THE ACCOUNTANT – AN AUTISTIC JASON BOURNE

What if Jason Bourne was autistic….and an accountant. This is basically the premise for The Accountant, a compelling who dunnit with intriguing twists and turns. While there’s nothing especially new under the sun with the basics of the plot – guy uncovers a conspiracy, is chased by bad guy’s henchmen, lots of violence, innocent girl in distress comes under the reluctant wing of our intrepid hero – there are surprises.

One of the most absorbing and unexpected set ups is the protagonist. Not exactly a hero in the typical sense, he has a moral code of honor which he is willing to both kill and die for. And — he’s autistic. I cannot think of a single other film where the kick-gluteus maximus lead has this particular challenge. Now – Mercury Rising, Rainman, The Boy Who Could Fly, and Snow Cake – all feature autistic characters but all are in need of support, rescuing or protecting.

 

In The Accountant, Ben Affleck plays the self described “high functioning” autistic Christian Wolff, as a man who needs assistance from no one. Raised by his military single father, and with his younger brother, to be self sufficient, and extremely tough – Christian’s eccentricities generated from his autism are not shied from. Neither are they the subject of any of the usual well intentioned amusement. This is a man at whom you would not want to laugh – for a variety of reasons. One of which is the dignity with which he comports himself. The audience is allowed to observe his world and is encouraged to respect it.

– AND HERE THERE BE MAJOR SPOILERS THOUGH I DON’T SPILL ALL THE BEANS –
While there are hit men, embezzlers, mafiosos, torturers, murderers, psychos and plain old bad guys, the person who, I believe is the BIGGEST bad guy, the one who commits the worst sin and who, actually, starts the chain of events TWICE which create pretty much every bad thing that happens in the movie is —– Wolff’s mother.

Early on Christian’s mother abandons the family — at Christmas. The distraught Christian frantically tears the house apart. His father is seen in the front of the house, from the POV of the younger and smaller brother watching from the window, practically begging his wife to stay. The father, military and having expressed a desire for structure and the importance of discipline in the home, enters to find Christian having broken every breakable and punched a hole in the wall. I expected there to be further anger and conflict.

Instead the father kneels and cradles his traumatized son on the floor, cooing to and comforting him. This scene informed much of the rest of the film as well as my reaction to the path the elder Wolff lays out for his vulnerable sons. For example, when he insists his sons continue training with a special martial arts tutor beyond even what the tutor thinks is the limit for the young boys, we understand the father is not being cruel – he is devoted to and loves his children but, as he openly points out – he knows what’s best for them.

Because the mother leaves the father alone to fend for the boys and himself, the elder Wolff has no choice but to make them rock tough. And the younger boy is left with some seriously unresolved anger issues. Had the mother not left, it is likely the path all three of the men would have taken would not have been as dark as the one on which they ultimately trod.

Near the middle of the movie we discover Christian father’s has died. The death came as part of escalating conflict at this same woman’s funeral. The two – father and son – attend in military dress. But the new husband with the new family and the two new “normal” children takes exception to the first, rightful, husband being at her funeral. Ironically, Christian’s father was only there at Christian’s request. A fight breaks out, the new husband calls the police, an over zealous police deputy takes a shot a Christian. The father – as he has done his whole life – throws himself in the way of the bullet and dies. Christian attacks the police officer and sends him to the hospital – and ends up in Levingworth prison, where he meets the whistle blower accountant to a Mafia family who takes him under his wing, teaches the genius savant everything there is to know about this extremely dangerous lifestyle AND accounting.

And — the rest is the movie.

But all the bad stuff can be ultimately laid at the feet of this terrible woman’s “choice” to walk away from her children and husband because the situation was just too darned cramping to whatever style she thought she wanted. Reminds me of that old Kenny Rogers song – “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave me Lucille”.

The “balance” of the movie reveals how Christian copes with the tragedies in his life despite his challenges. Some of the choices HE makes are difficult ones but usually made with the care of others foremost in his mind. While this hero isn’t without flaws, as all humans are, his strict moral code left The Accountant in the black on his balance sheet.

FYI – Despite the genre, there is no sex, though there is a good deal of violence and a LOT of profanity.

LA LA LAND – AN ANTHROPOMORPHIZED  JAZZ SONG: The Best Movie I Did Not Like

INEVITABLE SPOILERS
As Oscar time rolls forward it is to be noted that La La Land has garnered a record tying 14 nominations – an accomplishment only achieved by two other movies to date: Titanic and All About Eve.
 
