Friday, December 23, 2016

Quick Critique: Moana


I have a lot of issues with Disney. A lot of them. They homogenise their entertainment to a disturbing amount, and soak up pretty much every property they can get their hands on to put their branding on them. They are one of the richest, most influential and powerful media conglomerates in the world, and yet still manage to keep on this rather false feeling face of positivity and family friendly material. And you know the absolute worst thing about them? They keep making movies I love

Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) is destined to take her father's place as chief of their village on a small Polynesian island called Motunui. However, their crops start to fail and the fish begin to deplenish. This is due to the demigod Maui (Dwayne 'The God Damn Rock' Johnson) stealing the heart of island goddess Fiti a millenia ago. Moana, chosen to find Maui and have him return the heart, defies her father's wishes and fulfills her lifelong passion of voyaging the oceans.

Moana manages to do something new with the Disney 'Princess' formula by attaching it to an entirely new culture. The brilliant look into Polynesian culture with painstaking detail, but with that brand of Disney magic to make it accessible and so much fun. Moana herself is just such a likeable protagonist that it's just a joy to see her fulfill her love of exploring and the hilarity of how hopelessly unprepared she is. On top of being about the finding yourself theme, it actually takes a few turns on it and has her both accept her birthright but change it in her own way. That and the ingenious way they turn the destiny trope on its head really makes the film stand out.

On top of that, The Rock is a hell of a lot of fun! He fits the innocent zaniness of the House of Mouse like a glove, has an incredibly enteratining song, and his story of wishing to be wanted fits perfectly with the main theme of finding yourself in your own way. Both Johnson and Cravalho have great chemistry, and are really one of the best buddy duos of the year.

Do I even need to express the brilliance of the technicals? The amount of detail and advancement directors Ron Clements and John Musker put into this project is ridiculously commendable. They made a new machine to get the waves exact! The scene at the beginning with baby Moana walking into the ocean is gorgeous, fully detailed and completely immersive. You can walk into this world.

Also the music is absolutely amazing! Co-written by Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, a lot of care was thought of to make it respectful to the Polynesian sound and spirit. Some of the lyrics were even written in the Tokelauan language. Also they're catchy as hell! Seriously, if we don't blow this soundtrack up like Frozen's was, we have failed as a species. Also, keep in mind that Cravalho was 14/15 when she recorded these songs. Also the music adds to the best scene in the film, but I will not dare ruin that for you!

What else can I say? Moana is classic Disney, modern Disney, and cultural Disney all rolled into one. Wonderful cast, highly emotional, funny, spirited, easy to get wrapped up in, and just an absolute treat. Obviously it's fun for all the family, but I dare you to watch it, grown adult, without tearing up. I. Dare. You.

Also the Grandma is awesome. Managed to beat The Rock as my favourite character. That's impressive.

Also this chicken is the one of the funniest goddamn things ever.


THERE'S TOO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT IN THIS MOVIE OKAY?! IT'S UNFAIRLY AMAZING!!!!

9/10


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cork Film Festival 2016



So I went to the Cork Film Festival!

Rather than waste time with the fluff, I have 30 movies I’m reviewing. To make this more interesting, I’m going to rank these from least favourite to favourite. So let’s start off with my least favourite film of the fest:
34. Porto


This was the final onscreen appearance of actor Anton Yelchin, after the actor tragically passed away earlier this year. That’s why Porto ranking right at the bottom is so unfortunate for me, as I wanted to like it more than I did, but I really didn’t. This is no slight on the actors, who do try but there’s nothing really here to work with. Terribly uninteresting romance set apart by some garish and distracting cinematography trying to be ‘cool’ rather than adding anything to the narrative. I’ll likely talk more about this movie in a later piece, but unfortunately this is a dreadful and pointlessly airy “romance” story that manages to feel painfully long at 76 minutes.

33. Fear Itself


A documentary that DARES to make the controversial statement that horror films are…scary. Or something. I don’t know, this movie is terrible and just kind of meanders on with no real point. Also it spoils much, much better movies like M or Brazil, so maybe it’s worth your time watching those films instead of this? I can kind of get what the director was going for, but it really just reminded me that there are a lot better movies I could have been checking out.

32. I am Not a Serial Killer






 Hoo-boy, am I gonna get hate for this one! While there are things that work about this film, like the two lead performances are great, I like that they try to do a serious analysis on sociopathy without going in an obvious direction, and there are some decent effects, everything about the story feels half-written and, like Porto, the kind of grainy, ‘retro’ cinematography just makes the film feel cheap and halfheartedly produced than feeling 80s. it’s a serious slog with painfully stupid character moments, very uninspired camera work and an incredibly stupid and undeserved ending. If you found yourself liking this movie, than more power to ya, but this one left me cold when it should have been more striking than it was.

