THE CARD COUNTER: 3 ½ STARS
“The Card Counter”, the new film from screenwriter of “Taxi Driver”, Paul Schrader, who now plays in theaters, is less concerned with cheating cards than with the heavy conscience of the main character.
William Tell (Oscar Isaac) is a man with a past. Ex-soldier, he is haunted by his time as a reinforced interrogator in Abu Ghraib. These days he’s constantly on the move, trying to get past his past, traveling from town to town as a professional player and card counter, a skill he learned during a stint in Leavenworth.
His past catches up with him, however, when Cirk (Tye Sheridan) makes the connection between his late father, who was driven to violence and suicide by memories of his time as a torturer, William and their commander, Major John. Gordo (Willem Dafoe). Cirk has a vendetta. He blames Gordo for his father’s death and considers revenge.
William sees the messy situation as a chance for redemption. With the help of backer LaLinda (Tiffany Haddish), William attempts to right the wrongs of his past, clear his conscience, and send Cirk on a better path.
“The Card Counter” is an austere and intense film.
Schrader’s signature angst permeates every image. Isaac plays William as a man who has grown numb to the horrors of his past by adopting a controlled and methodical lifestyle. It’s his way of reducing memories of the “noise, smell, violence” to their heart, but he is tormented, and Isaac’s cautious performance reveals a man aware that his guilt can spill over at any time. It would have been easy to play him in a coma, closed to real life after the pain he willfully inflicted on others, but Isaac brings him to life.
Her only way out of the psychic hell her memories put her through every night is to help Cirk ease the young man’s pain. There are echoes of “Taxi Driver” everywhere. Like Travis Bickle, William uses violence to “rescue” an innocent person, but unlike Mr. You Talkin ‘To Me, William also has a soft side. His relationship with LaLinda is warm and Haddish’s performance helps us show us the human side of William.
Schrader fills “The Card Counter” with not-so-subtle social commentary. One of William’s rivals on the gaming circuit is Mr. USA (Alexander Babara), a loud and proud player dressed in red, white and blue. It is an empty shell, a bray of a show whose presence is nothing but noise and fury, meaning nothing. He is the opposite of self-sufficient William, a man who has seen the horrors his country has approved of and who knows the personal cost involved. The allegory is not delicate, but it seems timely and ripped from the headlines.
“The Card Counter” is another look from Schrader on the soul of, as he called him Travis Bickle, “the lonely man of God”. It tempers the darkness with wry humor and even a touch of romance, but make no mistake, trauma is at the heart of the storytelling, resulting in a tense piece of morality that encompasses the war on terror and the personal cost of military action.
KATE: 3 STARS
In “Kate,” a new action thriller now airing on Netflix, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the title character, a ruthless killer with just twenty-four hours to get to the bottom of a murder – her own.
When we first meet Kate, she is in Japan. His master and mentor, played by Woody Harrelson, arranged a hit from a high profile yakuza. She takes the hit, hits her target, leaving her young daughter Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau) in tears on her body.
Later, at another gig, as she’s about to take a picture, her eyes blur. Unable to aim, she misses, fires another shot, and misses again. After a savage chase, she lands at the hospital where she is told that she has been poisoned and has only twenty-four hours to live.
Her quest for revenge leads her to an unlikely ally, Ani, the daughter of one of her victims.
“Kate” is a quick riff on “DOA,” the 70-year-old Edmond O’Brien film about a victim trying to figure out who poisoned him and why. French director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan amplifies the action, featuring everything from wild car chases through the streets of Tokyo to up-close and personal fight scenes, all focused on Kate’s ability to jump, hit, shoot and generally devastate everyone come. Winstead, who proved her bona fide action as a huntress in “Birds of Prey,” brings the kick in to some fast-paced, plentiful fight scenes.
Against the backdrop of the clock, “Kate” offers high-speed action, though the premise isn’t entirely new.
FIND YOU: 2 ½ STARS
Like an Irish twist to “Notting Hill”, the new romantic comedy “Finding You”, now on VOD, sees a regular Josephine dreaming of being a star, falling in love with a movie star who wants nothing more than ‘be an ordinary guy.
After a failed audition for a Tony City Conservatory in New York, Finley Sinclair (Rose Reid) decides to leave for Ireland to live, work and study Irish music in his parent’s B&B. Because this is a romantic comedy, on the plane she sits next to movie star Beckett Rush (Jedidiah Goodacre). He’s about to shoot the latest installment in his fantastic ‘Game of Thrones’ style franchise. Thinking that they will never see each other again, they flirt harmlessly. She falls asleep on his shoulder and he charms her by waking her up gently.
Let me remind you that this is a romantic comedy, so when they land on the ground in the small Irish town of Carlingford, it turns out they are staying in the same hotel! Who would have imagined it?
Sparks fly, but there are complications. (Again, this is a romantic comedy.) There’s a fake Hollywood romance with starlet Taylor Risdale (Katherine McNamara), an intrusive manager, and avid Beckett fans.
But love changes everything, and soon Beckett and Finley reunite on a journey of self-discovery that will change their lives.
“Finding You,” based on the 2011 young adult novel “There You’ll Find Me” by Jenny B. Jones, contains all the elements of the dreaded inspirational romantic comedy. There are beautiful landscapes which are almost as beautiful as the actors. There are also romantic complications, flirtatious demeanor, drunken regulars at the pub, a deceased relative or two, and enough Irish clichés to make a pixie blush.
Everyone knows romantic comedies aren’t about the destination – we all know who will be settling down with whom by the time the end credits air – they’re about the journey.
“Finding You” is a journey, like driving down a road you’ve been on dozens of times before, but they’ve put up a new billboard or two. You have already seen it all, but the scenery is nice.