Commentaries

Thursday, October 27, 2016

INFERNO



THIRD TIME NO CHARM FOR HANKS

Film Review by Fiore 


Professor Langdon, the cryptic symbolist, played by Tom Hanks, is getting better, but he still suffers from the same ailments that plagued his last escapades.  The same can be said of Director Ron Howard.  Dan Brown’s novels expose his Achilles heel as a director; but the problems for INFERNO, the third of Brown’s books to transform to celluloid, begins with Screenwriter David Koepp.

Brown writes intricate plots with a labyrinth of storylines.  The novels, seeped in historical conjecture, often run 400 pages.  In contrast, the average movie script is 120 pages.  It takes a special talent to tell a 400-page tale in 120 pages; and it is the boondoggle of the Langdon film series.  While INFERNO is slightly better than the first two outings, it still suffers, severely, from Koepp attempting to fit too much information into his allotted script.  Thus, INFERNO is mind-numbing.  Once the climatic final reel commences, the lines between antagonist and protagonist are so blurred, “you can’t tell the players without a scorecard”, as they say in Cleveland.

This latest episode from a line of tales penned to challenge current religious and literary beliefs, begins with Langdon in a hospital suffering from a head wound and temporary amnesia.  It takes only a few scenes before he discovers there are strong and powerful enemies set on his demise, though he can’t remember why.  Aided by his doctor, Sienna Brooks, played by Felicity Jones, Langdon begins a merry chase through Florence, Italy.  His pursuers include:  Omar Sy; Irrfan Khan and Ana Ularu.  His only ally appears to be Elizabeth Sinskey, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen; but as B.B. King intoned, “she could be jiving, too”, after all, she is one of the dreaded three-name people.

Ben Foster is the main antagonist, but considering he dies in the opening minutes of the film, he appears only in flashback and his role is reduced to a mere cameo.  It is a bit of a shame, for Foster is a talented actor worthy of a much bigger slice of the pie.



KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      VISUALIZATION OF DANTE’S HELL
2.      THE INTERROGATION
3.      ESCAPE FROM THE HOSPITAL

Behind the camera, INFERNO offers a cadre of talent.  Hans Zimmer provides an amazing score with all the energy and pulse of his MIAMI VICE days.  If you’ve never seen Italy, Director of Photography Salvatore Totino provides a panoramic vista of shots better than most travel brochures; besides he also makes great pizza rolls.

Howard must have known he had a problem with the complexity of the story, for he hired two editors, Tom Elkins and Dan Hanley.  Together, they still were unable to salvage a cramped plot. 

Thrillers always have a ‘plot reveal’.  This is when a main character, usually the villain, explains the hows and whys of the story.  Steve Martin and Carl Reiner did a marvelous job of spoofing the plot reveal in DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID.  There is usually one plot reveal during a movie.  By the time INFERNO offers its fourth, viewers are tired of the same old same old, much like the current shenanigans of the presidential election.

Beginning with THE DA VINCI CODE Professor Robert Langdon provides thrills galore, rooted in historical context.  The tales, however, do not translate well to film.  No one yet, despite tapping talent, has successfully adapted the novels to celluloid.  INFERNO is two hours long, but feels more like a week and a half.




THE GRADE FOR INFERNO = C

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

JACK REACHER NEVER GO BACK



SOLID ACTION FLICK 

Film Review by Fiore 


By every stretch of the imagination, this series should not work.  Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series is a liberal, anti-gun Brit who writes about an American hero who embodies the fist-thumping, gun-shooting take no prisoners attitudes enveloping this country. So, there is a dichotomy between the character and the author’s personas.   Reacher is described as six foot, six inches, 250 pounds of solid muscle, with blond hair, blue eyes and hair buzzed short in military fashion.  He reads like a fictional account of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who once, long ago, was considered for the role.  Instead, we have Tom Cruise, who is a great actor, but falls considerably short on Reacher’s description.

When the first Jack Reacher film was released, I moaned about the casting.  The film was solid, though, fit nicely in the action genre, and Cruise pulled off the portrayal.  So, even though the series has two glaring hurdles, it is proving to be a franchise Cruise can ride, much in the vein of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.  He fills the part of Reacher nicely, even though he is nowhere near the novel’s description.  And, Child continues to impress with his writing on subjects that are not near and dear to his heart; unless, of course he is following Hillary’s method of saying one thing to your audience while thinking a completely different thing when in private conversations.  (Hope he isn’t keeping his emails on an unsecure personal server.)

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is the second in the series, and it stands well with the first endeavor.  Director Edward Zwick has fashioned a fast-paced action yarn surrounding illegal gun sales in the Middle East.  It seems there is always a company, or greedy businessman, willing to deal with our enemies if the price is right.  Just ask Bob Barker.

Cruise returns as Reacher, an ex-military nomad who wanders the Earth, staying off the grid, and helping people whenever he can; sort of like Caine, in KUNG FU, if Caine were in modern times and a member of Delta Force.  Cruise plays this role well, always seeming to be in control, regardless of the odds stacked against him.  This contrasts with his portrayal of Ethan Hunt, who frequently looks like John Belushi in ANIMAL HOUSE, when the horse dies of a heart attack.

This time around, Reacher is drawn into a mass conspiracy when one of his military associates, Major Susan Turner, played by Cobie Smulders, is framed for treason.  Reacher launches an all-out assault on the military infections who have suddenly become venture capitalists, headed by General Harkness, played by Robert Knepper.  Reacher’s major (pardon the pun) stumbling block is The Hunter, played by Patrick Heusinger, who is an ex-special ops agent with the impression taking out Reacher could win him the World Heavyweight Championship Belt.