 
La La Land is the best movie I’ve ever seen that I do not like. Please bear with me. There is nothing wrong with this movie. It is, in fact, an EXCELLENT movie. It is fascinating, well acted, beautifully filmed and I would see it again. But it’s just not my cup of tea.
Let me explain: La La Land is the ups and downs of a love story harkening back to the old song and dance musicals of Singing in the Rain where our protagonists and total strangers break into synchronized dances and “improvise” brilliant and witty songs on the spot.
Mia and Sebastian “meet” in a traffic jam subsequent to an amazing and almost bizarre dance routine spontaneously begun like a flash mob on a gridlocked Los Angeles freeway. We then observe them in their respective lives: Mia, an aspiring but failing actress who keeps her rent coming in as a waitress, and Sebastian a jazz player/composer who chaffs against the confines of the banal music he must play at the bar where he gets a steady pay check and tips.
Things just do not happen the way we expect. For example, other than Mia and Sebastian we never see the people in the dance troupe traffic jam again. When we see Mia in her apartment it is HUGE and you are left wondering how on Earth does this girl afford this place on a waitress’ salary only to suddenly find she has THREE roommates.  Mia wants to be noticed and is left breathless by the appearance of a “fictitious” celebrity yet shuns the shallow Hollywood parties she finds she must attend to GET noticed.
Much of the story of the two lovers follows an expected thread – boy meets girl, they do not like each other, boy and girl find they constantly run into each other or are thrown together by circumstance, deny their attraction for each other but leave the audience winking as at Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing knowing they will fall hopelessly in love. There are misunderstandings and blocked opportunities, Gift of the Magi-type sacrifices, and long lovely embraces.
But the story never quite goes where you expect it WHEN you expect it. Without revealing more than I have to about the plot or the ending, let’s just say there was more discord in the harmonies than is appealing to me. See I am a dyed-in-the-wool romantic. I write screenplays (completely unpublished and with large files holding many rejections) and I have a saying that I cannot write an unhappy ending. It’s just against my nature. There’s too much UNhappiness in the world so when I am waxing creatively I do not want to go down that road. That does not mean stories with unhappy endings are bad – Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Saving Private Ryan, much of Les Mis, Gone With the Wind – all are beautiful brilliant movies with much to cry about, but not what I like to WRITE about and not in my “go to” pile when I want to just relax with a friendly piece of entertainment.
Same goes for the music I enjoy. I like soft rock and Christian rock and even some of what used to be called Bubble Gum (Herman’s Hermits, Captain and Tennille).  Now my husband LOVES the more discordant – both in movies and music. He thinks an unhappy ending is more realistic and therefore more satisfying and jazz is the sound that floats his boat.
Which brings us to the theme of the movie. Mia at one point at the beginning of their budding romance admits she does not like jazz. So, our smitten Sebastian takes her to a jazz club and explains his fascination. “It’s conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting! It’s new every time.”
Another place in the story, Sebastian uses the same metaphor to encourage a despondent Mia. Sebastian says: “This is the dream! It’s conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting.”
Which is an excellent point and another way to describe what I suppose is the attraction to jazz for aficionados.
The movie IS very much like jazz – a sweet musical line that runs through the film twisting and turning but staying true to its fundamental theme. But at the same time surrounded by, encased in and sometimes driven by the harsher realities around it. It’s tough to keep up an idyllic love story when you have to exchange your rose colored glasses for a hands on opportunity to pay your bills. And even harder when one of the duet just does not seem to be fully committed to the tune.
There’s a scene near the end which gives the audience the full blown unexpurgated full on dream of what you expect and want from a movie like this, but then in a slap in the face and what feels like condescension we find it is just a dream. As though the screenwriter was yelling at us – “This may be what you WANT, but this NEVER HAPPENS, so GET OVER IT!”

So as the credits rolled I was left dissatisfied, somewhat disappointed, unhappy, and maybe even a wee bit insulted while still admiring the panache, the vibrancy, the beauty of the film I had just seen. (I do not think I was alone because as the credits began rolling someone immediately behind me summed up my feelings in a conversationally loud: “What the H***?!”)
BUT — from a jazz point of view it stayed true to Sebastian’s devotion to the genre: The movie hinted at and teased about with a familiar theme but when all was said and done it ended suddenly and on a discordant note. “It’s conflict and compromise” – but alas, if you are expecting a happy ending — it is only a dream.

SILENCE SHOULD EMULATE JUST THAT

I’m going to do something I have never done. I’m going to review a movie I HAVE NEVER EVEN SEEN AND HAVE NO PLANS TO EVER SEE!!!
I was really looking forward to seeing Silence, about the missionaries who went to Japan and courageously stood up against the persecutions of the anti-Christian government in the 17th century. I sought out the review of Silence by Bishop Barron first as I often get far more out of movies after listening to his take on them and given the topic thought it best if I watched him BEFORE seeing the movie instead of afterwards. I am grateful I did.
SPOILERS….you’ve been warned.
Silence is about two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who go looking for their mentor (Liam Neeson) in Japan due to rumors he gave up the Catholic faith. They can’t believe it and want to clear his name, even at the risk of their own deaths.
1.

The mentor DID renounce the Catholic faith to save his skin/because he genuinely lost his faith – whatever. Not exactly an inspirational or virtuous character and I’m disappointed in Neeson, who is supposed to be a practicing Catholic, that he would parade this flawed example onto the big screen.
2. 

The main young Jesuit, played by Garfield, GIVES UP HIS FAITH. He renounces the Holy Mother Church, takes a Japanese wife and spends the rest of his life, with Neeson’s character, as a government drone. Only at the end is he shown in his coffin HIDING a crucifix. WORSE than too little too late, it is apostacy.
I was appalled upon learning this. It’s JUST the way the atheists and new agers and liberals WANT us to treat our faith – as something shameful or to be kept, if at all, very very quiet and to ourselves, privately so it doesn’t BOTHER anyone.
3.

