Molly’s Game

Jessica Chastain

Idris Elba

reviewed by Tom-Tom

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Aaron Sorkin, now there’s a guy who knows how to start a story. Whether it’s the breathless first 20 minutes of The Social Network or the heart-stopping and brilliant opening to the HBO show The Newsroom, Sorkin is a wordsmith, able to make rapid fire dialogue with a fierce intensity but calculated intelligence spew out of the mouths of the world’s best actors. Molly’s Game is no different although this time, Sorkin himself is director. If you’re expecting what usually happens when a dialogue heavy writer becomes director, (ahem, recent QT films) fear not. He has learned much from the red carpet parade of directors whom have took on his screenplays: Danny Boyle, David Fincher, Rob Reiner, etc. His editing is just as sharp as his dialogue  feeding us well balanced pieces of the backstory and current story effortlessly but clearly eschewing the turgid mess a lesser writer or director could make of it all. Molly Bloom’s story is actually pretty simple the way Steve Jobs’ story was simple in the eponymous film directed by Danny Boyle. She was headed towards a law degree after failing to qualify for the Winter Olympics and learned how to set up and run poker games for which she is currently (in the film’s “present” timeline) standing trial. While the Jobs film relied more on dialogue and linear recounting of events leaving the viewer with a bit of emptiness at the end despite the high-paced build up and slight emotional payoff at the end, (“Did this really need to be filmed?” I remember recounting. Its passionate speeches would have been better served at the theater than on the big screen”), Molly’s Game doesn’t suffer from overfocus on dialogue as there are loads of things to keep our minds and eyes busy while Jessica Chastain laconically does voiceover for her past.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand

Sam Rockwell

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstar

I always keep an eye out for Academy Award nominated films. More often than not, there are some true originals which almost never actually win any of the big prizes. The terrible title of this film, which beats the likes of “Shawshank Redemption” for filmmakers trying to scare away anyone who might actually want to see the film, intrigued me. Plus it had Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell who always offer their own personal styles to pictures.

The premise is strong and we aren’t baby-fed the story. McDormand shows all in her dark and dour expressions as vivid as Willem Dafoe’s but much more subtly. We learn that her daughter was raped while dying and burned alive. We learn this because she rents the eponymous three billboards and lights them up in red with black letters tersely advising the Sheriff to make arrests and see her daughter gets some justice. Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) has got his own problems. He’s been terminally diagnosed with cancer. When he confides this tender detail to the grieving albeit no-nonsense Mildred Hayes (McDormand), she fires back, “I know. Everyone knows. That’s why I need your help now. You’re useless to me dead.” or something to that effect. Mildred is full of terse, potty mouthed one liners about the police and its treatment of the African American and LGBT community. There is comedy in the film but it is more a sad way of dealing with grief and one’s own death so I wouldn’t recommend going in with a “haha” comedy mentality. This is a much deeper film.

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Exorcist II: The Heretic

The Exorcist III has a great many champions and very few detractors. Even upon release, though not lauded as a classic (which Friedkin’s film indisputably is), it was warmly regarded as an unqualified success.

Exorcist II: The Heretic, on the other hand, saw very little love in 1977 and has seen very little love since. Mark Kermode of the BBC called John Boorman’s sequel “demonstrably the worst film ever made”. Michael Medved described it as “a thoroughly wretched piece of work”, while Vincent Canby called it a “desperate concoction” and Steven Scheuer opined that it was possibly “the worst sequel in the history of film.” William Friedkin himself thought it was “as bad as seeing a traffic accident” and recounted an incident in which enraged audience members chased the film’s terrified producers from a theatre ten minutes into a screening. He later referred to it as the product of a “demented mind”.

Given that John Boorman was the man who wrote and directed Zardoz, a film in which a bikini-clad Sean Connery hitches a ride on a megalithic flying head that spouts axioms like “The penis is evil!” while spitting up firearms to better facilitate errant war parties in their rape and murder campaigns, Friedkin may well have had a point. John Boorman did possess a demented mind, how else would we have Ned Beatty squealing like a pig under the duress of an uncongenial hillbilly? And how else would we have the grossly underrated Exorcist II?

