Tag Archives: Ben Affleck

How not to wrestle a pig: Batman v Superman review

26 Mar
batman-v-superman.jpg

Cape expectations: Batman v Superman

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has received a bit of a kicking in the fan press, resulting in this cringily hilarious video of Ben Affleck undergoing an existential crisis in interview. It doesn’t deserve that degree of opprobrium, but the kindest verdict one can give is that it’s “adequate”. It both lacks the lighter touch of rival Marvel films, and the real grit of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films whose style it mimics in the most superficial manner.

Part of the problem is the inherent mismatch between Batman and Superman. Not in the fight stakes (obvs Superman could win, but then he wouldn’t want to kill, plus there’s the matter of his green Achilles Heel), but in tone. Batman lives mostly in a skewed version of the real world, his fantastical villains lacking superpowers; shoehorning him into Superman’s sci-fi universe feels wrong, just as giving Superman darkness and grit is like trying to turn the Coke logo blue.

The whole enterprise needs a director with a sure touch and some intellectual heft. Zack Snyder attacks it with a sledgehammer. Despite the lip-service paid to the conflict between “god and man”, there is no genuine attempt to engage philosophically, intellectually or emotionally with what it would really mean to have an all-powerful being walk on Earth. No lessons have been learned from Alan Moore, who mined this seam in The Watchmen, Miracle/Marvelman and even in Superman (the brilliant For the Man Who Has Everything imagines the clash between two superpowers: “Their enmity can only be measured in the skipped beats of distant seismographs. Both indestructible, each damages the other. Both irresistible, each finds himself thwarted”).

You also know you have problems when the script is so unengaging, the director feels the need to add dream sequences in which more exciting shit goes down. Batman has no less than three of these. Explicable, at least, given that he’s a troubled soul. But then Superman goes and gets one of his own, too.

The cast do their best, and Gal Gadot in her brief fight scene makes a convincingly Amazonian Wonder Woman, but they’re given nothing to work with: no real conflict beyond “My god I have to save him/her before they are killed”; no real emotion; no line of dialogue that speaks to their inner character. The sole exception is the always brilliant Holly Hunter as a senator hostile to Superman, but still not willing to play ball with Lex Luthor. “I grew up on a farm,” she tells the evil mastermind after another of his veiled threats. “I know how to wrestle a pig.”

If only you could say the same of Zack Snyder.

Gone Girl, and a blog about spoilers. With no spoilers

13 Oct
Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck star in Gone Girl -- which is all I will say

Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck star in Gone Girl — which is all I will say

I enjoyed Gone Girl enormously, and expect it to be a serious Oscar contender, though it’s mildly annoying a) for being basically a silly idea, brilliantly executed and b) because said silly idea is one I had independently dreamed up and filed in my “movie premises” folder and which now, obviously, I can’t use, grrr (see also Looper).

But I’m not going to review it or tell you about it, because the movie has already been written about too much. And that brings me onto the Extremely Annoying Thing about Gone Girl: that so many newspapers and websites have given the game away.

Movies have long relied on the element of surprise, and critics have a duty to safeguard their readers’ enjoyment. Hitchcock turned the secrecy over Psycho’s twist into a marketing campaign. So, too, did Miramax with The Crying Game: when I attended previews, we critics were handed a document forbidding us to divulge the twist that turned it into an unlikely Stateside hit. I worried about spoilers so much when editing Time Out that I would argue with the Theatre Editor over discussing the ending of Hamlet. It may be four centuries old, but some readers would be seeing it for the first time.

Editors, bloggers and even the odd critic seem to have forsaken this public duty in the race for circulation/clicks. With Gone Girl, even though I deliberately avoided the reviews before seeing it, the style magazine headlines alone were enough to tell me the big reveal.

So a plea, and a promise. Please, editors, don’t reveal too much, or your readers might stop consuming reviews altogether. And readers, you can trust me, in this blog, to be extra-careful about spoilers, as I always have been.

As to how this blog ends… well, I’d better not say.

Las Vegas poker: my guide to the top 12 places to play

10 Jun

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I have temporarily misplaced my Cannes Film Festival diary, so the tenth and final entry must wait (for the first Cannes entry, click here).

In the meantime, let’s talk poker. A new poker-themed thriller, Runner Runner, comes out this autumn starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, and a terrific-sounding documentary, Bet Raise Fold, has its premiere at the Palms casino on Wednesday. I’m just back from a successful five days in Vegas during the World Series of Poker, so to get you in the mood, here’s my insider’s guide to the best places to play:

There may be greater places to gamble than Vegas – Singapore’s two casinos take as much revenue as all the Strip’s casinos combined, while Macau takes in seven times as much – but there is no better place to play poker. There are 30-plus different rooms, running the gamut from tourist crap-shoots to high-stakes games for hardened pros, and at the lower stakes it’s almost guilt-inducingly easy to make money: most people are hobby players, home-game regulars who fancy their chances in a proper poker room, but don’t mind blowing a few hundred bucks over a free beer or three.