31. Suntan


I could put up with how mean-spirited and cynical this movie is if it was in any way funny or clever. Honestly, it’s really hard to know what they’re trying to say with any of the characters. They’re just really awful people, especially the repugnant lead, but they try to make his actions sympathetic in a really warped way. And…no? Outside of that, it’s an ugly ass movie, which I thought might be the point if the film wasn’t so relentlessly trying to make its idiotic young characters’ lives look so fucking glam and amazing. Huge misfire of a film, which is a sham as you could do a lot with the premise of a socially awkward and unpopular older man falling in with the ‘cool’ kids who would never give him the time of day in his youth. Alas, this is squandered on a relentlessly unpleasant, unfocused flick.

30. The Miracle of Tekir



What starts off as a really interesting idea (an immaculate conception in modern times, but from a more demure character driven way) is not given the focus or momentum it needs. The lead character is essentially a slate, and while some of the supporting cast are a tad more interesting, they don’t really add much to the proceedings. I really like the cinematography, and some of the stuff with the townspeople’s judgement is actually really well done, but sadly this movie never really succeeds in capturing what it wishes to. Disappointingly banal.

29. Eldorado



Even a documentary with the best of intentions can end up falling flat. Focusing on four immigrants to Luxembourg disillusioned about finding a better life over a couple of years, it very rarely stops to fully humanise this situation or make these people truly relatable. Their struggles certainly are, but there isn’t a lot of time dedicated to them as people. Also it’s pretty annoyingly shot-I really hate the scene in the classroom. Even if it wasn’t staged, it just feels it due to how its framed and edited. Poor direction and a surprising lack of development let this down, despite its filming taking the course of several years. it’s not completely without merit, as it does highlight just how hard it is to be an immigrant in a personable way, but sadly this doc. fails to hit gold.

28. Crash and Burn





Another documentary on an interesting subject-this one the near rise and fall of Irish racecar driver Tommy Byrne-fails to really have a consistent structure to really dive into the legacy of this man. While his story is certainly interesting (I appreciate them not skirting the more destructive elements of his life like others do), the way its presented just really fails to get a grip on the kind of life this man had, even when you’re guided by Byrne himself. what made the documentary on Byrne’s contemporary and professional rival Ayrton Senna work so much better is that you really feel a tapestry of this person’s life, and while this tries to go in a more intimate direction, it doesn’t capture the spirit of this person. Strong story about failure and how you don’t let it ruin you, wish it had been told better.

27. Creepy



This film is pretty much let down in how…easy the villain has it. it’s a pretty strong story, if not a bit hackneyed and full of coincidences, until you find out what’s going on and not a lot of it really makes a lot of sense. Which is a shame, as it’s well directed and pretty decently paced, though the acting from most of the cast leaves a good bit to be desired. It could have been tweaked more to be a bit of a stronger, more coherent film, especially with what they attempt at the end, but as it stands it’s a mystery thriller best left unsolved.

26. The Seasons of Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger



This wasn’t a movie so much as it was a series of four shorts connected through the figure of celebrated English writer and critic John Berger. While these are nice, if not wholly remarkable, snippets of this man’s long and fascinating life, probably its biggest weakness is that it’s not one that the uninitiated of Berger’s life and work can really attach themselves to. I’m sure those who are familiar with him can connect with the film more, but sadly it fails to justify its own existence for those outside of the fans of the man’s work. Still, nice to see Tilda Swinton making food with the guy, very jovial and interesting.

25. Out of Innocence




An independently made film about a rather disturbing case from 1980s Ireland where a woman was accused of murdering a baby due to suffering miscarriage after a corpse was found miles down the coast. They take a rather interesting approach to this story, however, mostly getting the arrest and accusations out of the way as fast as possible to focus on the court case that followed after the family sued the state due to the Gardai’s mishandling of them. The production is pretty stellar (it really feels like the time period), and they really get the absurdity of the court scenes down perfectly, I just felt this could have used a bit stronger direction. Sometimes important moments aren’t made all that clear, and everything just kind of happens all at once due to them seeming to want to get to the stuff that interests them. Still, it’s a decent take on a pretty rough case, with stellar performances from her lead and her mother (Fiona Shaw in her usual high calibre). Worth giving a chance.

