Film Review: THE ACCOUNTANT (USA 2016) ***

the_accountant_poster.jpgTHE ACCOUNTANT (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Gavin O’Connor

Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor

Review by Gilbert Seah

Directed by Gavin O’Connor (WARRIOR, PRIDE AND GLORY) and written by Bill Dubuque, THE ACCOUNTANT is a action thriller that strives to be stylishly different. For one, it centres on an accountant, one that cooks the books for dangerous drug cartel members. He is hunted down by Revenue Federal agents. Is THE ACCOUNTANT a good or bad guy? How can he be made into an exciting action hero? How can he be made into a more than special human being? All these factors are infused into Dubuque’s script, which often appears to be trying too hard, resulting in a film more confusing and complex than need be.

As the film stars Ben Affleck who plays a human fighting machine, the film feels like a BATMAN with numbers.

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a mathematics savant (autistic) with more affinity for numbers than people. His childhood is traced, in flashback till the present. As a child, Christian’s military father believes that difference is perceived as a threat to most people. To protect his son, he forces Christian to better himself in martial-arts.

Grown up, Christian is a top-notch accountant who uses a small-town CPA office in a strip-mall as a cover. He makes his living as a forensic accountant for dangerous criminal organizations. With a Treasury Revenue Agent, Ray King (Oscar winner J.K. Simmons from WHIPLASH ) hot on his heels, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. As Wolff gets closer to the truth about a discrepancy that involves millions of dollars, the body count starts to rise. With the help of a new Revenue recruit, Median (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who Ray blackmails into helping, Wolff’s identity is revealed. The showdown finally takes place in the mansion of the company owner (John Lithgow) who turns out to be the villain of the piece.

Besides Dubuque’s clumsy script, the film contains too many unintentional funny moments. The result is the promo audience laughing at too many parts during the climax. Median’s character could also be eliminated from the script for a leaner film, without much effect.
Affleck delivers an almost perfect low-key performance as the stoic accountant, whose body movements are basically stationary unless absolutely necessary as in the action scenes. Of the remainder of the cast, Jeffrey Tambor shines as Wolff’s cellmate, who was also involved with the drug cartels. Thankfully, the audience is spared the torture scenes, though a few hints (like the sight of a blow torch and damaged face) are enough to make anyone shudder.

Near the end, the film suddenly decides that it has to provide some message on autism. This results in one of the film’s most awkward segments with the music tuned to ‘melancholy’. For a film supposedly positive towards autism, the film contains some really disturbing scenes involving strobe lights and loud sounds.

Despite all its faults, THE ACCOUNTANT is a well-mounted film, with very exciting actions segments aided by crisp editing that conveys the accountant’s martial-arts training. THE ACCOUNTANT at least, attempts to put in some originality into the well-worn action genre.



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Movie Review: KILL ZONE 2 (China/ Hong Kong 2015) ***

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killzone2.jpgKILL ZONE 2 (China/ Hong Kong 2015) ***
Directed by Pou-Soi Cheang

Starring: Tony Jaa, Jing Wu, Simon Yam

Review by Gilbert Seah

KILL ZONE 2, the sequel is largely different from the first film, this one being more ambitious and set in Thailand in addition to Hong Kong with both Thai and Chinese spoken. It also stars Thai action star Tony Jaa who is not in the first. Jaa is the star of the popular Thai ONG BAK action flicks who also landed a role in FURIOUS 7. Simon Yam and Wu Jing appear in both KILL ZONE films but play different characters.

There are several stories in this movie, all linked by coincidences. All are equally important judging from director Cheang’s treatment of each, giving each equal screen time. One involves a Thai prison guard Chai (Tony Jaa). His daughter has leukaemia and requires a marrow donor that only a person called Kit (Wu Jing) can give, due to matching blood type requirements. Coincidence has it that Kit is one of the prisoners in the Thai prison. There is more. Kit is an undercover cop working for his uncle, Wah (Simon Yam veteran of over a dozen Hong Kong films including IP MAN). The undercover operation turned bad and Kit is in jail. The suspect is crime boss Mr Hung (Louis Koo) who needs a blood transplant from his brother (Jun Kung), who turns out to be the cops’ suspect. A minor subplot involves the stern warden Ko (Zhang Jin) who wants Kit dead for the smooth operation of his prison. Mr Hung had saved the warden’s life before.

If you think the plot sounds difficult to follow, it is. It takes 45 minutes for the film to get its footing. At this mark, the audience is able to follow who is whom, who the bad and good guys are and which uncle or brother or daughter needs a blood or organ transplant and whether the syndicate deals with drugs or body parts.

The stories all come together at the film’s climax which of course ends in lots of martial-arts fights. A few elaborate action sequences include the ones at an airport and a prison break. These action sequences make the film.

