Live by Night

By: Kevin Jordan

But only during the day.

LiveByNightPoster

There’s a throwaway line early in Live by Night when Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is lying in bed with his girlfriend, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), and Emma says something to the effect of “work by day…”  She intentionally leaves off the second part of that phrase – live by night – in order to allow the viewer to automatically fill it in mentally, then go “oooh.  I see what you did there.”  The only problem is nearly the entire movie takes place during the day.  I know – weird, right?  This attention to detail is the kind of thing one might miss when one directs, produces, writes, and stars in one’s movie while also starring in Batman v Superman, The Accountant, and trying to write a kick-ass screenplay for a standalone Batman movie.  Sorry Ben, you can’t do everything.  You’re Batman, not Superman.

To be fair, he was only adapting a screenplay for Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel Live by Night.  If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Lehane is also responsible for Mystic River and Shutter Island, as well as the short story The Drop was based on, which he also wrote the screenplay for.  If that name doesn’t sound familiar, Google “nearest library.”  Yes, we still have those things around.

Live by Night is the story of a gangster, Joe Coughlin, who does gangster things for 129 minutes.  Those 129 minutes cover a few years of Joe’s life during the Prohibition Era and includes bank robberies, two girlfriends, a lot of bootlegging rum, two mob bosses, Joe getting his ass kicked, car chases, some KKK assholes, a lot of dead people, and Elle Fanning.  Oh, and all of this happens in Boston, then Tampa.  If that sounds like too much for a movie, that’s because it is.  But only if you care that much about plot.

(Some SPOILERS ahead unless you read the book.  Yeah, I laughed a little too as I typed that.)

You know how drunk people sometimes think they're being stealthy?

You know how drunk people sometimes think they’re being stealthy?

Maybe the book is better, but the film was very scattershot (no pun intended).  The first act of the film covers everything you saw in the preview and that’s not a good thing because the rest of the movie is basically a different movie.  Emma is the blond woman you saw, but the movie isn’t about Joe and Emma.  Emma is cheating with Joe on her mob boss boyfriend, Albert White (Robert Glenister), then sells out Joe to Albert just as they are running away together.  This is never adequately explained beyond one of Albert’s goons seeing them, but Joe and Emma were barely trying to hide it.  At one point, they are having dinner together in a busy, fancy restaurant (they would hook up when Albert was out of town).  And, besides, wouldn’t Albert have one of his men escorting her around since his competition would probably be interested in kidnapping her for leverage?  Sorry, I’m caring too much about the plot.

Joe is beaten within an inch of his life and only survives because his police captain father (Brendan Gleeson) just happens to show up in the alley where they’re about to kill Joe.  Joe wakes up a few days later in a prison hospital and spends three years in jail for armed robbery.  Once out, the new story begins.  Joe joins the Italian mob in order to exact revenge on Albert for killing Emma (Albert wasn’t about to forgive the cheating).  His new boss, Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) sends him to Tampa to take over his rum-running business there while simultaneously muscling Albert out of Tampa.  On the surface, this seems like the logical road for a broken-hearted lover to take, but avenging Emma is soon forgotten when Joe meets Graciella Corrales (Zoe Saldana) and falls in love with her.  At that point, Joe is just acting like a standard mob guy and we never actually see Albert until the end of the film.  I won’t spoil the why, but it’s pretty dumb.  And Joe verbalizes how dumb it is.  Then bullets start to fly and bodies pile up as the movie climaxes, then we get three endings because Ben couldn’t decide how to actually end the film.

Her name was Elizabeth. No, Angela. No, something starting with M.

Her name was Elizabeth. No, Angela. No, something starting with M.

Like I said, there are parts of this movie that are good.  The climax scene is very well done and Batman kicks some ass in that scene.  There are good moments between characters, especially a diner scene between Joe and Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning), the daughter of the Tampa police captain (Chris Cooper). Unfortunately, Loretta is one of the side plots that becomes the main plot for a time.  At this point in the film, Joe has rid Tampa of Albert, and Joe is focused on getting a casino built.  Loretta is preaching about the evils of gambling and drinking, and Joe doesn’t want to kill her.  Later, the Ku Klux Klan show up because black people also drink rum and the movie becomes about racial history.  It’s like if Batman was Forrest Gump, but made and sold hooch for the Italian mob.

And one Elle Fanning.

And one Elle Fanning.

If the movie had stuck with a single plot like the love story (this could have spanned the entire film with the rum wars between the mobs woven in), it would have been a much tighter film.  Then, Emma’s betrayal might have meant something to the audience rather than just being a forgotten plot device.  They also could have spent more time developing the rivalry between Albert and Maso rather than trying to convince us of the animosity through occasional ethnic slurs.  Even Loretta could have been a more important character (perhaps being played by both sides) rather than being an amusing anecdote in Joe’s life.  The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes less is more.  Live by Night is an average, but uneven movie that suffers from Ben Affleck trying prove that Batman is better than Superman.  Or something like that.