To further complicate the confrontation with The Hunter, there is a subplot about a young girl, Samantha Dayton, played by Danika Yarosh, who may or may not be Reacher’s bastard child.


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE FIGHT IN THE BOX CAR
2.      THE OPENING DINER SCENE
3.      THE AIRPLANE

It is generally not good for a movie adaptation to follow its original medium.  Film is its own visual representation, and should be treated as such, while still honoring the original work.  The Reacher series seems to be the exception to the rule.  Both films have followed the novels they were derived from very closely; yet despite having less time to develop the tale, screenwriter Richard Wenk, with a little help from the director, manages to keep all those who want to see the book on film happy.  No easy feat.

Henry Jackman provides the music.  He is aided by having a portion of the film, including the climax, take place in New Orleans, where he can mix swamp blues, and swing jazz riffs into the melodies.  Oliver Wood is a seasoned vet behind the camera, and he shoots JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK with aplomb, especially on the fight scenes, where you can easily tell what is happening and who is winning, unlike Matt Damon’s horrific action scenes in the JASON BOURNE series. 

A word here about the fight scenes.  They are rather brutal, but effective.  When you watch the film, notice the frequent use of hammer fist attacks.  These are hard strikes designed to incapacitate an opponent quickly.  Much more realistic than the often-stylistic fighting presented in movies.  While some may comment Reacher’s fight scenes seem primary, they are instead basic.  No dancing; no showing off.  Although, they do allow Reacher one sweet leg sweep take down on The Hunter.  There is nothing here that will rival Ben Affleck’s belt fight in THE ACCOUNTANT, but realize if you are in a serious fight to the death, these are the techniques you will use.  They are very reminiscent of the fight choreography used by Jean-Claude Van Damme in NOWHERE TO RUN, which was staged by Kali and Escrima expert Dan Innosanto, who I trained with, back in the day.  But, I digress…

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is a most excellent action film.  Like most action films, at times the timeline is ignored.  For example, could Reacher and Turner make it from the airport to the downtown hotel, while a Junkanoo parade is occurring in mere minutes?  Doubtful.  But no action film should ever be slowed down by realistic traffic considerations.

So, timelines aside, you’ll enjoy this second, in what should be a most excellent series.  Decent story, solid acting and plenty of action.  JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK will make a great date night, or even a solid bro night.  Enjoy, this one is highly recommended.




THE GRADE FOR JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK = A

Thursday, October 13, 2016

THE ACCOUNTANT



ACTION PACKED THRILLER

Film Review by Fiore 


THE ACCOUNTANT, the latest endeavor from Director Gavin O’Connor starring Ben Affleck, is a most excellent thriller, with quality performances and a new lease on life for CPAs and autistic children.  The film contains a marvelous blend of action and humor, sprinkled with just enough drama to make it one of the better Fall releases.

The film’s most notable element is its score.  Mark Isham, who continues to be one of Hollywood’s busiest musicians, has been performing yeoman work his three previous films, but he bursts forth to high pinnacles on THE ACCOUNTANT.  It’s a sweeping and rousing score very reminiscent of the ones that dominated thrillers produced during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Christian Wolff is an autistic child with a savant aptitude for mathematics.  His father is a military professional and will not accept his son’s disorder as a handicap.  He trains Chris with strict disciplined training, including self-defense techniques and shooting abilities.  His training lands him in jail for a short time, where he befriends Francis Silverberg, played by Jeffrey Tambor.  Silverberg is a master bookkeeper for the syndicate and he teaches Chris all he knows about ‘cooking’ books.  These traits make Chris highly desirable by various government agencies.  

His latest adventure concerns accounting mismanagement with LivingRobotics, a company headed by Lamar Black, played by John Lithgow.  The company makes prosthetics for the handicapped and has myriad government contracts as well.  When key personnel are murdered during his investigation, Chris discovers Lamar is faced with more than a book keeping error.


 

KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      CONFRONTATION IN DANA’S APARTMENT
2.      THE BELT FIGHT
3.      THE HOUSE RAID


There are major heavyweights behind the camera for THE ACCOUNTANT.  They include Seamus McGarvey as Cinematographer and Richard Pearson as Film Editor.  McGarvey is best known for his work on PAN and with Gareth Edwards on GODZILLA.  Pearson is currently working on KONG: SKULL ISLAND.  He is best known for his work on DRACULA UNTOLD and MALEFICENT and the James Bond adventure QUANTUM OF SOLACE.

THE ACCOUNTANT is a tad long, running just over two hours.  There are several segments that drag, and one could easily lay the blame at Pearson’s door; however, the scenes do help develop characters and re-emphasize Chris’ condition. 
 
Screenwriter Bill Dubuque has penned a gripping tale, though the money laundering ploy is rather complicated and while I understood the gist of the scam, I don’t think its ramifications have the proper gravitas.

With these few minor foibles aside, THE ACCOUNTANT will provide a most excellent evening out, with a very buff Affleck for the ladies and action galore in the form of realistic martial arts and .50 caliber firepower.  As Neil Diamond would say:  "Pack up the baby and grab the old lady" and plan date night.  THE ACCOUNTANT fits the bill.





THE GRADE FOR THE ACCOUNTANT = A