Posts Tagged ‘Jon Bernthal’

Dollar Signs and Empty Promises

Widows

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Jacki Weaver, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Carrie Coon, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Brian Tyree Henry, Garrett Dillahunt, Cynthia Erivo

In a labyrinth tale which at times is difficult to follow, 12 Years a Slave and Shame director Steve McQueen weaves a tangled web in the contemporary Chicago crime drama Widows featuring an outstanding ensemble cast including a brilliant Viola Davis, Oscar winner for Fences, Oscar nominees Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as a ruthless hitman, Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) as a pushy Polish mother along with Oscar winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies) as Colin Farrell’s hectic father Tom Mulligan.

What sets Widows apart is that McQueen frames the film as a gritty more complex version of Oceans 8 with pivotal roles for Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki (The Tale) and Michelle Rodriguez as three widowed woman who decided to band together and conspire to do a heist to rob from alderman Mulligan played by Colin Farrell who is in a turf war with his contestant a rising African-American politician Jamal Manning played by Brian Tyree Henry (Hotel Artemis).

Daniel Kaluuya plays the insanely evil and vindictive younger brother Jatemme Manning who feels nothing as he tortures a snitch in a wheelchair or makes victims sing before executing them at point blank range.

Director Steve McQueen frames every shot with a keen eye for detail especially the excellent scenes with Viola Davis as she comes to terms with her husband and thief Harry Rawlings explosive demise, shot in a series of intimate flashbacks scenes made more poignant that action star Liam Neeson plays the street savvy thief Rawlings.

What Widows does offer is a sophisticated treatment of contemporary American race relations, inner city corruption, poverty and crime of which there is plenty in this film.

McQueen lets certain scenes linger too long while allowing others to be cut so short that their explosive nature is electrifying. Where he is excels is at is controlling this massive and diverse ensemble cast.

Veteran star Robert Duvall has a fairly major role as the paternal Trumpesque figure Tom Mulligan who is trying to retain his family’s supremacy in the political environment despite his son Jack’s dubious double dealing whose only achievement is offering dollar signs and empty promises.

Equally refreshing is to see Fast and Furious star Michelle Rodriguez in a more substantial role as she battles to keep her family together after her Latino husband Carlos, a briefly seen cameo by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo perishes in Rawling’s heist that goes terribly wrong.

Widows gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and has a massive twist which should keep audiences riveted in a sprawling crime drama held together by superb acting. Highly recommended viewing.

For the Young and The Fast

Baby Driver

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Lily James, Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal

While the trailer is cool and the cast is hip, Baby Driver delivers some cool stunts as a sequential car chase film with its sweet looking leads Baby played by Ansel Elgort and Debora played by rising British star Lily James.

With a fabulous soundtrack, Edgar Wright’s crime caper Baby Driver, clearly inspired by Pulp Fiction is thrilling to watch, with a great fast-paced narrative, transplanting the action from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Georgia it does get weigh down by its own super-cool importance and could have been edited by at least 20 minutes.

Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, American Beauty) plays crime boss Doc who hires Baby played by Ansel Elgort as a bank robbery get a way driver because of his fast skills behind the wheel. That and the fact that Baby doesn’t get fazed by the traffic, the cops or his fellow henchman. Baby starts re-evaluating his crime driving does when he meets the sweet Southern diner waitress Debora played by Lily James (Cinderella, Wrath of the Titans).

Soon Baby wants out but has to contend with a new and vicious crew headed by the psychopathic Bats wonderfully played by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx (Ray) and equally threatened by the crazy gun-wielding Buddy played by Mad Men star Jon Hamm (The Town, Million Dollar Arm).

Audiences should expect lots of car chases, a really cool soundtrack and a crime caper with as many twists and turns as a Southern freeway. Despite the hype surrounding Baby Driver and its ode to all things Americana – The Cars, The Diner, the Freeway, director Edgar Wright places too much emphasis on trying to encode the narrative with a moral undertone which doesn’t quite work especially towards the end of the film.

Basically, despite all the violence, money grabbing and loads of action, the end result is crime doesn’t pay – which is ultimately a bizarre sentiment to portray in a film such as Baby Driver which glorifies crime, violence and greed, making all three look hip, cool and attainable especially in a fast car.

Baby Driver is a stylish and entertaining ride, but don’t expect the cinematic journey to live up to the hype. Nevertheless its still a fun way to spend an afternoon at the movies.

For the young and the fast, Baby Driver gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and recommended for audiences that enjoyed Pulp Fiction and all sorts of sleazy, pulpy crime thrillers which the Americans are so fond of making. The irony is that director Edgar Wright is British…

The music is the best thing in this action flick!

