Tag Archives: Kevin Costner

Molly’s Game

I resisted watching this because of a distaste I have for Molly Bloom, the real Molly Bloom. She’s extremely self-involved and remorseless. So damn you Aaron Sorkin for getting nominated and forcing me to watch this. Well, okay, since it stars Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, it wasn’t a total boycott, but still, I was reluctant. Especially reluctant after being subjected to the trailer numerous times in which Molly asks a little girl “Do you know how many witches were burned at Salem?” and when the kid shrugs, she says none – they weren’t burned, they were hanged or drowned or stoned. But something in me rebelled angrily at this line; the answer is right, none were burned, but that’s because witches never existed. It was women who were burned or hanged or stoned.

Anyway, you may or may not know that Molly Bloom ran a bunch of illegal poker games, made oodles of money, and then get raided, her cash seized, and she was indicted. Facing court, and jail, she wrote a book about it, and named names.MV5BMTU2NjY4NjM2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDcyMzIyMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_

Molly isn’t particularly likable. She thinks she’s smart and she tells you she is constantly. She could have gone to law school, you know. And probably should have. But the money was so easy, and so plentiful! And movie stars played the poker (and the Russian mob, but never mind that). She’s guilty and she’s greedy but she’s also tough as hell. Chastain taps into her resiliency , her intelligence, her strength. Idris Elba plays her “not a little bit shady” lawyer, and he’s a perfect sparring partner. Aaron Sorkin’s scripts are meaty and lesser actors may be felled by them but Chastain and Elba are not just equal to it, they master it. It’s impressive.

Aaron Sorkin isn’t just the screen writer on this, he also steps into director’s shoes for the first time. Swinging for realism, he stacked the lesser roles with real poker players, wanting even the way they handled cards to look authentic. In between takes, the actors would play poker with the real players. Extras, usually paid about $90 a day, would often leave the set the best paid people there.

Sorkin is a smart guy with a lot of famous friends; he asked for and received great advice and support from David Fincher (a Social Network collaborator) and from Kevin Costner, who stars as Bloom’s father. The story is intriguing and well-suited to Sorkin’s abilities, but the movie runs a little long and isn’t terribly cinematic (there’s a lot of sitting in a lawyer’s office, which, not coincidentally, is located in the fictional firm of Gage Whitney, which fans of Sorkin’s will recognize from The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Newsroom.

The movie didn’t change my mind about Molly but it certainly cements Chastain and Elba as razor sharp, a cut above. If you like Sorkin’s zingy TV stuff, you’ll like this just fine. It’s not a best picture contender but it’s got some damn fine performances.

 

 

So, was Molly Bloom a witch, or just a woman?

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Hidden Figures

America, 1960s: the country is still very much divided by colour. Martin Luther King Jr is marching, JFK appears to be listening, but black people are still drinking for different fountains, still sitting at the back of the bus. Meanwhile, at NASA, about 2 dozen black women are working their fingers to the bone (actually, working their brains dry – they’re not labourers, they’re computers in the time before computers were machines). Does hf-gallery-04-gallery-imageNASA pay them equally? Not by a long shot. Treat them fairly? Not so much. Promote them? Never. But hire them they must because there’s a space race on with the Russians, and they can’t afford not to hire the best and the brightest no matter the skin colour encasing the brains.

These women, buried deep in the basement of a building far away from the main action, are fighting prejudice on two levels: race and gender. Hidden Figures follows 3 of them, real-life women who helped launch John Glen into space. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) does the work of a supervisor without the title or the pay. Not only does she get shit done, she intuits that the future of her computing department is changing and she takes it upon herself to learn the language of the future  – and International Business Machine is being installed painstakingly at NASA, and she’ll be the one to learn its code, and teach it to others. Mary Jackson (Monae) has an engineer’s talent and mind but she can’t get her credentials to match because the only education opportunity is at an all-white school. Katherine Johnson (Henson) is a single mother as well as a mathematical genius. When NASA discovers her talent she works overtime to help invent the new math necessary for John Glenn’s orbit while still drinking out of the “colored” coffee pot.

