Midway through “The Accountant” an icy voice phones a treasury agent and asks “Do you like puzzles?” In the case of “The accountant” the puzzle presented is both intriguing and entertaining. Ben Affleck plays an adult living with a highly functional form of autism. He loves numbers and working out of a strip mall lives a secret life as the guy who can straighten out the books of the most frightening of criminals. He’s also a secret superhero, having been taught the art of self defense by his tough military father. The boy develops lethal hands. And he’s a sharpshooter. Assigned to figure out a money drain in a high tech medical firm headed by John Litgow, the Accountant gets into a gang war with forces that don’t want him to get to the bottom of their scheme. The mix of back stories and the streams of several intriguing plots keep this story going. As with many movies the final act turns into the usual shoot out, with a twist some may find a bit of a groaner. I like this because of the fun of watching it come together. Affleck nails this role and the movie’s full of great actors at the top of their game. “The Accountant” also expands knowledge of autism and does it in a respectful manner. 3 stars rated “R” for violence. Does it deliver what it promises? Great thriller with a just ok ending. Is it entertaining? Well worth watching. Is it worth the price of admission? This could be the start of a great series.
“The Birth of a Nation” arrives during a sensitive time including a polarizing Presidential campaign and the cry of the often oppressed that “Black Lives Matter.” Nate Parker stars and directs the story of the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion in Southern Virginia. If you don’t know the story, plug it into Google and learn that the smart gifted Turner fought against the injustice of slavery, leading an army of slaves in a night of murder and mayhem. Turner learns to read mainly the bible and as a young man preaches to his fellow slaves. His owner, played by Armie Hammer, discovers Turner can earn him money by traveling to other plantations to preach and thereby “quiet” other slaves. The conditions Turner sees and his discipline (tied to a post and beaten with a bull whip and leave outside over night) for baptizing a white man, turn Turner to violence. As Turner, Nate Parker shows charisma and acting chops. Penelope Ann Miller, whom I haven’t seen in a movie in years, captures the inequity of slave holders as she first helps Turner than turns a blind eye to his situation. Jackie Earl Haley, as usual, makes a great villain and gives the viewers an outlet for our outrage. “The Birth of a Nation” announces itself as an important film. It borrows the title of the 1920’s D.W. Griffith silent epic, the story of the rise of the Klan after Reconstruction. Given the state of our culture, don’t expect any enjoyment watching “The Birth of a Nation.” Do expect a moving and often unnerving experience. 3 1/2 stars – Rated “R” for violence, nudity, and unnerving situations. Does it deliver what it promises? An important story for our time. Is it entertaining? Powerful but often hard to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? One of this year’s most important movies.
“The Girl on the Train” opens with a Hitchcock flourish. Emily Blunt dreamily and as it turns out drunkenly tells us her story in voice over as she rides the commuter train into Manhattan. Blunt makes the most of this role, a woman obsessed with beautiful Haley Bennett who happens to work as the nanny for her ex-husband Justin Theroux and his new wife Rebecca Ferguson. In a series of flashbacks told from other character’s point of view we learn that the beautiful married nanny has a bit of a sex addiction as well as an adulterous lover. Suddenly, the nanny disappears, and the story becomes “who done it?” We suspect Blunt but of course since this is a movie we move her down the list of suspects which includes a psychiatrist, a husband, and Blunt’s ex-husband and maybe even his new wife. “The Girl on the Train” begins with wonderful atmosphere and a cloud of mystery, but in the final third the who done it feels forced and a little cheesy. A couple of twists at the end had the unintended effect of making the audience laugh. Still, I like this kind of movie and I like this movie in particular. Just don’t expect greatness. Tate Taylor directs and I like his work. Maybe in a future film he’ll master the Hitchcock touch. “The Girl on the Train” Rated “R” for nudity, violence, language, and murder. Does it deliver what it promises? A beach book mystery. Is it entertaining? Mysterious and sexy with an ending that doesn’t quite match. Is it worth the price of admission. Sometimes a movie doesn’t have to be great to be great fun.