I’ve been to Vegas eight times now, and have played in pretty much every poker room, usually ending the week in profit. This is a two-part guide to the 12 best: 

Aria (centre Strip): The poker room here is close to perfection, purpose-built just a few years back when the Aria opened, ultra-comfortable and with friendly and efficient staff. It attracts good players, rather than drunken fish, but it’s worth going nonetheless just to play some proper poker in a professional environment. Tournaments: daily $125 at 1pm and 7pm.

Bellagio (centre Strip): Despite its 30 tables, you have to wait a long time for a 1-3, no matter the time of day. On the plus side, the standard for 1-3 or even 2-5 is not that high, as the real pros are playing 5-10, 10-20, or “The Big Game” in Bobby’s Room where Devilfish told me he had once won a million in three days. (NB: Mind you, I’ve watched the Big Game at Starworld’s Poker King room in Macau, and written about it in Condé Nast Traveller: there you can win or lose a million in a single pot!) Nice, busy atmosphere, quick service, mostly friendly crowd. Tournaments: daily at 2pm: Mon-Thur $125, Fri-Sat $545, Sun $335.

Binion’s (Downtown): On Fremont Street in the happier, cheaper, sleazier Downtown area, Binion’s was the original home of the WSOP, and was freshened up a few years back with a new ten-table poker pit (tournaments are held upstairs, where there is more space but less atmosphere). Players are mostly old-timers, but underestimate these grizzled veterans at your peril. Do make sure you buy a FOOTBALL OF BEER (that’s two pints of beer, served in a receptacle shaped like an American football) from the outdoor frozen cocktail bar a few doors up, and tip the serving girls well — seemingly they can’t afford clothes. Tournaments: daily at 10am ($60), 2pm ($80 weekdays, $125 weekends), 8pm ($60).

Caesar’s (centre Strip): A lot of rich Eurotrash of varying playing standard, the odd perma-tanned trophy wife, and some decent players. The 25-table poker room is sealed off from the casino floor, and so can feel rather bland and soulless, until the dancing girls file through the room on their way to perform. There’s an extra room for tournaments, which can attract more runners than anywhere outside the Venetian. Tournaments: daily at 9am ($70), 12noon ($110), 4pm ($70), 7pm ($110), 10pm ($85). Also Sat-Sun 2pm ($235).

Mandalay Bay (south Strip): The poker room is nothing special — ten tables, friendly, soft players — but it is relaxing, and I include it because the casino itself is one of my favourites. It’s discreetly upscale, with a terrific vodka bar guarded by a giant headless statue of Lenin: you’ll find his head frozen, like Walt Disney’s (apocryphally), in the ice room inside. The tournaments, however, are as random as the low buy-ins suggest. Tournaments: daily at 10am ($40), 1pm ($60), 3pm ($50), 6pm ($50), 9pm ($60), 11pm ($60).

Click here for the next seven rooms.

BAFTA awards ceremony: winners, sinners and zingers

10 Feb
Argo

Argo takes Best Film, Best Director, and inspires Stephen Fry’s new beard

The BAFTA awards ceremony was terrific. Conducted with a minimum of fuss, ceremony and ridiculous frocks, and a maximum of Fryesque facial hair, it even featured Daniel Day-Lewis taking the piss out of his Method-acting ways. “Just in case of this moment,” he said, “I’ve stayed in character as myself for 55 years; had a selection of BAFTA sets downscaled and placed in my living room…”

And so, without further ado, my awards for the best BAFTA ceremony moments go to:

Most unctuous introduction: “Sumptuous and superlatively scrumptious… one of the true immortals of Hollywood” – Stephen Fry on Sally Field.

Least unctuous: “A death mask on a stick” – Billy Connolly on the BAFTA trophy.

Most bizarre introduction: Stephen Fry is famous for these. I liked “Please ululate wildly for…” and “Please spank palms audibly for…”. But the winner is for Life of Pi, which Fry supposedly mistook for an American Pie sequel: “Sadly it featured no young men pleasuring themselves with fruit-filled fancies.”

Biggest upset: Christoph Waltz beat not just Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) but more strangely Javier Bardem in Skyfall. But the biggest upset must still be Argo taking Best Film. Even Samuel L Jackson, presenting the award, read it out with a chuckle of obvious amazement.

Smallest upset: A three-way tie between Amour winning Best Foreign Language Film; Daniel Day-Lewis getting Best Actor; and Anne Hathaway winning Best Supporting Actress.

Most sincere acceptance speech: “This is a second act for me… I’m so grateful and proud” – Ben Affleck getting Best Director.

Least sincere: Quentin Tarantino (Best Original Screenplay, again) sounded about as chuffed as if he’d been offered a cigarette. And he doesn’t smoke.

For the full list of winners, go to http://awards.bafta.org/