The Card Counter

Posted on September 12, 2021 at 12:41 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for for some disturbing violence, graphic nudity, language and brief sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and disturbing torture violence and some other peril and violence with graphic images, murder
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 10, 2021

Copyright 2021 Focus
“We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children,” said Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. “There’s a weight a man can accrue,” William (Oscar Isaac) tells us in “The Card Counter.” “The weight created by his past actions. It is a weight which can never be removed.”

And yet, William may think for a moment that the weight can be lifted. We hope so, even as we learn about the unforgiving weight he bears in the latest from the master of the stories of tortured, lonely men, writer/director Paul Schrader, going back to his screenplay for “Taxi Driver.”

He says his name is William Tell, as in the old story about the archer ordered to shoot an apple balanced on the head of his son. As in the overture to “The Lone Ranger.” And as in the word “tell,” which can mean the narration of a story or, in the poker world William lives in, it can mean the inadvertent gesture that reveals more about the opponent’s hand than he or she wants you to know. We later learn that it is not the name on his birth certificate and prison record. So the choice of the name is significant, though it may be more related to the second meaning of the word than the first.

William says he was surprised to find that being confined to prison was more comfortable for him than he expected. He liked the routine. He liked the simplicity. And it was in prison that he learned the kind of concentration and focus that enabled his life after prison, as a highly skilled card player, blackjack and poker. Card counting is a difficult skill that can be learned and those who do it well can compensate for the odds that favor the house in blackjack. William goes from casino to casino, moving all the time and quitting each game early enough that his winnings do not attract anyone’s attention.

He does nothing else. He has so completely blocked out the normal distractions of life that he will not stay in the casinos. They are too filled with distractions and sensory overload. He stays in nondescript motel rooms. But he makes them even more generic, covering every lamp, every piece of furniture with white sheets, tied with twine. There is nothing in his life but the cards.

And then he meets two people. The first is La Linda (Tiffany Haddish in a beautifully understated but confident and layered performance). She is an intermediary between investors who stake top-level poker players as an investment, and she wants to add William to her “stable.” He is not interested.

That is, until he meets Cirk, pronounced Kirk (Tye Sheridan), a troubled young man who has a connection to the events that led to William’s prison sentence. William wants to help him, and that means playing poker in the high-end games La Linda can get him into.

Along the way, we learn about the disgraceful atrocities that Cirk’s father and William inflicted and the disgraceful injustice that had them bearing the responsibility while the instigators flourished. Schrader takes on an ambitious set of issues and understands the way to make it work is to give us believable, flawed but intriguing characters, with magnificent performances and stunning visuals. A scene where La Linda and Willam walk through an illuminated display is one of the most stunning of the year.

And can we just admit at last that Oscar Isaac is one of the finest actors in the world? He is mesmerizing here, the coiled control and the flashes of feeling, of longing, a simply gorgeous performance, one of the best of the year. This is a powerful film that fully earns its power.

Parents should know that this film includes some intense, disturbing and graphic violence, with torture of prisoners by US military, a prison fight, and murder, as well as very strong language, smoking, drinking, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: Why did William wrap the furniture? Why was it so important to him to help Cirk?

If you like this, try: “First Reformed” by the same writer/director

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No True Scotsman Blogathon

Posted on September 10, 2021 at 9:23 am

A real Scottish accent is a joy to listen to and very difficult to imitate. Hollywood has not always managed an accurate Scottish accent (of course there are many different accents in Scotland, just like in every other country). So, why not have a blogathon paying tribute to the good, the bad, and the ugly of Scottish accents attempted by non-Scottish actors? The film critic known as Realweegiemidget Reviews put out the call, and film bloggers responded.

Copyright 2021 Weegiemidget

The invitation:

The world of film and TV, is as we know full of the variety of international life as we know it. This meaning that actors and actresses, sometimes have to go out of their comfort zone and try a new accent. This is usually like the nursery rhyme says, ie it can be “good, very good” or when “it’s bad it’s horrid”.

So this blogathon topic is one close to my Scottish heart. It’s loosely based on the No True Scotsman fallacy as described HERE… For your mission (should you choose to accept it), is to review a film, TV Movie, TV episode or TV series with a Scottish character in it and with a Scottish accent… BUT before you send me your Sean Connery / Gerard Butler / Sam Heughan / James McAvoy themed request, there is a catch…

This wee proviso is found here, in Darlin Husband’s full definition of the blogathon…

“An actor or actress playing a Scot even though they themselves are not Scottish”

These characters’ “accents” can be from anywhere in Scotland, good or bad and from any year or genre. BUT Please check IMDb first to make sure your character is not actually played by a Scot first. (I will not be accepting James Bond films as only Sean Connery gave him a Scottish accent and as we all know he was as Scottish as Billy Connolly).

I got a kick out of the post about “McMillan and Wife,” the Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James show I loved in the 70s.

Dell wrote about something called “Loch Ness Horror.”

“When Nessie showed up I was besides myself with giddiness. This thing is American B-movie ingenuity at it’s finest. It takes the movie from being run of the mill, forgettable trash, to so bad it’s awesome!”

Of course “Highlander” had to be included, and it was good to get the take of a real Scot.

“Highlander is a great-looking, funny and often dazzling fusion of The Terminator with sword and sorcery; if it seemed indigestible to critics in 1986, perhaps the time has come to embrace the story of Connor Macleod.”