24. Women Who Kill




There is a lot I really, really like about this one. All the actors are solid and their characters are likable and well fleshed out. The concept itself is great-having a commitaphobe who also co-hosts a podcast about female serial killers be convinced that her new girlfriend is one. And while the humour isn’t always on fire, it can be really funny when it needs to be, especially as most of the jokes are nearly entirely dialogue based. Women Who Kill is a solid and enjoyable movie, it’s just a shame that the third act gets into weird territories. Without giving too much away, the reveal feels a bit too convenient, and the love interest sadly isn’t given enough room to develop due to her role in the plot. It ends on a really weird and cynical note, feeling really tonally off from the rest of the movie. A solid enough flick that derails near the end, check it out if it sounds interesting to you.

23. Most of the Souls that Live Here



This is one of two films I saw that was made as a reaction to the rise in far right politics in Europe, and I’m gonna be honest, it’s kind of an incomprehensible one. The Buharov Brothers (no relation to one another) have made a name for their weird, dreamlike kind of films. Kind of if David Lynch and Quentin Dupieux had a baby and he was still a tad removed. It would be disingenuous for me to say I knew what the hell was going on, but I kind of like that. I actually would like to revisit this movie to dissect and figure out what is going on. These guys clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, and their imagery and tone are pretty sharp that they just envelope into your brain. While the madness is hard to explain, it’s an interesting journey, and perhaps this film will go up in my estimation once I’m given another chance to dissect it, despite its budget clearly showing.

22. Cardboard Gangsters



This is a serviceable if unremarkable gangster flick. Co-written and starring John Connors, it focuses on four friends who make money doing low level drug deals, until they decide to completely take over their area’s trade. The acting is great, with each of the friends having a distinct and recognisable personality. Props really go to Connors, who manages to have a lot of range despite being in a project similar to his star making series Love/Hate. It does have the unique angle of showcasing the class divide even within the world of the black market, and they do do a few interesting things there. Unfortunately, it mostly just derides into usual gangster tropes that you’ve seen in countless other movies, and you can predict pretty much where it’s going. That and a few structural and budgetary issues make this film worth checking out, but only if you like the actor and/or genre.

21. 2 Nights Till Morning



An intimate look at fears of intimacy. The setting is fantastic-put in that in-between place of travelling between countries where the characters are forced to consider why they are in these positions in the first place. The two leads are great, being both very selfish and yet very relatable in their own way. Outside of some personal preferences and dodgy camera work, the only real issues I had was that the ending isn’t really all that amazing. Not as bad as others, but still it leaves everything on a rather empty note. Still, this is a strong if not amazing film really honing in on two people who wishing to be lost from their lives.

20. Chasing Asylum



A look into Australia’s draconian immigration policies and the refugee camps they set up in detention centres on tiny local islands that can barely handle the population increase. On top of exploring the gross and inhumane way the immigrants live and are treated, the film painstakingly goes through every detail into why this is wrong, as if anticipating the potential arguments that could come up defending them. There is so much covered here that it’s kind of hard not to leave the cinema angry over what you just witnessed. Like the recent Irish documentary Atlantis, it’s not the most visually exciting or rivetingly structured film, but it’s informative and frank, and an important one to watch if you have any interest in the pretty horrible reactions certain countries have to those seeking asylum.

19. Rock Dog



This is…cute! Very fun film. To be honest, I’m surprised it made its way up so high, as there really isn’t anything to it. while the set-up is way overexplained (made even worse that most of the setting and characters introduced in the first act don’t return to the film until the end), and a lot of the weird mythos is barely utilised, it’s a simple and fun story about following your dreams despite your background. None of the characters are annoying or unlikable, Eddie Izzard is fucking hilarious as the fame-obsessed rock star cat, easily the highlight of the movie. The songs are great, even the one created for the movie. Honestly, the most interesting thing about it is its Chinese/American coproduction, but as a film on its own its fine. Bring the kids and enjoy some great soft rock antics.

18. Dancer



This look into the life of Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin was a lot more engaging than I was expecting. While it never goes into the more salacious aspects of his life (more references them), it’s a more intimate and revealing portrait of a man who became famous too quickly and crashed all the same. From his time being the youngest principal dancer at the British Royal Ballet to his incredible music video for Hozier’s ‘Take me to Church’, it’s a straightforward but personal journey into the life of this man. I love how much it focused on his relationship with his family, as well.

