The Card Counter

Written by Taylor Baker

70/100


Everyone’s favorite loud mouthed film critic uncle turned director is back with a brash Atlantic City government intrigue gambling film. Schrader once again leans on a heavily burdened middle aged man to communicate a story of penance if not atonement. Oscar Isaac plays that central figure who goes by the name William Tell, which as we come to find out is actually a pseudonym. His real name William Tillich isn’t one he wants to parade about. He’s been tried and convicted in connection with the atrocities of Abu Ghraib. So it’s easy to see why he’d want to avoid any extra attention, as it would doubtlessly not lead to a positive interaction.

Rounding out the players of The Card Counter are Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and frequent Schrader collaborator Willem Dafoe. Dafoe here is the only supporting player without a weak moment. Which is a shame as he’s only very briefly in the film. Haddish and Sheridan each have moments, but there’s something off balance and out of key when all three (Isaac, Haddish, and Sheridan) end up in a scene together. It’s not simply that the performances are bad, but the tonalities of the characters themselves clash in an almost indescribable way. Undercutting the moment and leaving one focused on the actual acting that each is doing in the moment. Which not only dissipates the narrative value but the film itself.

The Card Counter tells the story of Bill Tell after getting out of Leavenworth Penitentiary. He becomes, you guessed it, a card counter. Surfing the highways, byways, and interstates of America from Casino to Racino collecting modest sums for his efforts along the way. Until one fateful day when he encounters Cirk, played by Tye Sheridan while they’re both watching a presentation by Major Gordo, played by Dafoe. Cirk writes down his phone number as Tell is leaving and asks him to call him. Over the next dozen or so minutes we learn that Cirk’s dad was in Abu Ghraib alongside Tell and that he’d beaten the boy and his mother until one day she left without a word. Shortly after that Cirk’s father shot himself. Leaving Cirk alone, and pondering revenge. Haddish’s La Linda offers Tell with a way to earn a significant sum of money that he could use to set Cirk back on the right path. Paying off his and his mother’s debts with a nest-egg for him to go back and complete his education. Away from vengeance and back toward a future.

Isaac returns to the heights of his abilities as a performer. If you’re familiar with my thoughts on Oscar Isaac, you may know I thought he was one of the best and brightest up and coming performers up through 2015’s Show Me A Hero and Mojave. Then he was waylaid by vapid blockbuster fair like 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He had a handful of good performances between that stretch and now, in At Eternity’s Gate(alongside Willem Dafoe) and Suburbicon. But by and large the Julliard graduate that took us by storm with Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina seemed to have evaporated. Exchanging complex character performances for larger than life caricatures in movies that sell well but have the nutritional quality of a McDonald’s hamburger. Perhaps like me you’ve been along for the ride since 2006, with Pu-239. Which makes this return to form so thrilling. Isaac’s Bill Tell goes from cheery scallywag to torturer in seconds. He rivets us with his physicality, using posture to enormous effect whenever he’s sitting down, and always seeming withdrawn despite his shoulders lacking so much as a hint of a hunch. Dialogue is spat out like venom or professed breathily like a loosened secret evaporating from his lips. In the scheme of things it’s hard to say if this is a return to form for Isaac or just evidence that with the right project and director he can still act at the very top of the craft.

Schrader is running and gunning, the camera peels back, forward, and along–in hallways, Casino floors, and hotel rooms. There’s a particularly stupefyingly gorgeous scene in which Haddish and Isaac go for a walk in a park adorned and bedecked in lights. But even in the heights of a scene so magnetic and engaging as this aerial light sequence the edges of the project are peeling up in the corners and we can see the tape trying to hold it together. Just before the aforementioned aerial sequence begins Isaac and Haddish are talking, which is moderately okay, as the sound quality of the muxing is rough. But then they turn and face each other as they’re talking and we can see the lines of dialogue they’re delivering don’t line up with the lips moving on screen. This is just one egregious example in a sequence that should have been resplendent of many. The ADR(Automated Dialogue Replacement) throughout the film is often off, which is a real shame because Schrader brought his cards to the table and to see him undercut by a post production snafu that pops up frequently seems unfair. The Card Counter is a sturdy if mishandled hot-blooded drama. But most importantly, it’s a sure sign that Schrader isn’t close to done.

The Card Counter Trailer

The Card Counter is currently in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Nobody

Written by Alexander Reams

80/100

Nobody is the second directorial effort from Ilya Naishuller after his 2015 film Hardcore Henry. The film follows a “nobody” by the name of Hutch Mansell, portrayed by Bob Odenkrik. The film has drawn many comparisons to the John Wick franchise, with good reason. The story is very similar, a man with a simple life being pulled back into the world he left behind. Both films have great action sequences, an older mentor who reveals a side of them that is not seen often, Willem Dafoe in John Wick and Christopher Lloyd in Nobody. As well as a Russian villain who you always want to see more of. 

