The Banker


Apple had a lot riding on the success of The Banker, an historical race-based drama starring Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Nicholas Hoult, directed by George Nolfi. Slated for its world premiere in the coveted closing night slot at the AFI Film Festival last November, The Banker was set for a strong awards push, bolstered by the success the previous year of Green Book, a film similar in style and content. It was not to be, however, as the producers were forced to pull out of the festival at the last minute because of sexual abuse allegations that arose within the family of one of the real-life characters portrayed in the film. Not only were its awards hopes scrapped, but The Banker was pushed from November to March, and it has only just now become available to stream on the Apple TV+ service. Although Green Book managed to overcome its myriad controversies during awards season last year, The Banker seemed to irrevocably suffer and looked destined for the dust heap of history, a devastating blow to Apple, who were looking to compete with Netflix and Amazon, who both have already jumped way ahead in the feature film race.

But Apple and The Banker could reap some unexpected rewards as millions of Americans are now homebound due to the Corona virus and are thirsting for new things to watch on their streaming services. Unfortunately, it may not prove to be the critical or commercial boon that Apple was hoping for, as its old-fashioned and bland style stifles an interesting story, despite a thoroughly delightful performance from Samuel L. Jackson.

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The Whistlers

Magnolia Pictures

The Whistlers, a crime drama from Romanian writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu, is very familiar in a lot of ways. Our hero, Cristi, played by Vlad Ivanov, is a crooked policeman who is caught up with drug-running gangsters who need him to keep them one step ahead of the law. There are double-crosses, betrayals, murders and shoot-outs, all the ingredients of a juicy gangster thriller, but this movie works itself into so many contortions, it can’t even breathe. It plays like a hollowed-out The Departed, but without the setup or satisfaction.

And that’s the biggest problem with The Whistlers. The film feels like episode 5 of a series on Netflix, only you missed episodes 1 through 4. You skipped all the setup, so as all the plots and stories come together, not only are you lost as to who anyone is in relation to each other, you have no vested interest in what happens or why. I will say I loved the idea of jumping right in, skipping all that boring exposition that sometimes bogs a movie down, but it turns out all that exposition actually serves a purpose.

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Searchlight Pictures

The words “re-interpretation” or “re-imagining” are often overused in Hollywood. They usually signal that a film is devoid of original ideas and is simply dressing up an existing story to look or sound different, but, in the end, has nothing new to say. In the case of Benh Zeitlin’s new film, Wendy, however, the approach is quite a different one. Instead of focusing on story, Zeitlin focuses on spirit, something we saw profoundly in his staggering debut in 2012, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and we see again in Wendy, a re-imagining of Peter Pan. J. M. Barrie’s famous character and novel have been on screen in many different forms, but Zeitlin still finds a way to approach the famous story in an interesting way, even if the high concept eventually does falter.

Zeitlin came out of nowhere to take the movie world by storm with his bold and breathtaking debut about a young girl living in the bayou. Beasts of the Southern Wild was an examination of place and of the emotional life of a child and Wendy is similar in all the right ways. The emotional heart of this film is also a young girl, Wendy (Devin France), who dreams of far off places and wild adventures while living with her mother and twin brothers above the family-owned small-town diner which they run. The restaurant sits right next to railroad tracks and Wendy daydreams about the excitement the train represents. One night, Wendy sees a mysterious figure riding the top of the train, beckoning to her. Bewildered but excited, she wakes her brothers, and, in a moment of childhood abandon, they jump onto the train, giving themselves over to their daydreams.

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Birds of Prey

Warner Bros

Who knew that there was such a need for a sequel to Suicide Squad. The film that became a punchline and seemed to symbolize the lack of focus and decline of the DC Comics film universe now deserves credit for introducing us to the character who just may breathe new life into that once-floundering DC brand. In Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, Harley Quinn, as played by Margot Robbie, is the hero we didn’t know we needed at the exact time we need her and the film dedicated to her is a colorful and fun antidote to all the dreariness that has come before.

Coming off the massive success of Joker last year, Warner Bros and DC are smart to release Birds of Prey now, as we are still simmering in that gritty and dark world of a crime-ravaged and cruel Gotham, where compassion and kindness are non-existent. Propelling us light years ahead but still deep in the mire, Birds of Prey focuses on Harley Quinn the character, quickly separating her from the Joker, her raison d’etre, and moving her into her own space. Directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, Birds of Prey is a film wholly about identity and it succeeds in finding the exact right tone not just for the DC universe, but for the real universe in which we live now. There is no better time than now for Harley Quinn.