17. The Lovers and the Despot



Not gonna lie-this was probably my most anticipated movie of the fest. The story of director Shin Sang-ok and his ex-wife Choi Eun-hee being kidnapped for years by former North Korean dicatator Kim Jong-il to help develop the country’s film industry is one of the most preposterously insane acts, especially as they had to travel the world and pretend to people they were willingly part of this project. to this day, people doubt they were kidnapped. This film did provide a lot of great details and really explored the culture surrounding it through a lot of sources connected to the story, including Eun-hee (Sang-ok had died since), I felt it focused a bit too much on North Korea itself, which is a country that frankly deserves its own miniseries to explore. Still, it gets across the fear and paranoia well, and it’s fascinating to see a tale of love and dread wrapped all in one under a tyrannical despot.

16. The Birth of a Nation




The release more controversial for its star Nate Parker’s past more than the content itself. Parker plays Nat Turner, a 19th century slave and preacher who led a rebellion killing around 50-60 white people, most of them slave owners. As it stands, it’s a pretty decent piece, with a strong turn from Parker himself as the committed and embittered Turner, though probably the weaker part of the movie is that he’s almost given a Messianic glow that’s a bit too much to be taken seriously. Also some of the effects really take you out of the experience. As it stands, however, it’s a powerful tale about marks left in history and how inspiration can come from the most unlikely, and bloody, of places.

15. The Eagle Huntress



Hey, what a fun little doc! The story of a young girl breaking years of tradition by becoming the first female eagle hunter to compete in their local competition is charming as it is empowering. The girl and her father are really likeable, and it’s a wonderful look into a world most of us probably never even heard of. With lush, beautiful cinematography, the film may have some lagging lows, but incredibly soaring highs. Not much to say on this one really-it’s just a sweet, triumphant little film about fighting against prejudices and tradition to make your own path in life. Also, while Daisy Ridley’s narration is kind of unnecessary, her vocals are certainly welcome.

14. A United Kingdom



A powerful biographical film about the price nearly paid for love. The love and later marriage of Botswana prince Sir Sereste Kharma and Ruth Williams caused uproar in his country over him choosing to marry a white woman is very layered, further complicated by the United Kingdom’s involvement in the matter. The power of the film is in its simplicity; it lays out the conflict and just gives the viewers an impossibly romantic story with a lot of political interference. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike have amazing chemistry, and they’re such talented actors that they can really hold the movie even in the large chunks when they are apart. It’s competently made and powerful romanticisation of a pretty remarkable true story, even if it has a tendency to make the British government look cartoonishly evil. It’s a well-made tale of love, politics and complicated race relations shot like a classic 1940s romance.

13. Heil



This is an incredibly smart and brazen satire, taking the real life issues of the rise of fascistic sentiments in Germany and framing them like a Carry On movie. This film goes into so many insane directions, and yet manages to commit to it so hard that you completely get on board with how ridiculous they make far-right sympathisers and modern political discourse in general look. Neither ‘side’ is really shown in a favourable light, and the movie just has a ball as South Park as made by Benny Hill. While the memory loss gag can get a bit taxing, and I can imagine people will get frustrated with the fact that it has nothing more profound to say than ‘People who take politics too far look like fucking idiots’, it’s an enjoyably silly film with some great comedic timing and wonderfully hammy acting from the cast. Be you a Nazi or a Leftist, bring your sense of humour and enjoy it.

12. Fragility



An achingly, almost uncomfortably real look into the pressures and woes of dealing with anxiety. Filmmaker Ahang Bashi takes a look at her own dealings with panic attacks and depression in an extremely brave attempt to actualise the condition for those who fail to understand it. It can be hard to watch, but extremely worthwhile for those who do not have a visualisation of what depression and anxiety can look like, as well as cathartic to see others who go through your struggles. It also manages to incorporate her family into it, and has their own reactions for better or worse. It may be short, but it’s an excellent and courageous display of personal demons, one to check out.

11. The Love Witch



This lavishly loving tribute to 60s B-movies gets a modern look while retaining its kitschy charm and style. Unlike I am Not a Serial Killer, this movie uses its ‘old school’ style of filming and Technicolor-esque palette to evoke the feel of the movies its throwing back to, and the acting is expressive enough to capture the feel of the time period, but not exaggerated enough to not be taken seriously. On top of that, it’s just a fun story, with really interesting characters taken in appropriately insane routes. There is a subtle feminist undercurrent that, outside of one scene, never really takes over the movie but is well appreciated. It’s a fun, intelligently made throwback film with a lot to say about 50 years ago as it does about today.

