Film Review: Live By Night (dir by Ben Affleck)


Remember Live By Night?

Released in December of 2016, Live By Night was one of those highly anticipated films that ended up bombing at the box office and leaving critics cold.  The anticipation was due to the fact that Live By Night was the first film that Ben Affleck had directed since Argo won best picture.  It was seen as Affleck’s next prestige picture, the one that would remind everyone that he was more than just the latest actor to be cast as Batman.  Live By Night was expected to be a huge Oscar contender.  As for why it bombed at the box office, that may have had something to do with the fact that Live By Night is not a very good film.

It’s a gangster film, one that takes place during prohibition.  Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is the most boring gangster in Boston.  Or, at least, he is until he falls for the wrong woman and he ends up having to flee down to Tampa.  Once down there, Joe sets himself up as the most boring gangster in Florida.  There’s all sorts of themes running through Live By Night — racial themes, economic themes, even some heavy-handed religious themes — but ultimately, the main impression that one gets from the film’s story is that Joe Coughlin was a very boring gangster.

Anyway, Joe gets involved in all sorts of corruption and violence.  He brings down his friend, Dion (Chris Messina), to help him out.  Whereas Joe is rational and dull, Dion is violent and dull.  You spend the entire movie waiting for the moment when Dion will turn on Joe but it never happens.  I guess that’s a good thing since Joe and Dion are busy battling the Klan.  Joe may be a 1920s gangster but he’s got the political and cultural outlook of a 21st century movie star.

Joe knows that prohibition is going to end someday, so he hopes to make money through opening up a casino.  Standing in the way of the casino is a prostitute-turned-evangelist named Loretta (Elle Fanning).  Loretta is the daughter of the local police chief (Chris Cooper), with whom Joe has an uneasy friendship.  You keep expecting this plot to go somewhere but it really doesn’t.  Loretta’s just kinda there.  That said, we do get a hilarious shot of a tearful Chris Cooper repeating the word repent over and over again so there is that.

Zoe Saldana is also just kind of there, playing Joe’s Cuban wife.  Again, you expect a lot to happen with Saldana’s character but, for the most part, she’s mostly just a plot device who exists solely so that Joe can have some sort of motivation beyond simply wanting to get rich.

It’s a big, sprawling film that never quite feels like an epic.  A huge part of the problem is that Ben Affleck the director is let down by Ben Affleck the actor.  Regardless of what’s happening in the scene, Affleck always has the same grim look on his face.  At times, it seems as if he’s literally been chiseled out of a marble and you find yourself wondering if he’s actually capable of any facial expression beyond glum annoyance.  A gangster film like this need a bigger-than-life protagonist but, as played by Affleck, Joe always seems to be in danger of vanishing into the scenery.

I think part of the problem is that Affleck’s previous films all dealt with places and subjects that Affleck felt comfortable with, perhaps because he could relate their stories to his own personal experiences.  Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town both took place exclusively in Boston.  Argo dealt with the film industry.  Live By Night is a period piece set in the South and Affleck is obviously lost from the minute Joe arrives in Florida.

Live By Night, I think, could have been a good movie if it had been directed by someone like Paul Thomas Anderson and maybe if an actor like Colin Farrell played the role of Joe.  But, as it is, it’s just a rather stolid and uninspiring gangster film.

A Movie A Day #122: The Lost Capone (1990, directed by John Gray)


Chicago.  1915.  Up-and-coming gangster Al Capone (Eric Roberts) berates his younger brother, Jimmy (Adrian Pasdar), for not being aggressive enough in a street fight.  Not wanting to follow his brothers into a life of organized crime, Jimmy runs away from home and eventually finds himself in Harmony, Nebraska.  Claiming to be a World War I vet named Richard Hart, Jimmy impresses everyone with both his marksmanship and his incorruptible nature.  Soon, the new Richard Hart has been named town marshal.  While Al Capone is taking over the Chicago rackets, Richard is keeping the town safe with his Native American deputy, Joseph Littlecloud (Jimmie F. Skaggs), and starting a family with the local school teacher, Kathleen (Ally Sheedy).  When illegal liquor from Chicago starts to show up on a nearby Indian reservation, Richard Hart comes into conflict with the Chicago Outfit and his secret is finally revealed.

There is a sliver of truth to this made-for-TV movie.  Al Capone really did have a brother named James, who ended up changing his name to Richard Hart and working as a prohibition agent in Nebraska.  Otherwise, the movie changes so many facts that it is hard to know where to begin.  In real life, Al and James Capone grew up in New York.  James, who was actually several years older than Al, ran away from home not to escape Al’s bullying but because he wanted to join the circus.  (Al was only 9 when James ran away.)  James changed his name to Richard Hart not to keep people from realizing that he was related to Al but because he admired silent screen cowboy William S. Hart.  Though James did work in law enforcement, he never came into conflict with Al Capone’s organization and, in fact, regularly visited Chicago.