“American Honey” feels like a documentary. British director Andrea Arnold follows a group of magazine sales gypsies for some two and a half hours as they crisscross the America of Interstate Highway franchises. Many of the actors are non professionals including lead actress Sasha Lane. She commands your attention as a young woman left by a strung out mother to watch over her young siblings. The opening segment finds Sasha diving into a grocery store dumpster looking for food for her siblings, a scene that brilliantly telegraphs her circumstance. A van load of older teens pulls into a parking lot where she makes eye contact with Shia LeBeouf. He recruits and trains her in magazine sales and soon she leaves her siblings for life on the road. LeBeouf teaches her to make up stories and invent charities and incidentally how to get away with a little thieving. An encounter with rich middle-aged cowboys and a visit to an oil field comes close to prostitution. Riley Keough manages the sales force with techniques right out “Lord of the Flies.” She’s a redneck terror who doesn’t like the attention LeBeouf pays Sasha. “American Honey” captures the grit and crud and freedom of the American road. I’m still thinking about these lost kids, and I plan to watch for Sasha Lane and Riley Keough–together they make “American Honey” unforgettable. Does it deliver what it promises? Gritty documentary-style on the road story. Is it entertaining? Not fun to watch but compelling, even if a little too long. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year’s most powerful.
Mark Wahlberg plays a hard-working hero in “Deepwater Horizon” the recreation of the 2010 disaster off the coast of Louisiana that went down in history as America’s worst environmental hazard. The filmmakers including director Peter Berg want you to remember that eleven workers died when the rig blew up most likely because of short cuts taken by British Petroleum and the subcontractors working for it. Wahlberg has a long list of credits including “Lone Survivor” where he survives long odds to live another day. His character, Mike Williams, worked as chief electronic technician and saved several lives the night of April, 2010. “Deepwater Horizon” gets a nice boost from Kurt Russell as the rig crew chief with a talent for speaking truth to power. John Malkovich plays yet another villain, in this case a Louisiana born executive steeped in Cajun culture but more interested in saving a few dollars for BP than in the work and input of his men. At this stage, when Malkovich turns up in almost any movie, we viewers know he’s going the story’s villain. Soon enough the well blows and the destruction begins. “Deepwater” at its heart remains an old school disaster story. The end credits include an update on the fate of the executives blamed for the disaster, and the fate of the men and women who scrambled for their lives as a result. I’m not sure anything has changed beyond the giant fines assessed to BP and the money spent on clean up. Don’t expect much beyond a recreation of the event in “Deepwater Horizon’ but do expect another heroic admirable role for Mark Wahlberg, plus a nice turn for Kurt Russell, and the usual slimy bad guy you love to hate thanks to John Malkovich. Kate Hudson appears as Wahlberg’s wife, but I never believed her Louisiana accent or country girl act. 2 1/2 stars PG-13 for intense situations. Does it deliver what it promises? Disaster story. Is it entertaining? Straightforward. Is it worth the price of admission? A cautionary tale sometimes hard to watch.
ESPN found the story of Phiona Mutesi, a ten-year old chess wizard whose skills help her rise above the poverty of her situation in modern-day Uganda. The movie based on this story inspires and lifts up and fills all the needs of a family film. Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o plays Phiona’s hard scrabble mother, trying to keep her family together in the face of dire poverty. As the chess whiz, Madina Nalwanga provides a winning performance encouraging the audience to get on her side. The excellent actor David Oyelowo (best known as Martin Luther King in “Selma”) plays the youth worker who encourages young Phiona to follow her dream. “Queen of Katwe” takes its time telling this story. But the movie successfully gives those of us who find chess a mystery enough information to follow the moves. Director Mira Nair tells the story with a sure hand. She builds to a satisfying conclusion and follows the final credits pairing the real people with the actors who play them. The end credits create one of the most satisfying scenes in recent memory. 3 stars PG family fare. Does it deliver what it promises? Uplifting family story. Is it entertaining? A little slow but worth watching. Is it worth the price of admission? Very much.
