Deadpool 2 – David Leitch

Deadpool 2 starring Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, and Julian Dennison.
Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Since the first Deadpool film smashed the box office in 2016 (grossing over $783M worldwide), fans have been waiting for Ryan Reynolds to reprise the role as the vulgar, hilariously honest Wade Wilson. The original broke records for an R-rated film – a rating it wholeheartedly earned – and it was only a matter of time before Deadpool 2 became a reality.

It’s simple; if you enjoyed the first one, you will enjoy the second one.  The quick-witted, nasty outhouse (toilet just doesn’t cut it) humour is about the same, they routinely break the 4th wall, make cheeky pop culture references, and the R-rating is embraced at every turn.  It may not be quite as funny the second time around, but it is still exactly what you would expect the sequel to be.

Deadpool 2 starts off with a literal ‘bang’ as a depressed Wade attempts to kill himself in spectacular fashion. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he lives (he can’t die) and in an attempt to pull himself together (mentally and physically), he works alongside a bunch of X-Men trying to save a seriously disturbed mutant teen from a time-travelling super-villain called Cable (Josh Brolin). There are a number of amusing cameos along the way – watch closely or you might miss them – and it just solidifies what we already know: every one loves working with Ryan Reynolds.

Audience members who were on the fence about the original Tim Miller version have no business watching the second installment (this time by Director David Leitch, of John Wick fame). For those who never got around to seeing Deadpool, don’t worry about it, you’ll still get it. The plot itself isn’t overly complex and you don’t need a whole lot of background to understand what’s going on. A person with a healthy understanding of the X-Men characters will be rewarded, but again, it’s not a requirement.

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Josh Brolin plays a pretty decent villain who, coincidentally, isn’t totally unlike the other famous villain he played this year – Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War). Both “men” are incredibly strong, incredibly misunderstood in their actions, and are killing for “the greater good”. Julian Dennison, a young New Zealand actor in his breakout role of Firefist, will certainly be getting more work after this film. He was endearing, hilarious, and a little creepy all in one. His character is hellbent on revenge for being treated poorly by staff at the orphanage. Feeling sympathy – or any other deep thought for that matter – isn’t necessarily something you would expect in a movie like Deadpool 2, but it still takes you there, albeit just briefly since you know there is always a wisecracking joke around the corner.

Oh, and the end credits are equally amusing. Props to Celine Dion for having a sense of humour in addition to her singing chops. Again, her involvement just proves that everyone loves Ryan Reynolds.

Watch the official trailer here:

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout – Christopher McQuarrie

Mission: Impossible – Fallout starring Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames,and Rebecca Ferguson.
Photo credit: Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures

It’s pretty clear that Christopher McQuarrie (Director – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Writer – Edge of Tomorrow) likes working with  Tom Cruise, they have collaborated on five other films before Mission: Impossible – Fallout in various capacities. When a Producer/Director/Writer has a good working relationship with an actor, it typically comes out on the screen. In the case of McQuarrie and Cruise, it has resulted in many wildly successful action films over the last decade, with Fallout having the best opening weekend for the entire six-movie franchise. 

Critics have called Fallout one of the best action movies ever made. And it’s true, the action doesn’t stop – it is pure escapism at its finest. It’s hard to believe that the hanging-from-an-airplane-scene or the underwater-scene-done-in-one-breath could be topped, but the stunts in Fallout do just that.  Yes, stunts – with an “s”. They are the cornerstone of the franchise and, frankly,  no one can do it better than Tom Cruise. It never leaves you doubting the reality of what you’re seeing on screen because you already know it’s real. In a world where visual effects are generally overdone and entire films are done with the help of a green screen, Mission:Impossible still clings to the notion that “real is better than fake”. When it can be pulled off like it is in Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and Fallout, that is most definitely true.

