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Mon06012020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

For those of you who love cars, but are getting tired of the Fast and Furious franchise’s “vroom-vroom” formula, Ford v Ferrari will be a welcome ode to automobiles going very fast.

It’s the 1960s, and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) has had it up to here with Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) and his fast, flashy cars. He and cronies such as Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) are cranky, and they want to send a message to the world that Ford isn’t just about family cars. They also want to win races and appeal to the younger, Baby Boomer demographic with Mustangs and the like.

Enter Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a race car driver who, after a heart condition benches him, becomes a designer and salesman. Ford hires Shelby to design a car that can beat Ferrari in races—primarily the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race

It’s a tall order, and it calls for a crazy guy behind the wheel calling the shots. That guy is Ken Miles (Christian Bale), an English-born rule-breaker who can drive a car and instantly know what can be fixed on it to make the thing go faster. His lack of convention causes Ford to bristle; Shelby gets in the middle; and we have ourselves a gripping tale about racing technology, volatile friendships and corporate clashes.

If you are looking for glorious depictions of high-stakes auto racing, you will not be disappointed: Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) films Ford v Ferrari in such a way that you feel every gear shift, hairpin turn and moment when a car could skid off the tracks and cause grave injury. In this sense, the movie tops the auto-movie genre.

If you are looking for powerhouse acting, you will not be let down: Damon and Bale are otherworldly good as two longtime pals who have no problem with occasionally punching each other in the face, yet always having each other’s backs. Letts and Bernthal do well at showing the corporate side of things, while Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe are good as Miles’ wife and kid. Some of the family stuff gets a little clichéd, but the performers, especially the amazing Jupe, elevate the material.

There’s a lot of car talk, and credit goes to writers Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller for a script that makes the audience feel like it is learning without getting bored or overwhelmed. I walked out of this movie knowing a little more about hot brakes and the ways in which they can kill a driver’s chances to win a race. Just consider yourself warned: The class is long, clocking in at just more than 2 1/2 hours.

This one is going to be in awards contention for sound, cinematography and art direction, as well as the acting categories. There have been previous car-racing movies, but this one puts you in the driver’s seat like none before. If you’ve had the distinct pleasure (or terror, given one’s outlook) of being in a race car at racing speeds, you will know that Mangold and his crew get the sensations right.

The final sequence, involving the 24 Hour Le Mans, is a masterclass on how to make a racing movie right: It’s a superbly conducted balance of the technical and the dramatic. Damon and Bale are giving DiCaprio and Pitt of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood a run for the money in the year’s best-acting-duo department.

Ford v Ferrari feels real, authentic and well-researched. It’s a movie that will please race-car fans—and entertain those who could care less about racing cars. It also makes Vin Diesel look like a total poseur.

Ford v Ferrari is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Accountant is a ridiculous, implausible thriller, in some ways even more ridiculous than the recent, somewhat weak film The Girl on the Train.

So why did I end up liking it?

I don’t know. Maybe it was because I was super-high on weed and mescaline, and I got an extra check in the mail from an employer goof-up that gave me all the money I needed to buy a new couch and lots of snacks.

No, wait … I don’t do drugs, and I only dreamt that I got that check. My couch still sucks ass. Instead, I liked The Accountant because it has a fantastic Ben Affleck, and the movie sort of plays out like a deranged Batman pic—with calculator action!

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a high-functioning autistic man who has managed to harness his extreme intelligence with numbers and physical tics—into the strangest of professions. By day, he’s an accountant who, for example, helps a farm owner find tax loopholes to save a few thousand bucks. By night, he’s some sort of accountant ninja who can take out a room full of mob guys with a dinner knife and some Batman-style forearm blasts to the face.

Yes, Christian takes jobs fixing the books for dirty folks the world over, and while he does have a modest, sparsely decorated home, he also has a mobile man cave (or, should I say … Batcave!) that keeps all the spoils of his riches (like money, gold, Jackson Pollock paintings and, yes, collectors’ items like Batman comic books).

