Tag Archives: ben affleck

Extract – Review

20 May

Mike Judge is one of the best when it comes to comedy. It’s hard to deny the impact he’s made on the genre and popular culture itself. From his television creations like Beavis and Butt-HeadKing of the Hill, and most recently Silicon Valley, to his commercial film hits like Office Space and Idiocracy, his talent is clearly visible. One of his movies that I don’t hear too much about is his companion piece to Office Space titled Extract. I’ve finally come around to seeing it, and I can sort of see why it’s not one that’s talked about too often. It certainly is funny enough and a comedy that will more than likely stay on my radar, but it does lack some of the sharpness and off the walls absurd satire of his other, more recognized work.

Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman) seems to have it all. He is the founder and owner of the Reynolds Extract company, has a great house in a quiet neighborhood, and also is married to his beautiful wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig). On the flip side, his company is also facing problems after an accident causes one of his employees (Clifton Collins, Jr.) to lose a very important part of himself, he is constantly aggravated by what may be the world’s worst neighbor (David Koechner), and his love life with his wife has become stagnant. Things become even more complicated when a mysterious drifter, Cindy (Mila Kunis), starts working at the factory and shows a major interest in Joel. Because of this and some horrible advice from his friend, Dean (Ben Affleck), Joel’s life becomes a series of lies, even great misfortunes, and a possible company ending lawsuit.

Extract has a story that’s all over the place. There’s problems with the factory and also Joel’s love life, then there’s Mila Kunis’ character who has a backstory and motivation all her own, and then there’s an impending lawsuit that becomes more of an issue towards the end. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep track of it all sometimes. This works both for and against the movie. On one hand, with all of these subplots working against each other, there are some areas of the movie that feel rushed and not worked to completion. One character is relegated to just one scene when he could’ve had a lot more screen time. On the other hand, it started to make me stressed, which should be a problem, but it helped me relate to Joel’s plight, especially when he starts to reach his boiling points.

Where the movie does sort of falter is in the overall point of it. When I watch something by Mike Judge, I expect to see some sort of satirical sharpness, especially when he says that this film is a companion piece to his super sharp Office Space. There’s a really fun comedy of errors to be found here, but the whole thing feels kind of hollow. Part of that can be due to what I was talking about before. There’s so many plots and subplots and side characters that don’t amount to much that the whole thing doesn’t feel fully realized. If Judge was going for this simple comedy of errors vibe, it pulled off, but if he was going for something more than it doesn’t quite reach that standard.

Where Extract does succeed, and where Judge continues to show his immense understandings, is the personification of the characters. Everyone in this movie is someone you have met or have no problem believing in. One of my favorite characters is an older woman at the factory who continuously harasses a new employee and who refuses to work because she believes she works harder than everyone else and gets nothing for it. I know I’ve met that person. This also has a really great cast. Bateman is always great as the deadpan character who explodes after being pushed too far. Ben Affleck is surprisingly hilarious as Dean and David Koechner as Nathan, Joel’s annoying neighbor, kills every scene he’s in.

Extract is definitely a minor entry into an otherwise outstanding body of work by Mike Judge. This is a funny film with a great cast and a premise that works really well, even if it does feel stretched a bit too thin. If more time was given to certain plot elements, this might have felt a little bit stronger, even without the sharp satirical edge I was expecting. This movie is good for some laughs, but don’t expect anything more than that.

Final Grade: B-

Live by Night – Review

26 Jan

When it comes to movies he’s written and directed, Ben Affleck’s track record is one of the strongest in recent years. Movies like The TownGone Baby Gone, and Argo have enough intensity and depth to be remembered a hundred times over. When I saw his next project, Live by Night, was going to be a Prohibition era gangster movie, I was good to go. I’ve been looking forward to this movie after seeing the very first trailer for it months ago, and I felt even more hopeful when I saw that it was based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the novel Gone Baby Gone. Now, while there are plenty of really great things in this movie that are worth mentioning and getting excited about, Live by Night is probably the weakest entry in Affleck’s directing filmography.