THE LAITY  AND FATHER GARUPE ARE THE TRUE HEROES. The small fishing village which shelters the visiting Jesuits keep the faith going for YEARS, even before the two young Jesuits show up, in the face of horrific governmental persecution. When it is discovered that Jesuits are among them they torture and kill the villagers but the VILLAGERS DO NOT RENOUNCE THEIR FAITH!! Neither does Father Garupe, who dies with the villagers, but precious little film time or attention is given to him. They are the true heroes.
DO NOT BOTHER TO SEE THIS MOVIE. ITS ANTI-CATHOLIC PROPAGANDA DISGUISED AS CATHOLIC FAITH HISTORY IS DISGUSTING.

Even if this movie is based upon a real person who turns his back on the Catholic Church, WHY would millions be spent lionizing this person and ignoring the hundreds and thousands of people who died under torture protecting and upholding the Faith? Because the makers of this movie represent the idolators of the god Political Correctness and wish to trivialize the Truth.
I am SICK of being told, as a Christian and more specifically as a Catholic that I should KEEP MY PLACE, in the back of the political and societal bus. To keep my faith privately hidden away and not have it influence or instruct any of my day to day interactions. All in the name of the lefts’ god – Political Correctness. ENOUGH!!!


I will not be SILENCED when Little Sisters of the Poor are forced out of their vocation because the liberals and liberals’ precious Obamacrap wish the nuns to push contraceptives and baby murdering abortificants on patients. I will not be SILENCED when mom and pop bakers are forced out of business by socially abusive people who require their sexual fetishes be advertised on cakes.

AUSTIN, TX – JUNE 27: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott attends a press conference celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows a Ten Commandments monument to stand outside the Texas State Capitol June 27, 2005 in Austin, Texas. A sharply divided Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments on government land, but drew the line on displays inside courthouses, saying they violated the doctrine of separation of church and state. (Photo by Jana Birchum/Getty Images)

I will not be SILENCED when judges try to force out the 10 Commandments from public displays. I will not be SILENCED when liberals lie about the definition of the separation of church and state when all the while THEY are the ones mandating their state run “religion” of environmental wackoism and cult of abortionism. I will not be SILENCED when extremist Muslims TODAY are committing genocide on entire Christian populations.
MAY THIS MOVIE’S THEATERS RUN TO AN EMPTY THEATER OF ………….. SILENCE.
BE COURAGEOUS AND DO NOT BE SILENCED BY THOSE WHO WISH TO CONDEMN THE TEACHINGS OF OUR JUDEO-CHRISTIAN GOD TO …………….. SILENCE.

 

 

PATRIOTS DAY – INSPIRING SURVIVORS

There are some movies that are very hard to watch….but really should be seen.

Lone Survivor, Saving Private Ryan, The Passion of the Christ, all come to mind. These movies document the suffering and courage of people who  fight against terrible evil: Al Queda, Nazis, the Devil himself. Patriots Day is such a movie.
Patriots Day revolves around the men and women involved as victims, first responders, investigators, or keys in the relay race of evidence and capture of the Muslim terrorists who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon 2013.
The title of this article is intended to be two fold. This movie is about survivors who are inspiring, who, in turn inspire other survivors. Every American, faithful to the tenets on which our country was founded, should watch this movie.
Mark Wahlberg plays Tommy Saunders, the main protagonist but also the only major character not based on a single individual, but who is a composite of a number of first responders and police. Every other featured character is based on an individual real person.
In a bit of humor and irony Saunders is a detective under threat of suspension for an undetailed error who is on his last day in the dog house – Saunders must, Providentially for everyone involved,  spend one more day in uniform at the finish line of the Marathon. So a highly trained official is there at ground zero to help begin the coordination of the rescue and evidence gathering and ultimately the capture of the two bombers.
It starts slowly and plays out like a well edited documentary – which is meant to be a compliment. The film shows essential moments in time, at first seemingly unrelated,  parsed from post-event interviews, surveillance camera footage, security reports and other such transcripts. So it also starts a bit jumpily – moving quickly from introduction of characters to first responder moments to investigators’ efforts and ultimately to the moments and people at the edges of the net which finally captures the Muslim terrorists.
While not as graphic as Saving Private Ryan, do be aware that there are moments and images which adults, much less young teens, may find visceral, so use caution in deciding who should attend. Also, the language is understandably rough. Sometimes it seems like the only adjective anyone in Boston knows begins with the letter “F”. However, under most of the circumstances it is certainly not gratuitous.

I once witnessed a car accident and watched as several men – bystanders – launched themselves towards the smoking car to aid the passengers. Such bravery is on display here.

