Tag Archives: movie reviews

Molly’s Game and the subjective interpretation of movies

Everyone once in a while, I am reminded of how subjective our interpretations of movies can be. I recently reviewed Molly’s Game, a biopic of “Hollywood Poker Princess” Molly Bloom (see also here). I really enjoyed the movie. I thought Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay was snappy and engaging, Jessica Chastain well cast in the title  role, and the directing was inspired.

My interpretation, however, is not universal. A friend saw the movie separately, but on the same weekend, and said:

“The movie was superficial for a mob movie with an angle from the parental psychologist character [Kevin Costner playing Larry Bloom, Molly’s father]. Molly’s Game lacked the cerebral subduction and emotional entrapment of mob interfacing movies like the Godfather, Sopranos, or Casino. Especially disappointing when so much of the subject matter revolved around world-class poker. The Molly’s Game script and movie’s execution went for low-hanging emotional fruit found in label dropping visuals, IQ scores, and quick successional facts and statistics about the institution of poker. The high point for me was when the author plugged poker as skill-based as opposed to roulette. I felt the author was disingenuous as well as the “moral” of the story… good guys finish 1st… or slick stories sell movie tickets. “

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Movie Review: A United Kingdom

I take an in-depth look at the very well acted British film A United Kingdom in my most recent movie review at the Independent Institute.  The story highlights the romance and marriage between Sir Seretse Kama III, the heir to the throne of what would become Botswana, to Ruth Williams, an English white, working class woman in 1948.

The marriage touched off an international firestorm in colonial Bechuanaland (now Botswana) as well as in the United Kingdom, and ultimately resulted in their exile. The movie features fine performances by David Oyelowo (SelmaThe Butler) and Rosamund Pike (Die Another DayGone GirlPride & Prejudice).

The story is a powerful tale of love and international intrigue firmly based in real-world events. Director Amma Asanta does a fine turn for the story by depicting a layered understanding of how race and racism played into the politics of post-War colonialism as well as African desires for independence.

Critics have given a thumbs up to the movie although I think it falters a bit. It simply tries to do too much. Ruth Williams Kama was a force in her own right, and she doesn’t get her full due in A United Kingdom. She deserves her own cinematic treatment as a European facing the struggles of living in a hostile culture and climate while trying to gain acceptance within the traditions of her husband’s tribe.

The Kama’s story would also be worthy of a sequel to A United Kingdom. Plenty of drama can be found in Seretse Kama’s fight for an independent Bechuanaland, which became a reality in 1966 with the founding of Botswana.

My complete review can be found here.

A commentary linking the economic success of Botswana to Seretse (and Ruth) Kama’s political and economic liberalism can be found in the Tallahassee Democrat or here.

 

 

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Review: Logan shows superhero action movies can also have soul

My movie review of Logan is up at the Independent Institute! This is a film that shows superhero action movies can have soul, with complex characters and a meaningful plot.

I really enjoyed this film, although it earns its R rating. Logan follows the final days of Wolverine as he rediscover’s his humanity while trying to save a new crop of young mutants. I write, in part,

The violence may seem gratuitous to some viewers, but mostly it serves the purpose of the story. James “Logan” Howlett is the mutant Wolverine of Marvel Comics fame, and his personality is volatile and emotional. He also has a conscience. These dimensions—including the guilt that comes with the curse of having steel claws that decapitate, impale, and slash his attackers—are portrayed well by Hugh Jackman (his ninth movie performance as Wolverine). Logan’s mutant powers are used defensively, not offensively. The violence is not portrayed as honorable or noble, and this becomes an integral part of a very thoughtful film.

I don’t mention in the Independent Institute review the strong pro-family theme. This is a bit of an oversight although I was trying to keep the review focused. Logan is caring for the dying Charles Xavier, a.k.a., Professor X (Patrick Stewart), and the relationship is very much father-son. Charles pushes Logan to connect with Laura, although Logan resists the responsibility that comes with the paternal relationship it implies.

Dafne Keen, who plays the eleven year old mutant Laura Kinney, cloned from Logan’s DNA, is impressive, and one of the primary reasons I enjoyed the film. Her character is brooding and intense, but her transformation into a more human and complete person is astounding for such a young actress in her first major role in a high-profile film.

Check out the full review here.

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What “The Equalizer” film told me about character development

I often gauge a movie’s value by whether it stimulates my thinking as a writer and storyteller.  The Equalizer, the action film starring Denzel Washington, provided a welcome and unexpected opportunity to explore this. I’m a fan of the action/adventure genre anyway–all four of my novels fall into this genre, most recently St. Nic, Inc.–but I’ve become somewhat jaded by recent superhero (e.g., Superman, Wolverine, Lucy), super monster (e.g., Godzilla), and martial-arts action films (e.g., Ninja Assassin, 47 Ronin), that showcase special effects and gore over storytelling and character development. This is not the case with “The Equalizer.” Indeed, I saw just the opposite on the silver screen.

This movie, unlike other blockbusters, folds character development into the plot and at least tries to strike a balance between the two. (This is good because the plot–hero avenges injustice–is a bit tired.) But, for me, this film stood out for three reasons:

  1. The production values were very high. Sweeping vistas of Boston (one of my favorite cities), artistic camera work focused on characters and action, and the attention to the human aesthetic of the plot were top notch. This wasn’t all computer animated action. Time was spent to frame shots creatively and in ways that help tell the story. In fact, the opening sequence of shots itself does a fine job of providing important initial backstory to the lead character as an unassuming loner.
  2. Denzel Washington. Need I say more? Well, yes. A lesser actor would have made the lead character–Robert McCall–two dimensional and predictable. Even though we know how the movie will end, the character evolves at key points, and empathy is established early. Given the graphic gore level in the film, this is critical for keeping a good story flowing; we (as viewers) cannot be overwhelmed with the blood and mayhem or we lose site of the story.
  3. The producers and director. They didn’t let the genre or familiar cinematic tropes swamp character development and story structure to create suspense. They also made sure they didn’t waste the talents of Mr. Washington. While I still believe the gore was a bit too much, the bloody mayhem is important to understand McCall’s evolution as a character and how, in the end, he retains his humanity. The deaths of the bad guys have meaning, even if the gore seems gratuitous as times. We see how McCall’s own past changes the way he relates to the people he must eventually dispatch in pursuit of a higher good. This isn’t just a revenge flick, a familiar trope for these types of movies.

At the end of the movie, I found myself wanting to go back to Boston, one of my favorite cities, despite the blood and mayhem.

In the end, the producers and director recognized how the visually oriented medium of film could be used to convey character development. Audiences are brought into the story through character and then the plot is paced well enough to keep us involved.

Thus, “The Equalizer” is a rare example of a film that allowed me to think about my own approach to interweaving character development with plot can enrich the story and keep the pace moving quickly.

I think I see a new, distinctly American franchise in the future. We need a working class hero, with working class methods, a haunting and exotic past, and the maturity of someone who has seen and reflected on the world. Now, if Denzel just used more Akido, Judo and ninjutsu (or To-Shin Do), we’d also see why age isn’t as important in neutralizing threats as many people may think.

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