Saturday, October 15, 2016

Rapid Reviews: The Accountant and Queen of Katwe

After a recent string of successful releases, one of which earned a Best Picture Oscar, Ben Affleck has proven to be a far more accomplished director than actor. However, Affleck puts his acting chops on display in Warrior director, Gavin O'Connor's, new action-drama, The Accountant.

As a socially inept mathematical savant, Christian Wolff (Affleck) is raised by his military father and trained by martial arts experts to become a human weapon. As the years pass Christian works as a freelance accountant for some of the world's most dangerous criminals. But as the U.S. Treasury department closes in on Christian's identity, the accountant is left to solve the mystery surrounding his latest client.

The Accountant opens with a very strong first act that sadly crumbles throughout the rest of its more than two-hour running time. As the plot thickens and smaller storylines continue to form, the film reveals countless inadequacies. Surprisingly, The Accountant effectively uses comedic dialogue to its advantage, something that was rather unexpected, but it also serves as a reminder of the cloudy direction and undetectable tone missing from the film. Lately, leading star Ben Affleck has displayed a preference for roles in which his character is devoid of emotion (Gone Girl and Batman v Superman), something that rings true in this performance as well. That openness to social interaction does evolve into one of Christian Wolff's character arcs, thanks to a usual and type-casted supporting turn from Anna Kendrick. Yet, O'Connor's desire to put a nice bow on every little detail of the film actually backfires and transforms The Accountant into an over-filled and muddled mess of a story.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

When you hear the phrase "a Disney film", immediately there's an expectation of unrestrained sentiment. Most of the time this desperation for striking up emotions leaves a film feeling flat and undeserving, but sometimes these stories are handled earnestly and told with conviction. Mira Nair's Queen of Katwe is certainly the latter, making it a worthwhile true story painted on a Disney canvas.

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) is a poor girl living in Katwe, the slums of Uganda. She spends her days selling vegetables with her siblings trying to help their mother pay the rent for their tiny and feeble shack which houses them. But after Phiona is introduced to the game of chess by a missionary (David Oyelowo) for the local ministry, her nature ability proves to be extraordinary as she works to transform her family's lives by achieving greatness on a global stage.

There's a natural appeal to the underdog story, something that's clearly the backbone of Queen of Katwe. You're transported into Phiona's undesirable third-world lifestyle, where she somehow finds content in her menial life. An interesting dynamic to the film occurs when she begins to find nationwide success in the game of chess and finally experiences the types of things we all take for granted in life. Upon her return to the tiny village of Katwe, seeing the other side of things broadens her perspective of the world and we watch as the young woman's content fades to resentment. Queen of Katwe tells a deep and insightful story that never feels predictable. Its talented pair of leading stars, Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo, are almost upstaged by the outstanding work of newcomer Madina Nalwanga. But despite these fine performances and this intriguing story, Queen of Katwe is slightly hampered by an anti-climactic finale and small doses of the stereotypical Disney sentiment.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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