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Movie Review: Molly’s Game

mollys game posterAaron Sorkin‘s newest film (and his directorial debut) is super Sorkin-y. Fans of his previous work will rejoice and enjoy this film, as well as recognize some of his most favorite tropes.

Jessica Chastain plays the eponymous Molly Bloom in this true story of how a former Olympic level skier ended up running one of the most exclusive poker games, first in Los Angeles and then New York. Her clientele included movie stars, tech gurus, musicians, wealthy financiers, and. . .  the Russian mob. This, of course, brings the FBI down on her, and most of the movie is told in flashback as she and her lawyer (Idris Elba) go through the government’s case against her.

This combination of courtroom drama, sports, and emphasis on quick, quippy dialogue is classic Sorkin. In fact, the opening scene that sets up Molly’s story is perhaps one of the most quintessentially Sorkin-y things possible, almost bordering on self-parody. Other of his favorite tropes that show up? Drugs/addiction, therapy, and honor. He did everything but start quoting Gilbert and Sullivan, although he does make several references to Arthur Miller and James Joyce.

Sorkin is a masterful scriptwriter– a lesser scribe might have gotten bogged down in explaining to us all of the rules of Texas Hold ‘Em poker. But because Molly comes in as a neophyte to poker, we get to go on her journey with her. Instead of getting bogged down in the intricacies and odds of each hand, they speed through the more technical aspects with the help of some clever on-screen tutorials. It’s not quite Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining the math behind credit default swaps in The Big Short, but almost as good. For an example of how not to handle these scenes, you can see Casino Royale where James Bond’s friend Mathis explains every hand of poker to Vesper, deflating the tension of one of the more intense scenes of the film in what is otherwise an almost perfect film.

Chastain and Elba shine with real chemistry, although in some of the longer monologues Elba’s accent come through a little bit. Another standout is Michael Cera, who plays a certain movie star Molly only refers to as “Player X” (one of the key plot points in Molly’s refusal to name the people who played in her game) and has the most interesting character arc in the film. Cera plays one of his fellow actors with a joy and contempt rarely seen, and it makes you wonder what personal interactions Cera may have had with this person in real life to color his portrayal.

Mollys Game book

The actual Molly Bloom and the book Sorkin based his screenplay on.

But what you really get is a slice of just how awful people are in each of these industries. Sorkin skewers the way the rich and powerful all treat people as things, as commodities to buy, as things to be replaced when you tire of them. And as awful as the mobsters in the movie are (actually most of them are nice guys, giving Molly deniability she knew they were in the mafia), it’s the Hollywood and Wall St. guys who are undeniably the worst.

Molly’s Game becomes a sort of populist critique of the 1% voiced by the most hoity of the toity elites, Sorkin himself.  This is neither new nor unexpected territory for him — after all, he gave us President Jed Bartlett on The West Wing as a sort of proto-Obama when Barack was still an unknown state senator and law school professor.

This movie was going along great until its near-climax, when Kevin Costner shows up as Molly’s estranged father to explain the movie. As a trained psychiatrist and college professor, he gives her a “three minute therapy session” to explain her motivations to us in case we weren’t paying attention. The scene is eyeroll and cringe-worthy, immediately derailing this from Oscar-worthy to. . .  “Well, that was really good.” Pro-tip: If you want to take a five minute bathroom break when Molly goes to the ice skating rink, you will enjoy the movie more. It’s seriously that bad.

Despite Costner-interference, this is a sort of “Peak Sorkin” moment. It’s great to see him directing his own films, though one wonders if teaming with a more skilled director would instruct him to tone it down a little (and get rid of the Third Act Deus Ex Therapist). But the rest of the film is amazing.

Fans of Sorkin will enjoy themselves, and other audiences will also likely have a good time. Oscar buzz for this film for Chastain, Elba, and Sorkin himself are warranted. Just beware the Costner.

4 out of 5

One Theory on the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Take

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldMuch is going around about why Scott Pilgrim vs. The World did so poorly this weekend at the box office, coming in fifth place and behind two movies who had been in the theaters already.  The Examiner points the finger at Michael Cera, and claims he’s not a box office draw.  That may be the case, but what we’ve seen lately is that not many people are any more.

I have a different theory on the $10.6 million dollar opening that actually received good reviews from viewers.  Bleeding Cool reported that tracking was down for the movie among female audiences.  With both Eat, Pray, Love and the Expendables tracking better.  But the stats I’d like to see is where the $10.6 million came from?

My theory goes that it’s mostly concentrated in major metropolitan areas, with very little brought in from fly-over Red states.  Lets face it, the audience for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is anime, video game and comic book geeks.  The type of individuals shunned in smaller towns.  On the flip side, the Expendables is the type of movie testosterone driven he-men love throughout the country, especially in smaller towns and suburbs.  It’s an easy pick as to which would do better in a head to head match up.

The Expendables, I’m positive killed in those “red” areas and drew tough guys in metropolitan areas.  Eat, Pray, Love dragged the “date audience.”  That left the core audience too see Pilgrim.

Now, anyone have data to prove if I’m right or wrong?

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Box Office Returns

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldIt wasn’t a good weekend for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.  The film which generated good reviews from those that actually saw the film failed at being a draw at the box office.

Entertainment Weekly (and most other sources) are predicting the film brought in $10.5 million for the weekend, much lower than the studio and those involved had hoped.

That amount would put the film in fifth place behind the other two new films for the week The Expendables and Eat, Pray, Love as well as The Other Guys and Inception.

Review – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldScott Pilgrim vs. the World is based of the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley and published by Oni Press.  Directed by Edgar Wright and staring Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead the movie isn’t a Twilight for boys as some moronic reviewers have suggested, but instead is the first real movie for the Nintendo generation.  Throughout the kinetic action sequences and fight scenes and rapid fire banter are references through sounds and visuals that’ll appeal to Generation X.

When boiled down, Scott Pilgrim’s journey is the Legend of Zelda done in comic book form.  The less than confident hero must go through levels and defeat bosses to save the girl he likes.  Wright knows this and plays off of it perfectly with sounds familiar to 8-bit jockeys including musical cues from Zelda and visual cues from that and more including Super Mario Bros.  This is a movie for video game geeks and comic geeks alike.  A mish-mash love poem to pop culture for the ADD set.

The downside to the movie is actually the two main members of the cast.  Cera is his usual self, the character we’ve seen him play a million times.  At moments there’s great line delivery, but for the most part it’s the same old character.  Winstead also plays Ramona Flowers a bit aloof, and instead of a confident, strong woman, as I though she was in the comic, we instead get a broken, weak female lead.  The rest of the cast is dead on and fit their characters perfectly.

Overall, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the best comic movie adaptation of the year.  But, I’m realistic, and if you don’t appreciate 8-bit music or see 1-ups pop up on screen this movie is definitely not for you.  As always, the source material is better, but this is a pretty damn good adaptation and one that should be seen on the big screen.

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