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Posts Tagged ‘J.K. Simmons’

Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller

“21 BRIDGES” My rating: C (Opens wide on Nov. 22)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

To the extent that it delivers a series of adrenaline-stoked action sequences and a ridiculously high body count, Brian Kirk’s “21 Bridges” should satisfy audiences looking for a thrill.

And that’s about it.

Not even the presence of the versatile  Chadwick Baseman (whose roles range from Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall to the Black Panther) and the eerily transforming Sienna Miller can elevate this piece above “mehhh” status.

The first half of Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan’s screenplay (and by far the better half) is a manhunt told from the points of view of two couples — a pair of crooks on the run  and a pair of cops on their heels.

In the opening sequence a couple of well-armed thugs, Michael and Ray (Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch) hit a posh New York City restaurant late at night after closing.  They’ve been told there’s 30 kilos of cocaine hidden in the eatery; they are perplexed to discover it’s more like 300 kilos, way more than they can carry out.

To further complicate matters,  a bunch of cops show up.  Maybe they are looking for a late-night snack.  In any case, there’s a gun battle that leaves eight of New York’s finest headed to the morgue.  The perps take off running.

Stephan James, Taylor Kitsch

The filmmakers at least try for plausible back stories.  Michael and Ray are ex-military; Ray is by far the more ruthless of the two, but Kitsch gives him just enough charisma to keep us interested.  Michael basically finds himself in over his head.

On the other side of the coin are detectives Andre Davis (Boseman) and Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller, almost unrecognizable with no makeup), thrown together to manage a city-wide manhunt for the cop killers.

Again, an attempt is made to provide some depth to the characters.  Davis is himself the son of a slain cop who regularly faces Internal Affairs hearings for his marksmanship (eight fatal shootings in as many years); he maintains he never fires first. Burns is a single mom with a Brooklyn accent.

To keep the crooks from leaving town, Davis imposes a 1 a.m.-to-sunup closure of all 21 bridges leading into and out of Manhattan Island.  He’s got five hours before the quarantine will be lifted and rush hour begins. (Thus the movie’s title…though once the roads are blocked the film never returns to them. Another title would have been “21 Body Bags.”)

An already perplexing case is made even more unmanageable by the dead officers’ revenge-minded colleagues (J.K. Simmons plays their precinct chief). These cops have a bad habit of killing witnesses before Davis can interview them.

In the film’s second half it dawns on Davis that there may be more to this case than meets the eye…we’re talking corruption in high places. (And you can only imagine the paperwork demanded of our hero after personally killing a dozen people.)

“21 Bridges” has been well made.  The acting is OK. The shots of NYC at night are sometimes eerily atmospheric.

On the whole, though, the film is more blah than bad. Instantly forgettable.

| Robert W. Butler

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Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart

“THE FRONT RUNNER” My rating: B-

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It is easier to appreciate “The Front Runner” as a pivotal point in our political history than it is to warm up to it as a film.

The subject is Sen. Gary Hart’s 1988 run for the Democratic nomination for President,  the allegations of sexual impropriety that brought him down, and the media’s recognition (however reluctantly) that from here on out a candidate’s private life is fair game for coverage.

It’s been well acted and incisively directed by Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “The Descendents”), yet even as it carefully lays out the parameters of the Hart affair “The Front Runner” seems remote and chilly. Perhaps there are no warm fuzzies in the film because there were no warm fuzzies in the true story.

Hart (Hugh Jackman) was a charismatic liberal with all the right responses. For those who swung left he hit the mark on race, economic disparity, the rapidly evaporating Cold War and other matters.  He might very well have made a great President, one who, according to an admirer, could “untangle the bullshit of politics so anyone can understand.”

Problem is, Hart was far easier to appreciate as a policy wonk than as an individual.  His marriage to Lee (Vera Farmiga) seemed solid — children, rustic home in the Colorado Rockies — but Hart bristled at any attempts to plum the depths of their relationship.  He insisted that the reporters covering him stick to the issues; his life behind the public image was off limits.

He wasn’t even on board with the usual photo ops, complaining that he was caught smiling “like some game show host.”

The screenplay by Reitman, Jay Carson and Matt Bai (on whose book it was based) runs on two parallel tracks.

