The Accountant (Movie) Review

The Accountant (Movie) Review

There are a number of ways to title an action movie. Generally, these titles involve a promise of excitement and explosions. They don’t even necessarily need to make sense (like Die Hard), they should just look tantalizing on a marquee or streaming cue, so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. If someone were to put together a list of the worst possible action movie titles, The Accountant would certainly feature prominently. After all, when you think about the guy who helps you figure our your taxes so that you don’t have to do math, you don’t picture edge of your seat entertainment. However, we now—somehow—have an action movie called . It stars the competently charismatic Ben Affleck as well. So, I suppose that title and star are at least appropriate pairing.

The Accountant (Movie) Review 4As you may have guessed, Affleck does indeed star as the accountant of the title. He’s an autistic math whiz who has incredible trouble with personal interaction but slays it when it comes to crunching numbers for the taxman. His latest gig is to look into the books of a robotics company run by John Lithgow because one of their young accountants (Anna Kendrick) spotted something fishy. At the same time, JK Simmons is leading a task force to find a contract killer who might be hiding as an accountant and Jon Bernthal is running around murdering people connected with Lithgow’s company like it’s his job (probably because it is). Plus there are long flashbacks to Affleck’s past that involve childhood fight training and a prison stint with Jeffrey Tambor.

Yep, The Accountant is a weird one. The good news is that for healthy chunks of the running time, it’s actually kind of fun. After all, this premise is downright goofy and director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) finds a certain balance between humour and sincerity. The movie never takes place in reality, but in action movie land where everyone is amazing at their job and speaks almost exclusively in snarky banter. Affleck is actually pretty good in the lead role, finding the right level of shielded blankness to suit both his limitations as an actor and the socially awkward aspects of autism (plus he blows stuff up real good). Anna Kendrick is stuck in an underwritten love interest role, but invests enough of her patented adorable neuroses to find genuine chemistry with Affleck. Simmons obviously knows how to be a tough guy with his tongue-in-his-cheek, Bernthal is quickly becoming one of the most dependable character actors of his generation, and Tambor can’t help but be amusing. The players always outclass the script and that’s never a bad thing in a B-movie.

As long as The Accountant is in playful shoot em’ up mode, it kind of works in a dumb action movie way. Unfortunately, this isn’t exclusively B-movie fluff. The flick wants to go for the heart and gets serious in the back half and that’s when O’Connor loses control of his big ol’ playset. When all the mysteries are revealed, the result is tediously convoluted melodrama. Some of the monologues the actors are required to deliver in po-faced sincerity are impossible to pull off. The gentle laughs that help sell the stupidity in the first half soon give way to the wrong kind of laughter in the second half. The good will drains away and by the time the filmmakers attempt to turn this into a pilot episode of a new action franchise, it’s hard not to roll your eyes. This could have been fun fluff were it not for all the gratingly commercial and failed dramatic ambitions.

The Accountant (Movie) Review 8Still, The Accountant isn’t a disaster. There have been worse action movies released this year and there are likely worse ones to come. The cast is overqualified for this schlock and O’Connor nails the mix of action and humour well enough for about an hour that the movie is hard to outright hate. It’s an entirely passable bit of star-driven Hollywood action entertainment. Given the dreary prospects for the project suggested by the title, this thing really should have been much worse. That might be a backhanded compliment, but the fact that there’s any sort of compliment to pay to The Accountant is a pleasant surprise. If you’re looking to waste some time in a theatre with low expectations, this one is fine.

Zootopia (Movie) Review

Zootopia (Movie) Review

Here’s something unsurprising: Disney has made a new animated film starring talking animals about the importance of acceptance. Now, here’s something surprising: that movie is actually quite funny, creative, and treats the subject matter with moral complexity. It would have been so easy for Zootopia to fall into variety of formulaic traps and feel like every single Disney movie that’s ever been made before. Yet the filmmakers decided to get creative with their concept. Sure, there are countless sequences that crack jokes about how silly it would be for animals to act like humans. But there are also some rather inspired gags and an intriguingly complex look at the issue of prejudice and how it’s just as big of a social sickness when coming frem the perspective of the oppressed as it is coming from the oppressors. Bet you didn’t see that coming! Oh yeah and it all ends with a horrible Shakira music video…but hey! You can’t have everything.

