Friday, November 4, 2016

"The Accountant" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Accountant" as well as the Netflix Original documentary "Amanda Knox" and the DVD "The Meddler."  The Book of the Week is fashion designer Donna Karan's memoir "My Journey," and I also review the Broadway musical "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" now on tour.  And as usual, I bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with the classic silent film "Foolish Wives."]

The Accountant

An autistic math savant with social issues grows up to be an accountant, a likely career path, but also a cold-blooded killer?  Who knew?

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) grew up with a military Dad (Robert C. Treveiler) and a devoted older brother. Their mother left early when she couldn't deal with Christian's behavior. You see, Christian was, how shall I say this?  A bit difficult?  He didn't talk much and needed things to be in their place and just so, and he also became very frustrated if he couldn't finish something he started and would freak out.  But on the bright side, Christian was a brilliant math whiz. He would make a great accountant.

So Christian's Dad was left on his own to raise the boys and decided that the best way to deal with Christian's special needs was to employ - what can I say? - some strange parenting techniques. Basically he expected that Christian would have to deal with the real world so he had better learn how to deal with bullies. As Dad moved around with the military, he hired martial artists to teach both boys to fight, and no matter how badly they got beaten up, he would not let them give up. He also taught them to shoot guns and rifles so both boys also grew up to be sharpshooters and just general bad asses. 

Despite his social issues, Christian grew up to be an accountant, a brilliant one, in fact. He was so brilliant that he came to the attention of bad guys around the world who needed their books cooked and their money laundered.  So Christian obliged.

However, Christian has now come to the attention of Ray King (J.K. Simmons), a Treasury Department agent in charge of financial crimes.  He is on the verge of retirement, but he wants to find out who this guy is who keeps appearing in surveillance videos with all of the bad guys of the world, and he enlists, well, actually, blackmails agent Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into putting all of her efforts into finding this guy.

In the meantime, Christian has set up a life for himself that is seemingly ordinary...except it's not.  He runs his accounting business out of an ordinary storefront in an ordinary strip mall.  He has an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood and drives an ordinary car.  However, he is also aware that what he is doing is not particularly ordinary, or legal, so he has a safe house (a trailer) where he keeps his weapons and everything he needs to make a fast getaway, should he need to. The trailer also contains a Renoir and a Pollock or two.  Also very not ordinary.  

But when Christian gets wind of the Treasury Department's interest in him, he takes a legitimate job at a prosthetics company to throw them off.  The company is run by Lamar Black (John Lithgow) and his sister (Jean Smart) and Christian is hired to try to find out what happened to 61 million dollars.  But when he and another accountant, Dana Cummings, played by Anna Kendrick, discover what is really happening at that company, all hell breaks loose.  Now Christian isn't just being hunted by the Treasury Department, but also by a mysterious thug (Jon Bernthal), who very politely beats the crap out of people who are not paying their debts and kills the rest in sadistic, though imaginative ways when he feels like it.

There are some questions you might have during the film and some holes in the plot, such as whatever happened to Christian's brother?  Well, let's just say there are several twists and turns and most of your questions will be answered, despite some "Huh?" moments that make you wonder how this or that happened, but mostly it's "I didn't see that coming" moments.  All in all this is an engrossing, well-acted wild ride of a film directed by Gavin O'Connor and showcasing Ben Affleck's talents.

Speaking of which, I am a big Ben Affleck fan. Ben first came to my attention in 1997 in "Chasing Amy," where he sported a very hipster goatee.  But the deal was sealed for me in "Good Will Hunting."  You would think that Matt Damon would have been the one I noticed most, and don't get me wrong, he was very good.  But I was most struck by Ben who played Matt's friend, Chuckie.  Chuckie was a working class guy in a working class town and he knew he would always be that.  But he knows that Will is different and destined for a better life if he would just go for it. There is a scene when Chuckie gives Will a speech about how he needs to get out of their working class town and make something of himself:

"Every day I come by your house and I pick you up. And we go out. We have a few drinks, and a few laughs, and it's great. But you know what the best part of my day is? For about ten seconds, from when I pull up to the curb and when I get to your door, 'cause I think, maybe I'll get up there and I'll knock on the door and you won't be there. No goodbye. No see you later. No nothing. You just left. I don't know much, but I know that."

