Molly’s Game (2017): Memoirs of a “Poker Princess” – Not (Review)

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in MOLLY'S GAME

Writer, producer and director Aaron Sorkin takes Molly Bloom’s memoirs “Molly’s Game” and turns it into a fascinating look at the “poker princess.” The press dubbed Ms. Bloom this when her case became public and as the character says in the film, she was not a princess because, like the song says, this woman worked hard for the money.

Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba (as a fictional character not present the book) and Michael Cera, as a thinly veiled Tobey Maguire, Molly’s Game is a more fanciful version of events. Certainly the movie follows the chain of events pretty accurately, although it does deviate from the low-key facts as presented by the real Ms. Bloom.

There are some things created for the big screen adaptation. For instance, the antagonistic relationship with Molly’s father, the skiing accident (never happened) and the complete lack of any relationships are all items dreamed up by Sorkin to add a little spice to the proceedings. (Just as Elba’s character, Charlie Jaffey was also a “construct” to help the viewer to “get behind” the rather strong female lead.

Chastain plays Molly Bloom to perfection. In all likelihood no other actress in Hollywood at the moment could have filled the designer stilettos of the female lead so well. The actress gives the role a solid truth, whether  depicting her early awe at the player’s she meets at “The Game” or when she later become jaded and rather un-enamored with the whole thing, she sells it perfectly.

Elba is spot on at the invented devil’s advocate who ultimately takes on the legal system and the US government on her behalf. It is disappointing to learn that there was no Jaffey in the book and that this legal guardian of justice is just a device to keep the audience on Molly’s side. This does not detract from the character at all, however, like the invented accident that turns Bloom from an Olympic hopeful to a “Girl Friday” for a rather unpleasant real estate entrepreneur, it helps to move the story along very well.

The film manages to change the names to protect the innocent, like the book, and while Ms. Bloom does “name drop” just a tad – she names only the players who the press “outed” already, if one reads the book, it is clear that Player X (Cera) is Tobey Maguire. (It also comes as no real surprise that the real life Maguire is a pretty nasty bit of work at the card table and away from it.)

Regardless of the changed names and the fictional constructs, Molly’s Game is entertaining and gives us a heroine we can get behind. Astute, charming and a hard worker, Bloom rises, against all odds, to become an essential part of two large poker games; one in New York and the other in LA. (In the book the real life Molly has got a few more games on the side, most notably in the 24 hour city of Las Vegas.)

The film uses a lot of the “professional” jargon associated with poker. For those who know little beyond “flop” and call, this in itself is an education. The chapters are broken down by these terms and Molly herself, via Chastain, explains what many of these terms mean. (This explains part of the appeal of Molly’s Game; our hero taught herself not only how to play poker but all the terms involved.

Molly’s Game can almost be seen as an American success story. One where hard work, charm and a high intelligence quotient makes a corn-fed wannabe Olympic skier one of the top earners in high stakes America. Sorkin excellently leads us down Molly’s path as she first learns LA and then  “The Game.”

We cheer her successes and moan at her setbacks. Chastain and Elba make a splendid double act throughout the film and when her overly competitive father, in the guise of Kevin Costner, shows up at the end, we are genuinely moved.

Molly’s Game is a full 5 star film. (Chastain certainly got my vote for “Best Actress”) Sorkin pleases with his first directorial feature despite deviating from the source material. Chastain sells her real-life character and Elba is, of course, at the top of his game. Cera is brilliantly low-key  as the unpleasant Player X and the rest of the cast all rise to the occasion and shine.

(Keep an eye out for the excellent Irish actor Chris O’Dowd in his cameo as the “only Irishman” that the Russian mob will allow into their card game. He is splendid in this tiny role.)

See this one when it screens in January, you will be glad you did. Molly’s Game is not about a poker princess, but about a hardworking, fast learning young woman who made a mint from men’s greed.

Justice League (2017): A Step in the Right Direction (Review)

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Justice League, the latest DC superhero film to grace the screen, almost has the mixture down pat. Perhaps a tad too much as the film does feel a bit formulaic. Still, this latest comic book hero adaptation is huge step in the right direction. There is just enough comedy to make things enjoyable and enough action to keep even the most jaded fan happy. The film is not, however, perfect.

The decision to make Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller) not only gormless but slightly nebbish as well, reeked of Marvel’s inclusion of an overawed Spider-Boy in the latest installment of that universe. However, if one takes away that annoying element of the film, Justice League manages to entertain thoroughly.

Directed by Zack Snyder, the film had a screenplay written by Chris Terrio with later input from Joss Whedon. The story came from Snyder and Terrio together and it features the “origins” of the Justice League.