KILL ZONE 2 share the same traits as most Hong Kong crime kung-fu action films like the IP Man films. Director Cheang accomplishes a rare feat of invoking some genuine emotions with the characters. The scene in which Inspector Wah and Mr. Hung talk it over outside a hospital displays seriousness in the acting department between the two Hong Kong stars.
The film is not without the typical corny dialogue. The worst of these is Chai comforting his daughter talking about how a seed germinates in the dark and the importance of having hope. The many coincidences are attributed to as Uncle Wah says God toying with them.

It is odd to see this commercial martial-arts film selected for a run at TIFF Bell Lightbox where art house films are mostly screened. Judging the other typical Hong Kong action flicks (from Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers) of this variety, KILL ZONE 2 hits the mark.

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Movie Reviews of the TOP OSCAR Nominated Films

Read movie reviews of the top films of 2015, that also happen to have received Oscar Nominations. 

Movie Review: CAROL (USA 2015) Top 10 *****

Movie Review: ANOMALISA (USA 2015) ***** TOP 10

Movie Review: SON OF SAUL (2015, Hungary)

Movie Review: CREED (2015)

Movie Review: JOY (2015)

Movie Review: THE REVENANT (2015) ***** TOP 10

Movie Review: THE BIG SHORT (US 2015) *****

Movie Review: CHICKLAND (Short Film) 2015

CHICKLAND played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

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  MOVIE POSTERCHICKLAND, 11min, France, Comedy/Sci-Fi
Directed by Stanislav Graziani

Bubu and Toufik think they are the next Steve Jobs and Martin Zuckerberg… They have implanted a chip in their brain, which gives them access to the web… giving them instant access to universal knowledge. For their first experiment, they test it on picking up girls…

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Chickland left me a little bit on the fence. With the growing dissemination of devices like the Google Glass, and the expansion of Virtual Reality technology Chickland is a bit of a terrifying reminder of a reality that we could all soon be living in. Nevertheless, director Stanislav Graziani did a good job at balancing out the miracles of new technology, with the limitations of our own human psyche, providing  a slightly less dystopic view of the future.

The hardest thing to understand about the film was the age range of the actors involved. The male actors seemed far too young to be approaching the girls they were trying to pick up, although perhaps this was done on purpose, considering the end result of their experiment. The end of the film itself is also a bit reassuring, emphasizing the humanity of even the most technologically oriented minds.

There isn’t much that can be said about Chickland without revealing much of the film’s plot. It’s a peek into the future, into what life might look like if Google Glass ever really catches on. Of course there are certain differences. It’s not likely that the Google Glass “victims” of the future will have no suspicion of the tactics being used on them. Then again perhaps this was what Graziani was indicating in his depiction of the boy’s interaction with the math student.

Students of art might also find this film a little insulting in how easily the one boy was able to fake being a literary connoisseur, while his counterpart struggled to prove his math prowess. Nevertheless both the boys’ reactions to “completing the task” at the end of the film showed a lot of emotional sensitivity, one that most young boys of that age would normally not be so ready to admit or expose.

Chickland is an interesting experimental look into what our future might look like, how our grandchildren might date, find partners, or explore their sexuality. It sparks a lot of thinking about where our technological pursuits are heading, what it might truly bring us in the future. This wasn’t by any means one of my favourite short films to watch, but it certainly carried some interesting ideas that will inspire you to consider how natural human emotion is able to coexist with the calculated patterns of digital technology.

Movie Review: THE LAST POST (Award Winning Short Film) 2015

THE LAST POST played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

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  MOVIE POSTERTHE LAST POST, 15min, UK, Comedy/Social Media
Directed by Adam Preston

A halfwit is invited to speak at the funeral of a girl he only knew through the internet.

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Hilariously cringe-worthy. There’s no other way to describe this one. We all now a girl like her; updating her social media constantly, her life seems near perfect, everything she does is amazing, and fun, everything she eats is delicious, and if you wanted you could find out everything about her. Well, almost everything. As we all know social media and online profiles only give us little peeks into a person’s life. No matter how often you update it, how much content you add to it, it’s hard to know the real truth of who a person really is purely through their social media profiles.

Adam Preston has somehow managed to perfectly balance the tragedy and comedy of our excessively interconnected lives. Using the knowledge you can typically gather from a person’s social media accounts Preston writes a hysterical eulogy for one such social media star. This is certainly one film where credit needs to be highly awarded for performance. The Last Post’s main character had me tearing up with laughter non-stop.

Admittedly Preston could have added to the comedic value of his short by having the funeral attendants accept the eulogy as a sincere tribute to the deceased. Nevertheless his actual choice of direction didn’t  detract from the hilarity in any way. I also feel obliged to question Preston’s choice of the social class of the deceased and her family. It seems a little reductionist to have her and her family be from a region with a certain reputation for ignorance, simplicity, and poverty. It might have been a little more interesting if they had been from a posh family. However, part of the reason for this could have been to increase the threatening demeanor of the two bully brothers.