The Lost Capone is a forgettable mix of western and gangster clichés, featuring a notably stiff performance from Adrian Pasdar in the lead role.  It does feature two of the strangest performances that I have ever seen.  Eric Roberts, complete with a phony scar, playing Al Capone is just as weird as it sounds, while Ally Sheedy plays a wholesome and always smiling teacher but delivers her lines in the same halting tone of voice that she used as the “basket case” in The Breakfast Club.

There is probably a good movie that could be made about the life of James Capone/Richard Hart but The Lost Capone is not it.

A Movie A Day #115: Zero Tolerance (1994, directed by Joseph Mehri)


In Zero Tolerance, Robert Patrick plays Jeff Douglas, an FBI agent who is sent down to Mexico to pick up a recently captured drug dealer.  Ray Manta (Titus Welliver) is the head of the White Hand drug cartel and he is not happy about having been arrested.  When Ray tells Jeff that his entire family is being held hostage and will be killed unless Ray is allowed to escape, Jeff demands that Ray give him his word that no harm will come to his wife and children.  Ray gives his “word of honor,” not realizing that his associates have already killed Jeff’s family.  Jeff is now out for revenge and he is not going to let the FBI, with its rules and procedures, stand in his way.  Jeff is not only out to get Ray.  He is also going to track down and kill every member of the White Hand, which includes everyone from Mick Fleetwood (yes, that Mick Fleetwood) to Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter (playing almost exactly the same role that he played in Marked for Death and Only The Strong) to Ator the Invincible himself, Miles O’Keeffe.

(How much keeffe is in this movie?  Miles O’Keeffe!  Ha ha, that never gets old!)

Robert Patrick is one of those actors who can make any movie worth watching and Zero Tolerance, an otherwise forgettable revenge flick, is proof of that.  No one plays a revenge seeking killing machine with as much panache as Robert Patrick.  After his family is killed, Patrick crosses the country, stopping everywhere from New Orleans and Las Vegas and seeing vengeance with a determination that almost makes Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood seem mellow by comparison.  This is the type of movie where Robert Patrick literally drives his car through the side of a helicopter and, even after the helicopter explodes, still emerges unscathed.

There’s only one man who could pull that off.

Robert Patrick.

A Movie A Day #103: Mobsters (1991, directed by Michael Karbelnikoff)


The place is New York City.  The time is the prohibition era.  The rackets are controlled by powerful but out of touch gangsters like Arnold Rothstein (F. Murray Abraham), Joe Masseria (Anthony Quinn), and Salvatore Faranzano (Michael Gambon).  However, four young gangsters — Lucky Luciano (Christian Slater), Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey), Frank Costello (Costas Mandylor), and Bugsy Siegel (Richard Greico) — have an ambitious plan.  They want to form a commission that will bring together all of the Mafia families as a national force.  To do it, they will have to push aside and eliminate the old-fashioned mob bosses and take over the rackets themselves.  When Masseria and Faranzano go to war over who will be the new Boss of all Bosses, Luciano and Lansky seen their opportunity to strike.

I love a good gangster movie, which is one reason that I have never cared much for Mobsters. Mobsters was made in the wake of the success of Young Guns and, like that film, it attempted to breathe new life into an old genre by casting teen heartthrobs in the lead roles.  There was nothing inherently wrong with that because Luciano, Lansky, and Seigel were all still young men, in their 20s and early 30s, when they took over the Mafia.  (Costello was 39 but Mobsters presents him as being the same age as they other three.)  The problem was that none of the four main actors were in the least bit convincing as 1920s mobsters.  Christian Slater was the least convincing Sicilian since Alex Cord in The Brotherhood.  As for the supporting cast, actors like Chris Penn and F. Murray Abraham did the best that they could with the material but Anthony Quinn’s performance in Mobsters was the worst of his long and distinguished career.

Fans of Twin Peaks will note that Lara Flynn Boyle had a small role in Mobsters.  She played Luciano’s girlfriend.  Unfortunately, other than looking pretty and dying tragically, she was not given much to do in this disappointing gangster film.

Trailer: Transformers: Age of Extinction (Official)


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I know, I know, another Transformers extravaganza coming this summer. As if the last two wasn’t enough to swear me off the franchise. Well, guess what this one doesn’t have any of the actors from the first three and drops in a whole bunch of new ones to play war with the aforementioned robots who are more than meets the eye.

Instead of Shia LaBeouf in the lead role screaming like the most unheroic lead ever we get the manly man Mark Walhberg himself playing a Texas dad out to protect his daughter from the men in black while jump starting a rusted Optimus Prime on his spare time.

This fourth film looks to be a new start for the franchise that we all thought ended with a bang and a whimper with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but there were still more Transformers that never made it to the bigscreen and what better way to do that than make a fourth. So, it looks like fans finally get Grimlock and the Dinobots plus a Decepticon that looks to be Galvatron.

Again, I will be seeing this (it’s like the scifi blockbuster version of Saw) just for the fact that it doesn’t have Shia LaBeouf for people to listen to scream shrilly every two or three minutes. Plus, it has Optimus Prime wrestling and then riding Grimlock.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is ready to make our eyes explode on June 27, 2014.

