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.

Zootopia (2016): Best Animated Film of the Year (Review)

Judy, Nick and Flash at the DMV

It is the mark of any good animated feature that the viewer forgets they are watching a “cartoon.” Pixar does this with amazing regularity, as does Studio Ghibli. However, Walt Disney Studios got there first, with Uncle Walt churning out animated films that tugged the heartstrings and featured stunning stories.

Walt’s films made us all forget about the unreality of singing mice and evil stepmothers who really were witches. We believed the stories being told implicitly.

(While we are waxing lyrical about animated features that make us forget that the universe we have entered is full of cartoon animals, the 2011 animated feature Rango was not produced by Disney or Pixar, it was a joint effort from several studios that included Paramount and Nickelodeon. This film was also a cartoon but one for the older audience members.)

With a staggering nine writers credited for creating the story and no less than three directors, Zootopia should have been 2016’s biggest flop. There are too many cooks and then there are way too many cooks, both of which normally spoil any broth.

This is not the case with this brilliantly told tale of a rabbit daring to dream of becoming a police officer in Zootopia. Judy Hopps, played by Once Upon a Time‘s Ginnifer Goodwin, leaves her parent’s farm and graduates as valedictorian from the police academy. 

She is made the Zootopia meter maid and a chance encounter with a robber turns her career around. But it is not easy. The beleaguered bunny has to fight Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) every hop of the way. Judy enlists the aid of conman fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and together they solve the mystery of the missing mammals. 

There is something here for a wide range of audience members. Themes include moving away from home for the first time and daring to chase your dreams. The dangers of stereotyping and the animal version of racism is also broached.

Over and above these lofty lessons provided by the nine writers on the film is the story. It keeps things interesting enough that even at a staggering 108 minutes, the film never drags.

The voice acting and the film’s three directors: Byron HowardRich Moore and Jared Bush (who are, incidentally three of the nine names associated with writing the film) manage to keep the action rolling, the story moving and still make the characters interesting. 

There are a couple of pretty decent plot twists and a plethora of sight gags, jokes and ironic moments.  Zootopia is, in essence, a product that could be seen as nigh on perfect.

Some gags are comprised of the filmmakers trotting out film tropes for a giggle. The tiny Mr. Big, an animal with enormous muscle to enforce his orders appears to be a shrew or a vole, both of which are very, very small.

The film is rated PG, no doubt for some of the more white knuckle antics of the film. Add to the frantic action some transformation scenes that might frighten the younger members of the audience and the rating makes perfect sense.

What makes Zootopia work so well though is the story.  It cracks along and works so brilliantly  that it is easy to forget we are watching cartoon animals.  The dialogue as well as the action moves the audience into a place where the animated bunny and her friends cease to become a factor.

There are some brilliant cameos in the film. Keep an ear out for perennial stoner extraordinaire Tommy Chong,  the delightful Alan Tudyk and the Oscar winning  J.K. Simmons to name but a few of the familiar voices in the film. 

Zootopia earns a full 5 stars. This is a Mary Poppins film – practically perfect in every way. It is streaming on Netflix at the moment and really deserves a look, or two…or more.  This is just one great big bit of fun that should not be missed.

28 Months Later “In the Works”

Poster for 28 Days Later For fans of the original Danny Boyle directed and Alex Garland written 28 Days Later, this could be very good news. Certainly Facebook is full of fans singing their little rage filled hearts out at the recent news that Garland released stating that the script for 28 Months Later has been finished and is in the works but he will have nothing further to do with it.

Alex talks backstory a bit, not on the new 28 Days story but about the path taken to get a sequel worthy of the original. In GamesRadar+ the screenwriter talks about Boyle’s talking about a Garland written sequel while he focussed upon Trainspotting 2 a couple of years ago.

In reference to the Gamesradar+ story, it should be pointed out that they call the film a “zombie” film, which, technically it is not, the films are post-apocryphal and has nothing to do with hordes of the undead.

At that time Alex said he would write it but did not want any active participation in the project. Producer Andrew MacDonald said that he would take care of it. Regardless of whether the writer wants to work on the project, hopefully this sequel should have the same tones of originality that the first one had in spades. The other thing that 28 Days Later had was that wonderfully haunting music, used in a number of other movies, most notably Kick-Ass where the soundtrack was updated for the “Big Daddy Kills” sequence.

While many still refer to the first two as “zombie” films; the scary attacking people in the verse are not, undead flesh eaters. In 28 Days Later the whole outbreak starts because a few animal rights activists go to release monkies who have been infected with Rage. This virus actually turns the primates into screaming murderous, and enraged, creatures who only want to attack. The virus is transferred to people and poor Cillian Murphy wakes up from a coma to find the world in London has changed for the worse.

The first film was brilliant, the cross plot of the Christopher Eccleston’s Army Major, “I promised them women,” and the Brendan Gleeson’s doomed fatherly cab driver, “Get away,” were just icing on the cinematic cake. Naomi Harris and Megan Burns as the women rounded out the casting for this haunting and damned scary film. Boyle proved once again to be the master of celluloid.

Poster for 28 Weeks Later Then came the “star studded” 28 Weeks Later. Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Idris Elba, Robert Carlyle and Imogen Poots, in what was her second feature film role, were stuck in an inferior version of Boyle’s and Garland’s Rage infested England. The first clue that this sequel would be lacking was the noticeable absence of both Boyle and Garland on the project. I liked the film because Carlyle was in it and he brought his own special magic to the role of the man who deserts his wife to the infected and then lies to his kids about it.

Jeremy Renner also made me a fan for life as the sniper with a heart and Idris Elba was not used enough. The story was a pallid follow up to the first film and it was a bit disappointing to not see anything of Murphy and Harris, or for that matter Burns, and their characters.

Apart from Garland’s admission that the script is standing by waiting to be greenlit, there is no further information about the project. Considering that the writer has also stated that no one, not even FOX were interested in doing another sequel after 28 Weeks Later does not bode too well for 28 Months Later.

If the film does get the go ahead, it is to be devoutly hoped that the studios do not forget the original premise and make the Rage infected attackers zombies. Let’s keep our film-lore straight here, this is not an English version of The Walking Dead. Hopefully more news will be released on the likelihood of this anticipated film being made, sooner rather than later.

Idris Elba Spills on The Avengers Age of Ultron Does he Want Out?

Idris Elba Spills on The Avengers Age of Ultron Does he Want Out?

Just recently, award winning actor Idris Elba spilled the news that he and Tom Hiddleston are both in The Avengers: Age of Ultron and admitting that he was speaking out of turn by doing so, does this mean the English actor want out of the Marvel verse? Speaking to British news publication The Telegraph, Elba revealed that he felt Marvel films were “torture” compared to his other movie roles. The London born entertainer has been working in Ibiza as a club DJ on a sort of sabbatical. The actor has been very busy the last couple of years on top of playing Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom which was a highlight for the Golden Globe winner.

Pacific Rim Colossal Cinema

Pacific Rim Colossal Cinema