We owe it to the real people involved in the 2013 attack on our fellow citizens to see this movie. We owe it to history to be witnesses even second hand. We owe it to the surviving victims maimed in body but undaunted in spirit. We owe it to the first responders – whether official or civilian – who ran TOWARDS the source of ultimate danger to do what they could for the injured and vulnerable. We owe it to the investigators who worked tirelessly to literally piece together what happened. We owe it to the men and women who stood their ground against monsters shooting guns and throwing bombs in normally quiet residential areas. We owe it to the police and soldiers who open doors and step into rooms, knowing it might be their last act on Earth, in order to stop terrorists. We, survivors ourselves of the great evils in the war against Western civilization in general and the Judeo-Christian faith in particular, owe it to ourselves to be inspired by the survivors’ tremendous courage, faith and valor, who lived to witness the 2013 Patriots Day terrorist attack. And we owe it to those who did not survive to witness for them.

PASSENGERS – AN ALLEGORY FOR MARRIAGE

 
When my husband and I had been married for 15 years we volunteered to go through an Engaged Encounter Counseling training session. During that period of time we learned things about each other that we did not know! For example, his favorite color is blue. I thought it was tan. He always WEARS tan. Who knew?!
The process also reminded me about the dating/mating process. The early years when you become irresistably attracted. Then you wonder if you should take the risk of being a couple. After a time, as you consider you may be spending the rest of your life with this person – have I done the right thing? The infatuation. The sexual attraction. The sharing and adventure. The fun. And then you find out things maybe you hadn’t realized about the other. You fight. Maybe the fight seems to herald in the end of the relationship. But at some point you realize you would much prefer to journey through life WITH this person than without them – warts and all.
Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in Columbia Pictures’ PASSENGERS.
Perhaps it takes a personal crisis. Perhaps there is a moment when you see the resilient admirable core at the center of their being – the stuff that, even unknowingly, attracted you to them to begin with. Their morality. Their love of life. Their sense of fun….their courage in the face of life’s adversity. Something to which you can cling during the dangers and storms of life.
SPOILERS
In short, I have just synopsized Passengers. This movie is a brilliant allegory about just such a meeting, discernment, set of crises, resolution, determination and resolve that describe the stages of coming together in a marriage – not just the wedding, but truly the union of two people through thick and thin who commit selflessly to each other to face the life and death trials the world – or space – can bring.

Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are strangers. Passengers on a deep space colony ship whose 5,000 colonists and 100+ crew are put into hibernation for the length of a 120 year trip. 32 years into the journey the ship has an unexpected, unplanned run in with a comet storm which causes damage which triggers the opening of Jim’s pod. It also causes other damage which will not be fully noticed for another 2 years.  Jim finds himself alone on a 1,000 foot luxury cruise ship with every amenity except companionship. There is the quirky addition of an android bartender


(Michael Sheen) but that’s it. He spends much of his time for the first few months: trying to contact Earth (round trip answer to even his cry for help would take 55 years), accessing the bridge (NOTHING short of a proper access code will get him entry despite the fact he is a mechanical engineer), reading manuals, trying to reactivate his hibernation pod. Finally he resigns himself to at least enjoying the amenities on the ship but after another few months he begins the slow descent into madness. He ceases to care even about shaving or dressing and finally is inches away from suicide when he randomly, if not Providentially comes across Aurora’s pod. He checks out her video profile and the books she has written and falls in love with her humor, her writing and ultimately…her. He struggles for months with the idea of manually opening her pod – even consulting Arthur, but his desperation is too great and he does what he realizes is the unthinkable – he awakens Aurora 87 years too early.

And so the courtship begins. The details of how the potential tragedy plays out, what her reaction is when she finds out what Jim has done, the reason why Jim's pod opened to begin with, and the resolution to their relationship I will leave to your watching of this amazing film.
Suffice it to say that I was captivated by the special effects, delighted by the story and impressed with the acting of two Robinson Crusoes and their bartender “Friday”. Pratt and Lawrence were terrific and Sheen endearing.
But it was my husband who recognized the analogy to marriage – how two people, against odds, found each other. That despite the hundreds of people around them it was up to ONLY the two of them to make a life for themselves, to overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles and to triumph by self sacrificing to and for each other, recognizing their union may require foregoing other possible choices, binding themselves only to each other, and spending the rest of their lives making a life with each other. The perfect analogy of a courtship and marriage.
My only regret is that religion was sanitized out of the equation. There were Biblical elements: Jim willing to lay down his life for Aurora. Aurora willing to forgive Jim completely and his life becoming her life. They ultimately chose to cleave to each other, despite the fact Aurora was provided, by Jim, with another option. But there were no visits to a chapel, no praying to God in what was emotional extremity for Jim. No acknowledgement of the Hand of God and His Providence in their miraculously timed awakenings, finding each other or escape from mortal peril. And that’s a shame. Because with inclusion of the recogniztion of God this marital analogy would have been raised to the level of a sacramental union. There was even a clergy of sorts in the form of a Senior crewman (Lawrence Fishburne), who stood in the way of Captain for a time and who – before his demise – gave his “blessing” to them.
Despite this lack Passengers is a lovely, inspirational movie about the adventure of two people who bond for life…and who bond FOR life.

