Tag Archives: Ben Affleck

Deep Water

18 Mar

‘Deep Water’: The erotic thriller is back, and the bodies are piling up

By Tom Meek Thursday, March 17, 2022

Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since director Adrian Lyne, the hand behind such provocative, erotic thrillers as “Fatal Attraction” (1987), “9½ Weeks” (1986) and “Indecent Proposal” (1993), has helmed a film. Since that last film, “Unfaithful,” much has happened, namely the #MeToo movement, that might make one wonder if an Adrian Lyne film could be made in this day and age. The answer with “Deep Water” is a clear “yes,” but just how big a “yes” will be measured by viewership and public reaction.

As with all of his projects (a slim eight, believe it or not) Lyne garners an A-list cast with Ben Affleck as Vic Van Allen, a well-to-do entrepreneur semi-retired in his gray-tinted 40s, and Ana de Armas as his vivacious younger wife, Melinda. They live in low-key manse in the bucolic South, where Vic passes much of his time cruising around town on his mountain bike while a well-paid sitter watches their precocious daughter (Grace Jenkins) and Melinda, ever on the go, collects young men. She’s unapologetic about it, with a free-spirited “do as I want” manifesto that we learn about early on when she invites a young Brad Pitt knockoff (Brendon Miller) to the boozy, invite-only birthday bash of a prominent local. From behind a window sash Vic catches a glimmer of Melinda necking with her invitee poolside. His reactions are passively indifferent; others too seem unperturbed – it’s just Melinda being Melinda, or so that’s the vibe. We get to witness her in full force during a wobbly piano-top toast and a rousing rendition of Paolo Conte’s “It’s Wonderful.”

Later at the bar, Vic winds up shoulder to shoulder with the hunk, who thanks him for “letting him spend time with his wife.” What’s going on, you might ask? Do Vic and Melanie have an open marriage? When Vic chases baby Brad, Melinda flies into a rage and demands that Vic invite her paramour in training over for dinner. Cruel games seem to be a thing; there is an apparent uneasy understanding between the two. Even so, there’s a rage in Vic’s eyes that seems to roil under his externally impassive complicity – or perhaps it’s some form of twisted turn-on? Hard to tell by Affleck’s prosaic performance. “If you weren’t married to me, you’d be bored,” Melanie tells Vic in one angry exchange, and you can’t fault her on her logic: Vic looks bored, in need of a kick in the pants, though his odd obsession with snails is almost more curious and profound than the couple’s toxic inner workings. Armas (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Knives Out”) owns the film; her spoiled brat is a hot mess you despise but, at a cocktail party leading a raucous singalong or offering you a glass of bubbly, could easily win you over. Other buff lads who come hither are played by “Euphoria” pretty boy Jacob Elordi and Finn Wittrock. Playwright Tracy Letts patrols the perimeter as a cynical writer new to town who casts a scrutinizing eye on Vic and Melanie. 

Given that the film’s based on a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith (also made into the 1981 film “Eaux Profondes” starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert), bodies pop up. The first is one of Melanie’s other “friends,” a guy named Malcolm McRae; his name is bantered about early and often, yet we never meet in the flesh – or in the dead, for that matter. To say more about how things go would be to ruin the mystery, but as adapted by Sam Levinson, whose career signature is the erotically raunchy high school drama “Euphoria,” and with Lyne at the helm, it’s really all about the eros. 

It’s steamy to be sure, and Armas carries it off with brazen bravado, but the film works only in wisps. I mean, Vic’s got enough green to buy a lux mountain biking chalet in the hills, and I’d imagine he’d likely do well on dating apps, so why deal with Melanie’s in-your-face sexual shenanigans? That question’s never answered, and because it isn’t the whole exercise feels like a slimy snail trail to nowhere. That “yes” is likely more likely a “yeah, right.”

The Batman

4 Mar

‘The Batman’: The Dark Knight gets darker

By Tom Meek Wednesday, March 2, 2022

“The Batman” is a dark, deeply emotional affair that’s got a lot going for it and a lot going on – perhaps too much. (It’s almost three hours long.) We could also call it version 3.5 of the cinematic dark knight, with the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher films in the 1990s and Christopher Nolan trilogy being 1.0 and 2.0 and Ben Affleck’s donning of the cowl in the “Justice League” films the 0.5 splitter. It may be 4.5 if we take into account the spoofy, goofy BAM! POW! fun of the Adam West television series.

What drives this reboot is a succession of grim murders of municipal higher-ups, beginning with the mayor and working its way over to the heads of the police and district attorney’s offices. Personally, if I was orchestrating such sinister deeds I would have saved the top cat (the mayor) for last – it just feels more operatic. The thing that links the macabre deaths are the signatures left at each crime scene: a riddle punctuated with a giant question mark, an encrypted cipher, a card addressed to “The Batman” and some spray painted (or blood painted) messaging about a web of lies or some such thing.