Fallout follows Ethan Hunt and his team on another mission to stop world destruction when a group gets their hands on a set of weaponized plutonium. Again, Hunt finds himself in a compromising situation (or three) when he has to take matters into his own hands to stop the criminal organization. Lane (Sean Harris) is back from the previous film and is hellbent on destroying Hunt and everything he holds dear. In true Mission: Impossible fashion, there’s double crossing, hand-to-handle battle, a lot of running, intriguing villains, and beautiful women. There’s even a surprising connection to the first Mission: Impossible through one of the new characters, but if you don’t catch it, it’s nothing to lose sleep over. Henry CavillVanessa Kirby, and  Angela Bassett are welcomed additions to the franchise and each new character makes Hunt’s journey a little more interesting this time around. 

Photo credit: Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures

Typically after six movies, some of the cast starts to drop off or replacements are used for certain characters. In the case of the Mission: Impossible film franchise, that hasn’t seemed to be the case. It leads one to believe they really enjoy their work. Tom Cruise may not necessarily be the most likable actor due to his religious beliefs and prior talk show antics (Oprah’s couch), but it certainly appears that he is well-liked in Hollywood, and not just for his almost-guaranteed box-office draw. Between all the stunts and the witty banter between characters, the Mission: Impossible movies just look like a lot of fun to be part of – and a big part of that (like it or not) is due to Tom Cruise. Action movies aren’t known for being very genuine and typically whatever “depth” they attempt to throw in usually seems a bit forced. Mission: Impossible has always been a little bit different though – the balance just….works. You’ll laugh, hold your breath, and take Hunt seriously, all at he same time.

It’s an easy franchise to be loyal to. The formula is the same, the actors/characters are the same (for the most part), and it just keeps getting bigger and better. Oh, and Tom Cruise runs. What’s not to like?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to run (Tom Cruise style) to the nearest theatre and watch the latest installment on the big screen. You won’t regret it. *cue iconic theme song*

Watch the official trailer here:

Red Sparrow – Francis Lawrence

Red Sparrow starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton.
Photo Credit : Twentieth Century Fox

If you’re looking for an R-rated film with a take-no-prisoners female lead, graphic violence, and full frontal nudity, look no further – Red Sparrow has it all. Unlike most spy movies, this one does everything it can to deglamorize the spy world. Red Sparrow tries to shock you at every turn, and for the most part it succeeds. This is the main reason the film’s reception was hot and cold for the most part. Some found it intriguing and suspenseful, while others were overwhelmed with the violence and thought it cheapened the bleak tale of survival.

The story features a secret Russian government training program that trains its agents to use their bodies and intellect to extract intelligence information from unsuspecting marks. In this case, the mark is a C.I.A agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) who is caught up in a complicated Russian-American intelligence battle. It turns out former ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is something of an expert in the art of seduction and is tasked with getting Nash to reveal his source, a high-ranking Russian mole. The plotline starts out simple enough, with Egovora being unwillingly thrust into the spy world,  learning the ‘tricks’ of the trade, and beginning her mission. It gets more and more complicated as it goes on as you aren’t sure about anyone’s motives (but that’s the deal with spies, no?). All you do know is that Egovora wants out of the life, and at any cost. Despite the mind-boggle, Red Sparrow stays interesting and – in true spy-thriller fashion – concludes with an epic triple-twist.  It also features the most realistic knife fight ever to be seen on screen. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but altogether a really impressive scene for all involved.

Director Francis Lawrence, best known for three Hunger Games films (Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1 & Part 2) and I Am Legend, has worked with Jennifer Lawrence and is clearly familiar with her talent. Her craft is certainly on display in Red Sparrow – from her Russian accent to her brief stint as a ballerina to a disturbing rape scene, she is undeniably one of the best actresses of our time and is as far away from being typecast as possible. While he may have directed a number of music videos in the early 2000’s for the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Will Smith (for real…), Francis Lawrence clearly has a passion for darker, dystopian-style films, and Red Sparrow is an obvious example of that. Supporting actors include Jeremy Irons,  Matthias Schoenaerts, and Charlotte Rampling

All in all, Red Sparrow is a good watch. But while some people may have raved about it (in a positive way), it isn’t likely they (or anyone else) will be in the mood to watch it more than once. However, if you can withstand the wrenching torture scenes and typically enjoy a good thriller, taking the time to see it at least once is recommended. You will more than likely be satisfied with the ending – it’s one that sticks with you – and it’s almost-always exciting to see the darker side of the intelligence game. As mentioned before, the spy life depicted in this thriller is anything but glamorous. It turns out it’s not all disguises and martinis after all.

