Tag: kevin spacey

Billionaire Boys Club


Billionaire Boys Club (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

James Cox’s misfire “Billionaire Boys Club” attempts to tell the true story of recent college graduates, Joe Hunt (Ansel Elgort) and Dean Karny (Taron Egerton), who create a high-risk investment firm—a Ponzi scheme—in order to establish a perception of success. Because in their world during early 1980s Los Angeles, being rich on paper and cash poor is better than the idea of being perceived as what they actually are—struggling, like mostly everybody else, to become financially successful. Although supposedly based on real life, it is plagued with inaccuracies, like softening the characterization of Hunt so he is more sympathetic. With this in mind, the work must be evaluated based on what it has achieved.

The first half of the picture is stronger than the latter. It is interesting that although it attempts to tell a story from thirty years ago, there is a modern feel in the way the picture is put together. The clothes, the makeup, the cars, the influential figures running around the City of Angels are vintage and yet the feelings it evokes are out of its time. This can be attributed to Amy Collier and Glen Scantlebury’s curious editing: it strives to match the manic energy, even the hedonism, of the young men who wish to prove themselves, hungry for money and public admiration but not self-respect. As the resourceful pair manipulates potential investors, an upbeat feeling is generated; the fast climb atop a mountain pregnant with purpose.

Elgort and Egerton make convincing accomplices. They look good in suits even when under extreme pressure of breathing out one lie after another. It is the screenplay, however, that is not up to the level of their talent—which is why the second half is thoroughly problematic. Because the writing is so sloppy, particularly when repercussions must be painted on the canvas, one gets the impression that the film does not know how to be resolved—strange since the final destination is already written by life. The duo’s downfall feels rushed and messy. It is the writers’ responsibility—James Cox and Captain Mauzner—to make sense of every step so that the viewer can have a complete understanding of the crime.

Thus, the film, as a whole, is rendered ineffective. I have no problem in how Hunt and Karny are written or portrayed. The people within biographical crime dramas are stretched or embellished most of the time. But the crime itself—how the subjects get there and the accompanying fallout that sometimes follows—this is something that must be captured with feverish accuracy. What is the point of telling this particular story otherwise? Superior films within the genre even take the material further by connecting the critiques of the past to something similar that is occurring today. This film is uninterested in striving for much.

“Billionaire Boys Club” can be criticized for being shallow—and I do not disagree. On the one hand, that is, I think, part of the point: the young men’s dream of becoming financially secure for life and gaining positive social recognition is indeed quite shallow. On the other hand, the dream of striking it rich fast and being socially respected transcends time and culture. After all, in many people’s eyes, money goes hand in hand with respect. The screenplay ought to have been ironed out in order for this story to command undeniable cultural relevance in modern times. Examples can be found everywhere, from the cars we drive, the brand of shoes we wear, down to the color of our credit cards. I was disappointed by its unwillingness to overachieve.

Baby Driver


Baby Driver (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Unabashedly an exercise of style over substance, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” commands an uncanny ability to engage despite a plot with a familiar template. It does so, for the most part, through movement: the way the camera glides over well-choreographed action sequences featuring car smashes, how it switches between faces of people sharing an increasingly tense dialogue, the manner in which it jumps into and out of fantasies and memories. And supporting this technique is the ever-present soundtrack, a delicious stew of genres from artists like Queen, T. Rex, The Commodores, all the way to The Detroit Emeralds and Barry White.

Ansel Elgort has finally found a character that fits his rather limited acting style. He plays Baby, a getaway driver with tinnitus who must constantly listen to music in order to maintain focus on whatever is at hand. Baby does not say much which plays upon the strength of the performer; Elgort has presence even when simply standing in the background. Here, he has found a way to exude a cool aura that makes us want to get to know his character. However, when Elgort is required to speak, there are times when certain words and lines sound a bit mumbled which, I suppose, fits the character because of the relentless ringing in his ears.