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The Rhythm Section


Revenge has largely been a male domain in Hollywood, but, lately, there have been plenty of movies featuring female characters seeking to right some very bad wrongs, from Widows to In the Fade to Peppermint. And now there is The Rhythm Section, a new revenge thriller starring Blake Lively, directed by Reed Morano. Unfortunately, this film ultimately provides neither catharsis nor satisfaction.

Lively, who first found fame on the television show Gossip Girl, showed the world that she had a serious side when she turned in a scene-stealing dramatic performance in Ben Affleck’s gritty The Town in 2010. She gets serious and dramatic again in The Rhythm Section, playing Stephanie, a woman who is on a harrowing self-destructive path in the wake of tragedy. We first meet her as a bruised and drug-addicted prostitute on the streets of London, suffering mightily from the emotional trauma of having lost her parents and brother in a plane crash. Into her life comes a journalist (Raza Jaffrey), who tells her the plane didn’t crash by accident, it was actually blown up by a terrorist and he knows who it is. This sets Stephanie on an odyssey to become a full-blown assassin, set on tracking down and eliminating every person involved in the bombing, all by herself.

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My 2020 Oscar Nominations Reactions

The nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced yesterday morning. While they didn’t hold too many surprises, there were some things that jumped out at me.

1. My “no guts, no glory” prediction that Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes) would sneak into that fifth Best Actor slot came true! It was a tough prediction, considering Robert De Niro (The Irishman), Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari) and Taron Egerton (Rocketman) were favored to get in, but my heart and my gut said Pryce would snag his first career nom and I was right. He’s so well deserving, not just for this film, but for an entire career. So that’s what made me the happiest.

2. What made me the least happy was seeing Todd Phillips get the fifth slot for Best Director. It’s no secret that I despised Joker as a film, feeling it was not only massively depressing with no character arc, but it also felt, to me, like a total rip-off of other movies. While Joaquin Phoenix’s performance (more on that later) was truly phenomenal, the movie left me quite cold. To see that it led the field with the most nominations (11) was disturbing enough, but when I saw that Phillips got the coveted final Best Director slot over the likes of Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Celine Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) or Lulu Wang (The Farewell) was hard to swallow.

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We are in a time in American history that undoubtedly will inspire countless books, movies and mini-series in our near future. I’m sure every over-50, white actor in America (and England and Australia) is practicing his Donald Trump impersonation as we speak, preparing for all the auditions that are soon to come. The Donald Trump story needs to come to its conclusion before scripts can be written, however, so they will have to wait a little longer for their big moment. But some peripheral stories have already played out and are already starting to find their way to our screens, the first one being Bombshell, the story of Fox News and the downfall of Fox News head Roger Ailes. While not specifically a Donald Trump movie, Fox News and Ailes were significantly involved—perhaps even responsible—for the rise of Trump and certainly his demagoguery in this country. While we still have Trump, Ailes is gone, and this is the story of how one woman exposed the sexist toxic culture at Fox News which led to the downfall of the most powerful man in television news.

Charles Randolph’s original screenplay tells the vibrant and colorful behind-the-scenes story of what Fox News was like under Ailes’s iron fist. Ailes had a long and successful career guiding politicians before he moved to television and NewsCorp chairman Rupert Murdoch let Ailes run the Fox News division as he saw fit. While Ailes saw the gap in news coverage and successfully crafted a network that appealed to an audience that had heretofore felt left out of the mainstream coverage of national politics, he did so at the expense of the women who worked for him. In the raging and long overdue #MeToo era, perhaps nobody short of Harvey Weinstein was as culpable of creating a toxic work environment than Ailes and Randolph’s script, paired with Jay Roach’s direction, attempts to paint the picture of that toxicity with broad strokes.

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Universal Pictures

It’s often said that we take for granted the sacrifices of those who have fought in war. There is no greater human frailty than the one that insists we settle conflicts with violence. Wars are the ultimate betrayal of humanity’s promise. It is because of the debt all who come after owe to all those who fought before that there have been and will always be war movies. There is no better way to translate the breadth and scope of loss and the intimate cruelty of war than by reenacting it. Some of the best films of all time have been war movies, for a reason. There is no greater drama and when done well, a war movie can tap into the deepest emotions and provide an epic tale on a vast canvas.

I have seen a lot of war movies, but I have never seen one quite like 1917.

1917, the latest film from Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, is a cinematic triumph. It is a testament to the incredible power of the medium, a textbook example of what can happen when every artist, every department, every designer and every actor work together to tell a story. 1917 has a very simple plot: two British soldiers must get a message from one regiment to another, across enemy lines, during World War I. The stakes are high, the challenge is great. That’s it. Two men must get from point A to point B. What happens from there is an astounding choreography of acting, cinematography, sound, production design, score and direction that is beyond words in its precision and effectiveness.

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