I was so touched.  He really got me. I thought, "Wow," who is this guy?  I have been a big Ben fan ever since.

Here Ben also uses his acting chops to create a complex character. Christian doesn't give a lot of himself to others but Ben is able to create some pathos around Christian, despite his seeming cold-bloodedness.

Anna Kendrick shows her dramatic side playing the young accountant who gets involved with Christian (and doesn't sing, thank goodness), but scriptwriter Bill Dubuque avoids the cliché of a romance and Christian being redeemed by love, though there is definitely some affection between the two characters.  J.K. Simmons is his usual hard-boiled self (but see him in "The Meddler" reviewed below.  He shows an uncharacteristic softer side).

Rosy the Reviewer of the better thrillers of the year.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

On Netflix and DVD

Amanda Knox (2016)

Whatever happened to Amanda Knox?

You might reply, "Who?"

This is not big news so much anymore and not sure how caught up in it the rest of the country was.  But here in Seattle this was a huge news story and it continues to fascinate since Amanda Knox is a hometown girl.

So here's a recap:

On November 10, 2007 no one knew who Amanda Knox was, not even many Seattleites. She was just a college student from the University of Washington spending an academic year in Perugia, Italy. But on November 11, 2007 that all changed for her when her English roommate, Meredith Kercher, was found murdered in the house they shared.  Though Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raphaele Sollecito were supposedly nowhere near the house when the murder occurred and maintained their innocence, they were charged, tried and convicted of Meredith's murder. 

How did this happen?

This Netflix original documentary tries to sort it all out.

Amanda Knox provides some early narration for the film that starts with actual grainy footage of the Perugian police at the crime scene.  She also provides a cautionary tagline:

"Either I am a psychopath in sheep's clothing or I am you."

Because Amanda didn't respond the way she was supposed to when she found her roommate's body and when later interviewed by police, she and her boyfriend became suspects for the crime.

The film flips back and forth from the past to the present.  We see Amanda as a carefree teen in Seattle before she went to study in Italy.  She was a fairly sheltered kid growing up in Seattle, and she thought that going to Italy would help her turn into an adult and that she would find herself there.  Little did she know what awaited.

When she arrived in Italy, she almost immediately hooked up with a local student, Raphaele Sollecito, who also appears in the film. The other main characters in this true murder mystery also provide narration - the lead prosecutor Giuliano Mignini and Nick Pisa, a reporter for the British tabloid, "The Daily Mail."  

Magnini was and is a controversial figure with some specious actions in his past.  He also fancied himself a modern day Sherlock Holmes.  He latched onto Amanda's and Raphaele's supposed guilt right away and never let go of it, despite evidence to the contrary.  The Perugian police had never had such a high profile case and needed to show they could handle something this big, especially since that small town was crawling with reporters and the murder became a cause celebre. 

Nick Pisa, a freelance journalist was covering the case for "The Daily Mail," and you know what happens when the tabloids get involved.  The British tabs are notorious anyway, especially "The Daily Mail," but with Meredith being British and Amanda being American, they had a field day.  And knife wounds and nicks on Meredith's chin implied to the tabloids that this was some sort of sex game gone wrong, and it just ballooned from there.  Pisa is the guy who came up with calling Amanda "Foxy Knoxy" and showing controversial pictures of her that made her look guilty.  In the film, he makes no effort to deny his part in sensationalizing the case and even admits to printing untrue stories about Amanda.

"I think now, looking back, some of the information that came out was just crazy, really, and completely made up," he reflects at the end. "But hey, what are we supposed to do, you know?"

Also it didn't help that Amanda had a bit of an off-putting demeanor.  She comes across as phlegmatic and even a bit self-centered, and her actions following the murder just added fuel to the fire for the lead prosecutor. The authorities perceived her as hostile and rebellious. But, hey, she was only 20, which for most young people is a very self-centered time of life.  Also the police used very aggressive interrogation techniques (we hear some of that in the film), and Amanda fell victim to making some false statements, something that is not surprising considering her age and getting slapped on the head during hours of interrogation.

If you followed this case, you know the basic facts, but this is the first time we see actual crime scene footage and hear directly from Raphaele and the prosecutor.  Naturally those of us in Seattle were riveted because Amanda was a hometown girl and it all seemed like such an obvious miscarriage of justice by an overzealous prosecutor with issues of his own, not to mention the salacious newspaper reporting.

Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, this movie is maddening, not for anything the directors did, because they stated the case well and made their points about why it all went wrong.  No, it was this whole affair that was maddening.  Watching it as an outsider, you just can't believe that Amanda and Raphaele would be convicted of this murder, especially when Rudy Guede, a native of the Ivory Coast and a local drifter/drug dealer, was actually tried and convicted of killing Meredith.  But the two were still convicted and both spent four years in prison mainly because of a maniacal prosecutor, who was hell bent on convicting Amanda and Raphaele in court, and a press that came up with one salacious story after another thus convicting them in the court of public opinion. 

Yes, Magnini had it out for Amanda.  How can you deal with a prosecutor who said he knew Amanda was guilty because he could see it in her eyes?  And the British tabloids fueled the flames of Amanda's guilt with outrageous stories. She was declared guilty in the press before she even went to trial, and Rudy killing Meredith was just not as interesting as the idea of a drug-fueled sex game starring an American college girl so despite Rudy's conviction, the tabloids kept the stories coming.  Add those two things together - the megalomaniacal prosecutor and the bloodthirsty press - and you have the perfect storm of justice gone wrong. 

I can't think of anything worse than being falsely accused of murder and not being able to prove your own innocence, which in this case, she had to do.  Imagine being a young college girl, innocently going off to study in Europe and then suddenly being thrown into a murder case through no fault of your own, convicted and given 26 years in an Italilan jail.  What a nightmare.  Amazingly, Amanda had the fortitude to endure four years in prison before she was granted an appeals trial and ultimately freed.

The last 30 minutes of the film shows the independent Italian DNA people debunking the prosecutions assertions, thus leading to Amanda's and Raphaele's release, though they both had to go through another setback with a reversal of that judgment before a final appeal led to their exoneration.  Despite that, prosecutor Magnini remains unrepentant and convinced of their guilt and, sadly, Meredith's parents and much of the Italian public still believe they are guilty.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating nightmare. If you like true crime films like "Making a Murderer," you will like this film.

The Meddler (2015)

After her husband dies, Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) moves from New York to Los Angeles to start a new life near her daughter.  The title tells it all.

Marnie is a middle-aged widow who decides to move from New York to Los Angeles to be near her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), a television writer.  It becomes evident right away that Marnie is a "meddler."  She is one of those people who imposes her will on others because she assumes what she likes and believes is what everyone else should like and believe.  We know those people, right?  Marnie is not above walking into her daughter's apartment and looking at Lori's computer history.  Marnie even sees the same shrink as her daughter, not to get help for herself but rather to find out what her daughter is telling the therapist!

But Marnie is not completely wrong to be concerned about her daughter. Lori is a bit of a mess.  She has just had a bad break-up and is having difficulty getting over it and moving on.  She tries to set some boundaries with her mother but the two are co-dependent.  Lori doesn't want her mother in her business but she also needs her mother's help and feels guilty when she tells her mother to bug off.

When Lori has to go back to New York for work, Marnie doesn't know what to do with herself, so she volunteers at a local hospital and babysits for Lori's friends. She also befriends a young guy at the Apple Store and offers to pay for a wedding for one of Lori's friends (Cecily Strong).  You see, Marnie's husband has left her quite a bit of money and she spends it on everyone else because that makes her happy. But she overdoes it big time, and when the therapist confronts her about using her money to buy friends and affection, Marnie has to take a good hard look at her life.

This is a nice vehicle for Sarandon so she can do her "crazy mother" thing, but she actually comes off as sweet and charming, though her New Jersey accent comes and goes and often sounds more like she is from Boston.  Sarandon shows off her considerable acting skills because Marnie could be annoying as hell, but she isn't.  She is actually sweet and kind, and you realize she just wants to help. Yes, she's a meddler, but she is a good person and you root for her to find herself. And I have to say that Sarandon sure has good genes.  She not only looks good for her age, she just looks good! If she has had plastic surgery, I want to know who her doctor is.   