Zootopia (Movie) Review 2Zootopia takes place in a world with anthropomorphized animals living together in one big glorious city. There are neighbourhoods of rain forests and arctic tundra. Some areas are oversized for elephants and some miniaturized for rodents. Long ago a truce was called between predator and prey that allows everyone to live together despite their natural instincts. Into this world wanders Ginnifer Goodwin’s bunny with dreams of becoming a cop. There’s long been discrimination against the tiniest and cutest of animals joining the police force, but thanks to a new inclusion program (as well as a remarkable amount of talent and hard work) she makes the team. Unfortunately, her big bull boss (Idris Elba) doesn’t trust her to do anything more than traffic duty. Determined to prove herself as a cop, she starts independently tracking a mystery involving a variety of missing mammals throughout Zootopia. In fact, she even puts aside her natural prejudice towards foxes to team up with a particularly sly one (Jason Bateman) who knows the Zootopia underground well enough to be an ideal guide. Together their sleuthing uncovers a strange conspiracy that just might be causing predatory animals to revert to their basest instincts—something that causes the central partnership to fracture in obvious ways.

First up, Zootopia works wonderfully in all of the simple family fun ways that it’s been marketed. The animation is absolutely gorgeous and Zootopia itself is a beautifully realized world filled with opportunities for comedy, action, and insight that co-directors Bryon Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph, The Simpsons) milk for all they’re worth. The comedy is particularly sharp, with excellent voice performances from a variety of unexpected comedians and actors cast perfectly to type. The humour varies from child friendly visual gags and wacky animal behaviour in a civilized context (the sloths/DMV sequences is destined to be remembered and replayed for many moons) as well as more adult friendly innuendo a pop culture references (I’ll bet you never thought there’d be a Breaking Bad joke in a Disney movie, right? Well, you were wrong). As pure pleasure mass entertainment, Zootopia delights just fine. Where it really shines is in its themes.

In the early going Zootopia feels like it will merely be a straightforward tale of a belittled outsider learning to believe in herself and prove the masses wrong. The predator/prey, tiny/large animal dynamic breaks down simply and the filmmakers have plenty of fun playing out their human themes in an animal world (one discussion involving how bunnies can call each other cute, but no other animal should is particularly on point). Then as the story wears on, things get more complicated. Without getting too much into spoiler territory, the filmmakers explore how prejudice isn’t limited to any larger social group oppressing a minority, it’s something that everyone can be guilty of. That’s a pretty complicated exploration of a social issue for a Disney film, but one that the filmmakers cover with surprising depth and sensitivity. It’s great to see a Disney movie suggest that merely believing in yourself isn’t enough and that everyone can be culpable of prejudice if they aren’t self-aware. There’s a surprising even-handedness in the discussion that almost feels like South Park without the satire.

Now all that being said, as fun and smart as Zootopia might be, it’s still a massive Disney product and beset by the usual limitations of that brand of crowd-pleasing family-friendly production. Many dusty jokes land with a thud (hey, did you know you can parody The Godfather?!), some of the CGI spectacle blurs into unnecessary noise, the detective plot gets a little too unnecessarily convoluted, and it all ends with an advertisement for a Shakira song that’s more than a little irritating. Still, you practically have to expect these limitations of a Disney animated blockbuster, almost like genre requirements. The fact that the movie works far more often than not and delivers such a complicated message is worth showering with praise. This is Disney animation at its best, for better or worse. Given that Zootopia is coming out in a time when a US presidential candidate is running with a campaign based on hate and irrational internet outrage over cultural sensitivity makes rational debate nearly impossible, Zootopia feels oddly like a movie of the moment. It’s strange to say that about a Disney family feature and given the loooooong production schedule of any CGI feature, there’s no way the filmmakers intended to make a movie of the moment. Yet, somehow it happened and that’s worth celebrating. Even if you aren’t a child or have access to one to take to the theater, Zootopia is actually worth checking out. In fact, it’s even a rather special achievement.
Zootopia (Movie) Review 3