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Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a World War I veteran who makes his small living through crime as a thief. He’s also madly in love with a woman named Emma (Sienna Miller), the wife of his boss and and head of the Irish Gang of Boston, Albert White (Robert Glenister). After this affair almost gets him killed and results in him losing Emma, Joe joins forces with Italian mafia boss and enemy of White Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone). Pescatore sends Joe to the Ybor City in Florida to help run his rum importing business that is being threatened by White. While in Florida, Joe falls in love and marries Graciela (Zoe Saldana), who is a major component of the importing business. Not everything goes smoothly however as rival factions, a tragic run in with the local sheriff and his daughter (Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning), and the looming danger of the Ku Klux Klan threaten this entire business, which forces Joe to become the violent man he never wanted to be again.

I have really mixed feelings about this movie that came up as I was writing the summary. It reminded me the biggest flaw that this movie has, and that is that there is so much crammed into a run time that barely has the ability to hold it all. There is around 3 and a half hours worth of material here that’s forced to fit in a movie that’s only a little bit over 2 hours. This makes for some weird pacing, plot lines that don’t get enough attention, and some characters that unfortunately lack enough development. Let’s start with the pacing of the movie. A lot of times when someone’s talking about the pace of a movie, they’re going to say how slow it felt. On the flip side of that, I felt like Live by Night went way too fast. There was a part in the middle where it slowed down to a crawl, but then picked up so fast I thought it was going to break my neck. This is what happens when there are at least five different main plots happening in a movie.

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Let’s look at the positives for a bit because this movie does have very cool elements. Affleck has shown us time and again that he is capable of filming a beautiful looking movie, and Live by Night holds up to that standard. The color pallets and sweeping camera work got the better of me at times and I just had to watch in awe at how amazing everything looked. This also a movie with incredible sound design. Every gunshot felt authentic and blasted through the theater’s sound system for optimal escapist effect. Speaking of sounds, Harry Gregson-Williams’ score is absolutely fantastic. Finally, this movie handles violence in a very interesting way that I’ve been seeing more in movies as of late. The violence is strong but the scenes of it are few and far between. Instead of making the violence look cinematic and fake, there’s this realism to it that really hit me as I was watching it, and reminded me a lot of how Affleck handled it in The Town.

While that’s all well and good and does make the movie memorable in its own right, I still can’t help shake the fact that as time has gone on I’ve become less and less impressed by this movie. A big reason is because of the characterization and how the people in the movie develop. My biggest example of this is the relationship between Joe and Graciela. It has the potential to be a great cinematic romance, but it unfortunately isn’t explored enough and the events of their life jut kind of happen and then time moves on because there is so much left to cover. The same can be said about Joe’s partner in the movie. We briefly see him in the first third, then he’s reintroduced, but their relationship doesn’t really have a chance to go anywhere either.

I’ve been so excited for Live by Night, it kinda hurts to say that it disappointed me. It’s a beautiful looking movie with a great score and sound design. There’s also plenty of great actors giving quality performances. The problem is that so much is crammed into the movie that some plots are wasted and characters fail to develop fully which lessens the dramatic impacts of some scenes. I really wanted Live by Night to be great, but it’s a movie that fails to live to its fullest potential and I’m not sure I have any reason to see it again.

Final Grade: C+

The Accountant – Review

23 Oct

I’m pretty excited to finally get to writing this review because this is a movie that I have been super excited for since I first saw the trailer. I’m always ready to see new and original movies, and The Accountant falls into that category perfectly. It’s worth noting, however, that the marketing for this movie paints it out to be an action thriller that features Ben Affleck kicking all sorts of ass. While this does happen, this is more of a complex character study with a huge mystery at its core. That’s something I didn’t think I wanted, but I’m really pleased that this movie offers something a lot more complicated and thought provoking than something more straight forward.