ASSASSIN’S CREED MANAGES TO KILL OFF…ITSELF

In the brilliant musical 1776 about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, as his fellow colonial representatives continue to remove portions of the first draft they deem too derogatory, John Adams, in the extremis of frustration shouts: “This is a revolution, we have to offend SOMEBODY!!!”
Well kudos to Assassin’s Creed. They have managed to OFFEND EVERYBODY!
The story is about Sofia (Cotillard) who “rescues” Cal Lynch/Aguilar (Fassbender) after he is executed for the murder of a pimp (which back story sounded far more interesting than the main story turned out to be). Her plan is to use a machine to get him to access the genetic memories of one of his ancestors, an assassin of the 11th century who she believes knows the location of the Apple of Eden, an unexplained anachronism – a highly technological ball which holds the genetic code to Free Will created around or even before the 11th century……and yes, I know how dumb this sounds, but I didn’t write this, I am only warning you about it.
According to my son, who is far more familiar with the source video games than I am, the first two Assassin’s Creed games explored a relatively straight forward good guys versus bad guys, trying to keep the peace during the time of the Crusades. The third version was a stab at anti-Catholic propaganda which game fell flat on its face. SO, of COURSE THAT’S the one they decided to sink a whooping $125 MILLION dollars into as well as waste the talents of: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson.
I take particular exception to the barbs thrown at Templars. Contrary to this mishmashed script, Templars were NOT lunatic totalitarians who sought to eliminate free will. They were monk-like warrior priests who were sent to protect the Christian pilgrims traveling through the Holy Land from attack by Muslims. The absurdist rewriting of history is both ludicrous and might have been insulting if it were at all effective.
The Catholics were treated, predictably, as megalomaniacs. The Muslims were portrayed as cowards. Capitalists as shallow dictatorial control freaks. And the Templars were led by a woman, played, inexplicably by a CGI enhanced Charlotte Rampling. I was so puzzled by her CGI appearance that I had to check to see if maybe she had died in mid production, but, no, she’s still quite alive. And the age of the “Excellency” did not matter and would have even been enhanced by old age. So — I have no idea why they did that very weird thing.
And apparently no one opened a history book, much less read one, because not only were women NOT Templars, Templars were not even allowed intimacies with women – NOT even their own WIVES! So it’s a cinch that a woman would not be leading the Templars. And  finally, the Assassins were so shallowly drawn they were impossible to care about. Not even when the protagonist had a fighting companion at whom he continually made “goo-goo” eyes.
So, you had your choice between mind controlling totalitarian Templars, or complete anarchist Assassins who chanted that “there is no right or wrong…everything is permitted.” Hmmmm. So WHO are we supposed to be rooting for??!!
Continuing on the hit parade of stupid plot points was that the Templars spent billions of dollars building a machine to help them find the Apple of Eden, in order to eliminate Free Will, when the founder – the character played by Irons, readily admits that he thinks it is a moot point because people are so devoted to consumerism (a dig at capitalism, the other whipping boy of the liberals) that Free Will does not matter to them any more. At which point I wondered – well, then why don’t you just pack up and go home. What are you people still DOING out here!!??
Another dumb plot point is the keeping of the “rejected” assassin conduits in one security moderate facility armed with guards who will rush in single file towards a prison riot using only their batons into a facility FULL of display glass “protected” museum piece WEAPONS!!! What idiot would warehouse a gang of convicted (presumably executed) killers with swords and maces and knife studded gauntlets for crying out loud!!!
Meanwhile, from a purely plot-centric point of view the storyline wandered around aimlessly – from the inexplicable murder of our protagonist’s mother, witnessed by him as a young child, to the idea that there could exist, in the 11th century, a metal ball which could hold, or illuminate, or inhibit the genetic code of Free Will, to the concept that there IS such a gene, that the characters spend so much time fighting each other that you don’t really care who wins. Through most of the fight scenes, which in and of themselves were pretty well choreographed, I ended up just wishing ONE side or the other would kill the other side off so they would STOP JERKING AROUND THE CAMERA!!
I LOVE Jackie Chan movies, swashbuckling fencing matches, war films, super hero movies, and even the Rocky series. So I am no newbie when it comes to parsing out what is going on with quick editing action scenes. But the chase/fight scenes here were made of such short choppy edits that….let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m not prone to epilepsy.
The best – read ONLY — good parts of the movie were the interactions of Cotillard with Irons, as daughter and father Rikkins, cutting edge scientists working to locate the Apple of Eden so they can eliminate violence and…. oh who cares. It is the DUMBEST plot device ever. But I could watch Cotillard and Irons read the ingredient label to a box of cereal and they would find a way to make it interesting.
And, for the record, I just GOTTA include a couple more random points:
1.Rikkin tells Cal he is not in a prison but they won’t let him leave and essentially torture him – worst vacation retreat—ever.

DF-05268.tif

2. If Cal was a descendant of this Assassin – who was the mom? Assassin Cal/Aguilar’s only girlfriend died and I really don’t see him stopping to fight long enough to even breed.
3. When (SPOILER) Iron’s character is killed – how does he die? There is no blood when Cal “slits” his throat OVER Rikkin’s shirt collar. The collar is not cut, mussed or soaked in blood. Did he die by bow-tie-being-untied?
3. At one point we see Cal’s assassin ancestor leap off a tall building – Cotillard’s character even tells him “jump” but we never see how he survives this enormous fall but we do surmise he dies much later from an arrow wound.
5. And how DID he make it to a ship to give the apple to (wait for it) Christopher Columbus with an arrow in his side?
6. Why did the Rikkins think their search was over just because they saw Aguilar hand it over to Columbus. Columbus was an EXPLORER – he could have put it anywhere in half of the world…or dropped it over the side into the ocean?
6. How did they successfully conclude it was in Columbus’ grave? I mean Aguilar did tell Columbus to take it to his grave, but….literally??!!