The Last Post is more than just a hilarious short film; it’s a commentary on today’s modern, digitally centered society. I had a very odd feeling as soon as the film was over because after having laughed the entire way through the film, I found myself pondreing deeper issues as soon as it was over. Comedy is for everyone, and comedy that is pertinent to current issues is all the more worth it. It kind of suits all flavour preferences; if you’re up for something more serious, this movie will work for you, if you’re up for a good laugh, add this to your list, heck it even has a little violence if that’s your cup of tea! I think you can see where I’m going with this one. Definitely give The Last Post a watch, whatever your inclination. It will be worth it.


Movie Review: SHOOT GRANNY (Short Film) 2015

SHOOT GRANNY played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

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  MOVIE POSTERSHOOT GRANNY, 5min, Spain, Comedy/Musical
Directed by Olivier Kowalczyk

Shoot Granny or when an ordinary tea time between three friends turns into an improvised Gymkhana. On a music of Todd Terje.

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Shoot Granny garnered a really good laugh from the audience, with great reason. It’s common to hear complaints about loud, partying teenagers, but what happens when those loud partiers are actually your grandparents?

The director Olivier Kowalczyck says he was inspired by his work as a doctor; disappointed by how they seemed to perscribe anti-depressants to help seniors sleep rather than provide them with any real psychological support. He claims to have felt like more of a drug dealer than a doctor, and this thought led him to create the storyline for Shoot Granny.

Thankfully Kowalczyck has managed to turn this upsetting subject matter into quite a hilarious repartie. With the background knowledge of this film in mind it might be easy to reprimand Kowalczyck for his comedic approach, but in actual fact what he has done by injecting comedy into this topic is open it up to a much wider public that might otherwise want to ignore the issue. Kowalczyck also manages to add a stronger element of agency to the elderly, allowing us to relate to them as people who like to enjoy themselves, just as we all do, rather than as victims with no control over their ailments.

Some members of the audience seemed a little put off by the loud music, or by the fact that the film didn’t carry subtitles, but Shoot Granny could very well be played on mute and still get its message across. Someone once told me that a film is only truly good if it is able to be played in black and white, and silently while still achieving the same level of emotional impact. Despite the fact that its bright, psychodelic patterns and blaring music adds greatly to the story, I still believe this film would achieve the same purpose without these elements. I think anyone would benefit from watching Shoot Granny, who knows, it might help you approach and understand again, or your elderly loved ones, with just a little more affection and care.

Movie Review: POINT BREAK (2015)

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point_break_posterPOINT BREAK (USA/China/Germany 2015) *1/2
Directed by Ericson Core

Review by Gilbert Seah

POINT BREAK is a remake of the Kathryn Bigelow 1991 hit film starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. Bigelow is a female director able to create big hits with strong male content action films like THE HURT LOCKER, ZERO DARK THIRTY, STRANGE DAYS and my favourite and her first film, NEAR DARK. Director Ericson Core has tough shoes to fill.

The surfing definition of POINT BREAK refers to the type of long-lasting wave found off a coast with a headland or point. A point break is formed when a swell moves around the land almost at a right angle to the beach and a break which begins near the point gradually progresses along the wave. Bigelow’s film involves a FBI agent going undercover to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers disguising themselves as surfers.

The difference in the new POINT BREAK is a series of robberies done by not surfers but extreme sport specialists. They do the big surf in the last climatic scene but engage too, in other sports such as snowboarding, rock climbing and wingsuit flying.

The story of the new POINT BREAK involves a young FBI agent, Utah (Luke Bracey) infiltrating a team of extreme sports athletes he suspects of masterminding a string of unprecedented, sophisticated corporate heists. He engages in this quest as redemption after losing his brother in an extreme sport accident. Deep undercover, and with his life in danger, he strives to prove these athletes are the architects of the mind-boggling crimes that are devastating the world’s financial markets.

Newcomer Luke Bracey delivers a weak performance. With his blond hair and chiseled body, he looks like a model in many scenes with his perfect blond hair flung across his face. Delroy Lindo playing Utah’s boss fairs worse. All he does is bitch about Utah’s job. Utah takes the risks and fights the bad guys but his boss keeps complaining and giving Utah a hard time. Edgar Ramirez (an up and coming star, his last film JOY), who plays bad guy Bodhi, cannot help much either.
The film contains some good scenes involving extreme sports. The rock climbing, surfing and motorbike segments are well shot. But the action and fight sequences lack any excitement.

The plot lacks credibility. The eight ordeals that Bodhi seeks make little sense. He ends up completing seven with the last one left in limbo. Utah somehow manages to figure out all the ordeals Bodhi has completed, something hardly believable.

POINT BREAK which costs close to $100 million only made $10 million domestic the first weekend. However, being a Chinese and German co-production, it opened elsewhere a week before North America grossing a remarkable $50 million, which helps the poor domestic numbers. Still, POINT BREAK is far from being a satisfying action flick. The film sags after the first 15 minutes and picks up just a little towards the end. The open ending does not help either. Action fans prefer closure. Open endings are more suited to artsy films which POINT BREAK definitely isn’t.

POINT BREAK ends up the most boring action film of 2015.

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