10. 24 Weeks




This is a solid film completely and utterly elevated by its final 20 minutes. While the situation is well handled in a fair, respectful and balanced way, there are some moments that come off as a bit trite and clich├ęd. Having said that, it’s well shot and engaging, you really get a look into the lead’s world view and reaction to the situation. It’s extremely well acted, and the characters feel real and they go through their motions in extremely realistic ways. But holy shit-the final act is one of the most heartbreaking, soul crushing things I have ever seen in cinema. Blunt and uncompromising, and yet they manage to keep their sense of objectivity. This is an excellent movie in the conversation of abortion, and one that I highly recommend watching simply to keep portrayals like this around. It’s hard not to get invested in the issues brought up.

9. The Apology



This is my favourite documentary of the fest. This is a look into the lives and culture of ‘comfort women’; girls who were taken from various countries by the Japanese army to be forced into the sex trade for the exploitation of soldiers. It focuses primarily on three women, one from a different area (China, South Korea and the Philippines), with the main focus on those demanding an apology by the Japanese government for what they did, and the worries this will never happen due to the ages of the women affected. There’s a great mixture of different Asian cultures here, and each focuses on a different aspect of what these women do to cope. There’s even a community of survivors. It’s a wonderful examination of the human spirit after being subjected to a horrible crime and the work people do to get said crimes recognised. Beautifully told and excellently shot, I cannot recommend this enough.

8. Blazing Saddles



They say you couldn’t make a Mel Brooks movie nowadays, but without the man himself, why would you want to? One of the kings of parody had one of his best recognised movies screened due to the recent passing of Gene Wilder. A note perfect lampooning of Westerns and racial bigotry, it’s as relevant and hilarious today as it was back when it was released 40 years ago. Cleavon Little is such a great comedic presence who bounces off of Gene Wilder beautifully, though he also can hold the screen by himself. There’s not much else you can really say about it that hasn’t been said already-it’s hilarious, biting, and a must-see for all fans of comedy. Just be happy if you’ve ever worked for Mel Brooks.

7. Slash


It feels almost wrong to rank some doofy teen dramedy over a classic like Blazing Saddles, but I just can’t help it-this movie feels charming and raw. Not only is the screenplay popping with amazingly quotable lines, but it actually takes its subject matter seriously while always leaving it open for mockery. It feels loving, getting certain nuances of the world of fanfic while also making it accessible to those completely in the dark. On top of that, it’s just a really honest story about growing up. The two leads are amazingly well realised, both feeling like their own people and so recognisably teenagers, particularly outsiders. The way they examine their sexuality is great too, it’s how a lot of teenagers frankly think about their preferences. This film is witty, fun and has a lot of harsh truisms it explores pretty bravely too, not always going for the happiest method. A movie about creating your own stories out of stuff you love turned out to be one of the realest films I’ve seen all year.

6. Carrie


So this was a treat for me, I got to see Carrie for the first time on the big screen. And it’s rightfully seen as a classic. A devastating and creepy look into teen angst and the consequences of repression, everything about this film just works. It’s perfectly paced and the acting is great, but what really sells it is the tone. It’s relentless in putting the lead through the ringer, with her social ostracisation and terrible mother, that when she catches a break finally there’s a relief. Only to have that scattered when we know what’s about to happen. The scene at the prom is beautifully framed, and absolutely horrifying to boot. While everything about the film just works like gangbusters, it’s the final scene that cements this as a classic. Credit too goes to how amazing Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are-these two just iconify their roles. If you haven’t seen it already, you don’t need my recommendation, check it out!

5. Suite Armoricaine



Again, it feels weird putting some taut French melodrama over a DePalma classic, but goddamn if everything in this movie isn’t just perfect. I even like the length and how the story is structured, which are usually things I hate about films! Pascale Breton’s latest film explores the power of the past on where you are now, no matter how much you believe you’ve moved beyond it. Focused on two characters of different age brackets, it is a beautifully shot meandering gaze into the secrets of the night in a town that was thought forgotten by our protagonists, it’s beautiful symmetry with the art history and intense focus on the more minute aspects makes this a wonderfully engaging but also thought provoking meditation on what we have to leave behind in life. Powerfully realised and an absolutely brilliant use of personal reflection by the director.


4. Chi-Raq



 Spike Lee made something of an urban treat, a movie that’s quite a magnificent feat. Capturing his urban sensibilities with Classical scale, he gives us a modern retelling of an Ancient Greek tale. Full of actors he worked with and ones you know, he makes them rhyme then doesn’t, but always makes it flow! Combing Black Lives Matter issues with modern urban crime, we get to the thematic point not wasting any time. Don’t mistake this director from being socially idle, he hits you hard with what he wishes to say, just look at the title! This beautiful combination of words and prose and song just cannot be ignored, his choreography and timing will always stop you being bored. Teyonah Parris and Nick Cannon gave powerful performances, this joint is engaging and funny, it’s not just about its stances! It’s a beautiful movie about race and sexual liberation through sex being withhold, please go see this movie, I hope I have you sold.