Aside from “The Fast and the Furious” installments, modern action pictures involving heists and car crashes tend to look the same: grayish, wet, brooding, characters sporting miserable looks on their faces. But Wright’s picture is the opposite: it is colorful, the sun is shining, characters command their own personalities. Sometimes they end up surprising us. Particularly interesting to me is the revolving crew of robbers (Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Flea, Lanny Joon) led by a well-dressed man named Doc (Kevin Spacey). These big personalities being stuck in a room and having to endure one another’s presence because they have a common goal is like shaking a pop bottle. Keeping in mind that the work is inspired by classic and modern heist flicks, one of them has got to be the central villain. I had fun trying to guess which one it will be.

The picture could have used more heart—and I am not talking about Baby missing his deceased mother or even his romance with a cute waitress (Lily James). A fresh choice would have been to explore the relationship between Baby and his foster father who is mute (CJ Jones). While the two share a few scenes that are almost moving, the writing does not offer enough depth when it comes to this relationship. As a result, scenes meant to tug at the heartstrings later in the picture feel forced at times.

There is a certain swagger, rhythm, and wit to this picture that I wish other filmmakers would notice and draw inspiration from. The scene before the opening credits is so impressive, so jubilant, yet so precise in terms of what it wishes to show the viewers, we recognize right away the kind of picture it is going to be: an unceasing displays of look-what-I-can-do and look-what-I-can-get-away-with.

The Ref


The Ref (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★

On the night of Christmas Eve, Gus (Denis Leary), a serious-minded thief, breaks into the Willard mansion and accidentally triggers the alarm. Although he is able to make it out of the estate, the town is already teeming with cops and so he decides to hold Caroline (Judy Davis) at gunpoint in hopes of having a hostage and a safe house for the night. Little does Gus know that Caroline and Lloyd (Kevin Spacey), her husband, are on the verge of divorce. They bicker about everything, from directions one ought to take while on the road to what should be done about their juvenile delinquent of a son, Jesse (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.). Gus’ patience is tested to its limits.

“The Ref,” based on the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss, benefits from its fast-talking script, executed with enough swagger and verve to make the trials of a rotting marriage, too often tackled with a dead serious precision, appear equally funny and bittersweet. The characters may be miserable but we, the audience, are having a good time.

The first time we meet Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur, they are right on each other’s throats. It isn’t enough that one has to be right; the other has to be wrong. Surprisingly, it is not unbearable to listen to them because it seems like they really do share a history. For instance, in the marriage counselor’s office, the couple can barely look into one another’s eyes. And when they do, it is about delivering a point coupled with an aggression that may or may not be deserved.

However, the picture flounders a bit with its second act, jumping from one perspective to another which features sketches of cops watching a classic film starring Humphrey Bogart, a lieutenant being blackmailed, a man in a Santa Claus suit getting drunk, among others. Although each has comedic punch and each thread eventually ends up on the couple’s doorstep, it comes across forced. I wondered if it had been better if we knew nothing about the quirky characters in town and just surprised us once they rang the doorbell.

The film also employs slapstick which, except for Gus’ unfortunate experience in the mansion, does not work. Every time someone trips or falls, I winced out of embarrassment: I was aware that the script is much better than its desperate attempts to get a laugh.

The addition of the Chasseurs’ extended family is a gift that keeps on giving. Connie (Christine Baranski), Lloyd’s sister-in-law, is a laugh riot because she is so bossy to her husband and children. Whenever Baranski belts out that commanding voice, everyone pays attention. It works because it does not feel like Baranski is forcing her character to appear mean. Being tough is just a part of her personality. And not once did the reactions of Connie’s two children, mostly fear, fail to tickle my insides.

Although the material takes a familiar turn toward the end which involves the Chasseurs’ dirty laundry being flaunted to their extended families, it is never boring. And despite the overwhelming vitriol being flung across the room and into each other’s faces, it becomes increasingly obvious that happiness—in this case, happiness in a marriage—is like any other thing that requires hard work.

Directed by Ted Demme, “The Ref” offers some insight behind its dark humor. It made me feel grateful that Christmas Eve with my family and relatives is exponentially more joyous than what these people is ever likely to have.

