THE ACCOUNTANT (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language throughout

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Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

Written by: Bill Dubuque

Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jean Smart, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor & John Lithgow

THE ACCOUNTANT is a film that I vaguely heard about last year as it was scheduled to be released in January 2016 (usually a dumping ground for films that studios have no faith in). However, that release date was moved to the fall and the film’s marketing promised a smart, mature, and action-packed movie. Color me surprised, because THE ACCOUNTANT easily blows most other recent action films away in terms of its writing and characters. Though not without a few flaws, THE ACCOUNTANT also ties autism into its story in a way that never feels exploitative and levels the playing field by giving us an action hero unlike any we’ve seen before.

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Chris Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a mysterious autistic accountant who uncooks the books for very dangerous people. Chris has a talent for crunching numbers and, when necessary, bones. That latter talent becomes a necessity when Chris finds himself on the run with fellow mathlete Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) as some bad guys are trying to kill both of them. In order to stay alive, Chris will have to figure out who wants to kill him and how that relates to his last “official” job. This is easier said than done as bullets begin flying, the mystery thickens and we learn more about Chris’s shadowy past. Meanwhile, renegade Treasury agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons) and his protégé Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are hot on Chris’s tail.

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Though some people have labeled THE ACCOUNTANT as a generic action movie, I think that description does this film a bit of a disservice. The plot isn’t about the action (rest assured, there is still plenty of it), because it narrows in on a unique character and subplots occurring around him. Ben Affleck plays Chris Wolff as a mostly believable autistic man, complete with social awkwardness, unique ways of bonding, special interests and extraordinary capabilities in certain areas. The script doesn’t exploit Chris’s condition, but rather shows how his state of mind has helped shape him into the antihero/action lead that he’s become. Details about his past are shown through well-placed flashbacks that fill in the blanks as the movie progresses, making THE ACCOUNTANT just as much of a mysterious thriller as it is an entertaining action flick.

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The supporting performances are stellar as well. Anna Kendrick plays a nervous potential love-interest for Chris, though the film never goes into fully clichéd territory that it seemed to be building towards. John Lithgow plays the head of the robotics company as a kindly old man who’s trying to find the rat in his company. J.K. Simmons is fantastic as a hard to read special agent with many reasons for tracking down Chris, while unfamiliar face Cynthia Addai-Robinson does a great job as his morally conflicted assistant. Jeffrey Tambor has a brief role as Chris’s former mentor, though I wish more time had been spent with his character. Finally, John Bernthal is clearly having a blast as an overly confident hitman who makes his way across various characters.

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With lots of big talent crammed into little over two hours, THE ACCOUNTANT occasionally seems crowded and I wish that certain characters received more focus. However, this isn’t necessarily a big complaint when you consider that the film holds the viewer’s interest the entire time and smartly lets its complicated web of a story unfold through well-placed flashbacks, evolving subplots and pacing that builds a solid amount of suspense. THE ACCOUNTANT is cleverly written and brings its bone-breaking, bullet-firing action into play when it serves a purpose in the plot. It’s not simply action for the sake of spectacle, because each bullet/punch is shot/thrown with a purpose…making them hit harder as a result.

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If I have any major annoyances with THE ACCOUNTANT, they stem from one scene during the final minutes that feels a bit too silly in a movie that seemed grounded in a bit of reality…despite how crazy the story got. Despite that problem, this is one of the best action films to hit the big screen in quite a while. Ben Affleck brings his A-game to this unique action hero and the rest of the cast excel in their roles as well. The plot is smart, kept me hooked into the movie for the entire running time, and delivers its violence with a purpose. It’s an all-around great movie that’s getting great responses from most audiences and I believe this is an example of when the critics got it wrong (it’s wavering at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes as I type this). Though it’s not perfect, THE ACCOUNTANT is solid entertainment that’s sure please action fans and those who just want to watch an out-and-out good movie!