3. Dark Night



This was an absolute surprise, framed around the Batman shootings of 2012 but making it a mood piece set before a mass killing. The way they create so much tension while also fleshing out its characters is commendable, using very sparse dialogue and preferring to let their actions speak for them. Most of the atmosphere is created by some amazing sound design, making every crack and flick sound unnerving. The loose documentary-esque style allows for some decent cinematography despite its drab location, and the subtle way it incorporates gun culture and news reports of shooting manages to make its points without shoving it in your face. This is a beautiful display of minimalist cinema, it’s not going to be for everyone, but if you’re looking for something different, be sure to check this out.

2. The Handmaiden



So what happens when you get the director of Old Boy, take a Victorian tale and set it in South Korea, about a relationship between two women that was initially set up as an investment scheme for someone to marry into a rich family? You get one of the best romantic dramas and thriller of the year. Park Chan-wook manages to be ridiculously shocking by very little, more suggestion than display, going against what he’s best known for but still showing what a master at shocking and thrilling you he truly is. The two leads are both fascinating and likable despite the awful things they tend to do, and the story takes so many twist and turns you’re legitimately wondering what will happen next. Fun, disturbing, romantic, clever, and ridiculously watchable, it’s a soaring two and a half hours of excellent cinema from a director more than proven to get a rise outta ya.

1. Sunset Boulevard



Was it almost inevitable that this would be my favourite movie, being considered one of the best films ever made? An iconic take on the horrors of Hollywood and how quickly it can exploit and/or abandon you? With a double act of two of what are considered the greatest characters ever put to screen? Starring an actual silent movie star past her prime to add further salt to the wound of the theme? As well as being framed as a gritty noir thriller? Probably, but that doesn’t stop this from being amazing. A beautifully told film that manages to give away the ending and still be surprising, shocking, absorbing and emotional. It’s got excellent direction, every scene moving into one another like a dream. William Holden is great as the slick-but-noble Joe Gillis, but it’s Gloria Swanson that steals the show as Norma Desmond, one of the most tragic characters ever put to screen. Skewering Hollywood like a surgical knife and being endlessly watchable in the same token, this is one of those classics that has to been to really believe just how great it really is. A wonderful treat to see on the big screen in all its noir glory.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

My Problems With: The Accountant and Making a Marvel


(SPOILER WARNING!!!!!! Later on down the article, I will be discussing The Accountant as a whole, and will therefore spoil the entire goddamn movie. You have been warned)


Sooooo…they made an action hero autistic man with math powers.

Five minutes to Joker. Definitely, definitely gotta beat up Joker.

The Accountant is a 2016 movie starring Ben Affleck as…well, an accountant named Christian Wolff. He uses his CPA license as a front for his work with dangerous criminals to help them uncook their books. To handle the clearly dangerous situations he will cross, he is trained in both hand-to-hand combat and weaponry from his army man father, and has a comms assistant who tracks these financial matters who he only interacts with via phone calls.  He is also a high functioning autistic, meaning his highly competent accounting and fighting skills are matched by poor social manner and a meticulously habitual nature.

So look, I’m someone who cares a lot about the portrayal of autism and AS in the media. For personal reasons, I believe we need more characters with the condition for people, particularly kids, to relate to. And I, of course, get pretty goddamn uppity when people mischaracterise or flat out fail to write them respectfully and accurately. I have to say it, though…this movie does a surprisingly good job giving us what is basically an autistic superhero. It’s a pity it’s at the expense of a coherent narrative for him.

What hurts its film is its plot. While this isn’t directly the fault of them focusing on the lead’s personality or the respectful portrayal of a condition that affects approximately 74 million people in the world, there seems to be a vested interest in making this Accountant a franchise rather than a competent film. While this isn’t to say that their portrayal wasn’t well intentioned, this predisposition on making this character as perfect as possible seems to come at the expense of the storytelling at hand.

