Review of “The Accountant”

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a CPA working out of a small strip mall office near Chicago, Illinois. Born autistic with an aversion to bright lights, loud sounds and scratchy fabrics, his father, an Army intelligence officer, decides his son must be trained to deal with what the real world is like. He exposes his autistic son to the things that make him uncomfortable in an effort to build up a kind of psychological callous. He has the boy and his younger brother, who is not autistic, take brutal martial arts training as well as becoming excellent marksmen. After getting in a scrape with the law, Christian does time in federal prison where he meets Francis Silverberg (Jeffrey Tambor) who was the bookkeeper for a major crime family. Francis takes a liking to Christian and, realizing his unique mental challenges and gifts, teaches him about how to launder dirty money. Christian becomes the forensic bookkeeper for drug cartels, crime syndicates and terrorist groups, able to track down where any missing money has gone. Frequently seen in surveillance photographs but in ways that makes him difficult to identify, Christian comes to the attention of the head of the Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division Ray King (J.K. Simmons). He is quickly approaching retirement and wants to identify the underworld’s accountant. He puts analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) on the job threatening to expose she lied on her federal application about juvenile felony convictions to give her incentive to work quickly. Meanwhile, Christian is asked to check out the books at Living Robotics, a high-tech company that specializes in prosthetics for amputees, consumer electronics and military items. It is owned by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) and his sister Rita (Jean Smart). Staff accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) has found an irregularity in the books but can’t quite figure out what is wrong. Christian is brought in and, after spending all night going through 15 years of accounts, deposits and invoices, discovers $61-million is missing. That night, the Chief Financial Officer of Living Robotics, Ed Chilton (Andy Umberger), is visited at his home by a mysterious man (Jon Bernthal) who tells Ed to overdose on the insulin he takes for his diabetes or his wife will be violated and murdered in front of him. The next day, Christian arrives at Living Robotics, is told that Chilton is dead and finds all the files he was working on have been taken away. Despite his pleas to finish his job Lamar Blackburn pays him and tells him it is over. To relax, Christian goes target shooting at the farm of one of his regular clients. Several men break in and order the couple to call Christian into the house with the intent of killing him. Christian turns to the tables and takes out all the attackers and questions the last one living about who sent him. The man shows Christian a photo of Dana and says he was ordered to kill them both. Christian heads to pick up Dana and the pair go on the run from whoever is trying to clean up hornet’s nest they discovered at Living Robotics.

“The Accountant” is a version of the superhero myth where the antagonist is born with the power of easily comprehending incredibly difficult math. It doesn’t sound like much of a super power but in the hands of Affleck’s Christian Wolff it becomes the force that leads to a great number of deaths. Adding to his abilities, the character has been studying self-defense since he was young so he is proficient at both martial arts and marksmanship. Both are skills that the autism others see as a defect actually turns out to be a benefit as it gives him a singular focus and a drive to complete a task successfully. There is no “quit” in Christian Wolff as his brain will not allow it. The movie has no quit in it either but sadly the story has been shortchanged by a desire to make it cute and creating some shortcuts that turns the very end of the movie into something rather frustrating.

Ben Affleck is fantastic as Christian Wolff. He plays the hero as a man that does what he does not for fame or for attention but simply because they must be done. He also has a strong sense of morals and loyalty to those that are his friends. Playing a man with autism, Affleck is almost painfully awkward with interpersonal communication. Usually avoiding eye contact, largely devoid of humor and unable to read subtext, Wolff is constantly deemed rude by those that do not know him. His blunt honesty is the only way he knows how to behave. Subtlety is lost on him and you just have to live with it.

It is a refreshing change from most superheroes (including Affleck’s own take on Batman). Even characters like Tony Stark, portrayed as a man that doesn’t care what anyone thinks, is often forced to change course and do what is socially acceptable. Wolff is a singular creation that lives by a unique set of rules that make sense only to him. His training, started by his father as a child and continued by Wolff into adulthood, is a rigid routine that appears nonsensical to the average person but serves a purpose in desensitizing him to the cacophony of sights, sounds and feelings of the everyday world. I’m not sure how the autistic community feels about the way they are portrayed in the film; but the fact we have a hero with autism in a movie that grossed nearly $25-million in its opening weekend can’t be seen as anything but positive.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why Anna Kendrick is in the movie. I suppose her character is meant to be a humanizing compared to Affleck’s but she just seemed to be there to act as comic relief then to be what needed saving. Her character mostly disappears after the first half of the film aside from a brief scene at the end. Perhaps her character had a bigger role in the story but she was cut out in the final edit. She does manage to hold her own when some bad guys bust into her apartment in what must be the dreariest building in Chicago; but her talent largely is wasted in an underwritten and underused part.