Horrible Bosses


Horrible Bosses (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) were unhappy with their jobs. Nick expected to be promoted by his boss, Dave (Kevin Spacey), because he had sacrificed eight years doing grunt work. Dave ended up promoting himself. Dale, a dental hygienist, was happily engaged but his boss, Dr. Harris (Jennifer Aniston), wanted him to have an affair with her. If Dale wouldn’t accept her aggressive sexual advances, she claimed she would tell his girlfriend that they slept together and she had evidence that they did. Meanwhile, Kurt, who worked in a chemical factory, had to deal with his extremely childish new boss, Bobby (Colin Ferrell), who didn’t care if his decisions endangered people’s lives. “Horrible Bosses,” directed by Seth Gordon, was, for the most part, a disarmingly effective workplace comedy. It started with crackle and pop: within the first ten minutes, we came to understand why the three friends felt the need to hire a hitman (Jamie Foxx) to kill their bosses. Although the comedic situations were wrapped in relatively improbable situations, we rooted for the trio because, in essence, none of them felt respected. We’ve all felt inadequate because someone had told us, implicitly or explicitly, that we weren’t good enough. That frustration builds anger and we could see the anger in Nick, Dale, and Kurt in varying degrees. The bosses had personalities and some were given a chance to shine. Dave was truly nasty because he was the kind of boss who got his way by purposely being blind to the difference between motivation and manipulation. Spacey was perfect for the role because he exhibited charm and sliminess with ease. Meanwhile, Dr. Harris was the definition of a nymphomaniac. She couldn’t function without mixing business with pleasure. Aniston played her character with glee. Her character was an exaggeration. There were times when it worked, especially since Dale was such a colorful guy. However, I wished Dr. Harris had more quiet moments aimed to remind us that she wasn’t just a cartoon character. Lastly, Bobby was my worst nightmare because he just didn’t care about his job. All he cared about was the money he undeservingly received at the end of the day. Farrell is a dynamic actor but his character wasn’t given enough screen time. We only knew three things about him: he was addicted to cocaine, supposedly held a green belt in martial arts, and there was a hint that he felt like an inadequate son. Otherwise, he just looked like a walking bad joke (perhaps because he was balding). Despite the many hilarious one-liners that “Horrible Bosses” effortlessly delivered, it fell short from being great because Dr. Harris and Bobby were more like punchlines rather than real people. Still, “Horrible Bosses” deserves a recommendation because the director took risks in terms of the picture’s pace and tone. It managed to acquire an offbeat rhythm–a key element that less effective workplace comedies could only wish to possess.

The Men Who Stare at Goats


The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

After being recently heartbroken, Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) decided to go with a self-proclaimed psychic-soldier-slash-Jedi-warrior (George Clooney) to Iraq so that he could publish a mind-blowing story and prove to himself that he was not a loser. However, Wilton quickly realized that maybe the man he was with was just a charlatan and there really was no compelling story that could be written. Adapted from Jon Ronson’s book and directed by Grant Heslov, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was certainly not as bad as people claimed it was upon its release because the satire involving American soldiers and reporters worked on some level. Given the strange material, I thought it was refreshing even though some of the jokes didn’t quite work and the story could have been more focused. For me, I’d rather watch something that takes a lot of risks even though it doesn’t work rather than watch something typical that only occasionally works. I found the scenes with McGregor and Clooney the least interesting part of the film. I wanted to know more about Clooney’s experiences in the paranormal sector of the army in its early days (during the war in Vietnam), the person he greatly looked up to (Jeff Bridges), and his rival (Kevin Spacey) who would do anything to be the best. Even though the things they did were undeniably weird such as trying to defeat the enemy with friendship, flowers and the like, I was interested in the characters because they had great conviction in what they were doing. Personally, I think what the characters tried to do were not that extraordinary because there were times in history when other countries turned to paranormal studies (like mind control and science verging on the extremes like trying to bring people back to life) to remain one step ahead of their enemies. But it’s understandable that not many people liked the film because not everyone understands satire and some of the humor was dry and deadpan. Maybe if the picture tried to connect more with the audience, the audience would have liked it more. The movie also didn’t feel like a hollistic project but a series of scenes that were quirky which didn’t add up to anything substantial. Acting-wise, I thought everyone was consistently strong, especially Clooney. Despite his character’s goofiness, somehow I believed in his wild stories and got the feeling that he was much smarter than he let on. “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was a cerebral experience more than anything and it would appeal most to those willing to read between the lines. Commentaries such as politics, war and duty were abound but they were far from obvious. Ultimately, I’m glad I gave this movie a chance.

