CGB Review of Live By Night (2017)

I remember one time when my brother commented how he didn’t really care for Ben Affleck.  “He always plays a stoic Boston street-tough in every movie he’s in.”
This whole movie is my brother’s argument personified.

This is my review of Live By Night!

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Okay, so like Nocturnal Animals, this movie is a tad hard to summarize.  Here goes nothing!
Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a World War I veteran who has vowed to never live by anyone else’s rules other than his own–he’s basically Tommy Pickles if he grew up and became a gangster.  We first meet Joe when he’s in a–how to put this delicately?–romantic entanglement with Emma Gould (an unrecognizable Sienna Miller), who is the mistress of Irish mafia gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister).  When things go horribly wrong for Joe and Emma, i.e. Albert finds out they’re lovers by night because the plot demands it, Joe turns to Italian mafia gangster leader Maso Pescatore (okay, this character [Joe] is a crime boss magnet, isn’t he?) and ends up running a rum empire in Ybor City in Tampa, Florida, where he meets Graciella Corrales (Zoe Saldana), the sister of a Cuban businessman and falls for her.

Yeah…if this all sounds like an Edgar Award-winning novel from 2012 that is a 401 pages long, that’s because it is!  Live by Night is based on the book of the same name by Dennis Lehane, who was also the screenwriter for this flick.

The Hits
This is certainly a well-made movie.  There are some gorgeous shots and the cinematography is as outstanding here as it was in Arrival.  The second and third act of this film is really where it shines.  The story gains a much better pace and we do get to connect with Joe Coughlin.  The climactic Michael Mann-style shootout is thrilling and engaging to watch.  No doubt that actor/director Ben Affleck knows how to make one heck of a heart-pounding action sequence.
Live by Night has a lot of very intriguing ideas and subplots.  For one, Joe is the gangster son of Officer Thomas Coughlin and THAT relationship between a law-abiding father and law-breaking son (a reverse Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, if you will) would’ve been fascinating to explore!   Also, halfway through the second act, we meet Loretta Figgis (Elle Fanning), who goes from drug-addicted aspiring actress to a devout Christian preacher and her sermons turn the public against the construction of a new casino run by Joe.  Honestly, I wish that was the main plot; a character study of the rivalry between a rum empire-running gangster and a young female preacher as the fate of the casino lies in the hands of both forces, one opposing and the one trying to keep it alive.  I’d pay money to see that movie!  Speaking of which, Elle Fanning’s performance as Loretta is haunting; soft-spoken and cloaked in white dresses with hollow eyes, I really wish she had a bigger role than what she got here.  Nevertheless, she’s as mesmerizing here as she was as Aurora in 2014’s “Maleficent.”  I’ll be sure to post a review of Maleficent here on CGB at some point.
And yet, those enthralling subplots I mentioned are both a strength AND a weakness.  Just head for the Misses segment and I’ll explain.

The Misses
These intriguing subplots are given almost no time to develop.  The relationship between Joe and Graciella comes and goes, and we’re just supposed to assume that they’re in love because they hug and talk romantically every once in a while.  Meanwhile, Elle Fanning’s ex-druggie turned 1930’s version of Paula White–minus White’s prosperity gospel angle–shows up, preaches with vigor and then we’re just told via Ben Affleck’s narration that her sermons turned the public against his casino.  As for the relationship between Joe and his cop dad, well, we get a taste of the intrigue of their conflicted relationship, but then cop dad dies off-screen.
Halfway through this movie, I found myself asking a question that, once I thought it, made the whole movie fall apart for me: “What is this movie about?” Allow me to explain.
Okay, on its surface, Live by Night is about a gangster who does crummy things to build a rum empire during Prohibition.  That’s all fine and dandy, but at its core, what is Live by Night about?  What’s the interior goal within the story?
I’ve picked some examples to bring perspective into my argument:

What is Zootopia about?  It is a commentary on how our perception of those who are different from us can color the way we treat them.

What is Arrival about?   It is about how language is a bridge between peoples and raises the question of how you would act if you knew your own future.

What is Pan’s Labyrinth about?  It is about how we as human beings are capable of being the most frightening monsters, and how fantasy can be both a coping mechanism and a Hell of our making if we allow the line between what is real and what is make-believe to become a blurry fog.

So, with all of this in mind, I have no idea what Live by Night is about at its core because the movie itself has nothing to say.  Believe me, I tried very hard to find its narrative center, and to be fair it does have hints of the impact of toxic masculinity here and there.  There is also some speck of prosperity gospel commentary lying around, but the script is so restrained in its approach to the ambitious source material that it ends up not really having anything on its mind.

Overall, Live by Night is one of those movies that gets made to win awards.  I would not be surprised if this gets some awards recognition.  The set design and costumes are top-notch, the cast is stellar and the cinematography is nothing short of remarkable.
That all being said, I’ve always believed that the best compliment you can give to a film is to have it analyzed and remembered by popular culture.  I’ve watched countless YouTube videos that examine the complex narrative choices of Arrival, Pan’s Labyrinth and other films.  Though it really does try to have meaning, Live by Night never really finds its voice and, in turn, probably won’t be getting that analytical treatment any time soon.

Saint Isaac of Nineveh, pray for us.