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Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) may seem like an average small town accountant on the surface, be he is much more than that. Suffering from a severe form of autism has made Wolff very aware of patterns and numbers, which makes him the perfect candidate to un-cook books of high level criminals and businessmen. After being hired by a large corporation called Living Robotics and finding major discrepancies in their books, both Wolff and an association of the company, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), are being sought after by mysterious hitmen led by a man known only as The Assassin (Jon Bernthal). As Wolff begins to hunt down the parties responsible, the director of financial crimes at the Treasury Department, Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), and a new hire, Medina (Cynthia Abbai-Robinson), start their own hunt to find the mysterious accountant and bring him to justice.

In the beginning of this movie, we see a young Christian Wolff putting together a puzzle that’s been flipped over so he can’t see the picture. To me, that’s a perfect allegory for The Accountant. The story is deliberately told in a way that it’s impossible to see the entire picture without all of the pieces coming together. This can make the plot kind of frustrating at times because we’re left in the dark about so much as the story jumps between flashbacks and action happening in the present. It’s definitely a movie that I’m going to have to watch again to really get the full picture. I was really surprised with the level of complexity the story has and the unorthodox way that director Gavin O’Connor and writer Bill Dubuque told it. That’s the best way I think I can describe this movie: surprisingly unorthodox.

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With all the mystery surrounding the Wolff and certain side characters, there really isn’t a whole lot of time for action, despite what the marketing campaign wanted people to believe. Most of the movie focuses on laying clues as to who the accountant is and how he got to be who he is. That being said, when this movie turns up the action, it really turns it up. The action never goes over the top nor does it ever seem like none of it could only happen in the movies. It’s all very grounded and happens very quickly which means if you blink, you may miss something. It was a really smart way to handle the violence and more exciting scenes. Never does it overshadow the bigger point of the movie and never do you find yourself getting lost in what could have been mind numbing action.

I can’t talk about The Accountant and not dive into the character of Christian Wolff, who might be my favorite character of the entire year. There’s so much to this guy when it comes to his history, motivations, and skills. From the very first trailer, I had to know who this guy was and see him in action, and Ben Affleck does a great job at bringing this character to life. I never thought Affleck had much charisma in his acting, which makes him a perfect choice to play a subdued character like this. Every small tick or deadpan line of dialogue is done really well and makes Wolff into a much more believable and realized character. If you don’t get grabbed by this character, there is something seriously wrong with you and you should probably just stop watching movies.

Despite some odd pacing choices and a plot that is occasionally frustrating, The Accountant is a very satisfying and surprisingly unique story. Ben Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career and really succeeded at bringing this troubled character to life. The cast is great, the writing is unorthodox, and O’Connor’s direction just brings it all together perfectly. Just be warned that you can’t leave your brain at the door for this one.

Final Grade: A-

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

27 Mar

Well, here we are. I’ve been waiting a very long time for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to be released, as I’m sure many other people have been as well. Before this film we got Man of Steel which I thought was a pretty cool movie despite the pacing to be way off, which made the whole movie feel overly long and slightly disjointed. Going into this movie, I had these problems in mind while I was gauging my expectations. It is a Zack Snyder movie, after all. You really have to approach his films with caution. Now that I’ve seen Batman v Superman I can say that all of my worries and suspicions about the pacing have come true, but in much worse ways than I ever imagined. That being said, there are still some rewarding elements to this movie that made it worth seeing.

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While Superman (Henry Cavill) can easily be called a hero in many regards, it may be hard to say that while watching him destroy a city in order to defeat fellow Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon). This is the conflict suffered by Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), a billionaire playboy who just so happens to be the masked vigilante of Gotham City, Batman. Bruce is very uncomfortable with seeing the power Superman can wield go on without any repercussions, so he makes it his mission to find a way to put that power in check and ultimately get rid of the Man of Steel. Meanwhile, criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg) begins working on a way to use kryptonite as a deterrent against Superman and other super powerful beings in case the need should arise that the human rase needs protection from the so called protectors. What happens next is a clash of super heroic titans that will pave the way for heroes and villains of the future (at least in terms of the DC cinematic universe).