Watch the official trailer here:

 

Darkest Hour – Joe Wright

Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ben Mendelsohn.
Photo Credit: Jack English/Focus Features

It’s a movie that was made for the Oscars; you have a brilliant performance of a historical figure, impressive makeup and costume to go with the times, the inclusion of a powerful wartime speech, and artistic camera work. Darkest Hour is not the best movie to come out in 2017, not by a long shot, but no one can argue it’s a quality film and quite enjoyable. You get a glimpse into Winston Churchill’s battle to gain the trust of the Cabinet when he takes over as British Prime Minister for Neville Chamberlain in the early days of World War II.

It actually fits in really well with another film that was featured in the same Best Picture category at the Oscars – Dunkirk. They take place at the same time and it would benefit moviegoers to watch them both for historical purposes. It’s a time in history that not everyone is familiar with and it’s very interesting to see things happen from the soldiers’ perspectives as well as the political perspective. The two films couldn’t be more different but they stay true to their perspectives: the soldier’s point of view is action-based while a politician’s point of view is all about words.

Most people can agree that Gary Oldman deserved an Oscar a long time ago. He finally took one home at the 90th Academy Awards in early March for his portrayal of Churchill. It wasn’t even a question that he would win. He disappears into the character and brings a lot of spunk to a man most people have only read about in history classes. But of course his performance wouldn’t have been as effective without the makeup team, so the three of them also brought home Oscar for their efforts in Darkest Hour. The supporting cast of Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, and Ben Mendelsohn is good, but be under no false illusion that Darkest Hour is anything but the ‘Gary Oldman Show’. It’s a mere snapshot in time after all, when Churchill was facing his biggest decisions as Prime Minister, so most other characters are just filler.

In addition to Best Actor in a Leading Role (won), Best Picture, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling (won), Darkest Hour was also nominated for Best Cinematography. It’s one of those things that is actually hard to ignore in this film. If it’s something you don’t usually notice, you likely will notice it here.

Darkest Hour takes place at a time in history where things could have gone very differently for Britain, and the rest of the world. It’s not an edge-of-your-seat thriller but you definitely feel the sense of urgency. Knowing the outcome, the movie is done in such a way that makes you want to slap some sense into the opposition. During Churchill’s speeches you may even find yourself thinking, “Damn straight! You tell ‘em Winston!”. It’s as close to a universally enjoyable movie as you can get without being animated and released by Pixar. At just over 2 hours it’s a fairly standard run-time for a film of this nature. There is also no content in it that would be any cause for concern while watching with family, young or old. It’ll make you giggle, make you cheer (internally), and you might even learn a few things! If you’re a historian, as long as you forgive the filmmakers for taking dramatic license to tell the story, you won’t regret watching Churchill navigate through Britain’s “darkest hour”.

Watch the official trailer here:

Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
Photo credit: Merie Wallace and A24

Creating a film that so many people can identify with is not an easy task. The sheer amount of people who have responded to the film and title character in such a positive way leads one to believe that Greta Gerwig has succeeded with Lady Bird. Many people, young and old, who have seen Lady Bird have responded by saying, “That character is/was me!” or, “That is exactly how I felt about my parents/school/hometown/friends growing up!” and that is a true sign of success for a writer/director – aside from the movie being nominated for five Oscars. This is Gerwig’s directorial debut.