Let me here add a caveat. I’ve only seen Exorcist II: The Heretic once, and a very long time ago at that. I may also have watched it during a Boorman-binge that I went on in the late noughties – a time at which I was particularly conducive to Boorman-barminess. So what follows is less a cleareyed review of Exorcist II than a run-through of my hazy recollections of the film – a hacky plot synopsis, in short – but this should in itself demonstrate why this movie is the absolute tits.

Half a decade after the events of the first film, Reagan MacNeil is a student at an elite dance academy. Or not. I can’t remember and it doesn’t matter. All is well, she has a special way with her students (perhaps she’s a teacher at an elite dance academy? I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter) and she is making the most of her new life in New York City. Re-enter Pazuzu, flying on the teeth of the wind all the way from sand-swept, sunset-tinged North Africa, to the strains of Ennio Morricone’s ebullient tribal score, hellbent on setting up shop once more in poor, post-pubescent, post-possessed Reagan. But never fear! Child psychologist (?) Louise Fletcher and moody priest Richard Burton are on hand to do battle with the Mesopotamic entity, or at the very least to lend Reagan some snazzy para-psychometrical headgear and wander from continent to continent in a bug-eyed stupor as the shit hits the fan. No lesser an actor than James Earl Jones also pops up, as a feather-clad warrior-cum-parasitologist, to dispense some interesting facts on the lifecycle of the locust and guide our heroes to the precipitous cliffside temple of their demonic adversary… All of this may or may not be in the film.

John Boorman’s decision to take The Exorcist’s story in a completely different direction (or run it completely off the rails, depending on your point of view) was bold, at least. Rather than return Reagan to her pea soup-vomiting, head-twirling, invective-spewing best, he delivered a glittery-eyed, rouge-cheeked succubus casting come-hither glances from a big, pink bed… During an earthquake… To a catatonic Richard Burton. Who could fail, at the very least, to be interested by this film? Why all the hate? Why did Mark Kermode claim that it took the original and “trashed it in a way that was on one level farcically stupid and on another level absolutely unforgiveable”? Why did Friedkin call it “a stupid mess by a dumb guy”?

Perhaps the film was too different. Maybe it wasn’t as slavishly faithful a rehashing of the sweet-child-turns-ugly-needs-priest-gets-priest-kills-priest formula as the people wanted. Quite possibly Boorman had too many ideas and too few people shouting, “No, John! No!” There are far worse people to not shout no to, however (Paul Schrader comes to mind), and far worse sequels than Exorcist II.

Fuck you Mark Kermode! Watch Exorcist II everybody!

Shin Gojira

Hasegawa Hiroshi

Ishihara Satomi

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The title for Shin Gojira is completely written in katakana, the Japanese phonetic alphabet usually reserved for foreign words or those whose Chinese character (or kanji) equivalent is so difficult, that using katakana or hiragana (the Japanese phonetic alphabet used for specifically Japanese words or words that have been in the Japanese language so long, their foreign origins have been forgotten like “tobacco”). Godzilla or gojira as he is known in Japan is also written in katakana as he has been since 1954 labeling him as something outre’, foreign, otherworldly. The use of kanji usually establishes, as with Greek or Latin roots what underlying meaning lies in any one word so the use of katakana in the shin of Shin Gojira leaves quite a lot open for interpretation. Does the film’s title mean New Godzilla, True Godzilla, Evolved Godzilla, The Relatives of Godzilla or all of the above?

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Ted 2

Mark Wahlberg

Amanda Seyfried

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstar

There are certain film characters you meet once and then the magic they possess runs its course leaving no room for successful continuation. Shrek was one such character and so is Ted. I’m sure you are now thinking of countless other likely candidates. The first Ted film was a gambit toeing the recently popular line drawn by Judd Apatow, Kevin Smith, and others balancing raunchy humor and characters with a big heart hiding behind (way, way behind in some cases) their profane language and obscene habits. Despite the absurdity of the premise, ie a Teddy Bear come to life, we felt for the characters and believed in their friendship which made the walking talking Teddy Bear aspect not merely shock value. The first film had some memorable and critical cameos which were jaw dropping and hilarious in their placement and timing. Unfortunately, that was long ago.