As for the ending, I won’t give anything away but there are two bits of information that come out in the last 10 minutes of the film that really bring the movie down a notch. Perhaps one is meant to again humanize the somewhat robotic Christian while the other is supposed to be uplifting and force us to question our assumptions about people with disabilities. Both feel like cheap shortcuts taken to keep from having to figure out more rational explanations and avoid paying for more actors. Both also made me put my head in my hands and ask “why?” Maybe this is too strong a reaction to something that happens in a Hollywood action/thriller but it made what I’d watched and enjoyed before these two reveals seem somehow cheapened.

“The Accountant” is rated R for strong violence and language throughout. There are a number of bloody shootings as well as showing numerous dead bodies. Many of the shooting are head shots that cause a great deal of splatter on the walls. There are a couple of brutal hand-to-hand fights as well. Foul language is scattered.

In a nutshell, I liked “The Accountant” but thought it could have been much better with a little bit more work on the story. This film is clearly an effort to launch a franchise following Christian Wolff, or whatever he decides to call himself next, around the country (or world) as he gets caught up in the middle of various plots and schemes and uses his particular set of skills to right the wrongs of others. He’s not a bad character on which to base a franchise and I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more stories about the autistic bookkeeper. I just hope whoever writes the next one manages to be a bit more creative and realistic at the same time in finishing up the story.

“The Accountant” gets four (almost five) guitars.

Four new films hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Boo! A Madea Halloween—

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back—

Keeping Up with the Joneses—

Ouija: Origin of Evil—

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Reviews of “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates”

The Secret Life of Pets

A terrier named Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) has an idyllic life with his owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) in her apartment in New York City. Everything is perfect until a big, brown, shaggy dog named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) is rescued by Katie. Max and Duke don’t get along well and Katie leaves for work Max wrecks the apartment thinking Katie will blame Duke. The dog walker takes Max, Duke, a pug named Mel (voiced by Bobby Moynihan), a dachshund named Buddy (voiced by Hannibal Buress) and more pets from the building to the park where Duke grabs Max’s leash and drags him deep into the city. In an alley, the two are confronted by a gang of feral cats led by Ozone (voiced by Steve Coogan) and have their collars and ID tags taken from them. Max and Duke manage to escape the cats but are picked up by animal control officers. Duke tells Max if he goes back to the pound, where Katie adopted him, he will be put down. On the ride to the pound a bunny rabbit named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart) is spotted by the officers and they stop to pick him up. They don’t realize it’s a trap as the human-hating Snowball leads a pack of discarded animals of all kinds he calls the Flushed Pets. Snowball, a tattooed pig named Tattoo (voiced by Michael Beattie) and a chameleon attack the driver and cause the animal control truck to crash. Snowball frees a muzzled bulldog that’s part of his gang but plans on leaving Max and Duke behind. Max convinces Snowball they hate humans as much as he does even claiming they killed their owners. Snowball frees the two dogs and takes them into the sewers where all the other Flushed Pets live with Snowball as their leader. Meanwhile, a fluffy Pomeranian named Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate) that lives across the street from Max and Duke and harbors a secret love for the terrier notices she hasn’t seen the object of her affection for a while and is worried something might have happened to him. She heads to the roof and enlists the aid of a caged hawk named Tiberius (voiced by Albert Brooks). Initially intending to eat Gidget, Tiberius is talked into helping her look for Max. Eventually, she gets Buddy and Mel to join them along with a cat named Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), Norman the guinea pig (voiced by Chris Renaud) and a parakeet named Sweet Pea (chirps and whistles by Tara Strong) and the adventure begins to bring Max and Duke home.

If you dread taking your children to see “The Secret Life of Pets” because it’s yet another kids movie, don’t worry. The movie knows the only way the target audience sees the film is if a parent provides the ride and the admission fee. The filmmakers have put more than enough humor and action into this animated tale of enemies going on an adventure and becoming friends in adversity to keep the both parents and the children entertained. You’ve seen this story before (perhaps even done better) but the performances from a large cast of talented voice actors and a peppy plot make it worth watching again.

Louis C.K. is not known for his family friendly fare but here he seems to be the perfect choice to voice Max. Sounding at times both like a seasoned New Yorker and a big-eyed explorer seeing the sights for the first time, Louis C.K. brings both a maturity and a sense of wonder to his role. Max is a less than perfect hero in the story, sometimes behaving like a bully toward his new roommate Duke then acting as a big brother or mentor. As seen in his FX show and his standup specials, Louis C.K. is also a person with similar traits and flaws. It seems to the script writers tailored Max to the kind of person the actor is and it works to strengthen the character.