You have to wait until the closing credits but it’s worth it to hear the stirring music from the 1960 version of “The Magnificent Seven.” Denzel Washington looks pretty cool on a black horse with a black hat wearing an all black outfit as the settlers of a small town beg him to bring them justice and revenge. Old school Peter Sarsgaard does everything but twirl his mustache as he routs the good farmers of Rose Creek out of his town so he can mine it for gold and plunder. Farm wife Haley Bennett finds Denzel after Sarsgaard kills her husband in cold blood for talking back. Washington recruits a diverse bunch including an Indian, a Mexican, a Chinese guy, a Confederate soldier, a mountain hermit, and a wise cracking comic played by Chris Pratt. I almost didn’t recognize Vincent D’Onofrio as the mountain hermit. Ethan Hawke adds a few good scenes as an ex Confederate marksman fed up with killings. “The Magnificent Seven” assembles its team and the fight begins. Considering the great actors and the beautiful scenery I thought something beyond cause and effect might develop. The end credits include the wonderful classic music. That music is about as close as this remake gets to anything classic. Does it deliver what it promises? Disappointing remake of a classic. Is it entertaining? One dimensional. Is it worth the price of admission? Not really.
“The Dressmaker” opened this year’s Washington D.C. International Film Festival, an appropriate choice for a quirky foreign film (made in Australia) starring a well known actress Kate Winslet with a supporting role for the great Judy Davis. This quirky story begins as Winslet returns to her backwoods village in help her looney mother and settle some scores, including taking the blame as a child for something she did not do. Winslet settles those scores with her sewing machine, stitching exquisite gowns for villagers she hates. Along the way she catches the eye of international hunk Liam Hemsworth. “The Dressmaker” aims for quirky fun but never gets enough speed to bring the viewer along. Most of the time the story makes little sense and many of the so-called comic moments fall flat. Winslet looks great, and Davis is a wonderful actress and many people find Hemsworth attractive. What are they doing in this? Does it deliver what it promises? Quirky comedy but not quirky enough. Is it entertaining? Fitfully funny. Is it worth the price of admission? Skip it.
The story of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency computer expert who went public with the agency’s ability to track almost anyone in the world, seems right up Oliver Stone’s alley. Stone, famous or infamous for historically based films including “JFK” has at the very least a love of the paranoid. “Snowden” implies that sometimes even the paranoid know what they’re talking about. The film tells the story of Snowden’s life in a straightforward manner, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Snowden as one of those young people who seem to have been born old. Dropping out of high school, Edward Snowden joins the Marines only to discover his leg bones can’t take the physical stress demanded. He applies to the CIA and finds a mentor played to the Orwellian hilt by Rhys Ifans and a fellow computer nerd played by Nicholas Cage. Together they help him find his way into the NSA. Shailene Woodley adds more tension as Snowden’s girlfriend. Her liberal beliefs and outlook challenge him. It will take years and probably decades to determine if Edward Snowden is a patriotic whistleblower or a government traitor. Stone comes down on the side of whistleblower but leaves enough room for you to decide. Does it deliver what it promises? Real life thriller. Is it entertaining? A little long and sometimes dull. Is it worth the price of admission. I get the feeling this might have been better told as trumped up fiction rather than biography.
I didn’t expect much from the latest Bridget Jones adventure, after all the series is fifteen years old, the sequel a few years later flopped, and Rene Zellweger hasn’t made a movie in years. So I am most surprised to report that I laughed and found this reboot enjoyable. This episode finds Zellweger as Bridget a little older and now alone after breaking up with Colin Firth aka Mr. Darcy. Now 43 — and let’s insert here that it’s nice to see a film centered on an over 40 woman — Bridget takes a fling at a weekend glamour camping event and winds up in the sack with American millionaire Patrick Dempsey. A few days later she runs into Firth, and again magic happens. And then, she’s pregnant and we’re not sure who’s the father or how this will come out, but thanks to some very funny writing (some of it by co-star Emma Thompson who plays Bridget’s ob-gyn) and a great gag toward the end, “Bridget Jones’ Baby” is great fun. Missing in action is Hugh Grant who figured prominently in the original, but the filmmakers even dish up a surprise involving him. Does it deliver what it promises? Update of a fifteen year old comedy. Is it entertaining? Surprisingly funny. Is it worth the price of admission? Sometimes fun is enough.