However, Rose Byrne needs to get some other kinds of roles.  She is most often seen as the compliant wife ("Neighbors"), and here she is the compliant daughter.  Harry Hamlin has a small role and it's fun seeing him actually acting.  These days, it seems like he is more famous for being Lisa Rinna's real life hubby on the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" than a movie actor.  Sorry, Harry, but it's true.

J.K. Simmons provides a love interest for Marnie and his role here is a nice departure from his hardass Treasury Department agent in "The Accountant (see review above)" and his hard as nails drum teacher in "Whiplash." Here he is sensitive and kind, and I like him better playing this kind of character.  As an actor, it's actually more difficult to make a sensitive, nice character interesting than it is to play a villain.

Retirees will especially like this film because figuring out what to do with oneself in retirement is one of those things we have to deal with.  A parent who is retired and alone and at loose ends about it is naturally going to want to get into his or her child's business.  But mothers and daughters will also enjoy this - to see how NOT to act.

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, this film captures that time of life when you feel like you are no longer relevant, so if you want to be happy you need to rethink your expectations of life and change course and focus on those little things that make life worth living.  It's a wonderful depiction of what it's like to try to find purpose (and love) after your children and spouse are gone.

This is one of those "adult" films I have been talking about.  No action heroes, no zombies, just real adult interaction exploring adult issues with great characters, great acting, and a great story - a story that gives all of us older folks hope and you younger kids, what you have to look forward too!

Rosy the Reviewer absolute MUST SEE!


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

228 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Foolish Wives (1922)

A Russian con artist sets up shop in Monte Carlo with his two mistresses, er, "cousins" and attempts to compromise and blackmail the wife of an American diplomat.

Erich Von Stroheim was famous for playing German villains until he also began writing and directing his own films.  Here he plays Count Sergius Karamzin, a Russian lothario who has come to Monaco with his two mistresses posing as Princesses and his cousins, to make a killing in the casino by using counterfeit money. "Princess" Olga is the hoity-toity one and has no problem pinching her maid if she displeases her. "Princess" Vera is a bit of a ditz.  They are visited by Signor Ventucci, the Count's counterfeiter and his rather simple-minded daughter, and you can tell the Count is a decadent as he gives the daughter a villainous, lustful look.  In fact, he gives every woman who comes his way a villainous, lustful look.

When Mr. and Mrs. Hughes arrive (he is an American diplomat), Sergius decides to ingratiate himself with them and seduce Mrs. Hughes and, once compromised, extort money from her.  He introduces himself and says he wishes to be her protector, to keep the con artists away, a cruel irony since she actually needs protection from HIM!  And hence the title. 

Guess what happens?  Sure.  She is a foolish wife who is easily flattered and when given the attention she doesn't get from her husband, even if it's from an oily dude, she still falls for him and gets caught in his web.  Why do we women get all of the blame?  Why couldn't this have been called "Crappy Con Men" or "Hopeless Husbands?"  But foolish or not, the wife gets saved and the Count is shown to be a coward and gets his in the end as is the usual outcome in these early films.  It wasn't until much later in film history that the bad guys ever won.

When the film was released in 1922, it was the most expensive film ever made, billed as "the first million dollar movie."  Von Stroheim intended for the film to run between six and ten hours and play over two evenings, but the studios said no, and the film was cut down to a little over two hours.  You see Von Stroheim was that kind of guy, very much like his film roles, autocratic and superior.  His unwillingness to do what he needed to do to be commercial, his haughty demeanor, his insistence that he be allowed to do whatever he wanted and his over-spending, led to fights with the studios and ultimately fewer and fewer directorial opportunities.  In his later years, he was best known as an actor.  Who can forget him as Gloria Swanson's butler in "Sunset Boulevard (for which he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination).

Why it's a Must See: "Greed is Stroheim's most famous film, but [this film] is his masterpiece...This witty, ruthlessly objective film confirms its director as the cinema's first great ironist...The film's tone of cool, lively detachment is enhanced by its exhaustive elaboration of the world around the characters, articulating space through visual strategies...that make us intensely aware of the entire 360-degree field of each scene...there's hardly a shot that doesn't dazzle the eye with rich, shimmering interplay of detail, lighting, gesture, and movement."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

The cinematography was by the famous William Daniels and original prints had hand-coloring by Gustav Brock.  Not sure if the copy I saw was from the original print or a facsimile but I found the changing colors -  from sepia to black and white to blue to red -  to be distracting and even irritating as especially the blue and red lacked clarity. However, I can see that would have been an exciting innovation for 1922 audiences.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Stroheim is a thing to behold and, for me, the main reason to see this film.  With his military uniform, straight back and monocle, he is the picture of the aristocratic decadent. They don't make villains like him anymore.