The squeaky voice of Jenny Slate is perfect for the fluff ball of Gidget the Pomeranian. Gidget is both childlike and on the edge of kicking ass depending on what the situation calls for. The stress of looking for Max, her secret love, brings out the wolf in the lap dog and she proves to be much more of an alpha than any of the other dogs in her pack of friends. It is a performance that bursts from the screen in surprising ways.

The true star of the show, though in a smaller, supporting role, is Kevin Hart as the militant bunny Snowball. Hart’s character, machine gun riffs and ridiculous asides almost require Illumination Entertainment to create a spinoff film to explain how Snowball became the leader of the Flushed Pets. It is a story that would likely be filled with more of the character’s easily excitable personality. It could even be turned into some kind of “Escape from Alcatraz” type of story with the Humane Society shelter led by an evil human selling the strays for animal research and Snowball gaining the trust and loyalty of the other animals and staging a massive break out. Transforming Hart’s Snowball from a meek and timid bunny into the fearless leader of the Flushed Pets could be a very funny and exciting story. His character in “The Secret Life of Pets” makes a strong impression every time he’s on screen and I personally would like to see more of him.

The look of the film is amazing with some thrilling camera work that introduces the film. The audience is flown over and through the digitally reimagined New York as we swoop through the skyscrapers and the trees of Central Park. It’s equally impressive when we go underground into the lair of the Flushed Pets. The dank, decrepit surroundings practically make you feel damp and musty. The various settings are designed to add to the mood the story is trying to convey and it works well.

If the movie has a weakness it is the story. It isn’t terribly well fleshed out. The comradery between Max and Duke feels like it develops too quickly and isn’t earned. Perhaps this is a reflection of how animals don’t hold grudges and are quickly forgiving of mistakes and slights; but I believe it is more of a desire by the filmmakers to work in more action and keep the film at a tight 90 minutes. There is little wasted time in “The Secret Life of Pets” but making the story more complete wouldn’t be considered a waste of time.

“The Secret Life of Pets” is rated PG for action and some rude humor. There are chases, a couple of car wrecks, some fights between the animals and the animal control officers and a couple of near drownings. If your child becomes easily upset at such things be forewarned. The rude humor is very mild and consists of a few comments most children won’t understand, the sight of a Chihuahua urinating from excitement at seeing its owner come home and when Snowball drops a few pellets. There is no foul language.

“The Secret Life of Pets” has been compared to “Toy Story” for its story of enemies becoming friends and working to be reunited with the one they love. It is an apt comparison but to be honest, “Toy Story” did the whole separated and reunited thing a great deal better. That’s not to say “The Secret Life of Pets” is not worth watching as the strong group of characters, great voice acting and a great deal of humor and action make the movie fun and entertaining in its own way. Just don’t expect to roll a tear or two at the end.

“The Secret Life of Pets” gets five stars.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Mike and Dave Stangle (Adam DeVine and Zac Efron) are always the life of the party. They are often the death of it as well. Their antics and over-the-top flirting have turned many of their family gatherings into disasters with actual property damage. Their father Burt (Stephen Root) insists on the boys finding dates for their sister’s wedding in Hawaii to avoid turning that into another catastrophe. Being young men in the Internet age, they put an ad on Craigslist and it quickly goes viral with the boys appearing on the Wendy Williams Show. Tatiana and Alice (Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick), a couple of recently fired cocktail waitresses and party girls, see the Stangle’s on the show and they plot to meet them. Pretending to be hit by a car as the Stangle’s leave a bar, Tatiana is tended to by Mike who applies one puff of artificial respiration and “revives” her. After the excitement of the accident, the boys get to know the girls better. Tatiana claims to be a school teacher while Alice says she’s a hedge fund manager. Both Mike and Dave believe everything they say and quickly invite them to the wedding where the girls quickly show they are not the mild and refined young women they claimed to be.

There’s a fair amount more to the story of “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” that occurs after the meet cute of the first 10 minutes. It becomes a tale of immaturity, fear of commitment, jealousy, wedding jitters and more. While none of it is terribly deep or meaningful, the movie does manage to wring a deal of humor out of a light and airy premise. It helps to have two charismatic leading men and two sexy and funny leading women plus a cast of talented actors with comedic chops in supporting roles.