In Ted 2, after a remarkably beautiful opening wedding scene and a rather extended but very well composed, choreographed, and attired dance number by men in tuxes and top hats and long legged women in Broadway Showgirl attire complete with little Ted dancing along. This is Tony Prize level stuff and I couldn’t help but think it was wasted on the target audience: eg folks here to see a stoner/raunchy sex comedy. Seth MacFarlane has an affinity with Big Band that finds its way into his animated hit Family Guy, and here, at least only in the opening moments, we get a glimpse of this love of his. Fortunately (or unfortunately, perhaps) it itself is worth the price of admission.

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Pawn Sacrifice

Toby Maguire

Liev Schreiber

 reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarhalf star

Edward Zwick has made quite a few well researched, action packed, intelligent, and morally sound pictures from The Last Samurai to Blood Diamond. Here he levels the heft of his skills into the world of chess and the uncanny players therein. The American child prodigy Bobby Fischer, warts and all is performed in his various younger ages by a variety of talented child actors until being portrayed by Toby Maguire complete with tough New York accent. Fischer has to be the least likable role Maguire has taken on since the corrupt and abusive American soldier he played in The Good German. Chess is a game I’ve played for years without getting any better. I’m too impulsive to plan more than two or three moves ahead and I tend to concentrate too hard on my own strategy without accounting for that of my opponent’s which makes my own inevitable checkmate always a surprise. Bobby Fischer grows up never losing even once until he plays Carmine, the 25th best chess player in New York and loses. The experience shocks him. He replays every move in his head and sees what has gone wrong. He demands another game. And so continues the young prodigy’s rise in prominence. He’s not subtle about his skills. He is a braggart and a loudmouth but has the ability to support his quips. Unfortunately he occasionally suffers from paranoia, hypersensitivity to sound, and a general aversion to people in general. When he is winning, he is all confidence and energy. When his increasingly insane conditions for playing aren’t met, he whines and holes himself up in an apartment or hotel room listening to the taped ravings of the 1970’s version of the Westboro Baptist Church which raves about the “dangers” of Jews, Communists, etc and espouses equally drastic measures to “right” the world again. He sends rambling conspiracy theory ridden letters to his sister warning her about “Jew-owned New York.” In tears, when speaking with Fischer’s manager, Fischer’s sister wails, “He keeps talking about dangerous Jewish people. We’re Jewish. He’s Jewish!” Kudos to the filmmakers for keeping this very damaging side of Fischer in the film.

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Skyfall

Daniel Craig

Javier Bardem

starstarstarhalf star

007 had been at it for nearly 50 years when this film came about. It’s classic and innovative at the same time. It’s quite different from the previous Daniel Craig James Bond films thus far which seemed intent on shaving away everything down to the absolute bare essentials shedding the excesses of gadgetry and high spy living. While we won’t be seeing invisible cars or exploding pens anytime soon, it was nice to see the franchise being taken seriously. I, for one, missed the presence of Q (for Quartermaster we now learn) in the first two Craig films and it’s nice to see him (played with restraint and subtlety by the great Ben Whishaw) back in action here. Another vital part of the Bond franchise is reborn here but is such a refreshing surprise at the end that I’ll leave you to enjoy it/him/her.

The film opens with a chase through Istanbul foregoing the initial “Bond in the Crosshairs” intro customary to classic 007 flicks. It’s a daring chase on foot, car, motorscooter, and even atop a moving train. Bond is pursuing Patrice (Ola Rapace) an enemy agent in possession of the MI6 version of NOC list from the first Mission Impossible Film ie a list of embedded agents and their real names and faces. Bond is aided in his pursuit by Eve (the sassy and beautiful Naomie Harris) whose driving skills are top notch although her abilities as sniper could use a bit of work.  The film’s opening theme begins with the sultry sounds of Adele’s Skyfall which is the best Bond theme in years at least since the 90’s anyway. The opening sequence, too is beautifully dark and gothic.

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