Wednesday, October 26, 2016

El Gringo Predator 3: Desierto

Illegal immigrants crossing into America get more than they bargained for in first-time director Jonás Cuarón’s low-budget exploitation thriller ‘Desierto.’  Co-produced by his famous director father Alfonso (‘Y Tu Mama Tambien,’ ‘Children of Men,’ ‘Gravity’), its hot-button topic of Mexicans pouring across our borders is not only timely and relevant but will undoubtedly provoke debate as we approach the end of another election year.  Trump may already have lost, but at least his supporters can indulge a bit in this cinematic fantasy in pure homicidal excess.  Note: I'm not one of them.
When a group of migrant workers seeking to realize the "American Dream" of making a living outside of Home Depots in Los Estados Unidos becomes stranded after their truck broke down in the middle of the Arizona badlands, they find themselves terrorized and hunted by a text-book card-carrying, rifle-toting NRA redneck named (Uncle?) Sam (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his ferocious hunting dog.  As they are systematically picked off one by one, auto mechanic Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal) must draw upon every ounce of his reserves to survive and reunite with his familia.  Can he do it, or will he become the latest victim of El Gringo?
Lean, primal and visceral, ‘Desierto’ is gripping in its tension and tightly wound suspense even if its plot is simplistic and its characterizations are thin.  Morgan and Bernal are both believable in their roles as the hunter and the hunted, and the film managed to keep us on edge throughout its 90-minute or so running time.  Make no mistake, ‘Desierto’ is a shameless and exploitative B-movie taking advantage of a divisive political issue, but it certainly isn’t alone in that regard. 

Grade: B+

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Adventures in Accounting

Oscar winning director and DC Extended Universe’s new Batman Ben Affleck wears a pocket protector and gives one of the world's most unglamorous professions a dangerous (and sexy?) twist in director Gavin O’Connor’s ‘The Accountant.’   Just who is “The Accountant,” you ask?  Not simply a CPA who can help with our taxes as J.K. Simmons’ director of financial crimes pointed out in the movie’s trailer (a scene that was changed in the film unfortunately), the mysterious and elusive Accountant is so much more: a forensic accountant with a penchant for “following the money” and blowing the lids off financial cover-ups who’s also a deadly “don’t mess with me” all-around badass.  Of course, he had no choice if he were to keep "uncooking the books" of dangerous criminals and live.
Affleck is Christian Wolff, an autistic math whiz who, along with his more normal little brother Brax, were raised by their father after their mom left them.  A psych-ops officer in the army, the father raised his two boys with “tough love” so that they are prepared to survive no matter what hardship.  When Wolff’s latest audit uncovered hidden accounting discrepancies at a cutting-edge robotics firm owned by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) whose stocks are about to go public, he and the unwitting whistleblower played by Anna Kendrick found themselves marked for death.  Those poor professional assassins.  They had no idea who they’re up against.
Affleck delivered an understated and nuanced performance as the man with many aliases, imparting ‘The Accountant’ with humanity and depth despite his obvious lack of social skills and stone cold façade.  While the movie's script defied belief and gave us a twist near the end that was a bit predictable, 'The Accountant' is nonetheless an entertaining popcorn action flick and certified crowd-pleaser.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Girl Who Can't Recall

British actress Emily Blunt’s latest film is the mystery-suspense thriller ‘The Girl on the Train,’ adapted from the bestselling novel by British author Paula Hawkins about the disappearance of a young woman and the sole witness (Blunt) being the prime suspect.  The trailer of the movie looked promising and reminded me of David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl,’ which undoubtedly was its very intent.
Blunt plays poor Rachel, a thirty-something divorced woman with a lot of issues.  Not only is she infertile and a recovering alcoholic still suffering from the lingering emotional and mental trauma of having been cheated on and tossed aside by her ex husband (Justin Theroux), who fathered a baby with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), she’s also susceptible to disorienting blackouts which made her lose large chunks of time that she can’t recall.  Finding it hard to move on, Rachel frequently stalks her ex and his new wife from a distance, once even entering their home without permission and taking their baby (left alone for a minute) outside.  When the baby's independent young twenty-something nanny Megan (Haley Bennett), who in turn was having an affair with the cheating husband (men!) behind Anna's back (what goes around comes around), disappears and later turns up dead, Rachel becomes the chief “person of interest” in the subsequent investigation.  As damaged and baggage-laden as she may be, is Rachel truly capable of... murder?  Inquiring minds would like to know.
Of course, if you’ve read the book the movie would hold little suspense for you.  Not having read it, I find TGOTT to be a moderately suspenseful tale.  While the movie is uneven, slow at times, and resorts to flashbacks a lot, the central storyline and individual performances did just enough to hold my interest throughout.  Alas, ‘Gone Girl’ good this isn’t.