Grade: A-

HELLBOY (2004)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence and Frightening Images

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Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

Written by: Guillermo Del Toro

(based on the HELLBOY comics by Mike Mignola)

Starring: Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, David Hyde Pierce, Brian Steele, Ladislav Beran & Bridget Hodson

The early 2000’s weren’t necessarily a good time for superhero flicks. There were a few exceptions (two X-MEN films and two SPIDER-MAN installments), but for the most part, filmmakers tried too hard to be cool, slick and edgy while pretty much attempting to turn every big superhero into their own franchise…most of which failed miserably. HELLBOY looked to be yet another one of these mediocre comic book movies and didn’t quite attract a huge crowd of filmgoers as a result. Luckily, the film eventually found its audience and garnered enough attention to warrant an outstanding sequel, but this review isn’t of HELLBOY II. It’s of 2004’s HELLBOY (adapted from Dark Horse comics). Skillfully directed by Guillermo Del Toro (in one of his early breaks into mainstream American cinema), HELLBOY is a rockin good time boosted by creepy visuals, tons of creativity, and a sense of humor that embraces the premise’s goofiness instead of flat-out ignoring it.

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The film begins in 1944. Nazis are using insane methods to fight the war. These methods include supernatural forces, otherworldly dimensions, and undead mystics. Luckily, an attempt to unleash Lovecraftian monsters fails and the evil Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin) is killed. Something made its way into our world though: a young demon with a rocky right hand. He’s adopted by a paranormal investigator and grows to become the monster-hunter known as Hellboy. In 2004, the timid John Myers is hired by the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense to be Hellboy’s caretaker. Little do Hellboy, John, or any of the BPRD members (including an aquatic psychic and a pyrokinetic) know that Rasputin has been resurrected and intends on using Hellboy to successfully bring Lovecraftian monsters to our world. Our lives are in danger and the one person that can save them is a demon.

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HELLBOY is a gorgeous-looking film. Guillermo Del Toro was no stranger to filmmaking by 2004 (creating CRONOS, MIMIC and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE) and lets his creativity shine behind the camera. With a budget of just over 60 million, HELLBOY looks better than most of our modern superhero movies. There’s a slick visual style and attention to detail brings every scene to life. You could pause any frame of this movie and spend a minute studying every detail about that still frame. It’s downright (for lack of a better word) cool. The creativity isn’t just in the visuals as Guillermo Del Toro was clearly having a blast in adapting the comics to the screen. The movie is fast-paced, confident, but not afraid to embrace the goofy cheese that comes with material like this. Even though it has a sense of humor, the movie isn’t too jokey though. That’s a tough tightrope to walk.

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The cast is great, with two exceptions. Ron Perlman is perfect as Hellboy. Though he’s wearing make-up and horns, Perlman sort of has the look that you’d expect Hellboy to have. He has that appearance even without the make-up and nails down the mannerisms of a witty, horned superhero in a way that’s rarely captured in superhero movies. Meanwhile, Selma Blair shines as the emotionally damaged pyrokinetic Liz. For my money, Liz is the best role that Blair has ever had. Karel Roden is great as Rasputin, yes that historical Rasputin, while John Hurt is well cast as Hellboy’s “father.” Doug Jones and the voice talents of David Hyde Pierce are combined to bring Abe Sapien (the psychic fish guy) to life. On the other side of the coin, Rupert Evans is utterly bland as the clean-cut FBI agent. He hadn’t starred in many movies before HELLBOY and hasn’t been in many since. This is probably for a reason. His delivery is unbelievably wooden. It’s a good thing that he’s not a big player in this movie and more of a background character. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Tambor is hit-or-miss as FBI Director Tom Manning. He has a couple of solid scenes, but does get over-the-top.

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Besides being creative and mostly well acted, HELLBOY greatly benefits from a terrifically creepy atmosphere too. The special effects are top-notch and incorporated into their environments with care. The decision to keep this relatively dark for a PG-13 was a ballsy one and there are a couple of images in this film that could potentially be nightmare fuel for young kids. These mainly include shots of giant tentacled beasties and a dual-sword wielding surgery addict (who unmasked has no lips or eyelids).

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Brimming with imagination, great effects, (mostly) good performances, and a tone that manages to be jokey, creepy and cool at the same time, HELLBOY really is among the top-tier of superhero films from the early 2000’s. Though it’s definitely an unconventional superhero flick, it’s made all the better for it. Lucky for fans, the film eventually garnered its audience (I remember watching this on DVD a whole lot) and got enough popularity to warrant HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (a sequel that manages to be even better than this first installment) as well as rumors of a third movie in the works. In this current situation where Marvel and DC are dominating movie theaters, 2004’s HELLBOY is a movie that deserves far more credit than it gets.