There’s the insider workings of the Hart campaign, with an emphasis on tough-as-nails manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons) and a host of young volunteers who see in Hart a politician who reflects their generational concerns.

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Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck

“THE ACCOUNTANT”  My rating: C+

128 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A killer with autism.

How has it taken Hollywood this long to glom onto such an awesome concept?

Consider: An efficient, ruthless assassin whose Asperger-ish condition guarantees that he won’t empathize with his targets no matter how much they beg. A stoic largely immune to crippling emotions like guilt, fear and panic. A wrecking machine who can pass for civil but at heart cannot create lasting attachments. An obsessive who, once he’s started a job, is driven to finish it.

I’d pay to see that movie.

Unfortunately, that movie isn’t “The Accountant.”

Oh, Ben Affleck’s latest makes noises like it’s heading that direction before deteriorating into silliness and mayhem. But the pieces never add up.

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a CPA with an office in a south Chicago strip mall and a roster of mom-and-pop clients. But that’s only his cover.

In reality Christian is a mathematical savant and emotional cipher whose clients include drug cartels, mobsters, international arms dealers and other nasty folk. Whenever these crooks suspect that someone has been pilfering cash or cooking the books, they call in Christian to do a little forensic sleuthing.

With a mind like a mainframe computer, he always finds the culprit — who usually ends up in a landfill.

It’s dangerous work but pays well. In a rented storage facility Christian keeps an Airstream trailer packed with cash, weapons and authentic Renoir and Pollack canvases (which he has accepted from grateful clients in lieu of cash).

And as flashbacks reveal, he’s also deadly, having been trained by his military father in martial arts, ordnance, sniping and other skills that might be useful for a kid who is always being bullied.

The plot is set in motion when Christian is called in to audit a robotics firm where a lowly bean counter (Anna Kendrick) has stumbled across a bookkeeping anomaly. What our man finds puts both Christian and his gal pal in the crosshairs of an international criminal conspiracy. (more…)

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Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne

Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne

“THE MEDDLER” My rating: C+

100 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“The Meddler” is selling itself as one kind of cliche, when actually it’s a cliche of a different kind.

Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is a recent widow who has moved from her lifelong home of NYC to be with her screenwriter daughter
Lori (Rose Byrne) in sunny L.A.

TheBrooklynese-speaking Marnie is the sort of doting/smothering mama who shows up unexpectedly, lets herself into her daughter’s home with the key that is supposed to be used only for emergencies,  and dispenses unwanted advice about how Lori might deal with the breakup of her own long relationship.

Okay, we’ve seen this comedy before. Pushy mom, resisting child.

Except that “The Meddler,”  written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”), isn’t that movie at all.

When Lori leaves Los Angeles for a long location shoot, Marnie is left to her own devices and…and now we’ve got a drama about a widow exploring the options for the rest of her life.

That’s right, a drama. “The Meddler” is only nominally a comedy, if that.

Without Lori to fixate on, Marnie picks other targets. She befriends the Apple Store clerk (Jerrod Carmichael) who trains her to use her new iPhone; before long she’s talked him into enrolling at a local college and is even driving him back and forth to class.

 

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Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

“WHIPLASH”  My rating: B+

106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) conducts the elite studio jazz band at New York City’s most prestigious conservatory of music.  He’s a musician and educator, though you might be forgiven for mistaking him for a Marine drill instructor…or perhaps a serial killer.

Fletcher enters the rehearsal room with the swagger of a gunslinger flinging open swinging saloon doors. His students don’t make eye contact.  They gaze at the floor or at their charts.  Nobody wants to draw the alpha wolf’s reptilian stare.

But that won’t save them. Fletcher is routinely profane, insulting, and capable of reducing a young musician to sobs. He seems to take great pleasure in finding a victim at every rehearsal.

“Either  you’re out of tune and deliberately sabotaging my band, or you don’t know you’re out of tune — and that’s worse.”

He’s smug, cruel and probably sexist, given his treatment of a woman player in a freshman ensemble: “You’re in first chair. Let’s see if it’s just because you’re cute.”

He punishes those who disappoint him not with pushups but with rehearsals that go on into the wee hours: “We will stay here as long as it takes for one of you faggots to play in time.”

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