REVIEW ~ “THE GAMBLER” (2014)

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Note: This films release date is Dec. 19th, 2014; this review contains no spoilers

Matk Wahlberg as Jim Bennett

Matk Wahlberg as Jim Bennett

In case you didn’t garner this from the title of the film, “Jim Bennett” (Mark Wahlberg aka always Marky Mark to me) is a consummate, addicted high-stakes gambler..he is also a college literature professor with a tad bit of a problem. He has played a little too hard and fast with what I like to call OPM ~ Other People’s Money. Now he is in a pool of quicksand seemingly without a ladder. gambler 4

First there “Neville” (Michael Kenneth Williams) with whom Bennett borrows from using himself & his own life as collateral as he pits creditor against creditor a few times over. The operator of the gambling ring is “Mister Lee” (Alvin Ing), to whom Bennett’s money is supposed to go to first and gives him 7 days to pay back 260K debt he has incurred with loss after loss at the blackjack & roulette tables. gambler 3But as he layers his debts one on top of another, he starts to owe more than just one person who threatens to kill him if he doesn’t pay. He even borrows from his well-to-do mother, “Roberta” (Jessica Lange) though as he’s done this before more than once, it’s seemingly his last card to play until it’s not and despite all of this he just can’t stop. Even when his college-student girlfriend “Amy” (Brie Larson) walks out on him as he gambles his last chance away. gambler 2

His last shot at redemption is to finally get to the lowest point in his life, as all addicts must, but being that Bennett is actually smarter than most, he develops a plan to get himself out of all of it, but to succeed he must first hit up the last person on earth with whom he can actually borrow from, “Frank” (John Goodman). What happens with all his plays to get out of his mess of a life is the jist of this whole story and what I forsaw as a predictable ending.. or was it?? I will leave that up to you to see as it can go many different ways.

The acting here is done well enough, though no real standouts except maybe Goodman who always does quite wonderfully making things a bit darkly funny while keeping true to the ‘bad guy’ portrait and a quick bit from Richard Shiff as the “Jeweler” which is also a bit comedic. (The great George Kennedy does a quick cameo if you can spot it!) Wahlberg dropped 60lbs in just a few months for this role and it’s very apparent how quickly he did this as not only is he the thinnest I’ve ever seen him, but even his lips have a sickly blue-ish, white pallor to them. His hair however..is great! ūüôā Gambler 1

While this film isn’t great, it is entertaining enough. One of the things I simply loved about it is the filming of it in and all over Los Angeles..not just one simple area..but all over from K-town(Koreatown) to the beaches of the Palisades, USC to Casino Morongo and back on over to the legendary Playboy Mansion, which serves as home to Roberta. As I was honored to be sitting in a Q & A afterwards with the legendary producer, Irwin Winkler ~ think everything from’They Shoot Horses Don’t They’, to the ‘Rocky’ franchise (spoiler Mr. Winkler confirmed there will be a Rocky 6 upcoming), ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Raging Bull’, and the ‘The Mechanic’ to name just a few on his high-profile list of films, but who noted he has lived in Los Angeles for 50 years and there were neighborhoods he still hadn’t known about that they used. Mark Wahlberg insisted they keep the movie here though as Los Angeles really serves as it’s own character fabric of this film so much so. Also speaking was his son, David Winkler, no slouch in his credits either. I also didn’t know this is a remake of the 1974 version of the same name starring James Caan. The Winkler’s noted they had never liked the ending of that film and decided to remake it with a few changes to the storyline and ending.

So there you have it. It’s an entertaining enough of a watch but come contender time, I don’t see it being up there.

Grade: C

#peggyatthemovies

(See grading scale)