Adam DeVine and Zac Efron are perfectly cast as the out of control brothers. Each has a comic energy that is fed by the other making for a duo that is unstoppable. Efron and DeVine should probably plan on working in films together for at least the next decade. Whether they are cast as the closest of friends or the most bitter of enemies, these two seem to be more than able to generate laughs in any situation. While DeVine is clearly the more manic of the two, Efron can more than hold his own.

Pairing them with Plaza and Kendrick merely amplifies the funny as their characters share similarly outsized personalities. While both are party girls, Tatiana is wilder and kind of the brains of the operation. Alice is more childlike and innocent…or at least as innocent as a hard-drinking, drug-taking girl can be. Their efforts at deception are pretty much abandoned once they reach Hawaii and the girls live it up on Mike and Dave’s dime. Plaza and Kendrick make an equally powerful comedic duo and much of the humor in the film is derived from them and their interactions with each other, the brothers and the soon to be married Jeanie Stangle, played to perfection by Stephanie Beard.

The supporting cast turns the time in Hawaii into a truly hilarious experience. There are too many funny bits to recount here; however, I probably laughed the most during a scene where Jeanie is given a “special” massage by a massage therapist named Keanu played by Kumail Nanjiani. Slipped some extra money by Alice, Keanu provides perhaps the funniest massage in cinema history. It also proves to be kind of a turning point in the film and sets in motion a great many plot points that all come to a head later.

The movie is filled with very funny bits of business that are brief but still cause a laugh. These often build on one another until the film delivers a big laugh to end the scene. It is probably a formula that all comedies employ but “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” do a better job than most.

Like “The Secret Life of Pets,” “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” comes up a bit short in the story department and for oddly similar reasons. Much of the redemption found by characters late in the film doesn’t feel earned or legitimate. I don’t want to give away the ending but it won’t surprise anyone that everything works out. This is the kind of film that doesn’t want to challenge your notions of the “Happy Ending” and makes sure all slights are forgiven and all relationships are solid by the time the credits roll. It could have left a few things up in the air or a couple still broken up by the end but I suppose they didn’t want to break any of the romantic comedy rules this film lives by. Fortunately, the laughs more than make up for the predictable story.

“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is rated R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some graphic nudity. There are discussions of various sex acts in parts of the film. The crude names of porno movies are also said out loud during one scene. We see the ladies smoke pot a couple of times as well as a scene where Ecstasy is taken with somewhat disastrous results. We see a nude man in profile for a lengthy period of time. We see a naked breast during a fight scene and full frontal nudity of one of the female characters. Foul language is common throughout the film.

While “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” breaks no new storytelling ground it does provide a huge number of laughs. That seems to be especially well timed considering everything that is getting the most attention in the news. While the movie has not exactly been a darling with the critics it did provide me with a great deal of entertainment practically from the time it started to deep into the credits where some outtakes were shown. It may not be art but it is funny and sometimes that’s enough.

“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” gets five stars.

This week your choices include some ladies who ain’t afraid of no ghosts and a fearless undercover drug agent. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:


The Infiltrator—

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Review of “Into the Woods”

The fairytale characters of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), her handsome Prince (Chris Pine), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), his mother (Tracey Ullman), their cow and a beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp), Rapunzel (MacKensie Mauzy) and her Prince (Billy Magnussen) are all connected to the childless couple of the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) and the witch (Meryl Streep). Each is looking for their “happily ever after” but does that end the story?

Based on the Broadway play of the same name, “Into the Woods” is a star studded film made with the cooperation of writer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. His witty use of language is on full display in the songs that fill the movie, informing the audience far better than standard dialog could. While the movie musical is a fairly rare event, “Into the Woods” is a worthy addition to the list.

Meryl Streep is perhaps the main reason to see “Into the Woods” in a theater instead of waiting for it to arrive On Demand. Her performance is big, wild and thoroughly entertaining. The film really comes to life when she pops on the screen. Her wild hair tinged with blue and grey is similar to the whirlwind in which she disappears. While comical, the witch is the heavy of the story, setting it in motion years before when she put a curse on the Baker’s father. Now, she gives the Baker and his wife an opportunity to lift the curse and allow them to become parents by gathering items from each of the fairytale characters mentioned above. Her plan is devious because it will also restore her youthful beauty once the curse is lifted. Her urgency as the time ticks down for the Baker and his wife to find all the items belies this fact. Streep, who showed off her singing ability in “Mamma Mia,” easily handles the big, theatrical musical numbers. Her talents truly seem to know no bounds as she also wrings her part for all the emotional strength it has as she deals with Rapunzel who believes the witch is her mother. If it was up to me, Streep would be nominated for yet another Oscar.