Where do I even begin? Throughout Snyder’s filmography, it has become quite clear that the pacing of his movies slows them down so much, it literally feels like the plot is stuck in the mud. I knew this was going to be the case in Batman v Superman, so I went into the movie ready for that. Little did I know that it was going to be this horrendously overstuffed, paced out, and edited. Like, honestly, how did this movie get a pass? It has such a sloppy structure that at times makes the story incoherent, which is a huge problem considering that this movie is the start of a much bigger DC universe. Not to mention that there are so many scenes and story arcs that only seemed to be in there so the movie can be over two and a half hours long. There’s one story arc about Lois Lane investigating a prototype bullet being sold to radicals that was SO INSANELY STUPID I couldn’t even handle it.

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While this movie is absolutely infuriating at times, when Batman v Superman gets good, it gets great. The entire political game that Luthor and Senator Finch are involved in along with Superman facing up to the damage he’s caused is very interesting. Bruce Wayne also has some really dark scenes where you can almost see his past excursions as the Dark Knight and how they’ve so negatively affected him. These are the scenes that really stand out, but the action sequences in this movie are also very memorable and exciting. Wether it’s Batman careening through the streets of Gotham in his Batmobile, the duel between Batman and Superman, or the overwhelmingly destructive showdown with Doomsday, this movie has some seriously great looking action that almost makes all the scenes that shouldn’t have existed worth it.

When it was first released that Ben Affleck was cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne, many people seemed to be outraged. I, personally, was more curious to see how he’d play it. Turns out, he gives one of the best performances of the character, and certainly is the darkest Bruce Wayne has ever been on the silver screen. Henry Cavill continues to be fine as Superman/Clark Kent, and pretty much gives the same performance he did in Man of Steel. Jeremy Irons, unsurprisingly, is great as Alfred, who appears just as world weary as his troubled bat companion. Gal Gadot, while not in the movie all that much, was totally badass as Wonder Woman, and I can’t wait to see more of her in future installments. Now we come to Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, a casting choice that shows that a bunch of lunatics were working on this movie. Oddly enough, I didn’t hate Eisenberg as much as I thought I was going to. He played an obsessive compulsive psychopath very well, but really it wasn’t Lex Luthor I was watching. I more so hate what they did to the character, while Eisenberg seemed to play it as best he could.

Calling Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a disappointment is a completely valid and accurate statement. That being said, it isn’t an awful movie. I can’t really say it’s all that good of a movie, either. All I can say is that it’s ok, and I really wish it was more than that. The worst part of it is that I can see a great movie somewhere, but it’s covered by so much garbage and stupid plot arcs and unnecessary scenes. It’s devastating to see a movie with so many great scenes get dragged into mediocrity because of poor directorial choices and a screenplay that doesn’t make much sense. DC certainly has some work to do.

Gone Baby Gone – Review

25 Jun

Ben Affleck’s career has had plenty of ups and downs. As far as acting goes, he hasn’t really established himself as a critical success. Sure, he’s been in a lot of blockbuster movies, but a lot have been critically panned. As far as a writer and director, he has had much better luck, most recently with his Academy Award winning film Argo. His directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, is also a deeply moving film with incredible characters, stunning realism, and powerful decisions where there may not actually be a morally decent choice.

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In a close knit neighborhood of Boston, four year old Amanda McCready is kidnapped, causing a media circus. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are hired to work in unison with a police task force run by Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman). Along with Detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton), the private investigators dig deeper and deeper into the seedy underworld of the neighborhood in order to find out who and why has this young girl. As more secrets are uncovered, Patrick and his team learn that Amanda’s mother Helene (Amy Ryan) has more enemies and vices that she originally led everyone to believe, putting all involved in finding the girl in a much more hopeless and dangerous situation.