During one job, he is tasked with finding missing money for a prosthetics company led by John Lithgow, and he takes a liking to fellow accountant Dana (the invaluable Anna Kendrick). They conspire to find the missing money … something that, of course, some people don’t want to see happen. Christian and Dana find themselves in loads of trouble, which eventually leads to shootouts and more Batman-style forearms to the face.

Director Gavin O’Connor balances out all of the craziness and outrageous turns of events to deliver a film that, despite a few sleepy parts, is thoroughly entertaining. Affleck is good here, basically playing a dude with repressed rage and childhood trauma issues, minus a cowl.

Kendrick offers up a capable “WTF is going on?!” performance in her fifth movie this year. (She’s busy.) The rest of the supporting cast includes an excellent Jon Bernthal a bad guy much worse than Affleck’s kind-of-bad guy. (Bernthal is essentially this movie’s Joker.) J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson are good as two Treasury Department agents who combine to create the movie’s Commissioner Gordon. And Jeffrey Tambor plays a father figure who rooms with Christian and amounts to this film’s Uncle Ben. Oh, wait … wrong superhero.

Maybe I’m the only one who sees this movie as Batman doing taxes. Maybe that makes me some sort of amateurish idiot who likes movies that are actually kind of lame, just because they play out in a weird way in his overreaching mind. But then again, maybe I am not alone.

Maybe The Accountant will have a sequel in which Christian battles with an even stronger, out-of-town accountant whose mother has the same name as his mother, and who mopes a lot because his dad, the guy from Field of Dreams, died in a tornado accident. Oh, god, please … no.

The Accountant is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

High school kid Greg (Thomas Mann) is forced by his mom (Connie Britton) to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has cancer, in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Greg and pal Earl (RJ Cyler), who have been making spoof movies since they were little kids, decide to make one for Rachel.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon can’t decide if he is making a Wes Anderson-style film or a Noah Baumbach-style movie—and the film often plays like those two mixed together, even down to the music choices, involving Lou Reed and Cat Stevens.

The film deals well with Rachel’s illness, and Mann and Cooke have some great scenes together. Things go a little off the rails at times, and the film lacks a consistent tone. Still, the power of the lead performances, and the fact that good directors are essentially being mimicked rather than bad ones, make the movie decent-enough. Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon and Jon Bernthal are all good in supporting roles.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Right in time for Halloween, writer-director David Ayer has come up with a genuine horror show in Fury, his take on a World War II tank crew trying to survive the last days of the war.

This film goes full-bore in showing the horrors of war—in fact, the very first scene depicts a brutal act of violence that proves Ayer is not playing games. His intention is to show the effects of war on a group of men who are clinging to the last threads of sanity after years of claustrophobic, blood-soaked terror inside a tank.

Brad Pitt leads the crew as Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a grizzled, scarred individual who behaves questionably as he treks across Nazi Germany. When he’s saddled with a new recruit, Norman (Logan Lerman), his behavior becomes a strange mix of paternal and completely unhinged.

Other members of the crew include Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal). Ayer may have created each of these characters as odes to the John Wayne war movies of yore. However, that is where the common thread with bravado-filled old-timey war movies ends: There is nothing clichéd or old-timey about the way in which these characters are portrayed.

Much of the film takes place inside the tank, with a few breaks, most notably a scene in which Wardaddy introduces Logan to a nice German girl while he has some eggs. The carnage in the battle scenes is unrelenting. A sequence in which a group of U.S. tanks goes up against one superior German tank is as harrowing as moviemaking gets.

It all builds up to a final sequence during which the tank breaks down, and Wardaddy decides he isn’t going to run away, even though a large group of enemy soldiers is approaching. The crew decides to fight it out alongside their leader. I have to believe that many allied soldiers made similar decisions while taking the Nazis down 70 years ago. Not every battle was planned, and the odds were often stacked against them.

Ayer presents a scenario that’s crazy, yet realistic in many ways. No movie could authentically depict the real-life horrors of World War II; however, Ayer and company go to great lengths to show what happens when a nightmare becomes something hellish.