As a side note —- Is there a REASON WHY Irons keeps doing these kinds of movies??!! Eragon, Dungeons and Dragons, now this. I must assume his answer would have to be the same one Michael Caine gave when asked why he made Jaws 3 in the SAME year he made the Oscar winning Hannah and Her Sisters —- “Because I had a mortgage to pay.”
The writer to this garage sale quality puzzle-with-missing-pieces spent so much time trying to dis the Catholic Church and send a message praising anarchy that they forgot to actually come up with an understandable plot. Perhaps they should have followed the advice attributed to Sam Goldwyn: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union”.
Ironically (a pun in and of itself given who plays Daddy Rikkin) Assassin’s Creed manages to bump ITSELF off.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – A CHRISTMAS TREE OF A MOVIE

Every year our family puts up a live Christmas tree. No matter how much trouble to go out and gather as many of the family members as are available for the traditional choosing and purchase, no matter how cold the night, no matter how much mess it makes dropping needles bringing it into the house, no matter how much care it takes to add water, and how much we get stabbed by the real needles, it is worth it for the individual beauty and the familiar smell of a real tree. The combination of the familiar and the unique newness of each tree every year is irresistible. While every Christmas tree is a tall green pine, each will have its own personality, its own positive and negative features – different bare spots, different sway to the trunk, different shade of green – and each will afford a different way to put up the lights and a different set of decorations from the pool of family ornaments. Yet each will be familiar in a reliable way wherein all the favorite ornaments can be hung, the lights brighten the room, and the angel on the top of the tree leads your eye to the completed picture. Each will be unique but each will provide that same element of Christmas delight to our home.
And so it is with any remake of a classic old movie. While you know what the basic structure should look like there’s a fine line between simply being a poor shadow of the classic and being so anxious to put one’s individual stamp on a great concept that you go too far out on a limb and lose what made it a classic to begin with. It is the sweet spot in the middle which can establish a new worthy sapling from that original tree.

Happily I think the new The Magnificent Seven achieves that balance. Both films’, old and new, plots are driven by the efforts of a desperate small town terrorized by bandits, to find the help of a champion. One of the greatest lines in the original was uttered by Chris (Yul Brenner) when the peasants offer him a small bag of gold which they explain is “everything they have”. Chris replies: “I have been offered a lot for my work but never everything.”

Denzel Washington stars in Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

That same poetry of purpose and honor purveys the new Magnificent Seven. Just as in the original, Chisholm (Denzel Washington) seeks out men who have special talents: whether it is skill with guns – Robichaux (Ethan Hawke), knives – Billy (Byung-hun Lee), explosives – Faraday (Chris Pratt), bow and arrow – Red Harvest (Mark Sensemeier) and Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) or just raw courage and honor –

Vincent D’Onofrio stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

Jack (Vincent D’Onofrio). Together they inspire the townsmen to take up arms to defend themselves and take on a small army led by the evil Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). The original bad guys were clearly and literally banditos, here I did take exception to an industrialist being painted as the evildoer. However, I must admit that capitalism taken to an extreme and without a moral compass can be as evil as Communism or any other totalitarian philosophy.

Both films follow a similar story line in the same way that all Christmas trees are evergreens. But like a new Christmas tree the decorations and lights are rearranged and enhanced, giving this 2016 Magnificent Seven its own individual but familiar heart and soul. The dynamics of the relationships are different, as are the motives which bring these disparate group of men together. And the techniques they use to hold the wolves at bay are clever and believable. But the core of the movie is the same.
I grew up with the Yul Brenner version and will always love it but the new one affords a deeper dimension. The original story was basically a variation on David versus Goliath. The 2016 film weaves the additional thread that even men with checkered pasts can be enticed into a second chance when it is for the glory of taking up Jesus’ challenge to offer one’s life for a friend…or an innocent stranger. That the good thief can find salvation in sacrificing himself for another. And this religious under tone is provided by the constant presence of the church as it: holds the townspeople, is desecrated by Bogue, manages to remain standing even after being burned and is the site of the final climactic confrontation. And if that is not enough there is Jack (D’Onofrio) a devout peculiar man reminiscent of a John the Baptist in his rough naturalistic attire and gentle bear of a man demeanor, who reminds us often of the presence of God and the need for prayer. D’Onofrio’s bigger than life character of Jack steals the show whenever he is featured in a scene.
That’s not to take away anything from the other performers. All are excellent and should be proud of the work they have done in this honorable homage retelling of a movie I would not have thought possible to successfully rework. But I should have known that such a reimagining was possible ………. I buy a new Christmas tree every year.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY – WORK OF ART

collateral_beauty_background1[1]Wow. There are some filmed stories that are not so much “movies” as they are works of art. Thus it is with Collateral Beauty, a film written by Allan Loeb and directed by David Frankel.

