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REVIEW: Molly’s Game

By Eric Hillis,

originally published: 12/26/2017

REVIEW: Molly’s Game

“Aren’t you Molly Bloom?” a schoolgirl asks Jessica Chastain’s eponymous entrepreneur in Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin. That kid is a lot more clued in than I am, as prior to the trailer dropping for Sorkin’s film, I had never heard of Molly Bloom (at least, not this Molly Bloom). Maybe that’s because we have a far more liberal attitude to gambling here in Europe than our puritanical cousins across the pond. Within a two minute walk of where I’m writing this review, there are multiple outlets that will gladly allow me to gamble away my few possessions, but that’s not the case in the US, where having a few friends over for a poker night can land you in jail.

An Olympic class skier whose sporting career was ended with a back injury, Molly Bloom found herself working for an unscrupulous Los Angeles real estate lawyer who roped her into hosting the poker nights he threw for a client list populated by some of the city’s biggest celebs, including an unnamed actor played by Michael Cera who I’m sure isn’t the one we’re all thinking of. When her boss ditches her, Bloom takes the phone numbers of his clients and organizes her own poker nights, with a $50,000 buy-in. Word spreads about her endeavor, and she finds herself playing hostess to some of the world’s richest men (her clientele seems to be exclusively male), and also some of the most dangerous, as various underworld figures look for a piece of her action.

Sorkin is undoubtedly one of the most talented TV writers to ever work in small screen drama, but his film scripts have rarely been as successful, too often over-written and overly reliant on dialogue. Left to his own devices here without a director to reign him in and adapt his writing in cinematic fashion, Sorkin runs amok with his words. I’m struggling to think of a movie that relies on voiceover narration to tell its (relatively simple) story to the extent Molly’s Game does. I could be overestimating, but it felt like 50% of Sorkin’s film was accompanied by narration, much of it completely unnecessary, reiterating the action playing out on screen like it was written with a blind audience in mind. When Chastain isn’t rabbiting on in voiceover, she’s yapping away incessantly.

REVIEW: Molly’s Game

Sorkin tells us an awful lot about Molly Bloom, but never actually shows us who she is. Chastain is in almost every frame of this excessively long film, but I knew as much about Bloom by the movie’s end as I did before it began. Sorkin is interested only in her achievements, and the deepest insight he can conjure is that she has some Daddy issues relating to her demanding father (Kevin Costner, great in his few scenes). This, folks, is why we need more women filmmakers.

As you might expect from a Sorkin scripted film, the highlights of Molly’s Game involve two people talking in a room - specifically the scenes shared between Chastain and Idris Elba as her lawyer, the latter’s accent once again making several return trips across the Atlantic - suggesting this material and Sorkin’s skills are better suited to a theatrical production. When Sorkin has to get down to the process of storytelling, Molly’s Game becomes yet another second-rate Goodfellas ripoff, a series of repetitive anecdotes that aren’t half as interesting as Sorkin seems to believe.

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Like Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain with biceps swapped out for cleavage, Molly’s Game is a hollow void of a movie, one that dresses up an uninteresting tale with verbal fireworks. Yet I have to admit it never bored me, thanks mainly to the work of Chastain, Costner and Elba, who proves a bad accent can’t ruin a good performance. Sorkin rarely gives them anything of depth to work with - and despite its intemperate dialogue, this is the least quotable Sorkin script ever - but he’s found three actors perfectly suited to his 16 sarcastic lines in 60 seconds style. It’s a shame he couldn’t find a director and an editor willing to kill his darlings. 