The film begins with the death of Superman, something that  directly results in the return of Steppenwolf. The angry entity is ready to wreck havoc on the denizens of planet Earth and it is his actions that cause Bruce Wayne to start the Justice League.

Diane Lane reprises her role as Martha Kent and Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane, Superman’s other half, and  Connie Nielson comes back as the Amazon Queen.

The story is fairly straight forward. There are three boxes of power (the DC version of the tesseract, if you will) that, when combined, will allow Steppenwolf to destroy earth. Batman begins to recruit his league members and the usual problems surface. These superheroes do not, as a rule, play well with others so a number of teething pains are encountered before they lose the “i” in team.

Jeremy Irons is back as Alfred. (Another mild annoyance as Michael Caine is almost the definitive Wayne butler – on the big screen but on the small screen it is personal favorite Sean Pertwee who has managed to perfectly fill Alfred’s patent leather shoes…) The butler is a major supporter of Wayne and he aids the new group in their battle with Steppenwolf.

Jason Momoa as Aquaman is good value for money as is Ray Fisher as Cyborg. J.K. Simmons is a tired Commissioner Gordon and Amber Heard has a blink and you will miss her turn as Mera.

There are things that irritate about the film however. The tendency to use Gadot’s bum as the focal point of many camera angles, for example. As the camera zooms up and in on the male protagonists, Gadot’s bottom is used almost like a fulcrum for far too many scenes on screen.

It also does not help that Justice League shows all too clearly the DC versions of Marvel heroes, and vice versa. That said, the film works well and it entertains in all the right places, despite the closeness to its Marvel counterparts.

The only thing that does not really work is the Barry Allen character but that may well be down to personal preference to the TV actor who plays The Flash on CW.

Justice League  looks brilliant and the pacing is spot on (the film runs for two hours and never once lags). The fact that personal tragedy kept Snyder from finishing his directorial duties is not obvious in the film. Joss Whedon took over the reins and managed to seamlessly carry out Snyder’s vision.

The film earns a full five stars, despite a somewhat meandering plot line, as it keeps on giving throughout. Catch it at your local cinema, grab some popcorn and enjoy this latest DC offering.

The Accountant (2016): Ben Affleck’s Rain Man (Review)

Ben Affleck as the accountant

The Accountant, written by Bill Dubuque and directed by Gavin O’Connor, could well be dismissed by some as Ben Affleck’s “Rain Man” film. His character either has Aspergers, or, as the film seems to indicate, a high functioning form of autism. The characters in the action thriller never actually come right out and give a direct diagnosis. 

Having a heroic protagonist with some sort of “disability” is not overly unique in the film world. The Pang Brothers (The MessengersRe-cycle) created a hitman in the 2000 film Bangkok Dangerous who was a deaf-mute (they then inexplicably remade the feature in 2008  with Nicholas Cage who played the same character only this time he was neither deaf nor mute. A real shame as he could have been better in the role if that had been the case…)

Another film that had the main character as a kick-arse hero was the Thai martial arts film Chocolate. The female protagonist, like Affleck’s character, is never diagnosed as being either autistic or having Aspergers although it was clear that she was, in that film, a savant in terms of martial arts and did have the condition.

There is no real other comparison to be made with Affleck’s hitman/mathematician Christian Wolf. Wolf can, and indeed does, kick arse physically. He is as deadly with hand-to-hand combat as he is lethal with weapons. In “Chocolate,” Zen (played by JeeJa Yanin) is a savant in every sense of the word. She picks up her skills by some sort of odd osmosis, by watching the martial arts being executed, and Wolf was trained by his father. 

Wolf’s brother, Braxton; played brilliantly by former The Walking Dead regular  Jon Bernthal (Bernthal is about to hit screens in the Netflix adaptation of The Punisher, this year), is as deadly but he lacks the autism which makes Christian that bit more dangerous.

Anna Kendrick plays Dana the accountant who finds out someone has been systematically stealing from her bosses company and John Lithgow is said boss. Oscar winner J.K. Simmons is the IRS treasury agent who enlists an underling to find out who “the accountant” really is and Cynthia Addai-Robinson plays the analysis agent forced into action by Simmons’ character Ray King.

For all the “big” names in the film, Jeffrey Tambor plays Wolf’s old cell mate in prison, the movie is not “high-brow.” While it is not a bog standard thriller by any means, there is enough action and plot to keep even the most jaded movie goer interested.