Given that Paul Dano plays The Riddler, you can probably guess who’s behind the acts that play out in sadistic fashion like a sin-atoned-for in David Fincher’s “Se7en” (1995) or a Jigsaw trap from one of the “Saw” films. The Riddler here just may be darker and more demonic than the spins on Joker performed by Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix: One clue leads to a thumb drive with a severed thumb attached to it, so those recovering it can unlock it via thumbprint, and it clearly takes a lot of work to be that twisted. But wait, this film’s about the bat, right? Well yes, and you get plenty of Robert Pattinson in the beefy Kevlar suit, which turns out to be a bit of a double-edged sword. We get to embed with him more, but the tease of enigma that has been the traditional draw dissipates. Director-writer Matt Reeves (“Let Me In,” “Cloverfield”), co-writer Peter Craig and Pattinson paint their Batman/Bruce Wayne as a deeply tortured soul, a monomaniacal tool of vengeance with no trace of mirth or joy and no bifurcation of personalities; what we drink in is all dour, sullen anger, underscored by the incarnation’s theme song, Nirvana’s broodingly depressive “Something in the Way.”

What carries the film are the sly intricacies of The Riddler’s misdeeds, the mysterious intent behind them and the stunning set designs that range from the crowded, rain-slicked streets of Gotham to the gaping Batcave and an Edward Hopper-styled diner lit in green neon. The cumulative effect is a strange, wonderful fusion of Walter Hill’s “Streets of Fire” (1984) and Ridley Scott’s future noir, “Blade Runner” (1982). The other aspect of “The Batman” that largely works is that our bat here is something of a master sleuth, a tech-age Sherlock Holmes, if you will. It’s a little off-putting to see him sniffing around a live crime scene CSI style, but part of the joy comes in looking beyond the obvious, going one level deeper and admiring the acumen of our hero. Caught up in the mix too is the updated version of Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), though she simply goes by her birth name of Selina and works in a nightclub owned by Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, played beguilingly by Colin Farrell under gobs of makeup. He’s something of a brotherly incarnation of Robert De Niro’s portly Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” (1980).

The rest of the impressive supporting cast includes a perfectly coiffed Andy Serkis as a dutiful Alfred who’s killer at decoding ciphers, John Turturro as the local crime boss all trails seem to lead to, Peter Sarsgaard as the sleazy DA and Jeffrey Wright, channeling his cagey investigative reporter from “The French Dispatch” (2021) as Lt. Gordon, the guy who fires up the bat signal and may be the only clean cop on the force. The new take on the Batmobile is something of a throwback to the muscle cars of the 1970s; it’s like someone bat-tatted a classic Dodge Charger and strapped on a jet engine turbo boost like one of those nitro-infused junkers in “The Road Warrior” (1981).

Pattinson and Kravitz look fetching together, and given their raw charisma you’d think the two would click together like Legos (there is that “Lego Batman Movie”), but the romantic undercurrent between them feels postured and unearned. Then again, this is a brooding, relentless lad who takes his mission as a higher cause – “I am vengeance” gets tossed around a lot. Batman’s most genuine connections are those with Gordon, who for reasons not on screen trusts him emphatically, and his lifelong loyal butler and caregiver Alfred, though that ultimately gets challenged as “the veil is pulled back and the lie’s exposed.” I grew up near Connecticut cities where corruption scandals were an annual “wait for it” event that didn’t disappoint, and of course we had infamous mayor Buddy Cianci just down the way in Providence. Gotham’s not much different: dirty cops with drug money washing political hands. What it does have is that dashing millionaire orphan who likes to dress up, break out the bat toys and take out the trash.

The Way Back

8 Mar
TORRANCE

Watching “The Way Back,” the story of an alcoholic has-been who finds redemption taking the reins of a losing high school basketball team, I was pretty sure I was taking in something based on true events. A quick gander of the press notes and the answer was a solid nay, and somehow I felt cheated. I mean, would “Hoosiers” (1986) resonate as thoroughly if it weren’t true?

Given that the film stars Ben Affleck with his tabloid-chronicled struggles with alcohol, there’s a truth here that you can feel in the actor’s convincing “been there” performance. Affleck has puffed up for the role; he’s boxy and bloated. Gone is the buff Batman physique, and his face is weary and heavy. It’s a lived-in performance that may go down as one of Affleck’s finest, even if the film, while hitting all the requisite marks, feels thin – moving and meaningful, sure, but thin.

