Movie Review: “Live by Night”

Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Chris Messina, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Scott Eastwood
Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel “Live by Night” is apparently getting savaged by the coastal press. “Makes ‘Black Mass’ look like ‘The Godfather’” is a quote that my colleague Jason repeated (but the source of said insult won’t be credited here). To be fair, the final 10 minutes are kind of awful (though faithful to the source material), but everything that comes before it is handled competently enough that putting it beneath “Black Mass” feels like the kind of thing an angry lover says. “You’re dumping me? Well, you’re nowhere near as good as ‘Black Mass’!” “You take that back!” “Never!” Silly, silly, silly.

As Ben Affleck directorial efforts go, though, “Live by Night” is easily his weakest. It’s stylish but a bit too familiar, lacking the intensity of Affleck’s best work. It doesn’t help matters that it’s a Prohibition-era film that takes place mostly in Florida, inviting comparisons to “The Untouchables” and “Scarface” whether Affleck wants them or not.

Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a Boston-bred, disillusioned soldier from the Great War and son of a proud Irish police captain (Brendan Gleeson), is a petty thief who runs under the protection of a local crime boss but doesn’t think of himself as a gangster. He draws the ire of his boss’ rival when he is caught having an affair with the rival’s mistress Emma (Sienna Miller), so when Joe is popped in a bank robbery, he and his father seek the protection of Italian boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) to make sure Joe isn’t killed while in jail. Upon his release, Joe agrees to work as Maso’s point man in Tampa, overseeing the rum shipments. He encounters a whole new set of problems (racism of a different stripe, mainly), but does a great job expanding the Pescatore business down south. And for his efforts, he is still treated like a second-class citizen, because he’s the son of an Irish man working for Italians.

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Movie Review: “High-Rise”

Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, Jeremy Irons, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes
Ben Wheatley

Producer Jeremy Thomas has been trying to bring J.G. Ballard’s acclaimed novel, “High-Rise,” to the big screen for almost 40 years, despite many claiming that the book was unfilmable. He probably should have heeded those warnings, because while Thomas finally got his wish with the help of director Ben Wheatley, the resulting product is a stylish but empty adaptation that doesn’t resonate as much today as it would have in the late 1970s, the dystopian setting of Ballard’s Thatcher-era satire. In many respects, it feels like a movie lost in time. Though Wheatley has shown great potential with some of his earlier films, “High-Rise” is yet another disappointment following the tedious, psychedelic head trip of “A Field in England” that hooks you with its intriguing premise but slowly loses its grasp as the story spirals out of control.

Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr. Robert Laing, the newest resident of a luxury apartment building that has all the conveniences and commodities of modern life without ever having to go outside. But while the high-rise seems like paradise on the surface, Laing notices a simmering tension between the upper-class tenants who live on the top floors and the middle-class tenants confined to the lower levels. The building’s reclusive architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), chalks it up to “teething problems,” but when an increasing series of power outages and structural flaws begin to affect the standard of living – particularly among the poorer residents – that tension boils over, leading to a literal class war that devolves into a barbaric wasteland of debauchery and destruction. Oh, and the odd barbecued dog’s leg as well.

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Movie Review: “American Sniper”

Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Keir O’Donnell
Clint Eastwood

There are some amazing stories that have come from the ashes of the Iraq War, but so far, it appears that Kathryn Bigelow is the only person capable of making them pop on the big screen. Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” has a whale of a protagonist, a carefree good ol’ boy who gave up his easy-going existence to serve his country and became one of the most decorated soldiers in American history. Sadly, the movie about his life does little to separate itself from its Iraq War movie brethren, save for the occasional moments where our hero has qualms about killing complete strangers. It is perfectly enjoyable, and it is well made, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. To add insult to injury, the off-camera ending feels like a cheat.

