Film Review: Billionaire Boys Club (dir by James Cox)


Have patience.  This is kind of a long story.

Billionaire Boys Club, a fact-based film about two murders that occurred back in the greed and cocaine-filled 80s, was first announced in 2010.  After five years of pre-production, the film started shooting in 2015.  It featured up-and-coming stars Ansel Elgort and Taron Egerton in the lead roles and Emma Roberts in a key supporting role.  It also featured a certain two-time Oscar-winning actor, who we will talk about shortly.  There was speculation that Billionaire Boys Club could be an Oscar contender.  At the very least, that two-time Oscar-winning actor might pick up another supporting nomination.  Shooting started in December of 2015 and wrapped in January of 2016.

And then …. nothing.

What happened?

Kevin Spacey happened.  On October 29th, 2017, Anthony Rapp told how, when he was 14, an intoxicated Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance towards him.  Subsequently, 15 other people came forward with stories about Spacey making similar advances towards them.  At the time, the Oscar-wining actor had key supporting roles in two upcoming films: All The Money In The World and Billionaire Boys Club.  The producers of All The Money In The World replaced Spacey with Christopher Plummer and hastily refilmed all of his scenes.

Unfortunately, that really wasn’t an option for the producers of Billionaire Boys Club.  Whereas Spacey’s role in All The Money In The World was basically an extended cameo, he was a key part of Billionare Boys Club.  Spacey had been cast as Ron Levin, a flamboyant con man whose murder led to the collapse of an 80s investment firm.  There was really no feasible way to replace Spacey without reshooting the majority of the film.  As a result, Billionaire Boys Club sat a while in limbo before finally getting an extremely limited release back in July.  On opening day, the film made a total of $126.  (The final weekend gross was $618.)

As for the film itself, the behind the scenes drama is far more interesting than anything that actually happens on screen.  Elgort and Egerton play Joe Hunt and Dean Karny, two middle-class guys who want to be rich in the 80s.  They do this by starting an investment firm called Billionaire Boys Club and, for a few months, everything seems to be perfect.  They appear to be making money.  They drive nice cars and live in big mansions and throw big parties.  There’s all the usual stuff that you expect to see in films about rich twentysomethings: cocaine, swimming pools, black lingerie, and fast cars.  In fact, that’s kind of the problem with the film.  There’s nothing surprising about what happens to Joe and Dean.  If you’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street, you’ve seen it all before.  In fact, if anything, the film’s recreation of greed-fueled decadence is almost too tame.  I mean, sure — we get the shot of the lines of cocaine getting snorted off a counter top but it’s hardly the mountain of coke that usually shows up in a movie like this.  If anything, this movie needed more cocaine.

Of course, everything eventually falls apart.  It turns out that Ron Levin, their main financial backer, was actually a con man who had managed to trick everyone into thinking that he was a millionaire.  In the end, it all leads to two murders, one prison sentence, and one new life in the witness protection program.

The film tries to critique the culture of greed but it fails because it never seems to understand why that culture would be so attractive to two guys like Joe and Dean in the first place.  Despite the efforts of Elgort and Egerton, Joe and Dean just come across as being two ciphers who maybe watched Wall Street one too many times.  It’s never clear what made these two click or why they were able to trick so many people into believing in them.  Unlike something like The Wolf of Wall Street, Billionaire Boys Club is so busy scolding everyone for being greedy that it never acknowledges that being rich can also be a lot of fun.  (It doesn’t help that Billionaire Boys Club features first person narration, which often leads to the film telling us what it should be showing us.)

As for Kevin Spacey, he gave the same performance that he gave in any number of similar films.  He’s arch and sarcastic and sometimes ambiguously flamboyant.  He gets upset whenever anyone says anything against his dog.  When he announces that he’s a “hustler” and brags about how he can get away with anything because he’s convinced people that he’s something that he’s not, it’s hard not to cringe.  It’s not really a bad performance, as much as it just kind of a predictable one.  It feels destined to be remembered only for being Spacey’s final appearance in a feature film.