We catch up with Affleck’s Jack Cunningham working a construction job in L.A. He’s isolated, a barely functioning alcoholic who pops a can of beer in the shower each morning but at least has the presence of mind to get a ride home from the bar each night. During a tense Thanksgiving dinner at his sister’s house we learn Jack was once an all-state ball player at a small Catholic high school and had a scholarship to the big time, but events sidelined his success and have him separated from his wife, Angela (an effectively sensitive Janina Gavankar). The opportunity for Jack’s “way back” comes in the form of a random call from the head of Jack’s old high school. Turns out the basketball coach had a heart attack; the school asks Jack to step in, even though he hasn’t picked up a ball in 20 years, let alone ever coached.

The crew Jack has to oversee is fairly pat platoon of misfits and castoffs, unable to win a game against a team of gnomes, including the slack showboat who thinks he’s better than he is (Melvin Gregg), the full-of-himself ladies man (Will Ropp), the portly prankster (Charles Lott Jr.) and the team’s taciturn star with home life challenges (Brandon Wilson). The assemblage of coach and kids who need each other screams cliché, but director Gavin O’Connor – who’s been down this path before with “Miracle” (2004) and “Warrior” (2011) – keeps things gritty and realistic, adroitly avoiding what otherwise might have been maudlin pitfalls. The script by Brad Ingelsby (“Out of the Furnace”) may come off as forced and coy in the way it introduces backstory and developments, but to its credit, it moves in directions that are anything but Hollywood. The real buzzer beater here, however, is the chemistry between Affleck and his squad. Sure, they grow as young men and the team begins to come together and win, but it’s more palpably conveyed than just simply checking those boxes. The dynamic with Jack’s sensitive assistant coach (Al Madrigal), a math teacher who’s onto Jack saucing it up in the office, helps deepen the complex nature of addiction and recovery. Overall, “The Way Back” might not be an instant classic, but it is a sobering spin on hopelessness and despair and finding the way forward.

Live by Night

14 Jan

Affleck Should Have Stuck To Directing For His Latest Boston-Based Film ‘Live By Night’

Ben Affleck, as Joe Coughlin, and Sienna Miller, as Emma Gould, in "Live By Night." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

Ben Affleck, the good-looking, locally-reared actor, who from time to time has projected a wooden on-screen presence, has turned out to be a reliably decent director. His debut, “Gone Baby Gone” back in 2007, transformed Dennis Lehane’s Boston-seated crime novel into a cinematic pulp noir. That edgy effort had cinephiles anxious for more and Affleck rewarded their patience with another gritty crime drama, “The Town,” in 2010 and then “Argo” in 2012. His latest effort, “Live By Night,” brings another Lehane crime story to the screen.

It begins during the Prohibition Era in Boston, where the Irish and Italians are locked in a blood feud over the bootleg trade, and later transitions to Ybor City, the developing section of Tampa, Florida, where Italian and Latino crime coalitions govern the town and control the flow of molasses — critical for rum.

Brendan Gleeson as Officer Thomas Coughlin in "Live By Night." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
Brendan Gleeson as Officer Thomas Coughlin in “Live By Night.” (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures) Continue reading

The Accountant

26 Oct

“The Accountant,” a far-reaching thriller starring Ben Affleck, asks much of its audience – but for some patience and suspension of disbelief there are rewards to be had as it morphs slowly and surprisingly into something more entertaining than it has any right to be. You could think of it as Affleck’s midlife answer (bat suit aside) to buddy Matt Damon’s “Jason Bourne” series, though Affleck alter-ego Christian Wolff isn’t a juiced-up CIA operative with a bad case of amnesia and a troubled past (though he does have that). As the title tells us, he’s a pencil-pusher, though one who incidentally can spatter a melon from atop a fencepost a mile out with a high-powered rifle; and should some of his clients take exception to his accrual methods, he can unleash a tirade of chop-socky martial arts to dispatch the deplorables with James Bond efficiency.

101316i-the-accountantFew probably knew that balancing the books could be such a lethal endeavor, or that such a cockamamie idea, especially with the normally tacit and wooden Affleck, could translate into such a satiating pleasure – a guilty one. With ledger-entry care we get into it one plodding record at a time, beginning with blurry images of a hitman taking out linguini-eating mobsters in a scene that’s reminiscent of the young Michael Corleone removing the family nuisance in “The Godfather.” Then, before we get the assassin’s mug, we flash to a quaint country manse in the hills of New Hampshire where the young Christian (Seth Lee), having a bit of an OCD fit, is being interviewed by a doctor who specializes in children with Asperger’s and autism. It’s here, in the unhappy family moment, that we also learn that the lad can solve a complicated puzzle in 20 licks. Continue reading