Posts Tagged ‘Jon Bernthal’

(Left to right): John Pollono, Jordana Spiro, Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Josh Helman

“SMALL ENGINE REPAIR” My rating: C+ (In theaters)

103 minutes || MPAA rating: R

John Pollono’s “Small Engine Repair” isn’t so much a movie as it is several movies, often working at cross purposes.

The upshot is a bad case of emotional/tonal whiplash as what initially looks like a study of blue-collar male bonding — with a healthy dash of toxic masculinity — veers into over-the-top melodrama.

Initially this indie effort presents itself as a workin-class riff on “Three Men and a Baby.”  In the first scene Frankie (writer/director Pollono) comes out of prison to be greeted by his boyhood chums Swaino (Jon Bernthal) and Patrick (Shea Whigham), who have been taking care of Frankie’s infant daughter while he was in stir.

How these two beer-swigging man-boys were allowed to care for a baby is something of a mystery, but we’re led to believe that they did a pretty good job in Frankie’s absence.

Cut to many years later.  That baby has grown up to be the teenage Crystal ( Ciara Bravo), who still lives with her dad Frankie, although she also spends much time with her loving “uncles.” 

Though Frankie has long been on the wagon, he’s still got a temper, especially when Crystal’s druggie mom Karen (Jordana Spiro) makes a rare appearance to stir up old animosities.  With his patience frayed by domestic issues, Frankie needs little provocation to get into barroom brawls; he’s invariably joined in the mayhem by Swaino and Patrick, who in middle age remain single and, emotionally anyway, adolescent.

These early passages seem to be going for a slice-of-life naturalism. Despite the violent blips, we find ourselves taking comfort in the three men’s lifelong friendship.

It doesn’t last.

In the second half of the film is like another movie altogether. Frankie entertains a smugly privileged college kid, Anthony  (Josh Helman), who sidelines as a drug dealer.  Over the course of a drunken evening in Frankie’s small engine repair shop Anthony finds himself duct taped to a chair; apparently he dated Frankie’s beloved Crystal and ruined the girl’s life by posting intimate photos of her online.

Frankie now expects old pals Swaino and Patrick and to help out with his revenge, though they’re not so sure they’re ready to commit homicide.  Things are further complicated when Crystal’s mom Karen shows up and begins goading the menfolk into action.

“Small Engine Repair” is a very weird, scattered film. It originated as a four-man, one-set  play written by  Pollono. On stage the characters of Crystal and her mom Karen are discussed, but never seen.  

Watching the film I found myself reverse engineering it.  The whole first half of the movie apparently was created in an effort open the yarn up cinematically.  The play proper eats up the claustrophobic Act II.

But the old material and the new really don’t mesh.  Which is where this expanded narrative’s dramatic schizophrenia rears its ugly head. 

The good news is that individual scenes in “Small Engine Repair” work really well.  And the performances are terrific. I was particularly taken with Whigham’s Patrick, a social moron whose tech expertise — he’s something of a computer geek — becomes essential to the plot.

| Robert W. Butler

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Angelina Jolie, Finn Little


80 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Insubstantial but nevertheless satisfying, Taylor Sheridan’s “Those Who Wish Me Dead” reacquaints us with Angelina Jolie in action heroine mode.

At age 45 Jolie has more gravitas than in her Lara Croft/”Salt”/”Mr. and Mrs. Smith” heyday. So while she might not retain all the physicality of those earlier incarnations, she compensates for it with an inner strength that transcends the overworked action tropes.

Here she plays Hannah, a professional firefighter working Montana’s deep woods. Drinking and carousing with her rugged peeps she’s the good ol’ tough gal. Inside, though, she’s struggling with the emotional fallout of a fatal conflagration…the ghastly incident hinged on an unpredictable change in wind direction, but Hannah blames herself.

