On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 21, 2017


The problem with Live by Night is that it is both too much and never enough. Ben Affleck, who has proved himself a strong storyteller in his screenwriting and directing skills, certainly has a fine ambition in his latest effort, but it simply never seems to pan out the way he originally imagined it. This is to the point that Live by Night is as big, extravagant, and sexy a gangster drama as one could hope to get made in the studio system today and yet the story is nowhere near as compelling as it should be to make the amount of effort put into the costumes, production design, and other period details matter. The question on my mind as the film came to its one too many endings-none of which are satisfactory, I might add-was, "how did this happen?" How did a filmmaker such as Affleck, with a story he himself adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel (Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River, Shutter Island, The Drop), in this time period, and with a star-studded cast that features stand-out performances from the likes of Chris Messina and Elle Fanning end up sinking as quickly as a dead body attached to a boulder in a river? There is seemingly never a clear answer as to how so many promising parts can come together to form a subpar whole, but with Live by Night the majority of as much seems to fall on the script never knowing exactly what type of story it wants to tell and as a result, the momentum of the pacing never finding its footing well enough to keep viewers invested. There is always more material in a novel than a two hour movie can handle and it seems rather than relay what was more or less the same story the source material was telling through the prism of a single perspective or theme that Affleck instead attempted to cram in as much of Lehane's novel as he could resulting in the film feeling more than overstuffed while still leaving the viewer hungry for more. When talking of adapting a book for the screen director David Fincher said, "The book is many things. You have to choose which aspect you want to make a movie from." It seems Affleck might have learned a thing or two from his Gone Girl director as this lack of a singular viewpoint is exactly what Live by Night is missing; delivering so many characters, ideas, and plot strands it's hard to care about any of them. Video review here. Full review here. C

I won't pretend to know anything about the Assassin's Creed video game series or, for that matter, much about video games in general given the last one I played was probably Crash Bandicoot on the original PlayStation circa 2001. This is to the point that I'm typically indifferent to the idea of video game to film adaptations especially given most tend to be financial failures with the few I've seen being rather forgettable as well. It is with this Assassin's Creed adaptation though that my interest was piqued as not only had it attracted Michael Fassbender to star in another potential franchise, but that it also gave Fassbender cause to recruit his Macbeth director, Justin Kurzel as well as cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, it felt as if there might be a chance to break the mold. Despite the fact Kurzel somewhat shortchanged Shakespeare's story he indisputably made a visually stunning representation of The Bard's play and with Assassin's Creed coming from a medium very much based on the visual storytelling element it seemed as if this was a logical choice and that both Kurzel and Fassbender were very much intent on keeping the same visual style intact. That's what Kurzel does best, that's why Fassbender imagined he would make a good fit. They do, but the fact the visuals the film offers via its flashbacks to Spain in 1492 aren't the highlights of the film speak to how much better this is, but still how much better it could have been. Granted, the sequences in Spain are certainly the most breathtaking in terms of visuals and contain well-paced and seemingly well executed action sequences, but they aren't developed nearly as much character-wise as the other sections of the film. This is all to say there is an interesting premise here. Like I said, going into the film I had no idea what the objective of the game was or even who or what the titular assassins or their creed might be, but as we get to better know Fassbender's Callum Lynch (a character apparently made up specifically for the movie) we come to better terms with this world that three screenwriters have seemingly cobbled together from what I assume are the most interesting parts of the game. Faithful or not though, Assassin's Creed, the film, is an average enough action flick that has a core idea it certainly could have done more with and in more interesting ways, but takes shortcuts around the deeper questions posed by its central premise while hoping to garner enough return so as to potentially explore such questions and ideas in a sequel that will likely never happen. Full review here. C

Miss Sloane comes from first time screenwriter Jonathan Perera and promotes the idea that to get ahead in the vicious game of D.C. lobbying one has to know their subject. Perera obviously knows his subject. How Perera, who was living in Asia at the time he wrote the screenplay and who only optioned his work to literary agents over the internet before securing a production deal knows so much about the inside dealings of those hired to persuade legislators to support particular businesses or causes is a mystery, but he seems to have done a fair amount of research. Either that or what he feeds us in Miss Sloane is a huge pile of eloquently written BS. Like an Aaron Sorkin script (I haven't seen The Newsroom, but I imagine this might feel very similar) where dialogue is almost more important than emotion Miss Sloane fast tracks the audience through a deluge of day to day activities that a lobbyist at the top of their game such as the titular Sloane played with vicious velocity by the one and only Jessica Chastain might engage in. We are given little time to keep up and even less to really gauge what Sloane and her team are working on as the focus is not meant to highlight what kind of case our titular lobbyist and her team are working on, but more how keenly they are framing it to their client's advantage. While the objective for a lobbyist is the end-game it is the getting there, the journey if you will, that requires the creativity of someone in Sloane's position and the more creative one is the better the reputation they garner in their professional circles despite undoubtedly garnering a worse one among friends. Of course, this is why it is also made clear Sloane has no family or friends to speak of or to. It is a vicious circle of sorts and Perera makes that evident by reiterating the importance of how information is framed by framing his own film with that aforementioned end-game. In Miss Sloane the end-game is a hearing on Capitol Hill in Caucus Room 4 of the U.S. Senate. What is she doing here? What has brought her to this point? What accusation is being thrown around and what does it have to do with her abilities and/or the moral ambiguities of her techniques? Each are questions begged as small increments of information are fed the viewer within the epilogue of the film, but once the main narrative takes over it is easy to forget that framing device and simply go along for the ride which is exactly what Perera would prefer you do as he finds trouble in both sticking the ending and making it credible enough that we don't question how well he really does know his subject. Full review here. B+

Illumination filled out their stellar year last year with two original films, first with The Secret Life of Pets, and then around the holidays with Sing which I didn't see, but is about a city of humanoid animals and a hustling theater impresario's attempt to save his theater with a singing competition. This honestly looked pretty terrible to me and though it did score a solid 73% on the Tomatometer and was generally well liked by those I talked to about it I still didn't have much interest in the project outside the fact of being curious just what Illumination is capable of outside of the Despicable Me and Minion movies. Also, given I have a two year-old I'll likely be seeing this sooner rather than later.

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