More on “Highlander” from Stabford Deathrage.

“I’m not sure where this film actually takes place, but it’s the most amazing location, because everywhere you go during the present day, you hear Queen, and everywhere you go in the past, it looks like the Safety Dance.”

A deep cut from Caftan Woman! An episode of the classic early TV show “Wagon Train.”

“Accent-wise, Jeannie gives her Scottish characters a lovely soft lilt most pleasant to hear. Her inflection has that slightly foreign feel yet at the same time is comforting. You can understand producers wanting to utilize that aspect of Jeannie’s ability.”

The Taking Up Room site looks at “Christy.”

“One of the most popular characters on the Christy TV show was, by far, Doctor Neil MacNeill, and one of the most popular show arcs was the triangle between Christy (Kellie Martin), Neil and preacher David Grantland (Randall Batinkoff). Neil was wonderfully played by Stuart Finlay-McLennan, who seemed to burr with the best of ’em.

Only one thing: Finlay-McLennan is an Australian from New South Wales. His burr was about as Highland as Scotch tape.”

“Brigadoon,” of course, from The Classic Movie Muse:

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Geek Girl Riot Interview with Chaz Ebert

Posted on September 9, 2021 at 8:28 pm

It was such a treat to join my dear friend Sherin Nicole on her show Geek Girl Riot to talk to my friend and colleague the wonderful Chaz Ebert (see my tribute to her here).

Storytelling & Uplifting Young Voices
Chaz kicks off the show with a story about the Cannes Film Festival, which leads to a conversation about storytelling. Then she talks about No Malice AKA the film competition she set up to encourage and uplift a new generation of young filmmakers and activists. Chaz also gets into the legacy of and how she and her husband Roger launched it together.

Ebertfest & Gene and Roger (Roger and Gene)
Chaz tells the story of connecting with Roger and changing careers to become VP of—and how that changed her life for the better. She also teases what’s happening at Ebertfest and the importance of bringing joy and happiness in times like this. Since the date of this recording, the film festival has been postponed until April 20–23, 2022 to ensure everyone can enjoy it safely. Stay tuned for more details!

Chaz also chats about the new podcast Gene and Roger, hosted by Brian Raftery, which discusses the impact famed critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel had, not only on film criticism and coverage but also on filmmaking itself.

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Queenpins: The Real Story

Posted on September 8, 2021 at 8:00 am

The crime comedy “Queenpins” is based on the true “pink collar crime” story of three Arizona women who masterminded a $40 million fraud based on grocery store coupons. Yes, coupons. It may sound silly and trivial, but coupons are like money. If you can buy a coupon for a free box of detergent or diapers for a tenth of the purchase price, you have stolen that item from the company that makes it and you have paid a criminal to help you do it. The movie is light-hearted, if not quite aspirational. But the reality is grubbier.

Robin Ramirez, Amiko Fountain, and Marilyn Johnson sold counterfeit coupons for products from more than 40 companies. The ring used a series of twelve different bank accounts to house their money. One account had more than $2 million. When they were arrested, they had $40 million in coupons and authorities later estimated that the coupon ring cost corporations hundreds of millions of dollars in profit.

Unlike the story in the movie, which has a postal inspector played by Vince Vaughn and a private security “loss prevention officer” played by Paul Walter Hauser tracking down the perpetrators, it was Proctor and Gamble who initially uncovered the fraud and the Phoenix police department who ran the investigation, led by Officer Sara Garza and Sergeant Dave Lake, assisted by The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office the private company Coupon Information Corporation, and the FBI Internet Crimes Unit. The County of Maricopa was also able to seize over $2,000,000 in assets, which included cash, guns, luxury cars, a speed boat, properties, and high end recreational vehicles. Ramirez was sentenced to two years in jail. Johnson and Fountain, who cooperated with law enforcement, were sentenced to probation. The three were also ordered to pay (partial) restitution: $1,288,682 to cover P&G’s losses.

The story was included in the CBS series “Pink Collar Crime.”

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The Real Story

Movies for Labor Day 2021

Posted on September 4, 2021 at 8:00 am

On Labor Day pay tribute to workers, especially those who have worked for better conditions for everyone and the essential workers who have kept us going through the pandemic. These movies can help us understand their challenges and their contributions.

Copyright 1979 20th Century Fox

Sally Field won an Oscar for “Norma Rae,” a real-life story about a courageous woman who helped mill workers form a union. It was inspired by Crystal Lee Sutton, a courageous advocate for workers’ rights.

Doris Day plays a union worker who falls for a new guy in management but doesn’t lose sight of the seven and a half cent raise the workers are bargaining for in the rollicking musical, “The Pajama Game.”

“10PM-Midnight: Working the Night Shift” is the story of the people who keep things going while the rest of us are asleep.

“Lifelines in the Lockdown” is a CBS News documentary from the early days of the pandemic about essential workers.

John Sayles’ “Matewan” tells the story of mine workers fighting for safer conditions.

“Harlan County USA” is a documentary about a strike by mine workers.

“Bread and Roses” is based on the real-life story of a strike by undocumented janitorial workers, with Adrian Brody as their lawyer.

“Salt of the Earth” was inspired by an actual miners’ strike against the Empire Zinc Co. and the cast includes real-life miners who were involved in the strike

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