 

 

Solving the Jigsaw Puzzle

The Accountant

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Director: Gavin O’Connor

Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jean Smart, Alex Collins

American director Gavin O’Connor likes to show the sources of fraternal fiction in his films. His most notable film Warrior was about two estranged brothers who reconnect over their hapless and heavy drinking father, in an Oscar nominated performance by Nick Nolte, who trains both his sons in a mixed martial arts tournament in New Jersey.

Now with a bigger budget and sleek production design, O’Connor teams up with A-List star Ben Affleck in the tense action thriller The Accountant set in Chicago enhanced by crisp cinematography by Seamus McGarvey.

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Oscar winner Ben Affleck (Argo, Good Will Hunting) plays the autistic and highly efficient Christian Wolfe, a maths savant who is hired by a shady Robotics company to do their books. While accounting does not sound sexy, The Accountant makes spreadsheets lethal and thrilling as he soon uncovers massive discrepancies in the company’s financials with the assistance of Dana Cummings played by Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air).

Meanwhile, Treasurer Financial crimes investigator Ray King superbly played by Oscar winner J. K. Simmons (Whiplash) enlists the help of Marybeth Medina played by British actress Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Colombiana) to investigate the mysterious maths savant who has a perfect shot.

Medina soon uncovers who the real Christian Wolfe is, a money launderer and racketeer to some of the most dangerous organised crime syndicates internationally, the real reason why some of Wolfe’s clients can pay him in original paintings by Renoir and Jackson Pollock.

Through a series of flashbacks, O’Connor takes audiences into the troubled childhood of Wolfe who was brought up by his military trained father in a variety of exotic cities and teaches Christian and his younger brother Braxton how to survive in a hostile world.

The Accountant is a revealing action thriller held together by a tightly wound performance by Affleck as he battles not only the demons in his past but the current enemies in the shady corporate world, who will stop at nothing to silence the financial intrigue and cover up involved in taking a robotics company onto the New York stock exchange as a lucrative initial public offering.

Audiences should watch out for inventive cameo’s by Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor as Francis Silverberg and Fargo star Jean Smart as Rita Blackburn.

This is an engaging thriller which never loses hold of its numerous plot twists. The Accountant is an edge of your seat action movie in which all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle finally fit together at the end. An absorbing and gripping film with excellent sound effects.

 

Party Packing a Punch

We Are Your Friends

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Director: Max Joseph

Cast: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Shiloh Fernandez, Jonny Weston, Jon Bernthal, Emily Ratajkowski, Alex Shaffer

Taking place during a steaming summer in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, documentary filmmaker turned feature director Max Joseph’s fantastic trance film We are your Friends starring Zac Efron (The Paperboy, That Awkward Moment) as Cole an aspiring DJ who along with his friends are struggling to make ends meet, while attempting to make that one track which all DJ’s become famous for.

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Soon Cole falls under the influence of the much older and debauched DJ, James wonderfully played by Wes Bentley (American Beauty, Interstellar) who introduces him to a more affluent crowd of party goers. James’ assistant is Sophie played by new actress Emily Ratajkowski last seen in Entourage who naturally becomes attracted to the much cooler Cole.

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Yet its Cole’s group of San Fernando buddies which he ultimately falls back on including Ollie played by the gorgeous Shiloh Fernandez (Red Riding Hood, White Bird in a Blizzard) along with the hot-headed Mason played by Jonny Weston (Taken 3, Chasing Mavericks) and the youngest member Squirrel played by Alex Shaffer, which make up his brat pack.

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Hence this foursome form the rather inane title of the film We are your Friends. Look out for a supporting role by Jon Bernthal (Fury, The Wolf of Wall Street) as a morally dubious property tycoon Paige who takes advantage of poor people’s homes moments before foreclosure.

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The crux of the narrative is the predictable yet destructible love triangle which forms between Efron, Bentley and the pouty yet clear-headed Ratajkowski as the action moves from L.A. to Vegas.

We are your Friends is like watching a film during a Trance Party, and as the music is so brilliant and while director Joseph’s stylised direction can be forgiven, it is a wonderful and energetic film to watch clearly aiming at the millennial generation, almost giving the viewers a sense of constantly being in a nightclub.

The stylization both works for and against the film, and is particularly effective during a frenetic scene when James takes the impressionable Cole to an upmarket art exhibition while both tripping on PCP or Angel’s Dust and suddenly the pop art on the walls take on an animated form.

Behind all the debauchery, there is also a flimsy moral lesson which each character has to learn and this gives the film some deeper resonance. In the end, Cole does find that one track that will secure him an impressive debut at the annual Summer Fest, but it’s not sounds generated from his laptop, but rather a more organic experiential track.

