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Movie Review: ‘Live by Night’ is a Ben Affleck Snoozer

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Live by Night Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Ben Affleck’s newest flick is less than impressive. Read our movie review of Live by Night to find out why the movie flopped:

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]en Affleck looks good in a suit and fedora, but he seems rather stiff in the role of 1920s gangster Joe Coughlin in Live by Night. His expression is constantly mute, but not with some cold-hearted approach to violence. He has a casual nature to his business of prohibition-era booze hustling with threats of violence, but seems to have some sort of soft spot for women and minorities.

Live by Night Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Ben Affleck looks bored by himself in ‘Live by Night.’

For being such a big player in illegal operations, he’s an incredibly boring character in how Affleck seems so devoid of relatable emotion that I started wondering if he was a robot. Was he afraid of losing that accent? Were the suits too tight? Did he not get enough sleep as he wrote and directed this crime picture? Somebody please wake Affleck up!

Joe has enough interesting events that happen over the course of his life, but most of them are told in the dreariest of tones for a movie with robbery, bootlegging, gunplay, car chases and explosions. He becomes involved with the mafia business when he has an affair with Emma (Sienna Miller), the mistress of the leader of the Irish mob. He’s soon found out by his mob boss, beaten to a pulp and hauled in by the cops.

After having learned that he’s recently lost his father and Emma, Joe believes he has nothing to lose and dives face first into the world of crime. He said he never wanted to become a gangster, but he did anyway. Whatever, he doesn’t question this much anyway as he does with all his actions.

Affleck seems to have confused nothingness with profoundness in how dreary, aimless and forced his character is portrayed. There doesn’t appear to be much a drive for Joe to pursue this line of work in Tampa, but we watch him go through the motions anyway. He builds up the speak-easies and starts making money for the mob, thanks to the easy cooperation of Sheriff Figgis (Chris Cooper). He allies with the Cubans and falls in love with one of them (Zoe Saldana). His old buddy Dion (Chris Messina) acts as his comic relief partner in crime, stealing all the best lines. The Klu Klux Klan attempt to hone in on his turf, but are not too tough to deal with.

Live by Night Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

A few sparks maybe?

Things get messy and people die, but so what? There’s a casual and dead nature to all of this in which Joe seems to breezily roll with the punches. But shouldn’t he display some more expression when he falls in love, grows weak for Figgs’ daughter of a drug abuser turned Christian (Elle Fanning) or delivers a sloppy statement about civil rights? I only saw two moments when Affleck didn’t go soft on the role: When he witnesses a woman he loves being gunned down and when he is violently kicked in the genitals.

Live by Night is a movie that doesn’t have time to examine anything as it quickly skips ahead to the next plot point. The relationship between Affleck and Saldana doesn’t have much chemistry, jumping quickly from brief glance to business deal to dancing to sex without much emotional progression. The dialogue is watered down to its most basic of exposition and character where it almost appears as though the actors are not feeling up to the task of such a script.

Related: It’s La La Land’s Weekend at Golden Globes, Star Wars at Box Office

Brendon Gleason as Joe’s father appears as though he’s half asleep, slurring his lines and never displaying the bitter anger his character has towards his son. It’s almost as if he’s trying to outshine Affleck in displaying how little an actor cares about the role they’re given. There’s no point in being invested in most of these characters as the majority of them suffer brutal deaths, die off-screen or are just forgotten about.

Read more to get the rest of the movie review for Live by Night and watch the trailer:

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“Crazy Rich Asians” is a Crazy Good Time

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For those seeking a romantic comedy that’s a classic romp of colorful characters and a compelling story, Crazy Rich Asians should have big neon signs directing towards its spectacle. There’s an irresistible bounciness, a sugary-sweet charm, and a story with real meat past simple cultural antics of meeting the parents. So many beautiful notes are played with a breezy melody and meaningful awareness that it’s one of the most joyous experiences I’ve had at the theater this summer. I can’t remember the last time I said that about a romantic comedy.

Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, this is a classic love story given one of the most dazzling of displays and meatiest of stories. American-raised Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is excited to follow her boyfriend, the United Kingdom-raised Nick Young (Henry Golding), from their place in New York City to his family’s home to Singapore for a family wedding. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family is the wealthiest in all of Asia, priding themselves on their lineage. They’re so concerned for Nick that before the couple is even on the plane, word has spread throughout the family about Rachel’s arrival. She’s not prepared for how decadent and discriminatory a time she’s in for in the dream-like land of wealthy Singapore.