A style that Affleck seems to use with great skill is one that can almost be compared to Italian Neo-Realism. Everything looks very natural and real. Now, calling Gone Baby Gone a work of Neo-Realism would be very farfetched, but there are small comparisons. For one, many extras and smaller character roles are simply neighborhood residents that were chosen to be in the movie. Also, many interior shots look naturally lit and dim. These aesthetic choices puts the viewer into the environment of the city so deeply that everything seems more close and intimate. In a story that involves such real elements as the kidnapping of young children, family turmoil, and pedophilia, it’s much more effective to give the environment a more realistic look. That, and this entire film was shot on location. Affleck did the same thing in his later film, The Town, which also gives the viewer the pleasure of being thrust directly into the mise-en-scène.

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As for the more accomplished actors, all of the performances are spot on. Casey Affleck, as always, delivers a wonderfully in depth performance as a a troubled man, torn between different versions of morality. Michelle Monaghan, who isn’t in much of the movie, gives a solid performance as well that is on par with Casey’s depth. When the two are together, the chemistry feels perfect adding a layers to their history, which we unfortunately don’t know much about. The performance that seems to stand out, however, is Amy Ryan who was actually thought to be a Boston native on the set, and wasn’t allowed in. She is so deep into her character that it never feels like you’re watching an actor perform. That’s the real test of a professional actor, and she succeeds very, very well.

To connect Gone Baby Gone with Neorealism one more time, the characters of this movie are the lower and middle class workers who are just trying to survive with what was given to them. Relating to these people is easy, even though some of them don’t quite reflect the better side of society. They all seem like average people, even the characters played by more recognizable actors. The theme also doesn’t provide much hope for everyone. A characteristic of Neorealism is the feeling of being little in a much bigger world, and the inability to not really change the bigger picture. In Gone Baby Gone, the viewer notices this in the characters. As much as everyone tries, the problems just keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s a movie with very little hope, despite all of the efforts.

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Some may call this a depressing movie, and they would be right. It is. By the end, you find yourself asking more questions than when the conflict was originally presented, but not about the plot, but about your own morality and what is really right and wrong. The heroes and villains in this movie are not definite, save for a few particular characters who are downright dreadful. The questions asked in this movie are not easy and the controversial subject matter is difficult to stomach at times, but Ben Affleck and his cast and crew have created an undeniably moving piece of cinema that should be required viewing. It shows a dark, but all too real side of life that can not be ignored.

Argo – Review

1 Mar

It’s hardly even an opinion to say that truth is stranger than fiction. There are some things that happen in this world that make me stop and say, “How could someone ever think of this?” Now take a film like Argo, which is based on the true story of the Canadian Caper in 1980. Again, how could someone ever think of this? The story is so hard to believe that I almost dismissed the movie, but in light of overwhelmingly positive recognition, it was about time I gave it a watch.

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In 1979, the American Embassy in Iran gets over run by protestors who are demanding the return of their exiled leader for his prompt execution. Many workers are held as hostages, but six manage to escape and take refuge in the home of a Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). The CIA brings in an expert in exfil missions, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), who is at first unsure with how to go about a rescue mission. It comes to him one night. Enlisting the help of Hollywood make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Mendez heads over to Iran under the guise of a film maker doing location scouting. With the escapees acting the parts as film makers, the group attempts to leave Iran in plain sight.

Just writing this small summary, I find it hard to believe that a lot of this actually happened. A portion of it is definitely dramatized and the roles of the Canadians are downplayed while the roles of New Zealand and Britain are left out all together. Affleck said this was to keep the film at a quick, but steady pace and I can agree with him there. This movie does feel very Hollywood in a couple of ways. For one, it is partly a satire of the Hollywood business, but the entire feel of the movie feels like something that would have been made in the classical period in film history.