Grade: A-

THE D TRAIN (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Material, Nudity, Language and Drug Use

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Directed by: Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel

Written by: Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel

Starring: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Kyle Bornheimer, Mike White & Henry Zebrowski

I had been hearing a bit of buzz coming out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival about a little comedy called THE D TRAIN. Jack Black has been picking interesting projects lately and the plot sounded like it could make for a potentially fun time. So even with the iffy marketing, I decided to venture into this dark comedy/dramedy. Color me simultaneously bored and confused. THE D TRAIN is far from a horrible film, but also miles away from a good (or even okay) one. Trying too many things at once and ultimately feeling aimless, THE D TRAIN is a bland mess (sort of like its main character).

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Dan Landsman is a member of his high school alumni committee. In a desperate bid to seem cool and important, Dan has proclaimed himself as the “chairman” of the group (despite them all being on an equal level). When surfing across his TV one night, Dan comes across a Banana Boat commercial and recognizes a familiar face. The face belongs to Oliver Lawless, the most popular kid in his high school. In a last-ditch effort to pull of the best high school reunion ever, Dan decides to fly to Los Angeles on a faked business trip (unbeknownst to both his boss and his wife) to convince Oliver to come to the reunion. Something happens in L.A. that leaves Dan an emotional mess and his identity crisis only worsens when Oliver does show up for the reunion (bunking in Dan’s house, of all places).

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It’s not quite clear what kind of movie THE D TRAIN is trying to be. Certain moments suggest that this is a natural and heartfelt journey of a troubled man looking for himself. Other scenes imply that this should be taken as a scathingly dark comedy. More troubling is that there isn’t enough of a story to support either of these things. The film plays off as more frustrating and upsetting than compelling. There are a couple of chuckle-worthy jokes that did garner a few laughs from myself (and the three other folks sitting in on the mostly deserted midnight showing). However, a lot of the film feels like it’s merely substituting uncomfortable situations and sheer awkwardness for laughs. Yes, both of those things can be funny in the right scenario, but D TRAIN lacks enough of a storyline or likable characters (more on that in a moment) to make that awkwardness worth sitting through or laughing at.

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Jack Black plays the character of Dan with frightening conviction. He’s inhabiting the high school dork who painfully tries to be someone who he’s not. You either knew this person, still know this person or currently are this person. Though Black slips into Dan’s skin with impressive ease, the problems come with Dan being an annoying jerk. I know that D TRAIN attempts to aim for a journey of self-discovery overall, but it misses the mark with this man being thoroughly unlikable with his decisions and lies (that just keep piling on top of each other). Kathryn Hahn is alright as Dan’s wife, but really isn’t given a whole lot of development. The kicker is that they try to have these forced, would-be emotional moments in the latter half of the film that simply don’t work because I didn’t care about almost any of these characters. The best performance in the film comes from James Marsden as Lawless, who is the most fleshed-out guy in the entire film and seems (mostly) likable in comparison to everyone surrounding him.

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THE D TRAIN gives Jack Black an opportunity to play against his usual character type, but Dan Landsman is such an unlikable protagonist that I couldn’t really care about what happened to him for a majority of the running time. James Marsden delivers the only great performance of the film. The script (much like its main character) struggles to find an identity. The problems mainly come in this movie being a mess genre-wise and not having enough of a sustainable enough plot to justify itself as a feature. THE D TRAIN is a bland flick with a couple of slightly noteworthy performances and a few mild laughs to be had, but that’s about all there is here.