Billionaire Boys Club will be making its Showtime premiere later tonight.  It’s not a terrible film but it’s not a particularly memorable one either.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Aladdin, Shoplifters, Jonathan, The Best of Enemies


On May 24th, 2019, Disney will be releasing their live action remake of Aladdin.  Earlier this week, they released this brief but intriguing teaser.  It leads off this week’s trailer round-up.

Shoplifters is Japan’s official submission for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.  The film, about a poverty-stricken family in Japan, won the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and will be released into theaters on November 23rd.

Starring Ansel Elgort, Jonathan is a science fiction film about two minds sharing one body.  Jonathan is in control during the day while Jon is in control during the night.  This movie is set to be released on November 16th.

The Best of Enemies tells the true story of the unlikely friendship between civil rights activist Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) and KKK leader, C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell).  This film is set to be released on April 5th, 2019.

Other Trailers Released This Week:

 

Here’s The Rather Awkward Trailer For Billionaire Boys Club!


Billionaire Boys Club is an upcoming film that’s based on a true life murder.  In the 1980s, two wealthy young men murdered a con artist named Ron Levin.  The film was first expected to be released in 2017 but then it got pushed back by a few months.  That’s rarely a good sign but I still plan on seeing the film because I enjoy true crime reenactments and, at the very least, I would imagine there would be a lot of fun 80s music on the film’s soundtrack.

That said, the trailer is totally awkward because of the presence of Kevin Spacey in the role of Ron Levin.  I saw one comment on YouTube from someone declaring, “It’s cool to see Kevin on screen again.”  Of course, what needs to be remembered is that this film was shot in December of 2015, long before Anthony Rapp and several others came forward with stories of decades of sexual harassment and abuse at Spacey’s hands.  In fact, this film was completed long before Spacey started work on All The Money In The World.  While Christopher Plummer was busy reshooting Spacey’s scenes in that film, Billionaire Boys Club was sitting on the shelf.

Anyway, this film is finally going to be released in August.  Interestingly enough, Levin’s murderer will be played by Ansel Elgort, who previously co-starred with Spacey in Baby Driver.  I’ll probably see the film, though perhaps not in theaters.

Here’s the trailer:

Here Are The Typically Strange Golden Globe Nominations!


“I’ll show you a pair of golden globes!”

Yes, I know, I know.  I say that every year.  I’ll probably say it next year as well.  There’s no joke that I can’t run into the ground.

Anyway, this year’s Golden Globe nominations were announced this morning and they are as strange as always.  I have to admit that I kinda hate the Golden Globes.  At least in my memory, there’s never been a year that the Golden Globes haven’t felt somewhat unsavory.  The general agreement seems to be that the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press will nominate anyone who is willing to come have a drink with them.  And yet, the Golden Globes continue to have such an outsized influence on who actually gets an Oscar nomination.

This year, the biggest shocks were:

  1. The Big Sick getting totally snubbed in every category, despite the fact that the Golden Globes specifically split their awards into Drama and Comedy categories and…
  2. …the totally unexpected strong showing of Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World.  It picked up nominations for Best Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Director (Ridley Scott), and Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer, who just finished filming his role a little less than a month ago).

So, does this make All The Money In The World a sudden Oscar contender?  Maybe.  But then again, maybe not.  It does make both the film and Plummer a part of the conversation.  If, in a few days from now, Plummer picks up a SAG nomination, he will definitely start to look more like a probable contender.

Anyway, here are the Golden Globe film nominations:

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
The Disaster Artist
Get Out
The Greatest Showman
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Best Motion Picture – Animated
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language
A Fantastic Woman, Chile First They Killed My Father, Cambodia
In the Fade, Germany
Loveless, Russia
The Square, Sweden

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep, The Post
Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Tom Hanks, The Post
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Helen Mirren, The Leisure Seeker
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture:
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Best Director – Motion Picture
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk”
Ridley Scott, All the Money in the World
Steven Spielberg, The Post

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Lady Bird
Molly’s Game
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Original Score – Motion Picture
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Original Song – Motion Picture
“Home,” from Ferdinand
“Mighty River,” from Mudbound
“Remember Me” from Coco
“The Star” from The Star
“This is Me,” The Greatest Showman

Film Review: Baby Driver (dir by Edgar Wright)


Baby Driver, the new film from director Edgar Wright, is awesome!