3 Stars Out Of 5

Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd

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2018 Westfield International Film Festival To Take Place September 20-23
(WESTFIELD, NJ) -- Anybody can go to a movie theater to watch a film, but the Westfield International Film Festival is bringing movies to the mansion with its sixth season at the James Ward Mansion in downtown Westfield from September 20 - 23, 2018!  The festival will span a four day weekend and will include Q&A sessions with actors and filmmakers, networking opportunities, and red carpet parties.
JCTC FILM Premiers DEKA-LOG, New Series Depicting Contemporary Urban Life
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- A new anthology web-series by an up and coming, Jersey City-based filmmaker, premiers at Merseles Studios on August 23rd when Jersey City Theater Center presents DEKA-LOG: a Finding Me story.  Doors are at 6:30pm, screening at 7:00pm.  Admission is $10.
​​​​​​​The Newton Theatre Presents a Silent Film Halloween With A Live Orchestra
(NEWTON, NJ) -- The Newton Theatre presents a trio of ghostly silent films paired with the original historic orchestral scores on Saturday, October 27 at 3:00pm. Travel back to the early 1900s to cheer and hiss with Buster Keaton in The Haunted House (1921), Laurel and Hardy in Habeus Corpus (1928), and Charlie Chaplin in One A.M. (1916). Between the films, enjoy the rollicking rhythms of the early 20th century as played by The Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra, featuring favorites by Scott Joplin, Irving Berlin, and more! Fun for the whole family!
A Look At New Jersey Film Festival's Fall 2018 Lineup
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The 36th Bi-annual New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018 will take place at Rutgers University in New Brunswick from September 14 - October 26.  The festival showcases new international films, American independent features, animation, experimental and short subjects, and cutting-edge documentaries through over 30 film screenings. The Festival will run on select Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. The festival is presented by Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, in association with the Rutgers University Program In Cinema Studies.
​​​​​​​Montclair Film and Hackensack Meridian Health Mountainside Medical Center To Hold Free Screening of "MILK"
(MONTCLAIR, NJ) -- Montclair Film and Hackensack Meridian Health Mountainside Medical Center will present a free screening of MILK (2015) on Wednesday, August 29th at 10:30am at Montclair Film’s Cinema505. The screening, presented in celebration of World Breastfeeding Month, seeks to educate and promote breastfeeding among nursing and expecting mothers.

Newark Black Film Festival
​​​​​​​Richard Wesley is a playwright, screenwriter, and professor of Dramatic Writing at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and has been involved with the Newark Black Film Festival for well over three decades. A Newark native, he’s currently the Chairperson of the festival’s Selection Committee. The NBFF is currently in full swing, with a screening of Cadillac Records tomorrow, and the biennial Paul Robeson Awards for young filmmakers taking place on Wednesday, August 8. This season’s program also features the films Selma, I Called Him Morgan, The Art of the Journey, Coco, and Hidden Figures. We recently spoke with Wesley about the history and mission of the Newark Black Film Festival, the role it plays in the lives of young filmmakers, and a chance encounter with Sidney Poitier that launched him into the film industry.
REVIEW: "Skyscraper"
Over the last half century, the concept of blockbuster spectacle has flipped on its head. In the 1960s, big budget spectacle meant Steve McQueen jumping over a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle without the aid of a stunt double, or Julie Andrews screaming her lungs out on a Swiss mountainside. Science fiction was relegated to Saturday morning screenings of b-movies, which parents would use to relieve themselves of their tykes while they went shopping. George Lucas  changed all that a decade later, and now sci-fi and fantasy dominates the multiplex, while the only movies featuring practical stunts are those low budget straight to VOD action movies designed to showcase the athleticism of former MMA fighters.
REVIEW: "BlacKkKlansman"
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman isn’t a remake of Ted V. Mikels’ infamous 1966 grindhouse staple. Rather it’s based on true events (“Dis joint is based on some fo’ real, fo’ real shit,” reads the title card, because Lee is apparently a 12-year-old boy), the story of how rookie cop Ron Stallworth (played here in a star-making turn from John David Washington, son of Denzel) became a member of the Ku Klux Klan in 1978, despite being an African-American.
REVIEW: "When I Sing"
Most of the world learned of Linda Chorney in 2012 when her name was listed as one of the Grammy nominees for Best Americana Album. Her film, When I Sing, not only follows her rise from obscurity to the Grammy Awards, it goes much further.  It’s a love story between a die hard Red Sox fan and a Yankees fan; a spotlight on how indie artists survive on the road; and a deeply, revealing portrait of how the media and the music industry turned what could have been a wonderful Cinderella story into a very hurtful experience.
REVIEW: "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"
I recall hearing an anecdote concerning a society of pranksters in 1970s London who would take trips en masse to the cinema, only to walk out when or if the title of the movie in question was spoken by a character. That lot would get their money’s worth with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, as it’s not until the closing minutes that a returning original cast member (in a blink and you’ll miss it cameo) informs us that we’re now living in a “Jurassic World.” It’s the sort of cringeworthy moment that would normally cause me to groan, but I was so broken down by the laziness and ineptitude of this fifth installment in the franchise that I couldn’t even muster a sigh by that late point.

Event calendar
Monday, Aug 20, 2018


Asbury Park Industry Ball 2018 @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

FINDING FEEBAS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

Alex Laurenzi Quartet @ 1867 Sanctuary at Ewing, Ewing - 8:00pm


Eighth Grade @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 7:00pm

View all events


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