Pitt is just a few degrees removed from his Aldo Raine in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. It’s as if Aldo finished scalping Christoph Waltz, shaved his mustache and joined a tank battalion—at least it is regarding Pitt’s aesthetic and the accent he employs. However, unlike Aldo Raine, Wardaddy is totally lacking in humor. This is a truly powerful characterization from an actor who rarely missteps.

The tabloids had a field day with the weird stuff LaBeouf did while making this movie, including pulling out a tooth (Nicolas Cage-style), refusing to shower and generally acting strange. Well, whatever weirdness he put the cast and crew through resulted in his best screen work to date. As the preacher of the crew, LaBeouf is quite moving as a man who keeps his faith and finds immense joy in reciting scripture. This performance should give him a chance to get his once-promising career back on track.

Peña (who worked with Ayer on End of Watch) is terrific, as usual, as are Lerman and Bernthal. Bernthal, like Pitt, calls upon a past character (the jerk he played on The Walking Dead) for inspiration.

Stay away from Fury if you can’t handle onscreen gore. As I said before, this one is vicious right out of the gate, and it remains vicious through its 134-minute running time.

As action films go, it’s a real winner. As war films go, it’s one to be remembered. As horror films go, I doubt you’ll see anything scarier this month.

Fury is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Dwayne Johnson has so much ink, yet he doesn’t show off any of his tattoos in Snitch. Not one tattoo shot!

That’s because Johnson wants to be taken seriously as an actor, and his performance indeed shows he’s capable of more than making his pecs dance or firing guns while his tattoos sexily vibrate. (He’s leaving the sexy tattoo vibrations for the other 172 films he will be starring in within the upcoming year.)

Johnson plays John Matthews, a flawed but well-meaning father. He provides for the family he has living in his lush house, thanks to a semi-lucrative trucking company. He also gives his ex-wife and son from the former marriage enough so they can get by; however, he has little to do with the upbringing of that son, Jason (Rafi Gavron).

Of course, Jason has gone a little bad. He likes to smoke a pot and take Ecstasy. His love of Ecstasy leads to a bunch of it being sent to him by a drug-dealer friend, and this is where the big trouble starts. Jason gets pinched; John gets pissed; and a long jail term for the young dummy seems in order.

That is, until Matthews takes matters into his own hands, and offers to help the federal government nab drug-dealers in exchange for leniency toward his son. This leads to a lot of scenes with Johnson looking concerned, and Gavron doing a bang-up job looking freaked out. I found myself caring for their characters fairly early on, and that got me invested in the picture.

Snitch isn’t great, but it’s a serviceably good action film featuring fine lead performances and a decent supporting cast. Michael Kenneth Williams (Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire) offers a scary presence as Malik, a drug-dealer unknowingly participating in John’s scheme. Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) garners plenty of sympathy as an ex-con employee of John’s company who can’t resist a chance to make a lot of money for his struggling family. And Barry Pepper is his reliable self as a drug-enforcement agent with extraordinary facial hair.

Surprisingly, Susan Sarandon is the film’s weak link; she plays a typical government type with political aspirations who will do anything to get votes. She feels out of place.

The problem with watching a film like this is that it’s obvious things are all going to come out OK in the end. Therefore, there’s no real sense of tension when John is driving a big truck down the freeway and being shot at while trying to carry on a phone conversation. And you know the ending is going to involve tears.

Still, I enjoyed the film on some levels. For example, the scene in which John is being shot at while driving that truck is well-staged, even if it is predictable.

Do I think Dwayne Johnson will ever take a walk toward a podium to pick up an Oscar? Hell no. Do I think he will be able to handle future roles in thrillers that require some acting muscle beyond his HGH-enhanced, rippling tattoo muscle? Certainly. His work here shows that he is capable of taking things to the next level.

Now we can sit back and await the arrival of Johnson in Fast and Furious 6, Pain and Gain, Empire State and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which are among his other 2013 offerings. Or check him out as The Rock in a recent visit to his old haunts at WWE Wrestling. This man apparently wants to be everything at once.

Snitch is now playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews