Film Review: Molly’s Game

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Molly's Game Poster
Trailer

2:07 | Trailer
The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.

Director:

Aaron Sorkin

Writers:

Molly Bloom (book), Aaron Sorkin (screenplay)

 

MOLLY’S GAME is writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut.  Sorkin also adapted the script from the memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom.  Anyone familiar with Sorkin’s work, the most notable being the script for THE SOCIAL NETWORK will surely know that a lot of dialogue is expected and the actors in the film have to be motor-mouthed to be able to speak Sorkin’s dialogue at hundreds of miles per hour.  Lead actors Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba do just that and supporting actor Michael Cera known for his fast speaking does the same.

MOLLY’S GAME is stud poker.  It would be beneficial if one knows the rules of the game in order to appreciate the film.  There are suspense scenes involving being dealt the winning card and if one is unsure whether a full house or a royal flush wins, then one might do better to learn the rules of poker before venturing into a poker film.  Besides the fact, Sorkin has done his homework on high poker stake games around the world and what transpires on screen in extremely credible.  No doubt the memoirs must have have been quite detailed.

There will undoubtedly be those who will complain about the film being too talky.  But this is the niche of watching an Aaron Sorkin film – script or direction.  Sorkin has the gift of words and though the film is talky, he is to be given credit for a fast moving 140 lengthy film.  His attention to detail is an additional bonus.  

Sorkin’s both subtle and over-the-top humour is also present.  This can be observed in the detailed and lengthy 10 minute introduction to the film where the voiceover announces that the Molly’s skiing has nothing to do with her poker.  The film then establishes from scratch how Molly enters the game and finally how she becomes super good at ti before it all crumbles.  Then the biggest joke is that all this is revealed at the film’s end to be caused by skiing after all – to be due to that twig that trips Molly during her final ski jump.

In the story, the FBI presses Molly to reveal the high profile players so that they can be investigated leading to persecution.  Molly sticks to her principles against her lawyers advice.  Yes, this leads to more verbal debate!  Sorkin stays true not to reveal any big names in the film as well.

As in the other Sorkin scripted films, the dialogue goes on so fast that one can understand 20% of its if lucky.  But Sorkin has the gift of making the audience feel as if they have understood everything necessary for the film to go on.  Sokrin’s scripts and MOLLY’S GAME, his first film are strong on his style of writing.  To be fair to him, his story gets through and the film moves fast, at times as fast as the dialogue.  But if one wants to complain about this, stay away from this film.

MOLLY’S GAME premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to mixed critical reviews.  Love it or hate it, but the Sorkin dialogue film has its pleasures.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4CQDRyUL8I

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1987 Movie Review: THE UNTOUCHABLES, 1987

 

THE UNTOUCHABLES MOVIE POSTER
THE UNTOUCHABLES, 1987
Movie Reviews

Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro
Review by Mike Peters

SYNOPSIS:

Chicago-1930-Eliot Ness is an idealistic and ambitious Treasury officer new to the ranks of the corrupt Chicago Police Force. His goal of cleaning up the streets is thwarted by the presence of the larger than life gangster, Al Capone. Overcoming hardships and threats against his family, Eliot Ness rounds up a group of “Untouchables” (men who are unable to be corrupted) and decides to challenge the Mega Empire of Capone.

Review:

To some, The Untouchables may not be considered a “classic film”. I would disagree. Growing up, I became enamored by the visual sight of gangsters in film. They appealed to me for many reasons. The freedom and the power they achieved through their modes of conduct was always a road I wanted to travel on. Then I grew up. I realized that this would not be the life for me. The danger and violent nature needed to be a part of this sort of “group” was not who I was. I could never kill a man, nor beat a man to a bloody pulp for minimal reasons. No, the life of the gangster was not for me. But, it is still an entertaining world in which to inhabit for two hours.

The Untouchables arrived in 1987 and was directed by Brian De Palma. A director, well known for his controversial films, had been deemed violent, misogynistic and anti-social by many of his critics. Known for such films as Carrie (1976), Scarface (1983) and Body Double (1984), De Palma has never shied away from controversy. Arriving at a time when Hollywood was undergoing great change, De Palma rose through the ranks with other directors such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. Studios had lost control of their films for a brief period of time and it was the director who was allowed to have full control of his film. It was his vision, not a producers or studios, which gave the director an unbelievable sense of importance and power. This was good and bad in a sense. Some directors blew it through their egotistical ways while others managed to make a name for themselves and remain an important part of the industry. De Palma was the latter.

De Palma began making films that strived to push the limits of acceptable behavior deemed appropriate by society. Growing up the son of a surgeon, De Palma never shied away from the images of violence and blood. It was a natural part of life in his eyes and he strived to depict it in, as some would say, voyeuristic ways. However, many could not see that he was critiquing the images that he presented on screen. He understood that he had become a controversial figure and regularly poked fun at this classification.

Studios were afraid to work him. However, in 1986, he directed a film called Wise Guys. This film was not well received and quickly vanished from people’s minds. The film however proved that De Palma could be uncontroversial and as a result, he scored The Untouchables.

The Untouchables is an interesting film. It is largely a Hollywood manufactured production but it embodies so much more. Themes such as loyalty, corruption and perseverance are readily presented in a beautifully crafted film. The production design is immaculate in its recreation of 1930’s Chicago. The buildings and the streets are simplistic and very formal in their design which helps to create a sense of nostalgia of what it might have been like to live during this time.

The clothes, designed by Giorgio Armani, are perfect and help to define the characters in truly distinctive ways. Al Capone and his cronies all live an upper class life. Through their suits to Al Capone’s silk pajamas, these men are deemed with high regard because of their social and financial standings. In many De Palma films, he has been known to upend the iconographic modes of good and evil. For instance, Frank Nitti is always represented by his white suit. Typically white has been linked to wholesomeness and purity but here, it is defined as corrupt and a color to be avoided. The police force on the other hand is visualized through their extremely dark police uniforms. By wearing these, the corrupt officials blacken the very meaning of what these uniforms are supposed to represent. The fact that every color is deemed corrupt only helps the audience to understand that Chicago has very few straight arrow citizens. The fact that the four “untouchables”, Ness (Kevin Costner), Malone (Sean Connery), Stone (Andy Garcia) and Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) are all represented through individualistic clothing attire helps to represent their non-conformist (corrupt) ways. They do not wear a uniform but rather wear their street clothes which allow them to be characterized as a group that cannot be swayed by the corruptive nature of the city.

The story is very linear in its approach. The film moves along at a decent pace which helps to settle the audience into sort of a lull but then immediately, and out of the blue, explodes into extreme violence. Just because De Palma was deemed uncontroversial at this point did not mean that he would totally shed his old ways. When the violence strikes, it has an impact that is harsh and unrelenting. When a particular star of the film is murdered, the film is merciless in its depiction of brutality and anguish. De Palma sets the tone very early in the film through the use of violence. At the beginning of the film, one of Capone’s men attempts to force a bar/diner owner to buy alcohol from them. He refuses. The man leaves. Another man, dressed in white, leaves the bar as well but leaves his briefcase sitting on a stool. A little girl, who is in the diner, attempts to track down the man but as she reaches the door, the briefcase explodes, killing everyone in the diner. This scene emphasizes that during this time everyone was fair game to be killed, even children (this scene is also important to imply that everyone is capable of being murdered within this film). It attempts to identify the fact that this was a very dangerous time period in American society. If you didn’t comply, then you would have to face the penalties. This scene also helps to foreshadow a scene later on in the film involving a child.

There are some memorable scenes in this film. The first is a P.O.V. perspective shot through the eyes of a gangster breaking into Malone’s apartment. This P.O.V. shot also works as a long tracking shot which creates a sense of suspense and fear because the viewer has now taken on the identity of the assassin. As we track Malone through his apartment, tension increases causing a fear that this man, whom we have come to admire throughout the course of the film, is about to be killed. It is a brilliant use of camera work displayed by De Palma in this scene.

Perhaps the most famous part of the picture is the train station scene. Inspired by Sergei Eisenstein’s Soviet silent film classic, Battleship Potemkin (1925), this scene is long and dragged out but manages to create an unbelievable sense of unease within the audience. While Ness and Stone are awaiting the arrival of the bookkeeper (who they need to apprehend), whom is being escorted out of town, the pacing slows to a crawl. We wait as Ness and Stone wait. There is no immediate rush into the action. We know that there will most likely be a violent confrontation but we must wait and thus the tension rises to an all new high. To make matters worse, a woman struggles to drag her baby carriage (with baby inside) up the stairs where this confrontation is likely to take place. I will not ruin it for those who have not seen it but this is a scene that is perhaps one of the greatest suspense sequences in film history.

The script by David Mamet is filled with suspense and tension and the actors help to bring his story to life. Sean Connery, in an Oscar winning performance, is magnificent as the over the hill Malone who still has a hunger within him to fight the fight. As well, Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith are well cast as new recruits to the “untouchables” team. Robert De Niro provides an interesting performance as well. He provides little nuances to his portrayal of Al Capone, like a smile or nod, which adds flavor to the character but in some instances he glides, knowingly and flamboyantly, over the top. The one problem with the casting is in Kevin Costner. When he is surrounded by the likes of Connery and De Niro, it is hard to accept him for who he is trying to be. I understand that his character wants to embody a sense of innocence and that he must learn how to achieve victory, but I felt he was weak for the role. He didn’t instill a fear within me throughout the course of the film. I enjoy him as an actor, just not in this film.

The Untouchables is a well made and crafted film. There are some slight problems with the film however. For instance, the editing is abrupt and distracting at times. Some scenes that should have had a few seconds of pause prior to edit are cut prematurely. But, these are small problems. This film attempts to encapsulate a time period while placing its’ own spin on the genre. The gangster film had all but disappeared from cinemas but, in my mind, this film helped to reestablish its’ roots (and as well make it a commercially viable genre once again). The film was one of my favorites as a child and still holds a special place within my heart. If one wants to witness the blending of a controversial figure like De Palma with the mainstream ideas of Hollywood, watch this film. You won’t be disappointed.

 the untouchables.jpg

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Film Review: HIDDEN FIGURES (USA 2016) ***

hidden_figures_movie_poster.jjpg.jpgDirected by Theodore Melfi

Writers: Allison Schroeder (screenplay), Theodore Melfi (screenplay)

Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons

Review by Gilbert Seah

HIDDEN FIGURES is given a limited theatre release at Christmas to qualify for the Oscar nominations. Obviously, 20th Century Fox hopes the film will strike it big at the Academy Awards.

Movies cover the hot topic of racial tensions in a number of ways. There is the angry rile up the emotions LOVING, THE BIRTH OF A NATION or the quieter FENCES(also opening during Christmas) where racial problem are irked out by hard-working law abiding citizens in the long run. In HIDDEN FIGURES, racial tension is covered in a whole different light – in a feel good crowd pleasing movie.

As the film proudly annoys at the start with the titles on screen “Based on true events”, HIDDEN FIGURES tells the true, little-known story of three brilliant African-American women who worked at NASA in the 1950s and ’60s and played a major role in sending astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) worked as engineers and “human computers” to push the limits of mathematics — as well as the limits of race and gender in the scientific community. Expect a little bit of romance and a look at the racial tensions of the Civil Rights era in this drama that promises to provide some great, real-life role models for girls and people of colour in STEM fields.