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The story emerges about Howard (Will Smith) who has retreated so far into himself after the death of his 6 year old daughter that his competency in the major advertising firm he has built with his friends is put in question. On the verge of a make or break deal, his partners, having tried everything from grief counseling to interventions, are in a precarious situation. Without either Howard’s active involvement or his retreat from the firm the FIRM and everything they have worked for will die. And Howard will not engage with any of them long enough to even discuss the issues. He just doesn’t care any more. All he will do is show up to work and make domino bridges (which you will find is a brilliant piece of cinematic analogy – that one event can begin a chain reaction).

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Whit (Ed Norton) has a chance encounter with Amy/Love (Keira Knightly) an aspiring actress with a three-man underground acting troupe, the other two being

collateralbeauty3[1]Brigitte/Death (Helen Mirren) and Raffi/Time (Jacob Latimore). Desperate, Whit comes up with a plan which should succeed either in getting Howard engaged in the world again or subject to a declaration of incompetency. See, Howard has written letters to Time, Love and Death, seeking answers as to why he lost his daughter. Whit decides to call Howard’s bluff and hires the out of work actors to play the personifications of the concepts for Howard’s benefit.

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The writing of Collateral Beauty is excellent, the plot both whimsical and practical, covering all the alternatives and reasons for the different twists and turns with grace. I always hate it when something peculiar is not pondered. For example, WHY would they go to such extremes? It is covered in one brainstorming session among the partners. How do they get the letters? Sensibly explained. How shall they proceed with the charade? It’s written as though we, the audience, were in on the entire situation and the actors speak for us.

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So it is with the actors who portray Death, Time and Love. They speak for those concepts in the way the actors speak for us. And this simple technique draws us in to the landscape, making the story personal.Collateral-Beauty-review[1]

Unlike many stories about death of a loved one, there is no “dread” moment. The death has already happened and is gradually eased in to. It is a very gentle movie and yet, at the same time, it will hit you like an emotional truck. But afterwards you will feel not destroyed but soothed.

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I don’t want to give much more away as the audience should let this unfold in the way the cast and crew intended, like a blossoming flower you should appreciate, one layer at a time.

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I will say to pay attention though. Everything everyone says means something – either conceptually or aiding the plot, every connection one character makes to another is meaningful. For example (without revealing too much) Raffi/Time connects with Claire (Kate Winslet) who is feeling tragically that her time to have children has passed her by. Amy/Love befriends Whit who comes to the realization that in the disastrous aftermath of his messy divorce he has lost the love of his daughter. Geddit?

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Collateral Beauty is part It’s a Wonderful Life, part Christmas Carol, part Fisher King (odd quirky Terry “Monty Python” Gilliam movie about a man who loses his mind after a tragedy), part Shadowlands (love story in the midst of mortality) and yet is unique unto itself.

It’s the most understated performance by Will Smith of his career and while he probably doesn’t say more than three hundred words during the entire film, this is his most effecting, voluble, heart wrenching and loudest work. His character doesn’t speak of his grief – he personifies it in much the same way Mirren does Death or Knightly does Love.

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The beauty in this film is in the details – from the red in all of Amy/Love’s clothes to the care with which the dialogue plays out.99[1]

To use a quote from the film: “Just be sure to notice the Collateral Beauty,” for which you must listen and watch carefully or you might miss something important.

Dr. Strange and G.K. Chesterton

doctor-strange-11I went to see Dr Strange expecting a brainless sci fi shoot ‘em up adventure. And while it is all that, I should have known there would be more to it, since Cumberbatch stars. He IS the modern Sherlock, images10instilled a demonic but compelling personality to the animated Smaug, cumbersmaug-1476201and did a stage Hamlet 16-benedict-cumberbatch-hamlet-in-hamlet-at-the-barbican-theatre-photo-credit-johan-persson_jpg_1003x0_crop_q851different and still wonderful from the dozen I’ve seen before.

Without giving away too much I would encourage you, before you go see the movie, to read just a little teeny bit of GK Chesterton’s poem The Ballad of the White Horse. sylkfro1 220px-g-_k-_chesterton1White Horse is an epic poem (arguably the last written in the English language) published in 1911 and written by GK Chesterton, the lesser known friend and Christian docent of the famous CS “Narnia” Lewis. The poem is about the legendary exploits of Saxon king Alfred the Great as he expels the Viking Danes from England in the 9th century. But you don’t have to read the whole thing. The portion that will exploit a deeper appreciation of Dr Strange is a 4 line stanza in Book III titled “The Harp of Alfred”, lines 339 through 342. You can even get it online. The lines begin:

“Though all lance’s split….”

You won’t know why that is important until you get to the right moment and then you’ll instantly understand.

Dr Strange is beautifully filmed and CGI’ed. While I’m not a big 3D fan, the effects in this were quite good. They did NOT look like they had been shoe-horned in to be SURE you noticed them, as they did in the old ‘50’s “house of horror” type movies serveimage11or in the first few movies that restarted the trend. Movies like 47 Ronin and Avatar seemed to have some scenes filmed for the EXPRESS purpose of showing off the 3D techniques. Use or AB-use of said technology always reminded me of the old SCTV routine – “3D House of Beef”images2xbzu2f8 – where John Candy would shove a plate of pancakes towards the camera to demonstrate the “3D” effect – which, of course, didn’t exist because it was a Canadian parody skit ABOUT such things shown on the television – which gives you an idea of how much I generally respect 3D.