Bob Odenkirk is most known for his work in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Neither of which are action roles. Despite this, he shows off his versatility as an actor by committing fully to the role and clearly see him doing a lot of the stunts throughout the film. A particular scene in a bus is probably the best composed scene of the film in terms of editing, sound, stunt coordinator, and cinematography all working together perfectly in a scene that rivals the best hand-to-hand combat scene in the John Wick franchise, specifically Chapter 3: Parabellum.

Who knew the world needed Christopher Lloyd with a smattering of shotguns wrapped around him, I didn’t, but I am very glad that now exists. Lloyd and RZA provide some much needed levity to a film that without it, could be very droll and null you to sleep unless there are loud noises happening on screen. My issues with the film are few but still should be addressed. This film is inevitably going to be compared to John Wick, and that unfortunately works against the film in the long run. Nobody is basically a carbon copy of John Wick which means the only new ground that can be trekked upon is how the filmmaker approaches making the film. Thankfully, despite this issue, Naishuller approaches this with a more frenetic, caffeine fueled madness that the former film did not. Despite being a carbon copy, Nobody is a really fun time and I look forward to the future of this universe.

Nobody Trailer

Nobody is currently available on most major VOD platforms.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Written by Alexander Reams

100/100

I’ve always been a fan of DC, their comics, TV shows, and film. Yes, even the highly controversial DCEU. Three, almost four years ago when Justice League was released most, including myself, were let down by the half baked film. Now after much campaigning from the fans we have Zack Snyder’s original, uncut version, much to the glee from fans and filmmakers alike. Especially after the numerous reports coming from the 2017 Justice League set in which Joss Whedon at best behaved poorly. This in conjunction with reports of Warner Bros. tampering with other DCEU films, Suicide Squad being a major example led many to speculate just how much more grandiose and joyful Snyder’s version might be.

    Martin Scorsese criticized superhero films broadly claiming they were like “theme parks” and not “cinema”. Zack Snyder’s Justice League seems to be the closest example of what a superhero film might look like after the advent of the Avengers that Scorsese may like. There is a clear vision and style to the film. Shot differently than most contemporary superhero films and brimming with a fantastic cast who work well together. Ray Fisher has long been a big campaigner for the Snyder Cut to be released. After watching this rendition of the film you can clearly see why, as he’s it’s heartbeat.

    There’s been talk about the runtime, 242 minutes is a long film, and the longest superhero film of all time, beating Snyder’s previous record with Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut. The runtime feels completely earned, at this point in the DCEU we had not been introduced to Aquaman, Flash, or Cyborg. So this is a continuation of Wonder Woman’s story as well as a sequel to Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and an introduction to those respective characters. Something that’s easy to forget now, on the other side of those films release.

    By the end of the film, I was in tears, there are some of the best fan service moments I’ve seen. I don’t want to delve into spoilers but the last 80 minutes of the film are some of Snyder’s best filmmaking in his career. I hope to see the Snyderverse restored, expanded on, and continued in the future. This is better than any film the MCU has put out yet. I loved this film so much and I can’t say that enough. To me this film is perfection. 

#restorethesnyderverse

Zack Snyder’s Justice League Trailer

You can watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Episode 92: Sportin’ Life / The Dark and the Wicked / Network

“I don’t know how to choose work that illuminates what my life is about. I don’t know what my life is about and don’t examine it. My life will define itself as I live it. The movies will define themselves as I make them. As long as the theme is something I care about at the moment, it’s enough for me to start work. Maybe work itself is what my life is about.”

Sidney Lumet

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Let Them All Talk & Pieces of a Woman. Followed by the Titles: Sportin’ Life, The Dark and the Wicked, and Network.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

You can watch Sportin’ Life here.

Network is available on Hoopla

The Dark and the Wicked is currently available to rent or purchase

You can read Michael’s review of The Dark and the Wicked here.

You can read Taylor’s review of Pieces of a Woman here.

Episode 84: VIFF Kickoff / The Devil All the Time / Sibyl / Siberia

“Life is what happens when you’re doing other things, right?”

Abel Ferrara

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: The Trial of the Chicago 7 & Shithouse. Followed by The Devil All the Time, Sibyl, and the VIFF 2020 Official Selection Siberia.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

The Devil All the Time on Netflix

Siberia is currently seeking distribution

Sybil is currently available to rent from multiple sources.