We are your Friends is a remarkably interesting film about the art of being a successful DJ and the sacrifices that go with it, within a completely hedonistic environment filled with parties, nightclubs and music festivals. This party film packs a punch reminiscent of the Brett Easton Ellis inspired film, Less Than Zero starring Robert Downey Jr in one of his first major roles.

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We are your Friends will be sure to find a cult audience amongst those born in the 1990’s, with an electrifying performance by the smouldering Zac Efron, who continually lights up the screen with his boyish grin and beautiful blue eyes.

 

The Brutal Education of Norman

FURY

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Director: David Ayer

Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerma, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Scott Eastwood, Jason Isaacs, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg

End of Watch director David Ayer tackles the war genre in the brutal drama simply entitled Fury assembling a stellar cast of great young actors including Shia LaBeouf last seen in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena (End of Watch, American Hustle) and Jon Bernthal and headed by the illustrious Brad Pitt (Legends of the Fall, Twelve Monkeys, Moneyball, The Counselor).

In a role similar to that played in Inglourious Basterds, Pitt plays Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a hardened soldier and Nazi killer who is heading up a tank squadron and who has seen his fair share of bloody battles. The tank in question is called Fury and as the Allies advanced into Germany during April 1945, these American tanks were combating the far superior designed German Panzers. As the brutal end of World War Two winds down, Hitler has ordered every last man, woman and child to defend their country against the advancing Allies.

Against this gritty theatre of war, the veteran Collier inherits a young and naive gunner named Norman Ellison superbly played by Logan Lerman who to his dismay went from being a typist in the US Army to manning a machine gun in an armoured tank. Its Collier’s job to toughen Norman up, even forcing him to shoot an unarmed German soldier as he brandishes pictures of his family to the American troops and desperately pleads for his life.

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As the five man team who drive Fury further into the German countryside, the situation gradually deteriorates as they first enter a German town obliterated by shelling casually coming across a suicide party of Nazi officers along with a scattering of scared German villagers and then near a farmhouse in the muddy countryside where they encounter an enemy infantry division marching towards them.

This is grim viewing with lots of bloodshed, superbly choreographed action sequences and unrelenting violence, cinematically brought to life with razor sharp sound effects, giving the viewer the sense of being involved in these gruesome final battles.

As opposed to George Clooney’s Monuments Men, David Ayer’s Fury deglamourizes war to its basic instinctual premise of kill or be killed and with excellent sound editing and effects, the film stands as a perfect counterpoint to The Imitation Game which elegantly showed war as a complex game of ingenuity and skill, clouded with espionage and intrigue.

Fury goes straight to the bloody and dirty heart of war and in its tag line aptly states that no war ends quietly. This is man fighting man with all the brutal savagery one has for each other’s enemies, as the victors march through the lands of the defeated.

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Fury is well acted especially by Logan Lerman (Noah) in one of his more substantial roles and definitely alludes to a talent waiting to be nurtured. The rest of the four man team adds a brave complement to Norman’s emotional and physical journey as a very young soldier who realizes he has to go to any lengths to stay alive. Fury will definitely appeal to war film enthusiasts and those viewers that enjoyed Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor and even the more stylized Quentin Tarantino war film Inglourious Basterds.

American director David Ayer has excelled with Fury which is highly recommended viewing aimed at a mature masculine audience that can appreciate the art of combat and the innate savagery of war itself. Fury is not for the squeamish and certainly not for those expecting a light hearted war romp like The Monuments Men.

 

 

Scorsese’s Satyricon

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The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Shea Wingham

The much anticipated explosive new film about Wall Street Stock broker Jordan Belfort by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese is an orgy of drugs, hedonism and consumerism held tightly together by one of the best on screen performances that Leonardo DiCaprio (The Great Gatsby) has ever given. The Wolf of Wall Street can best be described as Oliver Stone’s Wall Street highballing on crack and speed with large amounts of sex, swearing and swindling thrown in.

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The three hour film about the rise and fall of one of Wall Street’s most notoriously decadent stockbrokers is fascinating, bizarre, crude and highly entertaining. The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s sleazy and salacious Satyricon, a drug fuelled  hedonistic journey into the heart of America’s consumerism, while ripping to shreds its number one bastion Rampant Capitalism. For according to Belfort there is no nobility in poverty.

Audiences meet Belfort when he is a young would be stockbroker as he arrives off the bus on Wall Street soon to be taken in by the foul-mouthed cocaine sniffing chest thumping mentor Mark Hanna an expertly played cameo by Matthew McConnaughey.