From an early age, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was raised to be the kid who protected the bullies from the sheep. He was a good shot and, as an adult, he enjoyed his simple life touring as a rodeo cowboy, but after watching 9/11 unfold on his TV, he volunteers for military service. The recruiter suggests the Navy SEALS, and Chris impresses his superiors with his marksmanship. Chris is assigned to assist a troop of Marines as their eyes in the sky, as it were. The job was not easy – his first two confirmed kills are as brutal as it gets – but Chris excels at it, and before long, his fellow soldiers are calling him The Legend. The Legend, however, is having issues dealing with the moral dilemmas that come with his work, and the ‘don’t be a baby’ aspect of his military training leads him to internalize much of his anxiety, at the great expense of his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and their children.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Julian Jarrold (HBO’s “The Girl”)

Given how much media attention has been drawn by the upcoming Alfred Hitchcock biopic starring Anthony Hopkins, it’s no wonder that some may see HBO’s upcoming movie, “The Girl,” which debuts on Oct. 20, to be a pretender to the throne. In fact, they’re both perfectly viable entities in their own right, each covering a different aspect of the director’s career. Hopkins will be playing Hitchcock as he’s in the throes of making “Psycho,” whereas “The Girl” finds Toby Jones’s version of Hitch as he’s obsessing over Tippi Hedren (played by Sienna Miller) during the filming of “The Birds” and “Marnie.” Bullz-Eye caught up with Julian Jarrold, director of “The Girl,” just before a panel for the film at the summer Television Critics Association press tour, during which time he chatted not only about his look into the darker side of Hitchcock but also some of the other films and television efforts he’s tackled in his career to date.

Bullz-Eye: How did “The Girl” land in your lap? Or did you go looking for “The Girl”?

Julian Jarrold: No, it was sent to me ages ago, and…it was a little bit more based around the making “The Birds” and “Marnie,” but obviously it was still an exploration of this relationship. The writer (Gwyneth Hughes) had done quite a lot of research and come over here and met Jim Brown, the assistant director, and Rita Riggs (wardrobe supervisor), and Tippi, obviously. So he’d kind of pieced together this sort of fascinating script, and I loved Hitchcock, but I didn’t know this at all, so it was a bit of a shock, actually, to read it. [Laughs.] I knew he was odd, but I didn’t know he was that odd. Yeah, it totally changed my view of Hitchcock. Actually, what was fascinating was…I knew “The Birds” and “Marnie” and “Vertigo,” and they’re strange films. You kind of wonder where they’re coming from. And then finding out about this story, you certainly go, “Ah, I see where he was coming from…and where his personal obsessions are and his attitude to women and everything.” So it sort of illuminated all that. Which was very interesting.

BE: Tippi Hedren is here at the TCA tour, so presumably she’s supportive of the film, but how interactive was she you were making it? Did you speak with her in advance?

JJ: Well, no. I mean, she obviously spoke at length with the writer, and Sienna met her. But she didn’t come on set. I think she read the script. It’s obviously difficult when someone’s making a film like this. How do you compute that? Because it’s 90 minutes revolving around her life. But she said she saw it recently, and she seemed to love it. She saw it with her kids, Melanie (Griffith) and everybody, and it seemed to go down okay. But it’s difficult. It must be a painful, difficult thing to look at. You know, she had such a complex relationship with Hitchcock. It was daunting, because you mustn’t judge that. I wanted to show the sunny side of the relationship, where there was a sort of optimism at the beginning and he was such a fantastic teacher, but then how it changed and darkened and was abusive, really.

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Friday Video – The Hours, “See the Light”

Any time we get a chance to bang the drum for this English duo/sextet (two official members, six touring members), we take it. Following their releases on this side of the pond can be a bit of a challenge; their (fab) 2009 album See the Light was available as a download on Amazon for about five minutes, and to the best of our knowledge, never saw an official US release on CD. The band’s “new” album, It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish, is a Franken-album, compiling the best songs from See the Light and 2006’s Narcissus Road plus two new songs. And even that album has gone through release date hell, getting bumped from early October to late November. Oh well, better late than never, as far as we’re concerned.

To promote the long-overdue US release of their music – you’ve heard these guys already, though; that’s them playing in the background of that Nike “human chain” ad – the band wisely decided to recut the video for “See the Light,” where director Tony Kate (“American History X”) shoots Sienna Miller in a hospital gown losing her mind. The problem with the original clip is that it included audio of Sienna’s ramblings, sending the song to the background. And you don’t put this song in the background. One of those slow-burning, two-chord monsters, “See the Light” grows and grows until it explodes. In a world where all people focus on is negativity and mistakes – we are officially sick to death of reading the word ‘fail’ on the internet – it’s nice to see a band look at the positive. We see the light, fellas.

The Hours – “See The Light” 2010 Edit from Adeline Records on Vimeo.