Lady Bird could take place in any decade and in any town but it happens to be Sacramento in 2002. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is in her senior year at a pretty normal Catholic high school and trying to figure out what she wants to do for college. On one hand it’s a fairly standard coming-of-age story where nothing exciting or out of the ordinary happens, but on the other hand it is completely unique. Lady Bird – an odd name, but soon it’s the last thing on your mind – has a strained relationship with her hard-working mother (Laurie Metcalf) and is yearning for independence and adventure. She is trying to fit in but at the same time is trying to break free. What you get is a very funny and very touching story of a seventeen-year-old navigating through one of the most important times of her life.

Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) has been one to watch since she broke out in 2007 with Atonement. Her role in Lady Bird has earned her a third acting nomination in ten years, which is very well deserved, especially for a twenty-three year old. The interactions between Lady Bird and her parents are timeless, and that is probably thanks to the brilliant Oscar-nominated script. It’s so good and so real that you probably won’t even notice it, which is the sign of an amazing screenplay. Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) is also nominated for her supporting role as an overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated mother of two. Special mention goes to Beanie Feldstein who plays the extremely likeable best friend.

Since Lady Bird doesn’t follow the traditional flow if a film with an introduction, climax, and conclusion, it feels more like you are just observing a girl’s senior year unfold and not watching a movie at all. You feel like you just popped in to observe a piece of Lady Bird’s life; you know a lot happened before you got there and you feel that the characters are still living their lives after the credits roll. What’s a shame is that in the absence of action or a plot twist, a few people will mistake Lady Bird for boring and mundane. What they won’t get is that that is the whole point – high school is generally unexciting, but at the time, losing a best friend, falling in love, figuring out your future, and trying new things is the be-all-end-all of your life!

Lady Bird was shown at many international film festivals and received a wider release later in 2017. It was a difficult film for many people to see in theatres, which is a shame. But following the 90th Academy Awards in March, it will surely be in high demand. Lady Bird has been nominated for five Oscars at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards:
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Achievement in Directing
Best Original Screenplay

Watch the official trailer here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNi_HC839Wo

The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water starring Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) loves to make movies and it’s obvious that actors and members of the production teams love to make movies with him. Those who have worked on The Shape of Water have called it “magical” and “beautiful” and during del Toro’s Best Director award speech at the Golden Globes, he moved his two leading ladies to tears. The love and the respect people seem to have for del Toro certainly translated to the screen and their performances in The Shape of Water. This film was so well received, it has been nominated for thirteen Oscars (just one shy of the record), including the big ones (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay) and a number of the technical ones (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Film Editing).

Sally Hawkins (Maudie, Blue Jasmine) turns in a performance of a lifetime as Elisa, a mute cleaner at a highly classified government facility who meets and eventually falls in love with an amphibian creature being held captive at the facility. She doesn’t say a word, but through her facial expressions, use of sign language, and that sly smile, you know exactly what she’s feeling. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) is equally impressive as Zelda, Elisa’s cleaning colleague. She’s funny, doesn’t stop talking, and never really requires a response from Elisa in order to know how she feels about something. It must be difficult to play a part when your lines are like one big rant but it never really shows. The rest of the supporting cast couldn’t be any better – Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Michael Shannon is an over-the-top villain named Strickland who you despise in every single scene. He never lets up and it’s perfection.

The film is set in the 1960’s when everyone was afraid of Russians spies. When a creature from the Amazon is brought into a secret research facility its apparent that the views on how to treat it are opposing. One man wants to learn from it, the other man wants to torture and destroy it before enemies can get their hands on it. In the middle is Elisa, who somehow finds companionship with the strange, misunderstood creature. It’s a weird story that brings together elements from familiar movies like Splash, King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, and Creature from the Black Lagoon – and some may say the narrative has been done before, so why bother? If this type of thing troubles you, if you were angry that Avatar got so much hype even though it was basically Pocahontas, stay at home because this type of fantasy film probably isn’t for you. It’s what a director does with a familiar story – either visually or with beloved characters – that can make all the difference. What James Cameron did to revitalize the popular story with a huge budget, del Toro does with and a small budget and pure passion.