***Book of the Week***

My Journey: Donna Karan by Donna Karan (2015)



Fashionistas will enjoy this look into what it takes to make it in the fashion industry as a designer.

Donna Karan made a huge splash in the 80's with her "Seven Easy Pieces."
  • The bodysuit
  • Wrap and tie skirt
  • Pants - classic menswear inspired trousers or pencil
  • Jacket
  • Suede wrap jacket
  • Camel coat
  • Gold sequined skirt
  •  Accessorries included a white shirt and tights.

With these few pieces, she proclaimed, you could go anywhere and do anything by mixing and matching, something that was quite revoutionary in the 80's as most clothes were sold as "outfits."

Barbra Streisand was a big fan and, Karan and she actually became besties and Streisand wrote the forward to this book.

Growing up, Karan's father was a tailor and her mother a model.  The Seventh Avenue fashion district in NYC was like home and Karan swore she would never follow in her father's footsteps.  She wanted to be a dancer.  But you know how those things are. She had a talent for fashion and interned with designer Anne Klein, who mentored her and believed in her, and when Klein died unexpectedly right in the middle of fashion season, Karan was able to take up the reins.  However, after success, she was ultimately fired and forced to start her own company, she persevered and thus her place in the fashion world was established. 

Her career soared, but her personal life was a bit of a soap opera. She married Mark, her high school sweetheart, but during their courtship met another man, Stephan, and she fell in love with him, but she was pressured to marry Mark and she did.  When she later reconnected with Stephan, she couldn't deny her feelings and left her husband.

Karan comes off as a ballsy woman with many insecurities - just like many successful women.  She ends the book:

 "As I reflect back, I realize that so much of my career has been an adventure with twists and turns I never could have predicted...I've never been a woman with a laid out strategy.  I have passion and enthusiasm.  The word no is not in my vocabulary.  Don't tell me something's impossible.  In my mind, anything and everything is possible.  I just need to stay open and access my gift -- the light that flows through, that flows through all of us -- and trust that it will lead me in the right direction."

And that's the kind of life she has led.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love fashion, you will enjoy this book, but you will also enjoy this book if you like stories about strong women living the lives they want to live.


***A Night at the Theatre***

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical


This Tony-Award winning Broadway musical highlights the music and career of Carole King and is now on national tour.

Carole King, nee Carol Joan Klein, was only 15 when she sold her first song.  When she met and teamed up with another songwriter, Jerry Goffin, the two wrote some of the most recognizable songs of the Baby Boomer generation.  She wrote the music and he wrote the lyrics, which is amazing since many of his lyrics echoed a woman's sensibility.  "Natural Woman?"  "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"  A man wrote those lyrics?

Carole married Goffen and they set up shop in the Brill Building where they hung out with another songwriting team, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, but when Carole and Jerry divorced and she moved to California, she found herself and a solo career.  Her solo album "Tapestry" was one of the biggest selling albums of all time. That album was a "tapestry" of its time.

This musical touches on all of that in a fast-paced and breezy way with lots of laughs and lots and lots of wonderful music. Those of us out in the provinces are lucky to have these Broadway touring companies come through our towns.  Sure, we may not see the people who made these shows famous on Broadway, but the actors on tour and the company are just as professional, and we are lucky to get this bit of Broadway.  In this case, Carole King is played by the wonderful Julia Knitel, who was the understudy for the Broadway show, so we certainly were not short changed.  She is brilliant as are the other cast members.

Rosy the Reviewer says...touring across the country now, if this show comes your way, don't miss it.  It's a great night of music and theatre! It's absolutely "Beautiful!"

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!


(yes, I feel a Tuesday rant coming on!)


"All the Lonely People"

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  1. Just came home from seeing The Accountant and LOVED it! Very intense and never a dull moment. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mary. Glad you liked it. I will be here every Friday with my reviews. Next Friday is "The Handmaiden," and all I can say right now is "Yikes!"