Though Nick’s family is tough to please past some artificial smiles for the not-so-rich girl dating their family’s company heir, Rachel undoubtedly gets a kick out of Singapore. The city looks stunningly vibrant with its towering structures, delicious food district, and a nightlife that brings out every color of the rainbow. But it’s even more eye-popping when visiting Nick’s lavish and spacious family home, with its many staircases, treasures, and a gorgeous garden fit for the largest of parties. She has remarkable restraint for not gushing over all of this.

But Rachel’s accompanying college friend Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina) isn’t above going gaga over the glamour. Every scene she occupies she eats for breakfast with her Southern accent and over-the-top fashion sense that makes her explode with sass and smiles. Her wealthy father (Ken Jeong) refers to her as Asian Ellen for her haircut, but I see her as more of a young and Asian Joan Rivers. She has the unstoppable energy to her commentary and reactions that she walks away with any scene she fills, quickly packing up the attention and shoving it in her designer handbag.

While most of Nick’s kin is a bunch of partiers and dedicated pairs, it is his mother (Michelle Yeoh) that is the most judging. The only thing she values more than family tradition is rich blood. She finds Rachel’s American values offensive to her regal Young line, soiling Nick’s mind with passions that value individuality more than family. If her judging expressions weren’t enough to send shivers down Rachel’s spine with disapproval, she’ll occasionally drop the niceness and whisper the harshest of words. And it’s up to the charming Nick to make the tough call if a family is more important than love, the choice being distinct but not easy.

In between the more profound questioning of coming to terms with one’s past and people, the comedy is top-notch amid the sordid family history drama. Any scene where Nick and Rachel share the screen is a genuine treat, where they effortlessly cuddle and comfort with ease to crack the right joke at the right time. Ken Jeong never fails to deliver some laughs, providing the memorably hilarious line to his wealthy children about eating their chicken nuggets: “There are starving kids in America.” Some characters are just entertaining to watch without hearing their dialogue, as with Nick’s cousin, a director from Hong Kong who works with his high-haired actress wife, never missing an opportunity to ravish each other. I’ve already said how much I adored Awkwafina’s humor, but it needs to be stated again because she’s the most unforgettable comedy goldmine of the picture.

Despite a bookend-ish and somewhat lesser subplot of another marriage that takes a somber turn, there’s so much emotion, laughs, and amazing design to make Crazy Rich Asians an easy recommendation for just about anyone, Asian or not. In addition to being a sweet romance with a divine dressing of sublime cinematography, it also stands firm as a film about shaping cultural values, making it far more than a universal romance with an Asian coating. This type of filmmaking not only elevates the representation of Asians in more significant theatrical films but raises the bar for romantic comedies in general. With such a perfect blend of cultural importance and bouncy romantic glee, this is a movie that can have its wedding cake and eat it too.


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The Meg Munches For Box Office For Debut

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The final month of summer seems to be the time for creature feature horror. The Meg, the giant shark movie starring Jason Statham, made a splash to debut at #1 with a box office gross of $44.5 million. Not exactly a big wave for a summer blockbuster with a budget of $130 million, but still a decent premiere as the box office begins to wind down during the end of summer. Expect it to linger around for most of the month.

Still a top contender in the box office and easily one of the biggest success for the second half of the summer is Mission: Impossible – Fallout. As the sixth entry in the saga, starring Tom Cruise as the action-hungry agent Ethan Hunt, the film has pulled in another $20 million in its third weekend for a domestic total of $161.9 million. Also lingering in the top spot is Disney’s Christopher Robin, the live-action adaptation of the Winnie the Pooh stories, now in its second weekend to add $12.4 million to bring up its domestic total to $50 million. With no significant family-friendly movies coming out for the month, you can expect this film to cling to the top 10 for quite some time.

A few new films debuted lower on the list but with what could be considered success. Slender Man, the horror film based on the online legend, made $11 million for its debut, clearing the $10 million budget. BlacKkKlansman, the latest film by Spike Lee that focuses on the investigation of the racist Ku Klux Klan, made $10.7 million for its premiere. While it still has yet to clear its $15 million budget, the positive word of mouth around this film may keep it steady in the box office for August. One premiere that wasn’t so lucky was Dog Days, the new animal-centric comedy starring Vanessa Hudgens, came in at only #12 for a debut of $2.6 million.

Though the rest of the films had expected drops, one milestone was crossed for Ant-Man and the Wasp, despite only being at #10 for the weekend. After six weeks, the film has made $200 million domestic and $448 million worldwide. While this doesn’t make it equal to Marvel’s previous successes his year, it’s still proving to be a solid summer for the unstoppable Marvel superhero franchise.