This movie is too different to be universally likeable. The magical/unbelievable element will throw off some moviegoers– but if you go into it prepared and with an open mind, it’s really hard not to love every minute of it. Guillermo del Toro has said that on a few occasions, his fairy tales have saved his life – The Shape of Water being one of them – and that is evident in how personal the film feels. It explores the loneliness in being different, the dream of being loved and understood, and the harsh cruel realities of the world all at once. The score (Oscar-nominated Alexandre Desplat), the almost-excessive romanticism, and overly adorable characters will either make you smile with delight for two hours or have you rolling your eyes, wishing for it to be over. Like everything, it’s a matter of perspective and what you’re in the mood for.

The Shape of Water has grossed over $95M worldwide; with less than a $20M budget that is quite the success. The Shape of Water has been nominated for thirteen Oscars at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards:
Best Achievement in Directing
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Best Achievement in Film Editing
Best Achievement in Production Design

Watch the official trailer from FOX Searchlight here:

Blade Runner 2049 – Denis Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford, and Robin Wright.
Photo Credit: Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros Pictures

When the executive producer of a movie openly admits the movie is too long, and that executive producer is also a director notorious for making movies with 150 min runtimes, you have to believe him when he says it. Blade Runner 2049 is many things: visually stunning, intriguing, artistic, and, as Ridley Scott so delicately put it, “f***ing way too long“. Even if it takes more than one sitting, even if you need a couple bathroom breaks in the 2hrs and 44mins; if you’re a fan of quality sci-fi drama (think Arrival), Blade Runner 2049 is a must-see.

Just like the original Blade Runner (directed by Ridley Scott 35 years ago), it’s not for everyone. If you have no patience for slow films and for scenes that are easily 2 minutes longer than they have to be, avoid this sequel like the plague. If you are the DC/Marvel type who needs humour and constant action, avoid this movie like the plague. If you are the other type of movie watcher, sit back and get completely sucked into a new (or not so new) world.

Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Prisoners, Sicario) took a 35-year-old movie and made it fresh and relevant. A very serious Ryan Gosling plays “K”, a young “blade runner” for the L.A. Police Department. Blade runners are tasked with hunting down and retiring old Replicant models, a type of bioengineered android that looks identical to a human. Apparently older Replicants rose up against humans at some point, but that’s not really important. The important thing to know is that Replicants look and act like humans; older models are not wanted and are hunted and killed; and there is a giant, powerful corporation that is experimenting with new models and new features that make it even more difficult to tell the difference. During a routine stop, K stumbles on something strange that requires further investigation. His boss (Robin Wright) tasks him with getting to the bottom of the strange events surrounding the death of an old model, all while trying to stay ahead of the CEO of the corporation (Jared Leto), who wants answers for a very different reason. The story is fairly complex, and although it doesn’t require one to see the original, it probably helps one understand the world a little better.

Lucky for fans of the original film, K’s investigation leads him to former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). It’s been 30 years and he’s a little older, but there’s still a lot of fight (and heartache) left in his character, not to mention Mr. Ford himself (see video ‘Ryan Gosling Nearly Knocked Out by Harrison Ford‘).

The main features of the movie are the cinematography, production design, and the music/sound – all things that Blade Runner 2049 has been nominated for. The dusty, dirty, futuristic dystopia is breathtaking in almost every scene. If camera work and set design are not things you typically notice in a film, you will surely notice them in this one. They make the ugly future strangely beautiful. The score is eerily similar to Arrival, so much so that it is hard to believe that Jóhann Jóhannsson had no part in it; in fact, he was replaced by Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk, Interstellar, Inception) and Benjamin Wallfisch (IT) shortly into filming. For a film with fairly limited dialogue, the music is quite noticeable and gives the sweeping landscapes more “oomph”.

