gillespie (“Million Dollar Arm”)
Written by: Scott Silver (“The Fighter”), Paul Tamasy (“The Fighter”), Eric Johnson (“The Fighter”)

Recounting the true story of a coast guard rescue in 1952, “The Finest Hours” tells the story of how Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) led a team off the coast of Cape Cod to save a wrecked ship. It’s a story that, on paper, sounds like a daring, enthralling rescue mission. Unfortunately, in the hands of director Craig Gillespie (“Million Dollar Arm,” “Fright Night”), it doesn’t translate to very inspiring cinema.

Throughout “The Finest Hours,” characters are routinely flat and uninteresting. Speaking in bad Boston accents, the usually solid Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are blank slates who despite being in leadership roles, never truly show qualities that make them endearing. Even one of the more underrated character actors in Ben Foster feels like he’s just reading lines rather than developing a nuanced character. It’s certainly a bad sign when the boat is the most interesting character in the film.

The biggest reason that “The Finest Hours” fails to connect is that there is no way to hook into the narrative. The film opens with a clunky attempt to establish a romantic story, complete with a poorly written script with terrible jokes. From there, anything romantic is a major whiff, with not only a complete lack of emotional connection, but no reason for the central couple to even be together. In an attempt to make Bernie’s fiancée seem like a strong, independent woman, Gillespie and company instead make her shrill and commanding. In that sense, “The Finest Hours,” attempts to show a unique relationship in the context of the 1950’s and instead gives audiences a relationship that has a precarious foundation.

As a tale of rescue, “The Finest Hours” is an interesting enough story of bravery and impressive feats. As a dramatization, the film version lacks any sort of pull – emotional, visual or otherwise. It feels excruciatingly long and each scene is more tedious than the last. Other than a few special effects, “The Finest Hours” lacks in just about everything else it brings to the screen.

Out of the Furnace

December 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck
Directed by: Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”)
Written by: Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) and Brad Ingelsby (“The Dynamiter”)

For a film that boasts a principal cast of five previous Oscar nominees, as well as a recently lauded writer/director, “Out of the Furnace” struggles to put the pieces together and proves that, as cliché as it sounds, the whole really isn’t always greater than the sum of its parts.

“Out of the Furnace” focuses on two brothers living out in the economically-suffering U.S. Rust Belt. Russell (Christian Bale) is a hard-working steel mill worker who is focused on his relationship and taking care of his family. His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is a soldier who has spent time in Iraq and finds himself in a massive gambling debt. As Rodney looks to settle his debt through underground bare-knuckle fighting, he mysteriously disappears. With little help from the police, Russell sets out to take matters into his own hands.

The big draw of “Out of the Furnace” is its previously mentioned impressive cast of Bale and Affleck as well as Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker. As the main focus of the film, the best of the cast is Bale. His performance is strong, most notably in his scenes with Affleck as well as a couple of scenes with actress Zoe Saldana who plays his girlfriend. While Harrelson’s performance in itself is quite good, his villainous character is written somewhat hokey and over the top.

Since the narrative jumps around so frequently, many of the other cast members don’t really get a chance to shine in their roles. In fact, the lack of a narrative focus is one of the reasons that “Out of the Furnace” fails from a storytelling perspective. Not only is the plot wafer thin, but there are parallel narratives and thematic elements that don’t seem to ever sync up or fully connect. There are also plot points that happen throughout the film that seem important, but prove to be relatively and frustratingly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Most of the first half of “Out of the Furnace” is spent waiting for the film to get going, which never truly happens. The film often feels stuck and by the end, incomplete. There are a few things to like: the cinematography is well done and there are a few scenes from world-class actors that are worth a watch. But as a complete work, “Out of the Furnace” lacks the finesse and construction of a well put together film.

Tower Heist

November 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck
Directed by: Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour 3”)
Written by: Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s 11”) and Jeff Nathanson  (“Rush Hour 3”)

Can anyone remember the last time comedian Eddie Murphy was actually funny? No, voicing an animated donkey with a love for waffles doesn’t count. I’m talking about Murphy debating boxing greats in “Coming toAmerica” or hustling his way into a swanky suite in “Beverly Hills Cop.” Hell, I’d even take him parodying Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood during his “Saturday Night Live” days if it would help me forget “Norbit.” Wherever you were in the 80s, chances are you were laughing at something Murphy was doing on screen or on stage. Nowadays, you’d probably have better luck being entertained by his older brother Charlie.

If you believe the hype, however, Murphy’s return to glory comes at full force with “Tower Heist,” a comedy crime caper that originally started as an idea in 2005 for Murphy to team up with a host of other black comedians including Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle and Martin Lawrence. When that overly-ambitious idea fell through, “Tower Heist” became a poor man’s version of “Ocean’s 11” and even enlists “Ocean’s” screenwriter Ted Griffin and supporting actor Casey Affleck. But “Ocean’s” this is not. And while it’s true that Murphy provides his best comedy outing since 1996’s remake of “The Nutty Professor” (I still don’t understand the love for “Bowfinger”), he’s not given as much screen time as you’d think for someone who’s billed so high. Honestly, this is a Ben Stiller movie and Murphy is just coming along for the ride.