View the top 10 box office results for the weekend below:

The Meg ($44,500,000)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($20,000,000)
Disney’s Christopher Robin ($12,430,000)
Slender Man ($11,325,000)
BlacKkKlansman ($10,799,000)
The Spy Who Dumped Me ($6,600,000)
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ($5,820,000)
The Equalizer 2 ($5,500,000)
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation ($5,110,000)
Ant-Man and the Wasp ($4,048,000)

Next weekend will be a three-way battle between the new romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, the survival action picture Alpha, and the gritty action/drama Mile 22. Considering Crazy Rich Asians and Mile 22 will both be debuting in over 3,000 theaters, they’ll be the top contenders, although Crazy Rich Asians will get an early start by debuting on Wednesday.


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“The Meg” is Without Bite

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In the swarm of killer shark movies, The Meg does so little to stick out as being more worthy of the theater than the plethora of other B-movies in this subgenre. It’s not stern enough to match the character and terror of Jaws. It’s not silly enough to duplicate the delicious camp value of Deep Blue Sea. And it’s undoubtedly not wild and insane enough to be as goofy a concept as Sharknado. It’s rather sad to admit that a heftier dose of special effects for this usually cheap type of movie amounts to little more than a forgettable B-movie, putting in the minimum effort to be earnest and campy.

An expensive underwater research facility is run by a greedy billionaire (Rainn Wilson) with a research team that includes the tattooed bad-girl (Ruby Rose), the “no way” black engineer (Page Kennedy), and the eager to prove herself Chinese scientist (Li Bingbing) with a child randomly wandering the halls. When the facility discovers an unexplored part of the ocean floor, they’re excited to discover all the new species. One animal they’re not too keen on getting to personally know is the legendary Megalodon, a shark so monstrous in size it can chew through the largest of whales as though they were breadsticks.

The giant shark damages an exploration vessel that leaves the crew stranded below. The only man for such a rescue is former deep-sea rescuer Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham). He was previously disgraced for leaving people behind during life or death situations, but maybe this time he’ll save everyone. Well, perhaps not everyone; the shark has got to eat. And given the PG-13 rating, he won’t be eating much off the human menu, feasting more on the filling meals of giant squids and whales.

While there are no quality kills to be had in this creature feature, the film does its best to be as showy and shlocky as possible, striving to be the most average of B-movie storytelling with a blockbuster budget. There are plenty of great shots of the monster looming over vessels and toppling over ships, including a high-tech chase of mini-seacrafts zooming around reefs as the Megalodon pursues. There are also plenty of brilliantly bad lines delivered with a tongue almost too deep in its cheek; scientists will laugh at the term “insertion,” the billionaire will mutter that he can’t swim, Statham will do his expected trash talking while battling the sea-beast, and a little girl will ask point-blank if her mother bound on a dangerous mission will end up dead. All the actors are trying their best to make this overly expositional monster movie fun, though this tone comes easy for Statham who seems always to have a knowing smirk on his face.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the more bombastic shark movies, but the lack of graphic violence felt like the film was holding back from its grander camp potential. How can you have a shark movie where such an enormous creature attacks one of the most populated beaches on the planet and mostly knocks a few boats and platforms around? I started to spring from my seat when I saw that wide shot of the beach with all those people, hoping the shark would ascend from the waters and swallow a few victims whole. And those hopes were quickly dashed when even the dog is spared from this slaughter, most likely edited back in because people don’t like seeing dogs as appetizers. While there are no humans bloodied or gored too visually, there is plenty of underwater life that become massacred. It’s an interesting study in MPAA logic; a human mother and daughter being torn to bloody shreds by a giant shark is most likely an R rating, but a whale mom and daughter are PG-13 approved when their tails are bitten off as their blood clouds the ocean.

Despite some second-act melodrama that made me ask “where did this subplot come from,” there’s nothing all that memorable to The Meg. The film’s sharper teeth for both horror and comedy are trimmed down to a standard summer blockbuster formula, best suited for those who want a killer shark movie without all the blood and gore, except for some chum and plenty of gored sea creatures. It’s a monster movie so severely mid-tier, garnering laughs by formula and scares that come telegraphed, that it’ll easily be lost in the endless pile of marine life massacre films. Okay, maybe it’ll be remembered as the one with Statham in it; it’s hard to forget such a smile.


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