There is a trend in modern Hollywood filmmaking that sacrifices careful storytelling in order to ‘sell’ the audience the movie they are watching. This seems to be popularised by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I’m calling it ‘Making a Marvel’ because I am so fucking clever (LOVE ME, MASSES!!!!). Where it succeeds with Marvel films (…most of the time) is that their world building and franchise selling is usually limited to small references throughout the movie and kept for the post-credit sequences. A good film Making a Marvel will sell you the film first, and the franchise second (DC seem to have a particularly bad problem grasping this). While the MCU has its own issues, this is not one of them. It is, however, a problem for the other movies that try to imitate what they do blindly (another example off the top of my head would the recent Independence Day sequel).

"BUT MARVEL MOVIES ARE NOT ALL GOOD!!!" As if my outlining what is causing
the success of on of the most profitable franchises in Hollywood atm is an automatic defense  of
everything they do.
How (I think) this relates to The Accountant is that they are clearly gunning for a franchise with this guy. A lot of effort is spent on making this guy cool and likable while also selling the autistic angle. When I say they try too hard is that he’s a bit…too perfect? Which is weird because the guy is laundering money through his CPA business and working for international criminals and mobsters (but that’s okay because he has some ‘moral code’ bollix that stops him from interacting with REALLY really bad guys, I guess?) But he’s also honourable and loyal and sweet and kind of rude and murders people but they were asking for it anyway plus he was talked into it either way and you see why I get such dissonance from this?

Outside of this, as I was saying above, the need to make this film sell seems to come as a consequence to its structure. The plot of The Accountant is a bit of a mess. Now, not all movies need a rigid three act structure, that’s true. However, it’s usually a handy thing to stick to if you want your movie to remain consistent and satisfying to an audience in an approximate 2 hour time frame, especially if you’re making a crowd pleasing action flick. I won’t bore you with the specifics of act structure, but I’ll use a few elements of conventional storytelling in these kinds of movies and outline why The Accountant really failed to follow them which, on top of making their lead a bit to contradictorily perfect, really sunk this film for me.

Backstory


This is a little obvious. We need to set the ground work for our hero or heroes to make them relatable and understand their priorities and motivations in the story. So, from here on out, there is no limitation on spoilers-I’m going to reveal the entire plot. So, with the assumption that you’ve seen the film (or don’t care), here is the background for the lead, Christian Wolff:

Christian is a high functioning autistic man with an incredible git for mathematics. After his father refuses to let him live in a neuroscience research facility, believing life should toughen him out, his mother abandons their family under the pressure leaving her husband to raise Christian and his younger brother on his own. He had them both trained in martial arts and sharpshooting, and eventually Christian joins the army. Christian talks his father into attending his mother’s funeral (who had moved on with a new family), and a scuffle at the wake results in Christian’s father getting killed and him being landed in jail. There, he meets criminal accountant Francis Silverberg, who teaches Christian about criminal financial dealings in between letting his sons know that there’s always money in the banana stand.

Jeffrey Tambor's career feels kind of cyclical

There’s a little more to this, but there you have it-a little silly, but pretty straightforward backstory for our protagonist. However, the movie has an…interesting way of getting it across. It’s told mostly in flashback throughout the runtime, which isn’t a bad way of telling it. It’s been done in movies since time immemorial (or…a couple of decades, movies aren’t that old). The problem with this is that it doesn’t build to much and leaves a character we need investment in with a lot of his story left unfilled.

To use a non-action example, The Imitation Game teases out the backstory of Alan Turing throughout, and while it’s not an aspect I’m all that fond of, it serves its purpose of showing how his sexuality has been a dominating presence throughout his life in a world that refused to accept it. It works to inform the narrative. Doing this for Wolff takes potential character building to create a mystery about him that has no real payoff. It helps with nothing except to give purpose to a subplot that really doesn’t need to be there.

So I guess I should talk about that next.

Subplot/B-plot



Stories tend to need subplots to break up the potentially monotonous nature of the main plot and are used to expand upon the world and the characters. The B-plot here, of course, is following FinCEN director Raymond King (JK Simmon), and an employee he blackmailed named Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) figure out who Wolff is.

All-in-all, not a bad set up. The problem is, as mentioned above, info on Wolff really shouldn’t be something so haphazard and scattered throughout the narrative like it is. Why can’t we discover stuff about our lead through our lead? Whatever happened to show, don’t tell? What’s worse is that this really does seem interesting, but it doesn’t do anything to justify its own purpose within the story.

Then, of course, it’s how it’s resolved. The reveal that King was being contacted by The Voice with information on criminals not meeting Wolff’s code really takes the wind out of the sails of the entire story. Why did we follow these characters around if one of them knew so much about him, even if it’s supposed to be a test to see if Medina can take his place as the contact? Wouldn’t that be something Wolff decides-he manages to keep in touch with King, why not scan the people working in the Treasury department and find a suitable placement? Could there be any less convoluted way than blackmailing another employee into finding his house in order to prove her worth?