BUT the 3D in Dr Strange was done well. doctorstrange-benedictcumberbatch-space1

I actually FORGOT it was “3D” until something appropriate and unexpected sort of wafted or flew my way. Good job Scott Derrickson (director) and Ben Davis (cinematographer).

It’s also the first film I’ve ever seen Tilda Swinton in, in which she did not give me the creeps. She has played disturbing (White Witch in Narnia)smoke3-1024x6651  REALLY disturbing (incestuous vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive) RZ6A2886.JPGand funny, as twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker in the brilliant Coen brothers’ Hail Caesar!

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But she normally gives me a creepy crawly feeling. This uneasy quality she manages to normally spray like a firehose is toned done to a slight flavoring, blending into a beautiful performance as the Sinead O’Connor-“coiffed” mentor extraordinaire, The Ancient One.

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So – a little homework this time before viewing will make your experience of Dr Strange more effective and satisfying than the average super hero fare. GK Chesterton – Marvel….huh, who would have ever thought?

Allied – a Magician’s Trick

We all know how a magic act works – dazzle the audience with lights and pretty girls while the magician pulls off the most unlikely of actions and makes them, ergo, believable. I mean it MUST have happened the way he presented them because you saw it with your own eyes, right?

Well, Allied is the same way. The cinematography is beautiful (either that or the CGI technology has gotten a bit TOO good. Though they DID film on location in Fuerteventura, which actually does have dunes.) Directed by Robert “Back to the Future” Zemeckis the story is cogent, character driven and artfully told (no Deloreans though folks). The acting is very good. I am not a Brad Pitt fan at all (never even seen Fight Club – *gasp*) but he is well suited to the role of Max, the Allied spy who goes to Casablanca to meet with a woman he has never met but must pretend is his wife, Marianne played by Marion Cotillard.

Gotta digress here – Cotillard is wonderful in every role I’ve seen her in: from the beleaguered singing wife, 55b8e30dc7aebaac472dbb8c002dccb81Luisa, in Nine to the lunatic surprise bad guy, 4a54310bd52dec80eddcb8188121e5c41Miranda, in The Dark Knight Rises to inception-production-still-2-473x315-300x2341Mal in Inception. She’s done a LOT of French films too – makes sense because she is — well, French. I must admit she has never been able in anything I’ve seen to shake that very heavy French accent, but who cares? She could be holding herself out as an IRA member with that heavy French accent and her acting is so good I’d believe it…..which is actually part of the problem.

We are so busy watching the acting and the cinematography and enjoying the artfully constructed story that we do not realize the story is….well…..stupid.

During the course of the movie, and I will TRY to avoid too many spoilers, we are asked to believe:

1. A brilliant accomplished spy could be manipulated into a corner as easily as your average unassuming citizen – James Bond, Bourne, or heck even John McClaine from Die Hard would have found an alternative.maxresdefault1

2. You can escape Vichy France during World War II after an assassination by just turning a corner noting that you were not followed – yeah, well tell that to Victor Lazlo.

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3. Any relevant current intel can be obtained from either an alcoholic one armed derelict in a local prison or from a long-term care wounded inmate of a hospital.

4. That a sexual lifestyle appropriate to the musical Caberet would be casually and openly accepted by the extremely straightlaced community of 1940’s London.

5. That a high ranking spy would entrust extremely classified information to his easily compromisable sibling smack dab in the middle of a time sensitive investigation JUST because he is upset.

6. That an accomplished and high ranking spy would host a wild raunchy guests-literally-having-sex-in-the-broom-closet party in his home where he admits that he does not even know who the identity of half of the people there, when sensitive information is IN THE HOUSE along with weapons much less, again, in the middle of a classified internal affairs investigation, or that his ranking officer would approve much less attend such party. THIS one was so dumb that I thought there MUST be a follow up red herring coming, but no.

And the BIGGEST sword which we’re supposed to swallow is that upon discovering a spy in one’s midst one is REQUIRED under pain of DEATH to dispatch them IMMEDIATELY. Do not pass go, do not collect $50 and certainly do not bother to INTERROGATE them or turn them over to the proper authorities or your intelligence superiors for questioning or EVEN POSSIBLY turning them into a double agent!! No, that would make far too much sense.

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So while an intriguing movie to watch it, much like getting a peek under the magician’s table cloth, you will be disappointed by reality if you examine it too closely. So watch for fun, watch for the actors, but do not watch it for any logical plot.

NOTES OF CAUTION: There are some raw words, particularly in one meal scene with our two protagonists. While it was NOT anachronistic as the word was in common usage, it seemed gratuitous. Additionally, there are two VERY steamy sex scenes 389fbe3600000578-3799205-impeccable_timing_brad_pitt_and_marion_cotillard_get_hot_and_hea-a-101_14744100202051and a few others not quite so detailed, but nonetheless certainly not appropriate for younger teens much less children. And a good deal of violence, but, after all, it was World War II.