To sum up, although Blade Runner 2049 is an acquired taste just like the original, it will surely satisfy those who enjoy a science fiction drama with spectacular visuals. Denis Villeneuve brings his typical darker style to the film as well as his talent for perfect endings.

Blade Runner 2049 brought in just under $260M worldwide and has been nominated for five Oscars at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards, including:
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Best Achievement in Production Design

Watch the official Warner Bros. trailer here:

Arrival – Denis Villeneuve

Arrival starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker.
Photo Credit: Jan Thijs/Paramount Pictures

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Incendies) has done something extraordinary. Arrival is what had been missing from the 2016 movie year and exactly what was needed, a truly unique and enormously entertaining film. Much more than the average science fiction film, Arrival takes alien encounters very seriously. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play the roles of acclaimed linguist Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly, who are called upon by the U.S. Army to provide input on the alien visitors and their gravity-defying ship. They are tasked to find out why they came and what they want. As expected, it can be very difficult to communicate with a being that doesn’t speak or think in terms humans can understand, so they have a long and complicated road ahead if them. It’s both intriguing and entertaining to watch the story unfold.

From the get-go, Arrival is unsettling, mostly due to Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s haunting score (listen here). A generally somber mood is crafted right at the beginning with a cryptic monologue by Adams and a series of flashbacks. Most of the movie is dark and shadowy with some exceptional cinematography and sleek production design, both of which Arrival received Oscar nominations for. The acting is superb, with a striking performance by Adams, which was sadly ignored by the Academy.

Much like Villeneuve’s other films, every scene and conversation has a purpose; no screen time is wasted on cheap science fiction thrills like scary aliens or battle sequences. Arrival is as sophisticated as it is unique. There is some action and some intense moments, but overall it would almost classify as a science fiction drama. If you are in the mood for something light à la Independence Day: Resurgence , you will be very disappointed. The characters are in a race against time to solve a puzzle – in this case an alien language – where the consequences of getting it wrong could mean war.

Just shy of 120 minutes, Arrival is a great length and does not take an hour to end once things ramp up (looking at you, Return of the King). It takes you on a complex journey and holds back some key information for a big reveal that will leave you breathless and perhaps even choking back some tears. Some will even think that the movie is over too soon, that there could have been more – more explanations or more conclusions – but in the end, Arrival is as close to perfect as a film can get. Nothing is as it seems, and you’ll probably re-watch it as soon as you can to fully appreciate Villeneuve’s mastery.

The film was released in November 2016 and grossed just short of $200M worldwide.

Arrival was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It ended up walking away with one win for sound editing.

Watch the official trailer here:

The Accountant – Gavin O’Connor

The Accountant starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, and J.K. Simmons. Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick/Warner Bros

The Accountant starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, and J.K. Simmons.
Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick/Warner Bros

Director Gavin O’Connor doesn’t have very much to boast about in terms of past films, only 2011’s Warrior can give any sort of indication that he knows what he’s doing – and not many people saw that one – so despite the last minute marketing effort, the expectations for The Accountant were set pretty low. It could go either way, the movie could either be heavily character driven and not nearly as exciting as the previews indicated (like O’Connor’s Pride and Glory), or it could be a standard action-thriller with all the right moves. As it turns out, The Accountant was neither. The action sequences are fast-paced, satisfying, and deadly and the character development is intriguing, dramatic, and tasteful. The successful fusion of both of these genres is what makes the movie interesting and widely appealing.

Ben Affleck stars as the main character Christian Wolff, known to the U.S. Treasury Department as “the accountant”, among other aliases. He is a mathematics savant with autistic tendencies who has used his exceptional skills to provide accounting services to the criminal underworld for years, while managing to stay alive between jobs. As expected, he has his unique quirks and his ability to understand social cues is virtually non-existent, but his neurodevelopment disorder is never ridiculed or used as the brunt of the joke in The Accountant. Some scenes and exchanges are amusing, but the general “handling” of the condition (as well as its diagnosis) is in no way offensive. Christian’s other impressive skill, explained in a series of childhood flashbacks, is that he is a killing machine; of course, he only puts this to good use when the situation calls for it and when it appeals to his moral code.