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REVIEW ~ “THE GUEST” – PREMIERE: SUNDANCE NEXT FESTIVAL

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the guest 3

Ever wonder what happens after you leave ‘Downton Abbey’ ¬†as one of it’s most popular characters of the show..’Matthew’?’ ¬†Well this movie might answer some of those questions for you. ¬†From the get go you wonder to yourself..’what happened to that pasty-white Brit who played as one of the Brit’s upperclassmen so very well.. cuz let me tell you..THIS Dan Stevens is definitely not that guy. THIS Dan Stevens looks amazing, someone clearly got a tan, worked out & came over to the dark side..hahahaha ¬†This character he plays here is such a far-fetch than what we are used to seeing him in, I wouldn’t think they are even one and the same person. ¬†Now did I love this movie..well…I will admit to being confused for a bit if they actually meant it as a serious movie, sorta like the pitch/trailer was, or what exactly it was meant to be. ¬†It starts off creepy, goes to serious, goes campy, goes silly, goes action-y, goes just plain stupid, goes horror. ¬†After a while you get the jist that it’s just supposed to be B or even D movie campy as anything..and if you can realize that from the beginning you will probably enjoy it more than I did the first hour because it will make much more sense.. It wasn’t till the Q & A afterwards with Director: Adam Wingard & Writer: Simon Barrett that I actually gleaned this important fact. ha! ¬†They wanted a ‘Terminator’ meets “Halloween’ type vibe..

the guest shirtless

Serious part of the plot starts off with “David” (Dan Stevens) showing up at the front door of the of family of his deceased Army buddy Caleb’s house and within the blink of an eye, he is invited to stay by the mom, “Laura” (Sheila Kelly) in her son’s old room no less. Well Dad “Spencer” (Leland Orser) comes home to find this all out and of course has a freak out moment, which quickly passes as they share some beers, cause you know..you can trust people after you’ve shared a few beers! ha! ¬† Luckily the daughter, “Anna” (Maika Monroe) figures out that all is probably not on the up and up with this guy, his behaviour, as she takes him to a party with her is really off..her friends start disappearing, the local gun dealer in a cameo from Ethan Embry & town dealer “Craig” (Joel David Moore) ¬†– whoosh! gone.. her dad’s boss, boyfriend “Zeke” (Chase Williamson) gives her trouble..have no fear he gets busted after being set up by David.. NO ONE is safe it seems. Her brother “Luke” (Brendan Meyer) thinks David is great after he kicks the school bullies asses for harassing him..so the only person who ‘gets it’ that David is a complete & utter psychopath is Anna.. ¬†After she calls the military admin to check on him and they send out basically, a hit squad led by “Carver” (Lance Reddick) after David. ¬†What ensues for the next 45min is just so over the top, though some of it was funny..but mostly it was just ridiculous as it turns out David aka “The Guest” is really part of some secret military operation so when he annihilates the whole team plus 1/2 the family in some of the most bizarro scenes of pure mayhem..I had to shake my head a few times as this was a major sub-plot that was pretty underdeveloped as it just gets sorta sprung on you..The following whole Halloween carnival scene where it Anna & Luke are fighting against David is probably the best and worst part of the movie, if that makes sense at all.. ūüôā

the guest 4

 

As for Dan Stevens performance.. some are hailing it as really good..I mean I guess since we are so used to seeing him playing these completely different Brit period piece roles… so yeah..seeing him up on the screen looking so damn good, while it could be considered well..distracting to say the least..but of course in a good way, I didn’t think the performance was great..as he played it in a restrained kinda way..when it seemed as though it should be more over the top..following in the genre of the movie, but it’s definitely not a bad performance and shows he can make his mark doing some other fun stuff, hence the reasoning behind leaving Downton.

the guest

Lastly, the soundtrack was given kudos by some..I guess you really have to like and be familiar with speed/heavy metal, which I am not as there were times it almost overpowered the scenes for me. I like soundtracks to be part of and enhance the movie..not be the movie.. Thankfully also the Q & A afterwards cleared up many points about this movie for me at least. ¬†It was moderated by Nicolas Winding Refn of “Drive & Bronson” fame, ¬†who while he might think out of the box as a director at times, clearly thinks he is the cat’s pajamas..(sunglasses in a movie theatre..just stop) and while I liked Bronson..well.. let’s just say I like a fun, bantering Q & A, not one where the moderator actually seems rude and is putting down the Writer: Simon Barrett & Director: Adam Wingard while moderating. Not cool guy..not cool. ¬†Overall judgement of this movie.. I liked it, mostly because of the campy silliness, but I didn’t love it as for a supposed horror/action thriller as it was really neither and never lived up to full satisfaction of either..

Grade: C

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Grading Scale: A = Oscar worthy; B = Above average – must see; ¬†C = Average; ¬†D = Don’t waste your time or money; ¬†F= Don’t see the movie ¬†(+ or – gives it an edge up or down)