Hidden Figures is conventional story-telling all the way, relating the story of ground-breaking women in the least ground-breaking way possible. But it’s crowd-pleasing: it thumbnail_24795had the audience applauding. These women are so inspirational that it would be hard to mess up the story, and Hidden Figures manages not to stand in its own way. At the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, Pharrell Williams, who collaborated on the score with Hans Zimmer, gave a concert of all the original music he’d worked on for the film. I worried that he might overshadow the film, but in fact his music fits right in very comfortably, establishing the time period in a pop-heavy way.

The cast is stacked with heavy-hitters. Octavia Spencer is nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, and she’s as good as we know she can be. But I was impressed with Taraji P. Henson, who plays a vamp and a bit of a diva with the press, and an outspoken, strong contender on Empire, but in Hidden Figures managed to play bookish and humble with a shy strength and subversive self-confidence.

Hidden Figures is a feel-good tribute; a story that was meant to be told. The script is a charmer, and surprisingly humourous, and the three leads infuse it with power. Sure it’s a bit run-of-the-mill, but it’s also a positive way to start the new year, and a movie you won’t be able to resist.

McFarland

I pretty much thought we must be out of sports stories by now. How many teams can possibly start out dead-last but thanks to the inspiring speechifying of their devoted but grizzled coach, end up earning first? And of those teams, how many can overcome the prejudice of racism at the same time, convincing white folks who admire achievement that maybe these coloured folk aren’t so bad after all, because they sure are fast? And how many of these can possibly star Kevin Costner?mcfarland

If you answered TOO DAMN MANY, then you, sir, are correct!

This movie doesn’t really do anything wrong other than steal from every sports movie that’s come before it. If it was the first of its kind, you might even call it good, or inspiring. But I’m going to call it neither, because I do not live under a rock. I’ve seen it all before. I’m tired of this formula, which was pretty thin to begin with.

Draft Day

The girl behind the counter shrugged when I asked her if Draft Day was any good and told me that she didn’t know much about football. I can relate. Jay and Sean had to explain pretty much every play to me when we went to see the Ottawa Redblacks play last year. In fact, the joke I made at the video store was “The only thing I hate more than sports is sports in movies”. To which she replied incredulously “Then what are you renting this for?”.

I didn’t know what to tell her and still wouldn’t. I guess my thinking was that having this site is going to sometimes involve taking the time to check out movies that I would normally have Draft Daygiven a pass.

Set almost entirely in the hours leading up to the impending NFL draft, Draft Day- as I was relieved to discover- barely has any football in it and assumes pretty much zero knowledge of the game or the NFL. Seattle is even introduced as “Home of the Seahawks”. Instead, the action takes places off the field as we get a behind the scenes look at the trades, negotiations, and strategizing as unpopular Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) tries to make a big enough splash to save his job.

Draft Day is a strange movie and I’m not sure who director Ivan Reitman (who I’m pleasantly surprised to see is still working) was hoping would embrace it. Instead of inspiring locker room Draft Day 2speeches and risky plays we get contract negotiations and conference calls. Costner throwing a laptop across the room in frustration is really the most action we can hope for here. So there’s  more Moneyball than Remember the Titans but even Moneyball found the time to show us some baseball.

Sadly, Aaron Sorkin, who co-wrote Moneyball, was not available to write Draft Day and, while the former was witty and suspenseful the latter is exposition-heavy and surprisingly predictable. So who is the target audience for a sports film that is too blandly written for film fans and too talky for sports fans? I’m starting to think it was written for me. The diligence it takes in explaining to the audience what just happened, while probably insultingly patron to most, provided me with the only real pleasure I got from the experience as I continually found myself patting myself on the back for keeping up with it.