Grade: C-

EUROTRIP (2004)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexuality, Nudity, Language and Drug/Alcohol Content

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Directed by: Jeff Schaffer

Written by: Jeff Schaffer, Alec Berg, David Mandel

Starring: Scott Mechlowicz, Jacob Pitts, Michelle Trachtenberg, Travis Wester, Jessica Boehrs, Kristin Kreuk, Vinnie Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Matt Damon

EUROTRIP is not sophisticated, smart, or fresh. It’s certainly not ground-breaking, nor is it particularly special. However, there’s something about the movie that just works. It’s a crude, rude, lewd R-rated comedy that mainly derives its jokes from stereotypes (both about dumb Americans in foreign countries and the residents of many those countries) that piles on solid laughs throughout. The plot jumps from joke to joke and there’s little in the way of an intricate story being carved out for each of these skit-like scenes. What separates EUROTRIP from something like GROWN UPS (a recent example of a movie with major problems in this approach) is that this European sex-comedy has continuity. Every isolated scene serves to drive the movie forward in some fashion, though it’s mainly to take the group of characters into a new country. There are a fair share of moments that fall flat, but also plenty that got the intended reaction out of me (chuckling, shock value, and laughing out loud). The movie serves as a decent time-killer or party film with some friends.

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On the day of his graduation, Scott is dumped by his two-timing bitch of a girlfriend. Showing some sympathy his way is Mieke, an online German pen pal, who suggests that they could possibly hook up over the summer. Mistaking the name Mieke for “Mike,” Scott believes that his foreign friend is gay man wanting to get into his pants. So half-drunk and doing the most rational thing he can think of, Scott writes a rude e-mail to Mieke rejecting her advances only to find out to late that she could have been the perfect girl for him. In order to win her back (seeing as she’s blocked his incoming e-mails), Scott and his group of friends travel across Europe to get in Berlin, in order for Scotty to win the heart of Mieke. Hijinks, sexual deviancy, and heavy drug use follow.

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EUROTRIP isn’t aiming for the most intelligent material at hand and it graphically flaunts its very much earned R-rating. There’s lots of gratuitous nudity, tons of profanity, and truly outrageously offensive scenarios. Sometimes, it works in the film’s favor and other times, the script appears to being trying too hard. Throwing everything out at once and hoping most of it will stick is the comedic approach used by the film’s three screenwriters. Though none of the writers and director worked on 2000’s ROAD TRIP, it’s clear that this is pretty much the same basic premise as that film with the setting changed to Europe.

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Colorful characters enter and exit at the drop of a dime, but these are some of the biggest laughs I had in the film. Vinnie Jones (former soccer player turned actor) makes a hilarious appearance as a British hooligan and Matt Damon (though only in the film for one brief sequence) makes the most memorable scene with a catchy song that is sure to get stuck in your head. It’s a series of episodic skits, but they make sense within the flimsy storyline that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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Besides some stale material you can see coming from a mile away, the main characters in EUROTRIP aren’t exactly the most charismatic or enjoyable people to watch. Part of the story does rely on these people being the stereotypical dumb Americans thrown into fish-out-of-water situations in various countries, but there’s got to be some likability to them in order for the viewer to truly care about their journey. This is a cheap R-rated comedy and may have been never intended to be high art, but I’d certainly like to give a shit about what happens to these characters. No individual is worth caring about. This includes the bland Scotty, who’s conclusion feels forced in a lot of different ways. Michelle Trachtenberg and Travis Wester are so-so as comically inept twins. Finally, there’s the most annoying person in the film: Jacob Pitts. He comes off as the poor man’s Seann William Scott and Pitts plays his role like a combination of various sex-obsessed side characters from other R-rated comedies. Sometimes, he does get funny scenes (one moment in a European sex club had me cracking up), but Pitts is a mostly irritating character who I didn’t care for at all.

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EUROTRIP made me laugh quite a bit, but its populated with plenty of jokes you can see coming from a mile away. The episodic sense of humor primarily relies of stereotypes between dumb Americans and over-the-top foreigners. It’s not high art, but it’s enjoyable for a crude comedy with a go-for-broke attitude. The film isn’t afraid to show off it’s R-rated with some really gross scenes, but is also wrapped in clichés with unlikable characters. In the end, EUROTRIP comes off as a good film to watch with some friends wanting a quick and dumb little comedy. It’s a movie that’s worth seeing just so you can remind one another about certain scenes and still get some solid chuckles from thinking about those moments. I thought it was a satisfying film that suffers from some problems. You should know if this film is up your alley or not.

Grade: B-

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