Even viewers who are not fans of Ben Affleck, like my friend the local librarian – who cannot abide Affleck’s “lack of talent” – enjoyed the film and thought he brought much to the role. Granted, the level of interaction between Affleck’s character and others in the film is subdued. However, the most endearing part of the film occurs when the two brothers meet up later in the film. “Hello Braxton,” says Wolf in a way that is sweet and completely incongruous with the scenario. (It is one of the best bits of the film.)

There is a humorous attempt at a burgeoning romance between Wolf and Dana. It works, but only just, and quite wisely the film lets this matter drop without too much fanfare.

To be perfectly honest, the movie delivers more on the action sequences, and Christian’s almost super-human prowess as both an accountant for the world’s most dangerous people and hitman than it does on the character development department.

Affleck does well as does Bernthal, although the only real disappointment here is that the “twist” reveals itself all too early in the film. The constant flashbacks, despite the lack of time spent on Wolf’s brother make this a no brainer.

Simmons brings his usual workmanlike performance and Addai-Robinson gets too little screen time, as does Kendrick, but overall the cast deliver adequately although Lithgow seems to be relegated to two dimensional baddie who panics in the end.

The Accountant delivers and fires on most cylinders. It is a solid 4 star film that relies on the action to entertain. There are  few laughs, mainly the interaction between Kendrick’s character and Affleck’s but, once again, this is forgivable as the film really is more action than anything else.

Affleck does well in the fight sequences and director O’Connor puts everything together nicely.  There is no sign of the star’s Batman persona, he manages to perform his deadly tasks with all the emotion of a dead-eyed doll, and he only shows any real emotion when he cannot finish any job at hand.

It is well worth a look and can be watched on Amazon, iTunes, Google play and so on. Have a look at the trailer:

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner Divorce: Who Will Get Jimmy Kimmel?

Still from Handsome Men's Club video
With many media websites calling the Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner marriage a “fairytale” it is a bit shocking that the big news today is that the couple are to divorce. The only question remaining, is who will get Jimmy Kimmel? Garner and Affleck have been married for 10 years, they celebrated their anniversary on Monday, and on Tuesday released a statement that “after much consideration” they are ending one of the most talked about marriages in recent history.

The two met on the set of the 2003 film Daredevil, where they worked together and then married in June 2005. The Gone Girl star has had three children with the Men, Women & Children star; two girls and a boy, Violet, Seraphina and Samuel, and it could be said that they share another “dependent,” 47 year-old Jimmy Kimmel.

Although to be fair Kimmel probably belongs more to Affleck than Jennifer despite her playing along with the gag in the Handsome Men’s Club skit for Jimmy’s ABC show:

After the Handsome Men’s Club, Affleck and Jimmy got together to film a response to old pal Sarah Silverman’s gag video with Matt Damon, Ben’s BFF and brunt of Kimmel’s long running “out of time” schtick. The musical number “I’m F***ing Ben Affleck” response to “I’m F***ing Matt Damon” (with it’s star studded chorus and curious lack of Jennifer Garner) may hold a hint as to why the couple’s 10 year marriage has ended:

The video may also present some clue as to who will get Jimmy. It is pretty clear that the two men are very simpatico and more likely to “hook up” now that Jennifer is out of the picture. The first video though shows that Garner has a sense of humor, unfortunately however, her acumen at picking funny roles is fatally off, witness the Disney flop Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

On the more serious side of the very sad news that Garner and Ben will no longer be a couple, the two have asked for a little distance from the press in regards to their children’s privacy during their mutual decision to divorce.

Last year the Argo star and director reacted angrily to rumors that all was not well in his marriage and it can be understood that this was more for the children than for either Ben or Jennifer. The two are grownup people who entertain for a living and both have a delicious sense of humor, Jennifer surprisingly so, which most likely went a long way to keeping their union solid for the decade long marriage.

One thing is for certain, if things get ugly between Garner and Affleck in the coming months, her lawyer may be singing, “I’m f***ing Ben Affleck.” Jennifer can provide the choral backup. On the flip side, this could be a Kimmel prank…Couldn’t it?

Matt Damon and Matthew McConaughey Old Pals in Interstellar?

Matt Damon and Matthew McConaughey Old Pals in Interstellar?

Matt Damon and Matthew McConaughey are old pals, at least according to Damon they are, which may explain why the best buddy of Ben Affleck is in Interstellar playing against type. The Elysium star has almost always been synonymous with the Argo star and director as the two grew up as best friends in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his most recent film role, the “closely guarded secret” that Christopher Nolan kept under wraps for as long as possible, Damon plays Dr. Mann the second explorer on the other side of the wormhole that Cooper and co visit in Interstellar.