REVIEW: Molly’s Game

Image: STX Entertainment

Chris Luckett

Aaron Sorkin is one of the very few writers famous enough to be a household name. Between A Few Good Men, Sports Night, The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs, there are few acclaims he hasn’t earned and few challenges he hasn’t tackled. Of course, at the end of the day, those kudos and trials are all tied solely to writing. Until Molly’s Game.

Image: STX Entertainment

Trying his hand at directing for the first time, Sorkin shows a mastery that would be surprising from pretty much anyone except him. His flourish for energetic dialogue and innovative act structures translates into a competent, bouncy movie that never slows down to be less than entertaining.

Based on the memoirs of the “Poker Princess,” Molly Bloom, Molly’s Game tells the tale of a whip-smart Olympic skier who, after his athletic career in sidelined, found another path in life that led to her running elite, high-stakes poker games which ultimately lured athletes, mobsters, and Tobey Maguire.

Image: STX Entertainment

Because Sorkin could never tell a good story simply, Bloom’s story is framed by the devise of her being arrested by the FBI. Molly (Jessica Chastain) seeks the legal counsel of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), and explains her innocence through the flashbacks that make up the bulk of the film.

It all allows for Sorkin to jump around in time with his typical hyperactivity, which translates into a movie as much fun to watch as to listen to. As much as directors like David Fincher, Rob Reiner, and Danny Boyle have all showed the upmost respect for Sorkin’s writing, the man most in sync with Sorkin’s mind in Sorkin himself.

Image: STX Entertainment

Chastain gives one of her expectedly strong performances as Molly, taking us on a complex journey of a woman who, despite appearances, always took the most difficult road to remain ethical in a criminal world. Elba is a wonderful foil for her, bringing far more personality to the kind of generic lawyer role a movie like this should know well enough to avoid.

If Chastain and Elba were the only two characters in the movie, the cast would be strong enough to create greatness, but Sorkin doesn’t take that for granted, adding Kevin Costner as Molly’s father, Michael Cera as Player X (a composite of Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ben Affleck), and more supporting roles filled by Chris O’Dowd, Graham Greene, Joe Keery, and Brian d’Arcy James with aplomb.

Image: STX Entertainment

Sorkin has always had an affinity for strong female lead characters and the care he puts into Molly makes Chastain’s job much easier, but he’s unable to give that same attention to other characters who need them, leaving stock characters feeling like stock characters.

That said, only Sorkin could make scenes of poker games feel so alive. Between the crackling dialogue, the unpredictable story, and secret clues dropped through the course of the movie, Sorkin’s script for Molly’s Game is one of the best things he’s written recently. Most will continue to only know him as a writer for now, but if his directing continues to create things like Molly’s Game, he may not be known just for his writing for long.

4 / 5 stars

REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Chris Luckett

Die Hard with a Vengeance, Jurassic Park III, and Mission: Impossible III were all excellent third entries, each more than making up for the problems of its weak predecessor. In all of those cases, changing directors allowed a breath of fresh air into the property the third time around — in M:I III’s case, funnily enough, from J.J. Abrams.

Abrams’ next movie would be the 2009 Star Trek reboot, a thrilling adventure that redefined the franchise — which then swiftly became stale and unimaginative in his 2012 follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness.

Now that Abrams has jumped from warp drives to hyper drives, Justin Lin has been hired to do for Star Trek what he did for Fast & Furious movies 3-6, and he proves to be just what the series needed to once again shoot for the stars.

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REVIEW: Finding Dory

Artwork: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Artwork: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Chris Luckett

Every Pixar movie is compared to those immediately before it.

A Bug’s Life? “It’s good, but it’s no Toy Story.”
The Incredibles? “Even better than Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.!”
Brave? “Hey, at least it’s better than Cars 2.”

Finding Dory, the animated studio’s 17th feature and their fourth sequel in five years, isn’t as good as last year’s Inside Out. Compared to Pixar’s other recent efforts Brave, The Good Dinosaur, and Monsters University, however, the sequel succeeds adequately enough to make for a fun, forgettable film. Continue reading

REVIEW: The Jungle Book

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Chris Luckett

Less than a decade ago, “live-action Disney” meant The Game Plan, College Road Trip, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Then the success of 2010’s Alice in Wonderland taught the studio they could dust off an animated classic, give it the live-action treatment modern CGI afforded, and rake it the big bucks. The six years since have brought about live-action adaptations of Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and now, 1967’s The Jungle Book.

Of course, long before The Jungle Book was Disney’s nineteenth “Animated Classic,” it was a cherished collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling. To its credit, Jon Favreau’s take on Kipling’s tales mostly goes the latter as its source whenever a choice is called for, resulting in a tale with a more suitably dark tone. Unfortunately, rather than be allowed to become its own creation, The Jungle Book too often gets needlessly muffled by paying tribute to its animated forebear. Continue reading

REVIEW: Zootopia

Artwork: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Artwork: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Chris Luckett

After Disney’s renaissance 25 years ago, the animation titan lost its magic touch and spent the latter half of the ‘90s trying to get it back. Their movies remained very good, but just seemed a bit less in the wake of masterworks like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.

If that golden period consisted of the lustrum between 1989 and 1994, their more recent renaissance was the hat trick of Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen. 2014’s Big Hero 6 was an enjoyable romp in the moment, but lacked the imaginative spark of its immediate predecessors. It’s still too early to tell whether Zootopia marks the best of a run of “less-thans” or the beginning of a new return to form. Continue reading

REVIEW: No Good Deed

Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing

Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing

Chris Luckett

It can be so hard sometimes to review a movie and not include personal opinions. Objectivity is so critical (pun mostly unintended) to giving a fair review, but every once in a while, there are those movies that elicit such intense disdain, it takes a Herculean effort to keep it from clouding your humble critic’s judgment. Thankfully, fellow audiences members of No Good Deed all very vocally echoed the same conclusion: No Good Deed just plain sucks.

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