There are a lot of silliness in HIDDEN FIGURES. The most obvious of which is the dialogue penned for astronaut John Glenn (he passed away this month) who is the first American shot into Earth’s orbit. When told of the entry velocity of the spaceship into Earth’s gravitational pull, he remarks: “That’s one hell of a speeding ticket.” When informed where the craft will land, he says: “I always wanted to swim in the Bahamas.” If these were actual words Glen spoke, he must have been quite a clownish goon. The lyrics of the films’ songs (apaprently penned by artists like Pharrell Williams) like: “No more running…” and “Look what you done to me…” which underline the events happening in the film are not only unnecessary but yes, silly to the point of laughter.

Performance-wsie, the three female leads can do o harm. It is also refreshing (and funny) to see supporting actor Jim Parsons (from TV’s THE BIG BANG THOERY) in a thoroughly straight role as an antagonist or the only female in his department. Kevin Costner as the boss adds a certain dignity, welcome in the film.

HIDDEN FIGURES could have turned up a really excellent film instead of this mediocrity written down for audiences to feel good during the Christmas season. It is a question that the director and scriptwriter not having enough faith on the source material that it would work on its own without pumping in additional over-sweeteners.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK8xHq6dfAo

 

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Movie Review: CRIMINAL, 2016. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Costner

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criminal.jpgCRIMINAL (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Ariel Vromen

Starring: Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Michael Pitt

Action films about the lead character with the past erased make good money at the box office. Examples are THE BOURNE IDENTITY, Liam Neeson’s UNKNOWN and last week’s recently released HARDCORE HENRY. CRIMINAL though not identical in concept, plays along the same lines with the lead character having to piece together a new identity.

Based on a script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, the film takes the amnesia plot up a few notches. It is an international story dealing with Americans, British, Russians and a Dutchman. The film contains countless London sights in the first 15 minutes, making audiences wonder if the London Tourist Board is subsidizing this film. There are shots of Bank Tube Station, the Thames, Albert Hall, the docklands, Big Ben and the Overground Tube to make the film look more modern.

The film opens with a chase involving CIA agent Ben Pope (Ryan Reynolds). Pope is caught half way through his assignment and killed. His brain needs to be implanted into someone else for the mission to be completed successfully. Or the world will be destroyed. It really does not matter how ridiculous the plot is as director Ariel Vromen (THE ICEMAN) has proven that he can make anything credible and exciting. So, a wanted imprisoned criminal Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner in super-gruff mode) with zero conscience but meets the surgical criteria is implanted with Pope’s memories by Dr. Frank (Tommy Lee Jones) under command of no-nonsense British chief Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman).

For an action thriller drama, the action segments are handled efficiently, particularly the car chase involving the British police car pile up n the highway and the brief underwater scenes.

The film is aided with an impressive cast that includes no less than the new Wonder Woman, French actress Gal Gadot as Pope’s wife, Brit Oldman and Americans Costner., Jones, Reynolds and the long time unseen Michael Pitt as the Dutchman.

Though I do enjoy a bit of violence in movies, I am not one to condone it. CRIMINAL is exceptionally violent, evident in scenes like the electric torture at the film’s start, the bloodied photo of one of Jericho’s victims the brain surgery and the segment where Jericho beats a number of people up to get food and nab a van. Tools used in fights also include a hammer.

Though there is ample opportunity for the script to moralize, the script thankfully stays aways from it. Jericho is a man with no conscience, a killing machine who is given a chance to have feelings after being implanted with Pope’s memories. Once Jericho begins to feel, he is torn for example between saving one life – Pope’s daughter against sacrificing hers to save many, many more. The main villain has the purpose of creating a software wormhole i order to destroy all the governments in the world as he believes every government is corrupt and that conglomerates rule the world all for money. There is some truth in the villain’s way of thinking and the script leaves it for the audience to debate the issue in their own minds.

CRIMINAL is a good action drama, a good blend between drama and action with not too much ridiculous discontinuous action scenes as in recent films like BATMAN V SUPERMAN and HARDCORE HENRY. For this reason alone, CRIMINAL is a compelling and rather entertaining time-waster.

 

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