Which is why for the current fire season she’s been assigned to a lookout tower situated on such a remote ridge that it can only be reached on foot. (I dunno…maybe they used helicopters to bring in all those girders.) This assignment is meant to keep her safe — physically and mentally — until she can return to normal duty.

Be assured that the screenplay (by Sheridan, Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt) doesn’t allow her much rest.

Across the country in Florida, a forensic accountant (Jake Weber) realizes that his poking around in a vast government conspiracy has put his life — and that of his young son Connor (Finn Little) — in jeopardy. A couple of shadowy black op types (Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult) are eliminating prosecutors — and their families — pursuing a massive corruption case.

Now they’re after the numbers cruncher.

The chase leads them to Big Sky Country, where the father and son once vacationed at a survival camp run by a local lawman (Jon Berthal) and his wife (Medina Senghore). Their plan is to disappear into the wilds with the help of these knowledgable backwoodsmen.


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Viola Davis

“WIDOWS” My rating: B

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Widows” is a sprawling crime drama that wants to be something more…and almost gets there.

The latest from Brit director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave,” “Shame”) is a heist film with a twist: The perps are all women forced to engage in a crime in order to survive.

In the opening moments we see a group of career criminals — their leader, Harry Rawlings, is portrayed by Liam Neeson — saying goodbye to their families and going off to “work.”  That night all of them die in a fiery crash after stealing millions from a local Chicago crime lord.

They leave behind grieving women who aren’t sure how to get on with their lives.  Harry’s widow, Veronica (Viola Davis), still has the couple’s posh apartment and at least a small reservoir of cash. But her love for Harry was so intense and complete that she’s a mere shell of her former self.

Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has supported her two kids with a dress shop — though her no-good hubby was always dipping into the till and, in fact, hasn’t paid the rent for months. Trophy wife Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is pretty much cast adrift; her often-violent spouse (Jon Bernthal) has left behind nothing but bruises.

Worse is still to come.  Veronica is paid a visit by Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) whose millions, stolen by Harry’s crew, went up in flames. He now informs Veronica that she must make good on that debt…or else.  She has no choice but to recruit the other widows whose lives are also in danger; using as their guide a notebook in which Harry meticulously planned future crimes, the three women prepare and execute another multi-million-dollar heist.

This would be enough plot for most films. But the screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) is only getting started. What they envision with “Widows” is a multi-character examination of modern American urban life…and it isn’t pretty.

This is a world in which everybody is a crook, including — no, especially — politicians.

Despite his criminal enterprises, Jamal Manning is running for city alderman (hey, it’s Chicago). His opponent is the Kennedy-esqe Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), whose closet-racist father (Robert Duvall) has up to now kept the seat in the family despite redistricting that has left the voter pool almost 100 percent black. No matter who wins, the residents are going to get screwed.


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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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wolf 2“THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Dec. 25)

179 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Is “The Wolf of Wall Street” the result of some sort of show-biz wager?

It’s as if Martin Scorsese (arguably America’s greatest living filmmaker) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Scorsese’s latter-day DeNiro) accepted a challenge to make a three-hour movie that would entice us to laugh along with despicable characters – just because they thought they had the special juice to pull it off.

And there are moments when they come close.

“Wolf” is based on the memoir by Jordan Belfort, a poster boy for ‘90s stock market shenanigans, who made millions selling his customers worthless securities and ended up going to prison for his misdeeds.

Now I’m the sort of fellow who tries to find the essential humanity in just about everyone, but Belfort is the financial equivalent of Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot. He’s arrogant and greedy and virtually without conscience – capitalism at its most corrupt.

And DiCaprio and Scorsese have to sweat like stevedores to make him a palatable companion for 180 minutes.

This is a speedball of a movie that maniacally tears along from one scene of misbehavior to the next, hardly ever slowing down to contemplate just what message we’re to take away. Presumably Scorsese disapproves of Belfort and what he represents … but the film feels just the opposite. It seems a monumental  celebration of greed and excess.


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