That’s the succinct way of putting it and, if you really want to fully enjoy this film, I suggest that you stop reading this review now. There’s no way that a review cannot, to a certain extent, spoil a movie.  Baby Driver is a kinetic blend of action, comedy, romance, and music and it is a movie that you should see without any preconceived notions and expectations.  It’s a movie that earns the right to surprise you with just how good and entertaining it is.  It’s a movie that you should experience fresh.

So, go see the movie.  Seriously, go right now.  GET OUT OF HERE AND SEE THE MOVIE!  This review will still be waiting for you when you get back.  Who knows?  Maybe, while you’re watching the movie, I’ll actually correct some of the typos.  Or maybe not.

Anyway, go away.  I’ll wait for you to return.

la dee da la dee da…

Okay, did you see the movie?  It’s really great, isn’t it?

As a result of the childhood car accident that killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been left with a permanent case of tinnitus.  He uses music to drown out the constant ringing in his ears.  There’s almost never a time that Baby isn’t listening to his ipod.  When we first see Baby, he’s sitting behind the wheel of a car, singing along with Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion.  The second time that we see him, he’s getting coffee while listening to Harlem Shuffle.  In a delirious homage to Singin’ In The Rain (and in a scene that puts the opening traffic jam of La La Land to shame), Baby literally dances across the streets of Los Angeles.  For Baby, every day is a musical.

Of course, Baby doesn’t just use music to block out the ringing.  He also uses the music (and an ever-present pair of sunglasses) to keep the world out.  He rarely speaks or even makes eye contact and, as long as he’s listening to his ipod, he has an excuse not to interact.  He doesn’t have to explain the small scars around his eyes or how he makes his money.  The few times that he does speak to people, it’s to record their voices, which he then turns into music.  Music and the driving are the only two ways this orphan can express his feelings.

When the movie begins, Baby appears to be close to only two men.  One is his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones).  Baby lives with Joseph, in an apartment where Baby regularly stashes thousands of dollars.  Joseph always watches in disapproval as Baby hides the money under the floorboards.  Joseph signs at Baby that he deserves better than the life he’s leading.  Baby always signs back that he’s only a few jobs away from being done.

Baby’s other father figure is Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Doc is a rich and connected man.  At times, he seems to sincerely care about Baby but there are other times when Doc is just as quick to threaten to kill him and everyone that he loves.  Doc plans bank robberies for a living.  Doc may change associates from robbery to robbery but one thing always remains consistent.  Baby is always his driver because Baby is the best.  As Doc explains it, the first time he saw Baby, he was stealing Doc’s Mercedes.  Baby drives for Doc as a way of paying off his debt to the older man but you still believe Baby’s sincerity when he tells Doc, “We’re a team.”  (One the film’s best throw-away jokes is the line where Doc reveals that he knows where Baby got the idea to say that.)

Things start to change for Baby when he meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress who appears to love music just as much he does.  For Baby and Debora, it’s love at first sight but Doc has one more job that he needs Baby for.  It’s their most dangerous job yet and, making thing even more complicated, are the three people who Doc has recruited to work with Baby.  Buddy (Jon Hamm) is a former wall street banker who is eager to prove what a badass he is.  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) is his wife, who enjoys talking about how many of their former partners have died.  And finally, there’s Bats (Jamie Foxx), a complete and total psycho who brags about never telling a single story that doesn’t end with someone getting killed.

Baby Driver is a propulsive blast of pure adrenaline, perhaps the closest that we will ever get to a genuine pulp musical.  The action scenes left me literally breathless.  I saw the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse and, before the film started, there was a clip of Edgar Wright listing his favorite car chases.  He listed all of the usual suspects, Bullitt, The French Connection, Mad Max: Thunder Road.  The chases scenes in Baby Driver can proudly be listed next to all of those scenes.  This is genuinely exciting crime film, featuring wonderfully over-the-top turns from Foxx, Hamm, and especially Spacey.