Rating: Ask for half your money back.  If Joe did any living by night, we never saw it.

In the Heart of the Sea

By: Kevin Jordan

Modernizing classics so your kids never have to read them in school.

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Everybody past high school age can tell you their own personal horror story about trying to read a book written at least one hundred years ago.  For me, it was Charles Dickens.  I powered through A Tale of Two Cities, but it left a lasting mark on me as I played the worst third base of my life the week after finishing it.  But that was nothing compared to Great Expectations, a book that so thoroughly defeated me that, not only was I unable to finish it, but I was only able to read Goosebumps for the better part of a year.  It wasn’t until years later I had recovered enough to attempt reading another “classic,” this time The Portrait of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.  While I found it mind-numbingly boring and overly descriptive of settings, I was able to finish it without wanting to drown myself in a bowl of Lucky Charms.  The point I’m trying to make is that if someone ever tries to convince you to read a Jane Austen novel, run away.  That person does not have your best interests in mind.

Lucky for us, it’s 2015 and we’ve gotten pretty good and taking those old “classics” and retelling them in a language that doesn’t have to be written in cursive.  In other words, kids – when your teacher assigns you to read Moby Dick, head to the theaters for In the Heart of the Sea and thank your ancestors for inventing the talkies.

In the Heart of the Sea is the story of Moby Dick.  Well, actually it’s the story of the story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.  Wait, scratch that.  It’s based on a book written in 2000 (In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick) about the sinking of a whaling ship called the Essex, and tells the story of a guy who survived the ordeal telling Melville the story so Melville can write his story.  Okay, here’s what really happens in the movie – Thor fights a whale.  Let’s move on.

Ben Whishaw plays Melville, who is looking for a complete accounting of the sinking of the Essex to use for his next novel.  He tracks down Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a survivor of the sinking and, with the help of Nickerson’s wife (Michelle Fairly) and a stack of money, coaxes the story out of Thomas.  As in Titanic, the film bounces us between the story and the storyteller and we get to watch each of them evolve simultaneously (Melville included).  As Thomas’ story unfolds, it becomes clear why he never wanted to talk about it and it’s not just because of the “demon whale” as one Spanish captain puts it.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, so let’s just say Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway had it easy in comparison to Thomas.

The cleverness of the film is that it tells us the story of Moby Dick without actually having to read to us Moby Dick.  Yes, it still takes place in the original time period, so it’s not like it’s subtle, and there is a giant white whale attacking a ship.  But the captain’s name isn’t Ahab, the first mate isn’t named Ishmael, and nobody is seeking revenge on a cetacean for taking their leg.  Instead, Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) hate each other and just want to fill their ship with whale oil so they get back home and not have to look at each other’s exceptionally non-ugly faces.  But many of the elements from Moby Dick are in this film, including the lessons to be learned.

In short, I enjoyed this film because the original story of Moby Dick is a very good story, but I didn’t have to slog through the writing style of the 1850’s.  That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the works of authors like Twain, Shelley, or Verne, but having to actually read them is sometimes just short of torture.  So, let’s stop torturing our kids and maybe even spring for some popcorn.  Class dismissed.

Rating: Worth more than just your money if you take your kids to it.  When they inevitably are forced to read Moby Dick, they’ll be able to skim it and you will have saved them from being scarred for life.

(Editor’s note: I’m not actually condoning kids ignore their school assignments, but you have to admit – the language in those books is nearly a foreign language to today’s youth.)

Edge of Tomorrow

By: Kevin Jordan (Number9)

Love him or hate him, this is the Tom Cruise movie for you.

If there was one movie I was really looking forward to seeing this summer, it was X-Men: Days of Future Past.  I mean, come on, after fourteen years and six movies, they finally made the movie all X-Men fans have been asking for.  If there was a second movie I’ve really been looking forward to, it isn’t Guardians of the Galaxy.  For reasons I don’t understand, it’s getting a lot of buzz even though I have yet to meet a person who had heard of it prior to the movie announcement and the trailers aren’t really doing it any favors either.  From what I can tell, a tree, a raccoon, a green lady, and two other guys fly a space ship and crack jokes.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m interested in seeing it, but not because I’m excited about it, just curious.  The movie I was most excited to see, after X-Men of course (multiple times – yeah, I’m a geek), was Edge of Tomorrow.  Other than being a big science fiction fan, the trailers promised Tom Cruise dying.  A lot.  Who wouldn’t be excited about that?

I’m not a big fan of Cruise, but he has yet to star in a science fiction film I didn’t like.  And by science fiction films, I mean hard core science fiction films like Minority Report, not fluffy science fiction like Transformers.  I really enjoyed last year’s Oblivion, a movie that was severely underrated, and when I saw the first trailers for Edge of Tomorrow, my brain could literally only form one word – Aaaaawesome.