Grade: B+
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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

DeepSix Horizon

The British Petroleum oil rig disaster which occurred over the course of April 20 to 22, 2010 off the coast of Louisiana is the subject of Mark Wahlberg’s latest disaster flick.  I remember watching news coverage of this incident with equal parts fascination and horror as it unfolded, the worst man‑made environmental disaster in US history surpassing even the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill.  A tragedy of epic proportions, 11 lives were lost and an estimated five million barrels of oil were spilled into the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico by the time the blowout was finally contained nearly three months later.
‘Deepwater Horizon’ is told through the eyes of three key participants.  Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, an electronic technician caught in the maelstrom during that fateful night of April 20, as the shit hits the proverbial fan despite earlier assurances from a BP exec (John Malkovich) that there was nothing to worry about.  Tragedies often beget ironies, and in DH it was his boss and rig supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) being given a safety award mere hours before the explosion.  The other key player in the film is Gina Rodriguez’s Andrea Fleytas, a rig pilot working in what is essentially a man’s world.
Director Peter Berg crafted a near perfect disaster movie, imparting DH with the immediacy, chaos and sense of impending doom that are at once riveting and yet deeply human.  As he was in ‘The Perfect Storm,’ Wahlberg is solid once again as the main protagonist, the eye of the storm in the midst of all the confusion and chaos.  Exciting, compelling and utterly tragic, DH is worth a look not only for disaster movie aficionados but also anyone who’s interested in this dark chapter of American environmental history.

Grade: A-

You might say he's seen better days...
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Miss P's House of Freaky Kids

The latest YA novel to be adapted into a movie is Ransom Riggs’ ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.’  The adaptation, directed by Tim Burton and starring French actress Eva Green in the role of the titular head mistress of a creaky old Gothic boarding house on an island off the coast of Ireland, is as oddly peculiar as its name would suggest.  Best characterized as a dark fantasy/horror film for teenagers, the movie features children possessing powers or unique characteristics including a girl who’s lighter than air, a fire starter, an invisible boy, a creator/animator of creepy objects, a girl with Popeye-like strength and another girl who has a gaping maw filled with sharp teeth on the back of her head.  Weird, huh?  What sick and twisted mind thinks up of this stuff, Ransom Riggs?
Not having read the book, I enjoyed MPHFPC more than I probably would have had I read it.  The tale combines dark fantasy with gothic elements and sci-fi; the whole conceit of the movie is that these people exist in a time-loop that restarts every day right before a German bomber plane destroys their home during WWII.  Can you imagine living the same day over and over, even if you try to live them differently each time?  Like clockwork, Miss Peregrine winds her pocket watch back each day on the hour so that she and her children can live on in blissful happiness forever.  But there has to be more to the story, you say?  It just so happens that Miss P and her precious charges are pursued by the sinister Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and his cohort, immortal Wights with an army of giant stick-like ‘Hollows” who seek to regain their human form by consuming the eyes of children, the more peculiar the better.
Refreshing and entertaining, MPHFPC is also stylish and atmospheric as we would expect from a Tim Burton film.  If I have to characterize the movie, I would say it has a decidedly creepy Lovecraftian eldritch vibe and should appeal to those who like their fantasies a bit off the beaten path by way of the twisted and the macabre.

Grade: B+

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