Still, the ride has its moments with a solid cast who could easy make an impact off the bench in lieu of George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon. In fact, the diverse makeup of characters and personalities is what makes the movie casually fun, at least for the first half of the heist. In the film, a group of hotel employees plot to take back the money they lost in a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a Wall Street billionaire and tenant in the high-rise. With little experience in thievery, the team, which includes Stiller, Affleck, Michael Peña (“The Lincoln Lawyer”), and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”), recruit “Slide” Dalphael (Murphy), a common criminal with the know-how to exact revenge. Also joining in is actor Matthew Broderick (“Election”) as a former Wall Street investor who goes bankrupt because of Shaw’s shady business ethics.

With every cog in place, you’d think this comedy machine, even directed by industry tool Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour 3”), would run a little smoother. While the setup works well enough, the heist itself isn’t very creative or executed on the page very well. What’s left is an amusing team of misfits bumbling around aimlessly in search of a disappointing payoff more ridiculous than a humanitarian award named after Bernie Madoff.

To a lesser extent, this might be a comeback for Murphy, but until he can stand front and center as the leading man he once was, it’s still difficult to forgive him for the last 15 years (“Meet Dave,” “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” “I Spy”). Hosting the Academy Awards this coming February just might be what he needs to prove “Tower Heist” wasn’t a fluke.

I’m Still Here

September 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Sean Combs, Antony Langdon
Directed by: Casey Affleck (debut)
Written by: Casey Affleck (“Gerry”) and Joaquin Phoenix (debut)

While watching a scruffy Joaquin Phoenix drop lyrics on a club stage to a fairly disinterested crowd in his new film “I’m Still Here,” it’s difficult not to think about the scene in Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” where a possessed Malkovich calls his agent to tell him he no longer wants to be an actor. Instead, he’d like to be known as a puppeteer.

The occupational switch was just as exaggerated when Phoenix revealed to the world in 2008 that he would retire from acting to pursue a career as a hip-hop artist. It was the kind of news one would usually snicker at and disregard if it wasn’t for a hint of believability stemming from Phoenix’s awkward exchange during a broadcast interview with late-night host David Letterman last year.

Whether we’re watching a mockumentary or a documentary in “I’m Still Here,” Phoenix deserves credit for either having the stamina to stay in character these last two years or having the backbone to take the ridicule that’s sure to follow him for the rest of his career if he was actually serious about becoming a rapper.

At best, “I’m Still Here” is a curiosity piece for those who have been following the Phoenix circus this entire time. From a broader perspective, it’s actually quite depressing when you think about how much time he wasted on what is more than likely just an elaborate, artistic hoax. Instead, he could have actually been shooting something less irrelevant.

That’s not to say “I’m Still Here” was void of all value. The idea to dissect the pretentiousness of celebrity is laid out nicely. Phoenix works as the unstable subject because he doesn’t seem like the type of person that would come as easily unhinged as he does here. In the film, Phoenix, who was coming off an Oscar nomination for “Walk the Line” at the start of production, announces to his inner circle that he “doesn’t want to play the character of Joaquin” and “doesn’t want to be misunderstood anymore.”

From here we watch Phoenix attempt to reinvent himself in the rap game. The first half of the film is Phoenix becoming increasingly frustrated as Sean “P-Diddy” Combs, who Phoenix wants to produce his first album, can’t find the time to sit down for a meeting. Combs is convincing enough as are others who come face to face with Phoenix during his transformation. Comedian Ben Stiller show up in a cameo hoping to talk Phoenix in taking a part in his new film “Greenberg.” Even actor Edward James Olmos, known for his motivational speaking skills, comes in to give some sound philosophical advice to his young fellow actor.

Whether it’s fake or not isn’t even really important as the film continues to trudge along in the second half. By that time, Phoenix and all his scenes of mumbling, emotional outbursts, and self reflection wear thin. It would have come a lot sooner if everyone involved wasn’t so committed. Even then “I’m Still Here” becomes the exact thing it was satirizing in the first place: a self-important product of Hollywood.

The Killer Inside Me

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom (“A Mighty Heart”)
Written by: John Curran (debut)

It would be impossible to dismiss Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me” wholeheartedly because of the solid albeit sometimes babbly performance by lead actor Casey Affleck or the stylish film noir environment created by Dutch cinematographer Marcel Zyskind (“A Might Heart”), but what little substance and emotional pull the controversial picture has is quickly lost even before Winterbottom’s intentions are fully revealed.

In “The Killer Inside Me,” Affleck, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing another killer in 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” stars as Lou Ford, a well-respected sheriff in the 1950s who is suspected in a string of killings in a small West Texas town. The murders begin with Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a known prostitute who Lou is having a sadomasochistic affair with after demanding she leave town.

Thorough flashbacks, we find that Lou’s mental problems stem from scarring events he experienced as a young boy. When he meets Joyce, who is open to violent sexual encounters, things start boiling over. Left waiting in the wings is Lou’s wife Amy (Kate Hudson), who is clueless to her husband’s indiscretions and psychopathic tendencies.

Intertwined in the sex, secrets, and sadism is a weak narrative about blackmail and corruption. Nothing, however, is as remotely interesting as trying to pin down what director Winterbottom is actually doing when he turns these curious fetishes into scenes of ultra-violent rage. If these scenarios are supposed to make viewers feel uncomfortable, they succeed. If they’re supposed to answer questions about Lou’s vicious character, they don’t.

What we’re left with is a thriller without much suspense and characterizations that fall by the wayside in favor of brutality that offers little to the script at hand. A film should never be penalized for being “too violent” especially if it enhances elements of the story. “The Killer Inside Me,” however, simply flaunts its ability to disturb, which makes it seem desperate to evoke some kind of sensation more than anything.