See, this is why you could never get pictures of Spider-Man!
Also, it never coalesces with the main plot. The characters in this subplot ever physically interact with Wolff in the present day scenes, so they have no bearing on the story. They just seem to be there to make Wolff look cooler. Or maybe to set up the world for an upcoming sequel? Which still doesn’t justify how wasted they are here, and how they could be removed and lose nothing of the story, but still that’s how people will defend it if this actually happens?

So let’s talk about the main plot.

Main Conflict


The main tension in a story usually revolves around our hero being put into a conflict introduced in the first act he will spend the majority of the movie trying to resolve. While I’m not a mind reader (yet) and I’ve never met the screenwriter to confirm nor deny this, I get the impression that The Accountant saw its main plot as a burden, more like something that had to be there because this is a movie and movies need plots. This is particularly shown in how we find out who the villain is. We narrow down the two ‘whodunnits’ and get to the REAL villain who everybody probably guessed from his opening frame because they make it so obvious (John Lithgow is wasted in this, btw).

Lord Farquaad was a more threatening foe

Underdevelopment is also a problem for the love interest, played by Anna Kendrick. Which is a huge issue, as they make a big deal about him getting involved in this because of her, and it just doesn’t feel authentic. They have a few scene where they interact, but nothing about it really gets across why he’s going to risk his life for this woman. Perhaps if the story wasn’t so scattershot and focused on a completely arbitrary plot this wouldn’t be an issue?

Now, there doesn’t really need to be that compelling a conflict to make a movie work. The Raid has an incredibly simple plot, but that film is engaging and thrilling throughout its runtime. The problem for The Accountant is that there is such little momentum and intrigue anywhere else that nothing ever really takes off here. They’re so busy teasing us to a great movie that never comes.

Because I don't have enough gifs of The Raid in my life
I’m not doing a segueway into my final point.


Twist/Climax


The climax is not terrible (if there is one thing that remains consistent, as flat as most of the direction is, the action sequences are pretty solid). The freaking twist is.

So family is a major theme, as you could surmise. Wolff was raised by his father, he went on a murder spree after his father-figure died out of prison, he spared King’s life because he said he was a good father, Marybeth was motivated by her sister, Lithgow’s character Blackburn has his sister killed to show how totes evil he is, it’s implied that the neuroscience guy kept in contact and helped Wolff because of the bond he had with his daughter (who is the Voice)-they’re not subtle is what I’m getting that. So having Wolff’s brother Brax be the big twist is thematically sound, it’s just badly implemented.

For one, it’s way too telegraphed and predictable. For another, it really changes nothing about the ending. Wolff and Brax confront each other, Lithgow gets killed…and nada. They act like this moment turns the movie on its head and completely changes the dynamic of the final few moments (which is what a twist in the third act is supposed to do), but it really doesn’t. it just kind of kills the momentum of the climax for a weak twist for a ‘theme’ that, to be honest, I’m not really sure is really trying to say anything (family is…good?).

For God sake, movie, you're not Vin Diesel!
It just feels like they needed a cool twist so people would talk about the ending having an impact and leaving the audience on a high rather than it being kind of pointless and not needed. Hell, Brax doesn’t even come back after that scene!

Conclusion


So what’s the point in outlining this? With this movie in particular?

Honestly, I think it’s an interesting case study of an emblematic problem. Movies don’t seem to be made to please people; they seem to be made as this constant marketing machine to get people to go see more films and franchise the fuck out of things. The MCU, for better or for worse, has affected how movies are packaged, how they are distributed and how they are presented to the audience/consumer. But there’s a line between artistry and corporatising, and for all their faults, Marvel toe the line.

The Accountant was so busy trying to sell me how awesome the idea of this autistic savant bad-ass was that it failed to give him a solid story to showcase this. It shouldn’t have to go down like this-I mean, remove Indiana Jones from Raiders and you still have a fun Nazi story. The character should not be the only reason the movie functions, a character should make the movie function within a solid framework. That’s how you connect to an audience, that’s how you sell a franchise.

By all means, continue to try to shill out these thinly-veiled products to an ever-growing cynical public to find something that connects. I encourage that, and I feel this movie was so close to getting something special that it makes it even more disappointing. Either make a competent story for an aspirational hero, or don’t make mind Marvel.


You know, I think I’ll talk more about movie marketing in the future…