Super Bowl Trailer: Transformers: Age of Extinction


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Yes, it is another Transformers film about to descend on the population this coming summer.

Could we finally get a quality one after the last two which got worse and worse with each new entry? I can’t say for sure, but this fourth entry does have one thing going for it and that is the lack of Shia LaBeouf. Instead we get Mark Walhberg in the lead human role. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee return with new robots filling in the rest.

If there’s one thing about Transformers: Age of Extinction that will get me to see it once it comes out is the fact that it has Grimlock and his merry band of Dinobots finally making their appearance. Yes, Grimlock and that’s all I need.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is set for a July 27, 2014 release date.

Film Review: Man on a Ledge (dir. Asger Leth)


The newly released film Man on a Ledge is about a man (played by Sam Worthington) who checks into a hotel room in New York City and then climbs out on a ledge and threatens to jump off unless a specific hostage negotiator is brought in to talk him off the ledge.  We quickly discover that Worthington isn’t just a depressed jumper.  Instead, he’s got a really lengthy and overly complicated back story.  It turns out that he’s a former detective who used to moonlight for a venture capitalist and then one day, he was accused of stealing a priceless diamond and destroying it.  This resulted in him getting sentenced to 25 years in prison but when his father is reported to have died, Worthington is released from jail for a day so he can attend the funeral.  So, Worthington escapes and then ends up out on a ledge as part of a massively complicated plan to prove his innocence.  His name, by the way, is Nick because people named Alvin are never the stars of action movies.

Meanwhile, the cop that Nick demands to speak with is a hardened, veteran hostage negotiator and she’s played by Elizabeth Banks.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Anyway, Nick asks for her because he knows that the last guy she tried to talk out of jumping apparently jumped off a bridge.  Since Banks failed her last time out, her efforts to talk Nick off the ledge are cautiously observed by another detective, this one played by Edward Burns.  Banks is totally and completely miscast here and she has next to no chemistry with Sam Worthington.  However, she does have really good chemistry with Edward Burns.  Seriously, they would make a really cute couple and I would buy any issue of Us Weekly that had them on the cover.

Meanwhile, the guy that Nick is accused of stealing from just happens to be in a building across the street where he’s conducting some sort of generically evil business deal.  He’s a painfully thin, almost sickly man and, whenever he was on screen, I found myself wondering how his head managed to stay balanced on his body.  At first, I thought maybe it was the Red Skull waiting for the sequel to Capt. America to start filming.  However, on closer inspection, he turned out to be respected character actor Ed Harris.  In this film, Harris plays a ruthless capitalist who would have gone bankrupt if not for the insurance money he got as a result of Nick supposedly destroying that diamond.  Anyway, Harris appears to be enjoying playing a bad guy and he’s so over-the-top in his evil that you don’t really mind that he’s another one of those “I-should-kill-you-now-but-first-we-talk” type of villains.

Meanwhile, there’s two other people who are taking advantage of all the chaos caused by the man on the ledge to break into Harris’s building.  They’re played by Jamie Bell (who looks a lot like Casey Affleck in this film) and telenova veteran Genesis Rodriguez.  As you watch Bell and Rodriguez sliding down heating ducts and scaling elevator shafts, you can’t help but marvel at just how overly complicated everyone is making things.  Still, Bell and Rodriguez have a lot of chemistry and they’re fun to watch.

Meanwhile, NYC television reporter (played by Kyra Sedgwick) is running around the streets of New York, asking random bystanders how they feel about the prospect of Nick jumping.  Apparently, she is an old enemy of Elizabeth Banks’ though that whole plot line is dropped as soon as its brought up.  Still, the audience in my theater chuckled when Sedgwick dramatically rolled her r’s while introducing herself as “Suzie Morales.”

Meanwhile, there’s a bearded guy watching Nick up on the roof and he suddenly decides to go all Occupy Wall Street on the movie’s ass and starts shouting, “Attica!  Attica!” before then blaming it all on the 1%.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t put on Guy Fawkes mask at any point during all of this.

Meanwhile, the entire city of New York is obsessed with the man on the ledge and, if nothing else, they all end up acting exactly the way that people who have never been to New York City (like me) assume that people in New York act.  By that, I mean all the extras are all like, “Yo, Paulie!  There’s some man on a ledge!  Stop breaking my balls!” 

Meanwhile, there’s one final twist to the film’s plot that I can’t share without spoiling the film.  So, I’ll just say that it involved someone working at the hotel and I figured out the twist about 3 minutes after this character first appeared.  This is one of those twists that if you can’t figure out on your own then you need to hang your head in shame.  Seriously.

This film packs a lot of plot into 90 minutes of screen time and, not surprisingly, the end result is a bit of a mess.  This is one of those films where every single character attempts to solve his or her problems in the most needlessly complicated and implausible way possible.  Still, almost despite myself, I enjoyed Man on a Ledge.  It’s just all so silly and stupid that it becomes oddly likable.  The film also has two nicely done chase scenes and some of the scenes where Nick attempts to manuever about on the ledge made me go, “Agck!”

Seriously, I don’t do heights.