But you know what?  Baby Driver may be a great action film but what makes it special is that it’s also a film with a heart.  Rather bravely, Edgar Wright has not only made an action musical but he’s also mixed in a very sincere and unabashedly sentimental love story.  You never doubt for a second that Baby would give up everything — music, driving, even his life — for Debora.  The scenes between Baby and Debora are almost deliriously romantic.  Ansel Elgort and Lily James both share a very likable and very real chemistry.  You want things to work out for Debora and Baby.  You feel like they belong together and, when it looks like either Baby or Debora might be in danger, you worry for both of them.  As exciting as the film’s action sequences were, it was the ending that brought tears to my eyes and that was almost totally due to the performances of Elgort and James.

Baby Driver is one of the best films that I’ve seen so far this year.  See it this weekend!  If you’ve already seen it, see it again!  This film deserves to be rewarded.

 

 

Back to School Part II #50: Paper Towns (dir by Jake Schreier)


(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of Monday, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horror month!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

paper-towns

Looking at the film poster above, you could be forgiven for immediately thinking of The Fault In Our Stars.  Of course, some of that is because it says, “From the author of The Fault In Our Stars” and because it features half of Nat Wolff’s face.  (Wolff had a key supporting role in Fault.)  Beyond that, though, the poster feels as if it could have just as easily been used for The Fault In Our Stars.  Check out the intensity of the stares.  Though we may only see half of their faces, both of the pictured characters appear to be daring the viewer to dismiss their concerns as being mere “teen drama.”

When Paper Towns was released in 2015, it was repeatedly advertised as being the next Fault In Our Stars.  Paper Towns does share Fault‘s unapologetic earnestness and, in a few scenes, its sense of inescapable melancholy.  (As people get older, they tend to sentimentalize the years that came before and, as a result, they often forget how coming-of-age and intense regret often go hand-in-hand.)  But ultimately, though they’re both based on novels by John Green and feature Nat Wolff, Paper Towns tells a very different story from The Fault In Our Stars.

Nat Wolff stars as Quintin, who is better known as Q.  Quintin is a student at Jefferson Park High School in Orlando.  He’s the epitome of a good kid.  He’s shy, he’s polite, and, somewhat inevitably when you consider what is currently valued in American society, he’s not particularly popular at school.  He spends most of his time hanging out with his friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith).  And when he’s not hanging out with them, he’s pining for the most popular girl in school, Margo (Cara Delivingne).

Margo and Quintin have been neighbors since they were children.  When Margo’s family first moved in, she and Quintin became close friends but that friendship ended after they came across the body of a man who had committed suicide.  Traumatized, Margo drifted away from Quintin.  Now, nine years later, they are both seniors in high school.  Quintin silently loves Margo.  Margo rarely acknowledges his existence…

Or, that is, she doesn’t until the night that she suddenly climbs through Quintin’s bedroom window.  She explains that her boyfriend has been cheating on her.  She wants revenge on him and all of her friends, none of whom bothered to tell her what was going on.  A night of gleeful vandalism follows, ending with a romantic dance.

The next morning, Margo is gone.  She’s vanished and no one knows where she has gone.  However, Quintin is determined to find her and he is also convinced that she has left him a trail of clues that will lead him to her.  When he concludes that she’s gone to upstate New York, he recruits his friends (and one of Margo’s former friends) to go on a road trip with him.  Quintin is convinced that Margo will be waiting for him but, as always, the truth is a bit more complex…

While the plot description might make Paper Towns sound like a YA version of Gone Girl, it’s actually an achingly sincere and incredibly likable little film.  The entire cast has a good chemistry and their dialogue is clever without sounding artificial.  The best thing about Paper Towns is that it serves as a wonderful showcase for Nat Wolff, who is one of the best and most underrated young actors working today.  If you watch this film directly after watching Wolff convincingly play a self-destructive sociopath in Palo Alto, you’ll get a hint of Wolff’s range.

Paper Towns won’t make you cry like The Fault In Our Stars did but it’s still a pretty decent film.

Film Review: The Divergent Series: Allegiant (dir by Robert Schwentke)


Oh, Who Gives A Fuck About This Fucking Movie?

Oh, who cares?