When Christian takes on what is thought to be a low-key job investigating some missing money at a robotics company, things start to unravel. Both he and a fellow accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick) find themselves in a situation that calls for him to mostly use his secondary set of skills. Anna Kendrick is delightfully awkward as always and manages to compliment the mostly stoic Affleck. The plot (or plots) is a bit of a mess at times, but the conclusion mostly makes up for any mistakes along the 128-minute pathway.

The supporting cast is quite good, with John Lithgow (Interstellar) as the head of the robotics firm, J.K Simmons (Whiplash) and Cynthia Addai-Robinson as the treasury agents hot on Christian’s trail, Jon Bernthal (Sicario) as deadly hitman, and finally Jeffrey Tambor in a small role as a fellow inmate.

Critics haven’t been very impressed with The Accountant since its release on October 14, 2016, but audiences have generally found it entertaining and worth watching. It’s not your everyday garden variety action film, nor is it a boring piece solely focused on character development. While it won’t win any awards or be remembered for years to come, it takes the good parts from each genre and manages to win you over in the end.

The Accountant was a solid #1 hit in its opening weekend, bringing in over $24M domestically (U.S.A).

Watch the official trailer here:

Snowden – Oliver Stone

Snowden starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley.

Snowden starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson and Melissa Leo. Photo Credit: Jürgen Olczyk/Open Road Films

While some may believe Oliver Stone‘s Edward Snowden biopic was made a decade too early (the events in the film occur between 2009 and 2013), there is something to be said for presenting the story to the public while it is still relevant and while things aren’t yet resolved. The details leading up to, and the events surrounding Edward Snowden’s exposure of the U.S Government’s secretive surveillance programs was something Oliver Stone was born to direct (and write), given his penchant for politically controversial topics (the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam war, for example). The Oscar-winning  writer-director of Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Nixon, to name a few, took on the challenge of capturing the story and also the essence of the man who leaked extremely classified NSA documents to journalists from The Guardian in 2013.

Snowden stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend Lindsay Mills, and a number of other accomplished actors as colleagues, friends, and contacts. Familiar faces such as Nicolas Cage, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, and Rhys Ifans are featured throughout the film in various roles. Unlike most other Oliver Stone films, Snowden will appeal to a much larger audience; it’s not as slow-moving or as long as some of his more famous films (which can range anywhere from 2 hrs to a whopping 3 hrs and 12 mins).  The topics presented in the film may be complex, but they are explained clearly and certainly spark a sense of alarm and disbelief as the far-reach of the government is presented before your eyes. As one can expect from a movie like this, the world of coding and hacking is displayed in a stylish manner – all flashing lights and visual effects – which generally appeals to everyone aside from computer nerds who tend to know better.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt became Edward Snowden in this film. His mannerisms, his speech, even his look is completely captured almost to the point where it becomes creepy. It takes a moment to adjust to the new voice and to stop thinking of it just as an actor’s “really good impression”, but rather a performance – a full embodiment of the character Edward Snowden. It’s a complex thing to try to show the internal struggle of a man torn between being patriotic and doing (what he perceived as) the right thing for his fellow man. The other actors do a great job in their supporting roles, but the focus stays on the subject at hand – Snowden. Even though you know how it ends, the film remains captivating and does not drag on (which tends to happen when a movie pushes past a 2 hr runtime).

It can be argued that the film only shows one side of the story and doesn’t take into account the potentially dangerous implications of Snowden’s actions, but it’s the side that needed telling just the same. A striking number of people don’t know the story, or even that it happened in the first place (which is even more shocking); so aside from the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, this is the next best thing to get to know the man behind one of the biggest security breaches in United States intelligence.

Snowden was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September 2016 and its wide theatrical release was September 16, 2016. The official runtime is 134 minutes.

Watch the official trailer here: