Jessica Chastain Plays Skier-Turned-Felon in Warts-and-All Biopic
Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was the third-ranked downhill skier in North America when her dream of representing the U.S. in the 2002 Winter Olympics was dashed by a crippling back injury suffered during a qualifying run. So, the multi-talented University of Colorado grad had a change of plans, and instead set her sights on law school.
Then, in the break before starting, Molly took a job in L.A. as a cocktail waitress. While working in the upscale bar, she was recruited by her abusive boss (Jeremy Strong) to help run his high-stakes, after-hours poker operation.
Molly had such a rare combination of brains and charm that she soon turned the game into a popular destination for, not only professional athletes and Hollywood celebrities, but mobsters and titans of industry. Despite raking in millions, her management skills remained unappreciated and unrewarded by her ingrate of an employer.
Consequently, it wasn’t long before she copied his Rolodex of high rollers and went into business for herself. Crafty enough to stay one step ahead of the authorities, Molly’s floating card game flourished for about eight years.
However, crossing over to the wrong side of the law did eventually catch up with her. And on April 16, 2013, the FBI busted Molly, seized her assets and froze the $9 million in her bank accounts. Desperate, she retained the services of a leading defense attorney (Idris Elba) to help her avoid prison time.
Thus unfolds Molly’s Game, a warts-and-all biopic based on Bloom’s 2014 memoir of the same name. The book was adapted to the screen by Oscar-winner Adam Sorkin (The Social Network), who also makes his directorial debut here.
I’m not sure how much of an appetite audiences have for crooked, female Winter Olympians, given that I, Tonya is also in theaters, but at least this one doesn’t attempt to turn a felon into a saint. Yes, the picture’s well cast and scripted, yet it somehow adds up to less than its parts.
Even for a former, world-class athlete, crime does not pay!
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, drug use and some violence
Running time: 140 minutes
Production Studios: The Mark Gordon Company / Pascal Pictures/ Huayi Brothers Pictures
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Searing Exposé Indicts Child Support System as Racist and Rigged Against Black Men
Today, there’s a cultural consensus that the criminal justice system aggressively targets and imprisons African-Americans. Might the family courts be just as racist and rigged against black men? That is the question explored in thought-provoking fashion by Where’s Daddy, a sobering indictment of the child support system directed by Rel Dowdell (Changing the Game).
Rel does double duty here, moderating dozens of man-in-the-street interviews, a la Michael Moore, conducted with brothers and sisters embroiled in custody battles. His novel, in your face style isn’t always comfortable, but it yields riveting raw footage ranging from bitterness about being locked up to tearful testimony about baby-mamas spending support payments on Mercedes and their hair instead of on their kids.
We learn that celebrities are not at all immune from child support woes. To wit, we hear from former Philadelphia Eagle receiver Arkansas Fred Barnett, journalist/author Mister Mann Frisby, comedian J’Vonne Peterson and rap artist Freeway. Again and again, someone recounts a nightmarish encounter where he felt treated as if guilty ’til proven innocent.
However, this informative documentary definitely takes an even-handed approach, with just as many criticisms being leveled at deadbeat dads as at money-grubbing moms. Regardless, the upshot is that many black males find themselves dragged before judges quick to jail any delinquent in arrears for child support.
Besides airing the diametrically opposed opinions of plaintiffs and defendants, director Dowdell allows an array of experts to weigh in on the subject. Their insights are often more enlightening, if a little less passionate, as they are able to reflect without axes to grind. Among the luminaries making appearances are Yesha Ministries’ Bishop James D. Robinson, clinical psychologist Dr. Kathleen Walls, Ph.D., and attorneys Jermaine Harris, Brian Gordon and Shanese Johnson.
Perhaps most poignant are the words of professor Joel Austin and physician Ralph Smith. The former describes what it was like to be handcuffed and shackled in front of his kids by sheriffs who arrived at five in the morning to arrest him. Meanwhile, the latter is inconsolable about being estranged from his son solely because of his ex-wife’s vindictiveness.
A must-see expose’ suggesting justice ain’t blind, but rather inclined to dispense a color-coded brand of justice when it comes to child support.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 105 minutes
Production Studio: Artists First / Dowdell Film Company
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Feb. 2, 2018
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Bilal: A New Breed of Hero (PG-13 for violence and mature themes) Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays the title character in this animated adventure, set a thousand years ago, about an orphan who dreams of becoming a great warrior despite being sold into slavery after the murder of his mother. Voice cast includes Ian McShane, Jacob Latimore and China Anne McClain.
Winchester (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, drug use, mature themes and disturbing images) Revenge flick revolving around a Winchester Gun heiress (Helen Mirren) whose house is haunted by the ghosts of people killed by her company’s repeating rifle. With Sarah Snook, Jason Clarke and Angus Sampson.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Braven (R for violence, sexual references and pervasive profanity) Action thriller about a logger (Jason Momoa) and father (Stephen Lang) forced to fight for their lives when their family’s cabin in the woods is seized by drug smugglers. With Jill Wagner, Garret Dillahunt and Brendan Fletcher.
The Cage Fighter (Unrated) Blue-collar hero biopic chronicling 40-year-old journeyman Joe Carman’s return to Mixed Martial Arts after a long layoff, over the vehement objections of his wife and four daughters.
Driving While Black (Unrated) Hands on the dashboard comedy, set in L.A., highlighting the hazards of being an African-American (Dominique Purdy) delivering pizza in a city where cops routinely make profile stops. With Sheila Tejada, John Mead and Julian Bane.
A Fantastic Woman (R for profanity, nudity, sexuality and disturbing violence) Chilean drama, set in Santiago, about a struggling cabaret singer (Daniela Vega) who becomes a murder suspect when her straight sugar daddy (Francisco Reyes) suddenly dies and the cops find out she’s a transsexual. Support cast includes Luis Gnecco, Aline Kuppenheim and Amparo Noguera. (In Spanish with subtitles.)
Lies We Tell (Unrated) British crime saga about a trusted limo driver (Gabriel Byrne) who comes to regret destroying evidence of his recently deceased, billionaire boss’ (Harvey Keitel) clandestine affair with a 16-year-old, Muslim mistress (Sibylla Deen). With Mark Addy, Jan Addin and Reece Ritchie.
The Music of Silence (Unrated) Thinly-veiled biopic of Andrea Bocelli (Toby Sebastian), the blind Italian boy who overcame his limitations and humble origins en route to opera superstardom. Cast includes Antonio Banderas, Jordi Molla and Luisa Ranieri.
Scorched Earth (R for violence and profanity) Post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller about a bloodthirsty bounty hunter (Gina Carano) in a race to kill criminals before the end of the world. Featuring John Hannah, Stephanie Bennett and Patrick Gilmore.