Terminator Genisys (Movie) Review

Terminator Genisys (Movie) Review

Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped running California for long enough to appear in movies again, another Terminator sequel was inevitable. After all, he promised he’d be back (sorry). Well, there’s more to it than that. Even though Arnie has made some perfectly watchable action movies since coming out of retirement (ahem…The Last Stand), they haven’t exactly lit the box office on fire like his superstar heyday. So, the guy had to dip back into the Terminator well eventually, if only because even the last two horrible Terminator sequels made some big stacks of cash. People love the time-traveling machine war franchise damnit and with Jurassic World breaking box office records left and right, 2015 is officially the summer of blockbuster nostalgia. So, now we have a fifth Terminator movie after years of endless development. Perhaps appropriately, it even feels like at least five Terminator movies crammed into one as evidence of just how damn long filmmakers have been toiling away on this project.
termgyninsert1So things kick off in that whole future Man Vs. Machine War thingy. John Conner (Jason Clarke) and his soon-to-be-daddy Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) even lead the humans to victory during an opening credit sequence battle. However, the victory is short-lived once they realize that just before beating Skynet, the machines were able to send a Terminator back to 1984. So, Kyle is sent back as planned and then the movie turns into a shot-by-shot remake of James Cameron’s original film. That is until an older Arnie Terminator shows up and fights the young Arnie Terminator. In turns out that timelines have been changed, Back To The Future II style. A Terminator was sent back to protect Sarah Conner (Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) when she was a little girl and then raised her into a fighting machine (apparently Terminator flesh ages in-real-time, explaining how the 68-year-old Schwarzenegger looks a lil’ different). So now we have a badass Sarah Conner and confused Kyle Reese in 1984 re-enacting scenes from the first movie and then a T-1000 shows up for a few sequences that reference/remake the equally iconic sequel. After that Sarah and Kyle realize the timelines of this world are all screwy and they’ll have to time travel to 2017 to stop a new machine apocalypse. In this timeline, Skynet is being launched as a “killer app” (actual dialogue that sounds even worse in the film) called Genisys.
termgyninsert2That might all sound like too much plot for one Terminator movie, but it actually only covers the first 50 minutes or so of this overstuffed sequel. The biggest strength and at times fatal flaw of Terminator Genisys is that it feels like a whole television season’s worth of Terminator storylines crammed into one dense 125-minute sprint. It’s a time-travel math movie, a nostalgic bit of fan-service, an aging Arnie comedy, a snappy time-hopping rom-com, a meditation on fate and humanity’s fallibility, a commentary on invasive internet technology, a relentless CGI action machine, a sequel, a reboot, and a remake all at once. It can be exhausting to sit through and also exhilarating. If you’re ever irritated, bored, or confused by what’s happening on-screen, all you have to do is wait five minutes or so for the movie to turn into something else.
termgyninsert4Directed by Thor: The Dark World’s Alan Taylor, T5 represents impersonal blockbuster filmmaking at it’s biggest and dumbest. That’s not to say that the movie is outright bad. As a work of pure spectacle, there are some fantastic action scenes crammed in and plenty of them (want to see a CGI T-800 skull fly towards your face in IMAX 3D? Good, cause it finally happened). There are also a few clever time-travel concepts, buckets of lovably tongue-in-cheek fan service (a la Jurassic World), a fun Schwarzenegger performance, some nice nano-technology Terminator CG effects, and a warm-hearted Terminator-as-daddy subplot. The trouble is that none of that stuff (other than the pretty explosions of course) gets much time to develop. The Frankenstein script is clearly the result of so many different writers, directors, producers, and drafts that the movie feels more like a quadrant pleasing product than an actual satisfying movie. Sadly, other than Arnie the machine, none of the actors get much to work with either. Any sense of individual character they portray is a result of aping the performances from the first two Terminator flicks. All they have to work with here are a collection of convoluted exposition scenes and nauseatingly snappy rom-com dialogue exchanges that never once feel like anything resembling human behavior.
termgyninsert3If nothing else, Terminator Genysis proves just how effective and impressive the first two Terminator flicks truly are. James Cameron might be one of the least subtle filmmakers of all time with a knack for serving up cornball dialogue, but his first two Terminator films did serve up incredible thrill rides that were also clever sci-fi thought experiments and moving human dramas. He juggled almost as much material as Taylor and co. struggle to slog through in this fivequel with an ease that makes his movies instantly accessible even decades later. They were personal movies that just happened to be a massive cult hit and one of the biggest summer blockbuster sequels ever made. There’s nothing personal or artfully crafted about T5, but like Jurassic World, there is plenty of fun with enough winking self-awareness to get away with all of the superfluous studio filmmaking excess. It’s not a great movie or even a particularly good one, yet it is by far the finest Terminator movie made since 1991. Sure, the competition for that title is pretty lame. That doesn’t mean that this thing isn’t far better than it should be though. If you are dying to see a new Terminator movie, then Terminator Genisys will scratch that itch. However, if you’re just dying to see a Terminator movie in general, feel free to stick with T1 and T2. This thing ain’t that good. Few popcorn blockbusters are.

Portal 2 (PS3) Review

Portal 2 (PS3) Review

You’ll Be Abused & Like It

Portal 2 is better than the original. It is also probably a safe shoe-in for funniest game of 2011, if such a category existed for game awards. It is smart, it is cruel, it is witty and it will, at every turn, constantly tell players that they are awful people who are fat and orphaned. Not only will you pay for the privilege of being insulted, it will be one of the most memorable experiences you have this year. If you need to find out why, just keep reading.