Moon


Moon (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell in “Moon,” written and directed by Duncan Jones, an astronaut who was sent on the moon by a company to gather precious gas that could solve the Earth’s energy crisis. Excitement came over him as soon as he realized that his three-year contract was about to expire in two weeks. However, his positive energy was quickly doused when he started hearing and seeing things that he wasn’t supposed to. I can’t help but feel very disappointed in this film because I saw so much potential in it. The feel of the picture very much felt like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but I appreciated the fact that it tried to bring something new to the table with regards to man’s relationship with machine (the super-computer named GERTY voiced by Kevin Spacey). I hate saying this about science fiction movies in general but I’m going to: it just didn’t feel real. I’m not talking about the visuals (which wasn’t that inspiring), I’m talking about how everything started to play out. For instance, when Sam realized that there was a clone of himself walking around, his reaction was very underwhelming. I don’t know about you but if I saw a copy of myself without my prior knowledge of its existence, I would freak out, throw things at it and attack it in every way possible (basically act like a crazy person) to get the upperhand. I won’t just sit there and play nice with it, especially when the copy is trying to bully me around. I also had a problem with its pacing. For a film that’s supposed to be full of wonder, mystery and surprising twists, it felt strangely stagnant. Once the clone was revealed, there wasn’t much to drive the story forward. Even their interactions weren’t really that interesting except that they seemed to have opposite personalities. The second twist regarding Sam’s life on Earth was sad but ultimately empty because I didn’t care that much about Sam. I agree with critics and audiences that it was eerie and atmospheric but that’s about it. I don’t see it as being a classic because the elements it tried to tackle weren’t fully realized. “Moon” felt like the SparkNotes version of a really dense material full of complex story arcs and mythologies. And it certainly didn’t have that wow-factor that could be found in sci-fi greats.

Working Girl


Working Girl (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★

Directed by Mike Nichols, this romantic comedy has something to say or two about women in the work force. Set in the 1980’s, I was very amused by looking at people’s hair, clothes and the lingos they used. Even though those things are not that relevant today because they went out of fashion, there is one thing that persisted: Women are still considered less equal to men. Melanie Griffith plays Sigourney Weaver’s hardworking secretary who one day pitches an idea to Weaver. Even though Weaver promised Griffith that she will get some credit if Weaver’s boss liked her ideas, Weaver pitched Griffith’s ideas as her own. After an injury that left Weaver in bed for a couple of weeks, Griffith stumbled upon Weaver’s betrayal and decided to climb the corporate ladder. Even though this is a romantic comedy, it’s not an ordinary one because of the wit in its writing. Just when you think the story will unfold one way, it completely veers off another way and it surprised me (in a good way). Griffith is completely believable as an astute secretary who wants to be something more. Weaver did a great job as the boss from hell. It was hard for me to read her intentions because she’s so good at lying and manipulating everyone despite her sweet facade. Harrison Ford, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack are also found here and they all have scenes where they truly shine. What didn’t work as well for me was the romantic angle. Sometimes, I felt as though it dragged the story down and shifted away from the business angle of the story. I can imagine this film being talked about in Women’s Studies courses because it has something to say about marriage, the workplace, and the home. The most interesting aspect in the film was even though Griffith wants to fight against a man-centered world of business, her enemy is a woman, just like herself. When I saw Weaver for the first time, my first instinct was Griffith and Weaver teaming up to climb the corporate ladder. I only realized later that it’s even better if they’re up against each other. As for its ending, it was so well-done. I was so touched because, in a way, it summarized Griffith’s journey in a different angle. This is a strong film by Nichols because it ultimately inspires.