CGB Review of Burnt (2015)

Oh, look, another CGB review of a Bradley Cooper flick. How many of his movies have I reviewed by now, five? (Looks through archives) Yeah, five, which makes Burnt the sixth Bradley Cooper movie that I reviewed, hence proving that Bradley Cooper movie reviews are a part of CGB canon.
This is also the second WORST Bradley Cooper movie that I have seen all year!

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Burnt is eerily similar to its even more abomidable cousin, Aloha.  Just like in Aloha, Bradley Cooper is playing yet another talented screw-up who hits rock bottom off-screen (we only hear about his past frick-ups through expositional dialogue), but is now working towards redemption.  He plans to open his own restaurant and he does so by recruiting equally skilled cooks to come work for him, even if it means SABOTAGING their own professions (Example: He gets Sienna Miller’s single mother character fired from her old job so that she has no choice but to climb aboard the Bradley express).  His goal is to have his restaurant gain three Michelin stars and all that jazz.
I’m going to be honest: I walked out halfway through this flick.  Bradley, I really don’t like picking on you, but you need to fire your agent because this chef drama is a dish served sour.

The Hits
Bradley, are you trying to land a villain role somewhere?  Is Rocket gonna betray Starlord and company in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or something? That’s the only plausible reason I can think of to explain why you agreed to star in this lackluster serving of cinema. Bradley Cooper’s character, whose name I’ve already forgotten, is so despicable that it’s like this movie only exists to provide a strong case for why Cooper should play a villain at some point in his career.  There is one scene where Cooper does this menancing laugh, and if he were to end up being a Marvel villain or the next nemesis of James Bond, I could see him doing a great job.
The food in the film is very pretty to look at.  They’re colorful, well-crafted and are appetizing to the eye.  If this movie did anything right, it’s that it shows a raw look into the intense pressures of culinary culture.  Food critics, or michelin men/women, are like movie critics; If your food is awesome, the reviews will be ever in your favor.  If your food sucks, the reviews will kill ya and your restaurant will die faster than Geena Davis’ movie career after Cutthroat Island.
This movie has an awesome cast! I love Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, the luminous Lily James (she played Cinderella in the live-action Cinderella remake), Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander (Ex_Machinia) and others. With a talented group of people like that, we’re bound to see some great performances….
If only this hope came to fruition.

The Misses
(Commencing Super Saiyan Rant Mode) The last time I walked up to my best friend and began telling her the history of our friendship was NEVER! This movie has no concept of how people talk. It’s Aloha all over again with actors approaching each other and telling we, the audience, their backstory in a clunky, unrealistic fashion.  However unlike Aloha, some of the dialogue is hard to hear. It’s the “God-forbid-someone-turns-their-head-away-from-the-camera” scenario where once that happens, there’s no way you’re gonna hear what is being said.
Why is it so hard for Hollywood to understand how to write an unlikable character correctly?  Difficult protagonists are made easy to root for if they either have moments where they put their selfishness aside for someone they care about or if they frequently get their comeuppance.  This movie tries to make Cooper this hip rebel with philosophies on food that make no sense, but I’m sorry–I just can’t sympathetize with a guy who gets a woman fired from her current job to come work for him, loses his shiz and throws a tantrum when under pressure, and breaks into an old associate’s hotel room in the first five minutes of the movie.  I love Bradley Cooper’s striking blue eyes as much as anyone else, but if he broke into my house, I’d call the cops, not engage in expositional chit-chat.
I should clarify what I meant by “With a talented group of people like that, we’re bound to see some great performances….If only this hope came to fruition.” Here’s what I mean: No one in this movie gives a bad performance and that’s because except for Cooper and Miller, no one else is given time to give a performance of any kind.
WHAT DID THEY DO TO YOU, LILY?  Lily James gets two minutes of screen time and then she’s gone in the blink of an eye.  Alicia Vikander shows up for a five minute schppiel and then–poof!–she vanishes into thin air.  Uma Thurman gets a good ten minutes and then good-bye!  Emma Thompson gets three short scenes, which is the deluxe treatment in this flick.  As for Sienna Miller, she plays a bland, watered-down version of Taya Kyle (American Sniper).  She is given no opportunity to bring the same level of depth and development to the table that she brought to American Sniper.  Lo and behold, I have already forgotten what her character’s name is in this movie!
The icing on the cake of incompetency is that the writing is on autopilot.  Things just happen with no rhyme or reason because none of the plot points are properly set up.  Cooper is double-crossed by another character because–potatoes!  There’s a suicide attempt that comes right the frick out of nowhere because–turnips!   There’s a weird joke about how Thurman is a lesbian who, at one time, got frisky with Cooper because–filet mignon!  In addition, the tone is off its rocker.  The first act is all light, cool and funnyish, but then the act two gets going and that is when we suddenly get drug dealers, betrayal and the out-of-left-field suicide attempt.
By the way, I walked out right after the suicide attempt.

After I stumbled out of the theater, I began driving home and had such a headache from the mediocrity that I had to pull over.  I wandered into Albertson’s and found myself in the fruits and vegetables section.  I remember holding a green apple in my hand, staring it down as I came back to reality.  “What did I come in here for?” I said to myself with a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.
I ended up buying a case of water and some veggies.
Yes, Burnt is such a bad movie that I actually lost my sense of time and place.   The Albertson’s veggies that I steamed and ate for lunch were far more delectable than this badly-cooked film.

Saint Lawrence, pray for us.