I really hate to start my review with such a negative statement but seriously, after watching Allegiant today, I am now convinced that the Divergent movies are perhaps the least interesting film franchise since the Paranormal Activity sequels.  Not only are the films so derivative of The Hunger Games that I’m always surprised that Donald Sutherland isn’t lurking around in the background but they’ve also managed to waste the talents of some of the best actors of my generation.  When you’ve got performers like Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller at your disposal, there’s no excuse not to be interesting.

I watched Allegiant with my BFF Evelyn and I’ll admit right now that we talked throughout the entire movie.  We laughed at the most serious of moments.  When Jeff Daniels showed up, we had a very long discussion about how, when he’s good, Jeff Daniels is really good but when he’s bad, he manages to come across as being the most boring man on the planet.  When Miles Teller betrayed his allies, Evelyn said, “Again!?” and then she had to remind me that Miles Teller always ends up betraying everyone in every Divergent film.

(It makes you wonder why the Tris (played by Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) always bring Miles Teller with them as opposed to just killing him.  I suppose some of it might have to do with the fact that he’s Miles Teller and he’s a badass.  In fact, he probably should be playing Four.  He certainly has more chemistry with Shailene Woodley than Theo James does.  In fact, Theo James always looks like he’d rather be doing anything other than appearing in another goddamn Divergent film.)

And yes, Evelyn and I did get a few dirty looks from some people in the audience but you know what?  I fully understand that it’s rude to talk through a movie but oh my God, we had to do something.  Allegiant is such a boring movie.  The film moves slowly, as if the filmmakers don’t understand that everyone in the audience has seen enough YA adaptations to already know everything that’s going to happen.  If you want to truly understand what film critics mean when they say that a film is “draggy,” try to watch an entire Divergent film without standing up to stretch your legs or get something to drink.  Perhaps the biggest mistake you can make while watching Allegiant is to actually concentrate on what’s slowly playing out on screen.

The Divergent films aren’t terribly complicated and yet, I always find myself struggling to follow them.  They’re so bland and forgettable that I can never remember what happened in the previous film.  As Allegiant started, I was like, “Why is Naomi Watts in charge of Chicago now?  Oh yeah, Kate Winslet did die at the end of the last movie!”  And then I remembered that Evelyn was Four’s mother.

And then my BFF Evelyn (as opposed to the film’s Evelyn) said, “Four is a stupid name,” and I started laughing way too hard.  In fact, we made many jokes about Four’s nickname and then eventually, I remembered that he was called Four because he only has four fears.  But it took me a while to remember and, once I did remember, I couldn’t help but think about how stupid a backstory that was.

Anyway, the plot of the film is that the movie’s Evelyn is now in charge of Chicago but she’s turning out to be just as bad as the system that she’s replacing.  So, Tris, Four, and friends escape from Chicago and explore the barren landscape that surrounds the city.  Eventually, they are found by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare.  The Bureau is headed up by a boring guy named David (Jeff Daniels).  At first, David seems to be a good guy but then it turns out that the Bureau was behind the whole Faction experiment.  And now the Bureau wants to attack Chicago, wipe the slate clean, and start the experiment all over again.

Will Four and Tris go along with David’s plan or will they try to stop him?

At this point, who cares?

The thing that’s annoying about the Divergent films is that the storyline has potential.  At the heart of it all, the battle between the Factions and the Factionless has the potential to be a powerful, if simplistic, metaphor.  But the films are so plodding and take such an obvious approach that most of that potential is wasted.  Add to that, Shailene Woodley is a great actress.  In fact, I think it can be argued that she actually has more range than Jennifer Lawrence.  (Just check out her performance in The Spectacular Now.)  But the franchise has never known what to do with her uniquely off-center style.  Instead, it simply gives her speeches that feel as if they’ve been lifted from every other dystopian YA franchise.  The films insist on trying to make Shailene Woodley predictable and she deserves better on that.

As is typical of big franchise films nowadays, Allegiant is just part one of the Divergent finale and even the “to be continued” ending feels annoying because it’s so obviously lifted from every other franchise finale that’s ever been produced.  As with all the Divergent films, Allegiant never escapes the shadow of The Hunger Games.  The best that can be said about this franchise is that it will be over soon.  Hopefully, Shailene Woodley will be able to move onto a film more worthy of her considerable talents.