James Corden and Emily Blunt are both terrific as the Baker and his wife. The little spats they have as they run into problems gathering all the items sound almost real as each gets on the other’s nerves. Corden and Blunt have a very comfortable chemistry together, like they’ve been in each other’s lives a long time. They are also able to convey to the audience that these two people really love each other. It’s a sweet relationship that takes a bit of a dark turn late in the film. This change in tone was unexpected (as I was unfamiliar with the source material) and really caused me to sit up and pay attention. I don’t want to give away too much but it sets one of them back on their heels and causes that character to question how they will continue in his/her life. It’s a turn that kept the story interesting for me at a point when it could have started to become dull and predictable.

If the film has any issues it’s with the Rapunzel section of the story. It doesn’t feel fully realized like in adapting the musical for the screen part of the story was left out that would have made it make more sense. According to the movie’s Wiki page, there was a major plot point that was changed because studio executives didn’t think it would go over well with audiences. Perhaps this revision was so vast it lessened the impact and value of her story. I’d have to see the stage version to know for sure but her story feels unfinished.

This is a minor quibble when looking at the film as a whole. All the cast from the primary leads right down to the actress who plays a giant that we barely see is excellent in their roles. Anna Kendrick plays the conflicted Cinderella who isn’t sure a life in the castle with the terminally confident Prince, played by Chris Pine, is what she really wants. While all the characters she encounters question why she doubts her life with the Prince would be amazing, she is steadfast in her reservations. Chris Pine’s performance as the supremely self-assured Prince reminded me at times of a certain actor as he strutted and preened on screen. I couldn’t help but think Pine reminded me of William Shatner, the first actor to play James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise on Star Trek. Pine has taken over the role in the rebooted film franchise and the two couldn’t be more different in look and style; however, Pine seems to be mimicking, consciously or subconsciously, the speech patterns and acting style of Shatner. While this took me out of the story for a few seconds, I just accepted it as his interpretation of the Prince. Little Red Riding Hood is a precocious child played by Lilla Crawford who is both confident and inexperienced which puts her in danger when she encounters Johnny Depp’s Wolf. The dynamic between Red and the Wolf strays uncomfortably close to a creepy pedophilia vibe. Again, according to the movie’s Wiki page, that aspect of the characters interaction was actually toned down from the staged version. I can’t imagine it getting much creepier and still being something an audience would accept. Perhaps the distance between the audience watching the stage play and the intimacy of a camera up close to those same characters in a movie lessens how uncomfortable those viewing the scene would feel. While I understood the Wolf was referring to consuming Red and her grandmother, it still made my skin crawl a little. Despite this, Depp is entertaining as the Wolf as he both sweet-talks and threatens Red. Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch and Tammy Blanchard all make the most of their limited screen time and make the supporting characters as entertaining as any other.

“Into the Woods” is rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material and fantasy action and peril. The concept of a childless couple, the abandonment of a father, the stealing of a child and the death of parents might confuse or upset the very youngest viewers. The suggestive material is just a couple kissing in the woods. The fantasy action and peril is very mild. Even the deaths of characters are handled off screen.

While many find the movie musical to be somewhat off-putting, “Into the Woods” actually benefits from having the characters burst into song at the drop of a hat. The fantastical setting, characters and situations are best handled and explained in a song. The talented cast and often witty wordplay of the lyrics makes this an experience even anti-musical people should enjoy unless they’ve had a curse placed on their heart by an evil witch.

“Into the Woods” gets five stars.

I also watched the troublemaking satire “The Interview” starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. While I understand the North Koreans are a prickly bunch, I can’t see why they would put up a stink over such a silly film. While Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg have stuffed the movie with a huge number of jokes and humorous situations, the film is eventually overcome by its own lightness. The concept is pretty ridiculous as well with the CIA giving the job of killing Kim Jung-un to a talk show host and his producer. Exhibiting their incompetence from the outset, there’s no way the plan would have continued past the preliminary stages. Of course, one must ignore common sense when dealing with a film like “The Interview.” It doesn’t waste any time or energy on logical thinking in either the story or the acting.

“The Interview” gets two and a half stars out of five.

January usually is a dumping ground for movies the studio has no faith in being either a commercial or critical success. That makes the first month of the year a perfect time to catch up with the movies that are making awards season waves. Several have just opened in Knoxville, TN and I’ll see about reviewing as many as I can before the trophies are handed out.

Big Eyes—



The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death—

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