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It’s become quite clear with Gone Baby Gone and The Town that Ben Affleck is a much better director than he is actor. To me, his acting is nothing special, including his performance in this. His “character” is very passive in this movie up until the end, which was when I really got into his performance. His directing is impeccable, however. With Argo, my opinion about Affleck has only gotten better. This is a completely different film than his previous two, which only proves that he is versatile and can cover any number of genres. Speaking of genres, Argo quite clearly blends a few.

It’s actually kind of amazing how well this movie combines a human drama, a political thriller, and a satirical comedy. A lot of movies try to do this, but they unfortunately don’t always measure up to what they’re trying to accomplish. I feel like I reference Hitchcock a lot in this blog, but with good reason. Think of North by Northwest and how it’s a thriller, but also an excellent comedy. Argo works just as well. I laughed as hard as a bit my fingernails. The writing is sharp, witty, and smart.

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Argo has swept the awards this year, and I think with good reason. It was an excellent film about an incredible true story. It’s expertly written, directed, and acted (especially Goodman and Arkin). I’m content with this movie winning Best Picture, amongst other Academy Awards, but I can’t say it would’ve been my choice. I’m still going to stick with The Master as my favorite film of 2012. Still, Argo is an excellent movie that deserves all of the recognition it is receiving.

Good Will Hunting – Review

10 Jan

To me, Good Will Hunting is an example of an almost perfect movie. Almost every aspect of this piece of work fits wonderfully into place to create a moving, personal, yet funny coming of age story. The cast is excellent and the dialogue is superbly written. There are a few plot devices that keep it from reaching new filmic heights, and that’s very unfortunate concerning the rest of the movie.

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Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a janitor at MIT who is housing a very special talent that is discovered by Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård). Will is proficient in all kinds of math and has a vast amount of knowledge on history, literature, and art. Pretty much the whole intellectual package. The problem with Will is that he lacks the motivation to use it, a problem that seems to be deeper than Will originally thought. Lambeau recruits help in the form of  Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), his old college room mate who has had problems getting ahead himself. Together, the two men will dig deeper into Will’s subconscious, guarded better than Helm’s Deep, to find out what is really holding him back.

Saying this movie has a definite point A to point B plot wouldn’t be giving the film any justice. Damon and Ben Affleck have crafted an excellent screenplay that isn’t only about Will’s hidden potential. It’s about Will and everyone else that is affected by Will’s ability. This mainly is a coming of age story, but it’s also a story of how one person can have such an affect on someone’s life, even if they aren’t in it for very long. It’s an age old story that is perfected by Damon, Affleck, and director Gus van Sant.

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When I say that this is an age old story, I really mean that it fits a very specific formula. Right when the movie started, I pretty much knew exactly what was going to happen. I could call how and when the low points were going to happen, and when the solutions to these problems came along, I was not surprised. I’m not trying to say that all movies should be shocking or bring something new to the table, but I think following a dramatic formula to a T should be avoided.

I will say that Good Will Hunting takes this formula and through its exceptional performances and writing makes it something special. This movie set a new standard for how these kinds of movies should be made. What makes a film like Mallrats so special? It’s pretty conventional when it comes to its plot, but its characters and dialogue are what makes the movie great. Good Will Hunting does the same thing. Matt Damon and Robin Williams’ chemistry are excellent and you can forget you’re watching two actors playing a part. Stellan Skarsgård and Minnie Driver also give excellent performances. Casey Affleck may have a small part, but definitely outshines his brother, Ben.

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Good Will Hunting may not be perfect, but it certainly is better than the average drama. The characters and their chemistry burn greatly and their dialogue is whip smart. Thankfully, the movie never gets overdramatic, and there is always some comedy to give us a breath of fresh air after an intense scene. This has become a modern day classic since it was released in 1997, and it has aged very well. If, by some chance, you haven’t seen this movie, definitely give it a watch. It’s inspiring on many different levels.