GLaDOS Is In A Bad, Bad Mood

Portal 2 takes place some frighteningly long and indeterminate time after the original Portal. You’re still the silent Chell (now having had her muteness explained away as a possible case of very minor serious brain damage after extended cryogenic suspension) and you’re still trapped in the Aperature Labs facility. Anything else would be spoiling what is one of the wittiest, passive-aggressive plots in gaming this year, so I’ll go no further. But with that framework in mind, it’s safe to say yes, portal guns will be acquired, puzzles will be solved, and ludicrous confrontations with homicidal artificial intelligences are guaranteed.

Going over the presentation side of things, this is where the only significant downside to the game comes into play. For the technically inclined, the visuals are probably the weakest thing in the entire game. That’s not to say that Source engine that Valve uses is in any way deficient, but compared to top tier PC games, or console exclusives like God of War III, Portal 2 does absolutely nothing to elevate itself visually. The art direction continues the same minimal feel of the original, with some added environments that show off foliage or cavernous, underground spaces, but nothing in the game is pushing impressive amounts of polygons, or showing off some serious particle or lighting effects. Of course, that also means that performance-wise, the game is absolutely rock-solid, with nothing in the way of dipping frame rates, and only the smallest amount of aliasing on the Xbox 360 version of the game. The PS3 and PC/Mac are slightly smoother, but across the board actual performance is solid. On the audio front, Portal 2 a delight, with the best, funniest performances in a game this year, largely thanks to Ellen McLain and Stephen Merchant as GLaDOS and Wheatly respectively, but the audio effects also distinguish themselves. In particular, Valve must be commended for the ingenious way they’ve integrated music into ambient sound effects, blurring the lines between composition and audio effects by choosing the most unexpected moments for the score to kick in. The ambient sound effects themselves are also used to great effect, particularly for surround set ups. When GLaDOS starts rearranging the environment around you, you’ll hear it from every speaker as walls and platforms crash and grind in a complete soundscape.

The Gun Still Shoots Holes

The basic premise of Portal 2 is the same as the original. This may be a game that takes place in the first person perspective, and it may even have a gun which shoots, but this is not a first person shooter, and anyone expecting that from the game should walk away right now. This is a great game, and it is easily a contender for Game of the Year in 2011, but it is not a game that will be loved by anyone who thinks the only good game is one that involves shooting enemies. Portal 2 is a puzzle game, one of the most original, mind-bending, blackly funny puzzle games in years. The challenge of the game comes from understanding the basic rules of “entry” and “exit” portals and then seeing how fundamental ideas—like Newtonian physics—can have their rules wildly bent when applied to opening a door that automatically connects you to another door no matter where said doors are in relation to each other. To the basic concept—which was adequately explored in the first game—is the addition of new tools such as the various gels with properties like increasing speed or bounce, and the new mechanisms like Faith Plates that act as catapults. It subtly changes the direction of puzzle solving, placing a greater emphasis on clever use of tools rather than some of the skill-based puzzles of the original game that occasionally called for some dextrous opening of portals while hurling through the air. Now, for the most part, if you can imagine the solution, you won’t need fast reflexes to execute it. The new direction and the opening up of the Aperture facility greatly expand both the scope and the lifespan of the game, turning the single-player campaign into a full fledged, 6-8 hour experience. This is then combined with an entirely new co-op experience that works both online and locally and is cross-compatible across PS3, Mac and PC platforms. The co-op game may look identical the single player campaign, but in practice, four portals and some fiendishly clever level design radically alter the feel and dynamics of the multi-player mode. It also needs to be stressed that while it’s possible to use the gestures and other visual tools Valve has provided in order for players to communicate, it’s near impossible to accomplish goals cooperatively without some kind of verbal communication, so take advantage of the voice chat if you’re planning to play the game online.

Portal 2 is not a cheap cash in on the original. The level of polish, the perfect pacing and the daunting sense of design and imagination at work shows just how much care and effort Valve went into producing this game. The balance of difficulty manages to the critical trick of being difficult while not being unfair, creating a rare string of “eureka” moments that feel genuinely exhilarating when the solutions to puzzles—either solo or as a team—is finally hit upon. A wonderfully lunatic story, some stellar voice acting, solid technical performance and Steam cross-compatibility across PS3/PC/Mac platforms makes this one of the best integrated games of the year for an online community. If you’re the kind of gamer that has been lamenting the lack of smart talking, smart playing games in a crowded FPS genre—or any genre, really—you need to go out and get this game for yourself. It’s a must-own for the non-FPS crowd.