(Minimal spoilers coming, but I will do my best not to give away more than is necessary since I really think you should see this movie.)

Edge of Tomorrow is best described as a cross between Battle: Los Angeles and Groundhog Day.  The world we are thrown into is an Earth in which a meteor carrying aliens has crashed into the planet and the aliens have taken over almost all of Europe.  In response, the humans have developed a powered exo-suit for the foot soldiers and, with it, finally win their first battle.  Believing they have taken the upper hand in the war, they plan a massive invasion of Europe (mixing in a little The Longest Day).  Tom Cruise plays Major Cage, an advertising specialist with no combat experience who is ordered take part in the invasion as an embedded journalist, capturing video of the presumed victory.  In what is the first of several scenes that are against character for Tom Cruise roles, Cage tries everything he can to get out of the duty, including an attempt at blackmailing General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), the officer give him the orders.  Brigham has Cage arrested, knocked out, and dumps Cage at the pending invasion’s forward operating base, telling Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) that Cage is a deserter impersonating an officer.  At this point, anyone who has waited for a movie to bring a Cruise character down a notch or ten will be smiling so big the top of their head might fall off.

Before I move on, I want to mention that the scene where Cruise is in the general’s office trying to weasel his way out of the assignment is arguably the best acting Cruise has done in a long time.  It immediately establishes that Cruise is playing a different character than he normally does and you really believe that he is that much of a coward.  Not only is the dialogue delivered with a perfect mix of slimy salesman followed by fear and desperation, but his facial expressions and body language match the emotions perfectly.  It’s almost as if director Doug Liman forced Cruise to watch Jerry Maguire and A Few Good Men to remind Cruise that not every role is Ethan Hunt and Cruise listened.

After more humiliation at the hands of Farrell and Cage’s new squad mates (J-Squad), the next day comes, the invasion starts, and the best scene of the movie commences.  Cage has never operated the exo-suit and a running joke about the weapon safety punctuates his ineptitude as a soldier.  From the get-go, the invasion goes horribly wrong as it was planned as a surprise, but ends up nothing of the sort.  As bullets fly, soldiers fall, and explosions rock the beach, Cage stumbles through the last three minutes of his life.  The scene is beautifully constructed, mixing the chaos of a massive battle with more intimate shots of single soldiers and alien combatants (extremely fast moving, multi-legged creatures whizzing through the shots and best described as giant buzz-saws or ninja stars).  Much like Groundhog Day, this scene has to be fully walked through because we’re going to see components of it many more times.  Completing the analogy, Cage wakes up the day before the invasion, sitting on the tarmac just before meeting Sergeant Farrell.

Where this film differs from Groundhog Day (honestly, it’s different in every way except the concept) is that Cage must die in order for the day to repeat.  I won’t spoil how that comes to be, but it’s important because it’s the premise of the film and it’s extremely important to the plot.  During the battle, we also meet Sergeant Rita Vratawski (Emily Blunt), the hero of the human’s earlier victory and the symbol of their hope.  Wielding a giant machete attached to a baseball bat handle, she is the embodiment of death and destruction, carving her way through multiple alien foes.  For some reason (other than Blunt is stunning in this film), Cage is drawn to her and after several iterations of the day, she recognizes his power and instructs him to find her when he resets again.  She reveals that she also had the power for a time, but lost it when she didn’t die and day rolled over (at this point, you say “Ohhhhhhhhh”).  With a little help from a physicist posing as a mechanic, they come up with a plan to change the day and I’m not going to tell you any more.

What I love about movies like this (and Groundhog Day and Source Code) is that the screenwriters, producers, and director have to pay attention to small details in every scene because if the continuity is broken, the audience can’t suspend their disbelief and the movie falls apart.  It’s important that each successive scene looks and occurs as it did before and only changes because the main character does something different.  Not only does Liman and crew do an excellent job with this very thing, but they manage to keep the movie from becoming monotonous by altering the length of some repeating scenes, while lengthening others.  At no point did I find myself tired of the repetition, quite the opposite in fact as I looked forward to what would happen next.

With all of the sequels and superhero movies clogging up the summer, it’s nice to get a movie like Edge of Tomorrow that feels original and isn’t just treading well-worn paths.  I also think that Emily Blunt is making a very strong case as a bona fide female action lead as she carries this film more than Cruise (though I hope she sticks with sci-fi thrillers such as this and Looper and doesn’t get sucked into silly shit like Mr. and Mrs. Smith).  But, if none of that is reason enough to see this film, how about this – Blunt gets to shoot Cruise in the face.  A lot.

Rating: Worth twelve dollars more than what you paid for it.  Just admit it – you’d pay full price to see Cruise die once in a film let alone hundreds.