Belfort after the Stock Exchange crash of 1989, goes into penny shares in a two bit stock brokerage in Long Island, where he revolutionizes the bunch of weirdo pot selling brokers into a serious blue chip Wall Street company rebranding it as Stratton Oakmont. Soon Belfort motivates his entire team to sell penny shares (those companies that cannot afford to be listed on NASDAQ) to the very rich, and after much cavorting and convincing, earns huge amounts of cash where the brokerage becomes a literal madhouse of drugs, greed and absolute debauchery.

With the help of his wing man Donny, a brilliant performance by Jonah Hill of Moneyball fame, Belfort catapults Stratton Oakmont into a serious stock brokerage to rival Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and the late Lehman Brothers in New York whilst at the same time committing serious securities fraud with imaginary IPO’s.

At the heart of The Wolf of Wall Street is a story about corruption, unrelenting drug addiction, rampant sex and partying, a frenetically paced tour de force of the arc of an absolute sinner energetically played by DiCaprio who is in virtually every scene of the film. Memorable scenes include his blond wife Naomi (a wonderful turn by newcomer Margot Robbie of the TV series Pan Am) walking in on a gay orgy in their plush Manhattan apartment, a bizarre incident with Belfort driving his white Ferrari from the Country Club while literally dazed on sleeping pills, a luxury yacht riding massive Mediterranean waves en route to Monaco, a sex-crazed air hostess humping trip in first class to Switzerland and that’s just to name some of the few crazy episodes in The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese’s film is a sublime Satyricon meshing elements of Casino, Shutter Island and The Departed proving that he is a consummate director and cinematic visionary.

Belfort’s eventual downfall comes at the hand of  conservative securities agent Patrick Denham played by Kyle Chandler (Super 8) but not before he has moved large parts of his vast fortune off shore to a Swiss Bank account with the help of a slimy banker Saurel seductively played by Jean Dujardin of The Artist and Naomi’s British aunt Emma played by Ab Fab star Joanna Lumley who utters the immortal line “I have lived through the Sixties”.

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Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is frenetic, shocking and superbly acted by DiCaprio along with an incisive script by Terence Winter, a tour-de-force of a film, a reason to love the art of cinema. A highly recommended montage on the destructive nature of greed and addiction, The Wolf is not for sensitive viewers, but packs a powerful punch held together by an Oscar worthy performance by DiCaprio whose rousing motivational trading floor speeches are the stuff of cinematic legends. After all if you can sell a pen, then you are a salesman…

A Hauntingly Lavish Thriller…

The Ghost Writer

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Director: Roman Polanski

Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Ewan McGregor, Timothy Hutton, Jim Belushi, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson

Polanski’s dark and almost claustrophobic thriller The Ghost Writer adapted from the novel by Robert Harris author of Enigma and Pompeii is an absolute gem reminiscent of his earlier classics like Bitter Moon, Chinatown and the Oscar winning film The Pianist.

Dark and claustrophobic

Balancing a great script with tight directing and creepy use of  stark isolated locations, Polanski keeps the viewer of the Ghost Writer on the edge of their seat.

Highly versatile and underrated Ewan McGregor is wonderfully human as the title character and Olivia Williams shines as the ousted Prime Minister‘s Adam Lang’s wife Ruth with a witty, dark and altogether complex performance which gives tremendous weight to the concept of behind every powerful man lies an equally powerful woman. Pierce Brosnan takes the part of Adam Lang, the Prime Minister with a combination of his charm, ego and slight menace which brought him acclaim in his recent more memorable films Matador and Remember Me.

What is truly thrilling is Polanski’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock making a political and social thriller without compromising on the story and the intricacies of the characters, whilst retaining the claustrophobic atmosphere of a once powerful leader being forced into a lavish exile. Sounds Familiar? As I returned from watching this stunning thriller, Polanski was released from house arrest in Gstaad, Switzerland which is an absolute relief, as it would be a tragedy to keep a filmmaker of this calibre under confinement.

Polanski’s distinctly European perspective on the collusion of Britain and America in foreign wars in the Middle East is his greatest asset  highlighting how a Prime Minister can fall from grace and become a virtual outcast is brilliant in his brittle and subversive vision of how corrupting power and influence can become.

Visually The Ghost Writer is sleek, dark and elegant whilst reminding the viewer that decisions of great international magnitude are often made in secluded locations like Cape Cod or St Andrews far away from the distant nations which will be affected by those choices. For to give the story, location or plot away would be ludicrous, suffice to say… see The Ghost Writer and relish in a masterful director’s return to form with a cinematic homage to the political thriller crackling with suspense, wit and utterly thought-provoking down to the shattering final sequence.

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