#ThrowbackThursday – Good Will Hunting


Original US release date: December 5, 1997
Production budget: $10,000,000
Worldwide gross: $225,933,435

(Note: Stop.  If you’re thinking about getting snippy because Harvey Weinstein produced this movie or because you’re mad at Ben Affleck or Matt Damon, stop.  Weinstein is a horrible man who did horrible things.  But Robin Williams was a great man and talent.  Minnie Driver and Stellan Skarsgård are also tremendous talents.  And Weinstein happened to be involved in producing some pretty important films.  I’m not going to stop watching or talking about them nor will I ignore the efforts of everyone else involved because of one man’s actions.  Harvey Weinstein will not make me forget Robin Williams.  And neither will you.  How do you like them apples?  Now, I proceed.)

I hadn’t seen Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting since its original theatrical run.  I’ve wanted to rewatch it for years, now, but just haven’t gotten to it until this column.  Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and winning two (Best Original Screenplay for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and Best Supporting Actor for Robin Williams), the film received a lot of attention and was heralded as the arrival of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, though the movie was hardly the first appearance of either in the film industry.  In actuality, it was the eighth credited theatrical role for both of them.  The film was, however, the first writing credit either had received (Affleck has since had much more writing experience than Damon) and that’s really what turned people’s heads.


The film follows Will Hunting (Damon), a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) who has a natural aptitude for intellectualism but has stalled in life due to his inability to find motivation or develop any sort of ambition.  When M.I.T. professor Gerald Lambeau (Skarsgård) discovers Hunting’s abilities, he takes Will under his wing, determined to set him on the right path.  When Lambeau to his old friend, psychiatrist Sean Maguire (Williams), for assistance, the pair of professionals struggle to find the necessary approach to get through to Will and help him reach his potential and cease living his life in fear of failure.

I enjoyed the film but not as much as I expected to.  I had a bit of a hard time investing in the story and the characters, and much of that is due to the fact that there is, in fact, very little story to invest in.  There is no narrative hook – no carrot-on-a-stick plot threads that dangle throughout the length of the film, waiting to be resolved.  There is no anecdotal suspense or emotional bait that serves to snare the viewer, elevating their interest in the proceedings as they wait for the thread to play out.


That narrative hook isn’t absolutely necessary for a film, but it helps.  Without one, it’s substantially more difficult to craft a tale that is compelling from beginning to end.  As solid as the script by Affleck and Damon is, their inexperience at the time contributes to the screenplay’s inability to completely overcome this handicap.  Still, the strengths that the script and remainder of the film has to offer do succeed in largely righting the ship and shifting the balance primarily in the positive direction.

One strength present in Damon and Affleck’s work is dialogue that is natural and believable, yet also intelligent, meaningful, and memorable.  It had been twenty-one years since I had seen the movie, yet I still remembered the “apples” line I referenced in my parenthetical aside at the beginning of this column.  But dialogue only works if the cast can deliver it, and the primary cast members are a pleasure to watch.  Damon nabbed himself an Oscar nomination for his turn, and rightfully so.  So did Minnie Driver and, as Skylar, she convinces us that Will is probably a better man than we would otherwise believe.  Skarsgård shows true conviction and passion.  And of course Robin Williams settles comfortably into his role as mentor and delivers one of his best career performances.


Ultimately, the film is a character study about one man.  It’s about a man who, like all of us, didn’t choose who he turned out to be.  His problem lies in the fact that he doesn’t love – or even particularly like – himself and therefore who he is and who he wants to be are two very different people.  Which one is more important?  Should one even outweigh the other?  Is there any way to truly reconcile the two?  These are the questions at the heart of Good Will Hunting.  The ways those questions are presented and then addressed, here, are why this movie has stood the test of time and retains the reputation it made for itself over two decades ago.  Are any of us truly and completely comfortable in our own skin?  How do we self-sabotage on a daily basis?  Those are easy questions with no easy answers, but Damon and Affleck had something to say about all of it and they did so with this film and the help of Gus Van Sant.

I want to be clear that, when I said I didn’t enjoy the film as much as I expected to, that is not synonymous with the idea that I didn’t enjoy the film, at all.  I do think that an added storyline element or two would have assisted with the pacing but, other than that, the film is a shining example of how this medium can shine a light on the human condition and offer us an opportunity to reflect and then improve upon ourselves.  It’s an important work that everyone should see at least once (and then again if it’s been so long that they forgot everything but one line about apples).  Perfection isn’t necessary for value.  That’s actually the point of the film, which I find highly apropos.  It’s a tenet we can all stand to be reminded of from time to time, as much for our own peace of mind as for any other reason.

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#ThrowbackThursday – Good Will Hunting

Review – Justice League

Justice League

It’s taken a very long time to get here, but we finally have a live-action Justice League movie.  The road to the film hasn’t been the smoothest, but DC and Warner Brothers got the job done, one way or another, and now it’s time to sit back and take it in.  The marketing has felt a little incomplete to me, however, without the presence of Superman, whose absence is explained by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are the holy trinity of the Justice League as well as of DC Comics, in general, so seeing all of these advertisements for a Justice League film without the signature red and blue suit being featured has made the film feel like a watered down version to me, personally.  But, marketing aside, how does the actual film come off?

Right off the bat, I’m going to say that this is going to be a tough review to write.  I’m not sure how to talk about it without mentioning specifics – many of which would be spoilers.  I’m not going to do that, but have fun as you watch me dance around them.  That’s something else to be said for the marketing: unlike most major tentpole films, the trailers and television spots gave virtually nothing away.  That’s a great thing and I hope more studios go that route in the future.


So . . . what can I say?  The narrative picks up as Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are picking up the pieces after the fallout from their encounter with Lex Luthor and Doomsday in Dawn of Justice.  Bruce has evidence that the unknown and significant threat he has been nervous about has arrived on Earth, and he enlists Diana to help him recruit the other superpowered beings of which he is aware: Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

I don’t feel like I should comment on any more specifics outside of that.  Even the villain was shrouded in mystery until just recently, so I won’t reveal them in case you have managed to remain pure and would rather not know.  I’ll say that – though this particular character was created by one of the biggest legends in comic book history – I found them to be a bit underwhelming as the choice for the first movie to formally feature the Justice League.  Or, perhaps, it’s just the presentation of the protagonist that falls flat.  Justice League isn’t entirely unlike The Avengers in terms of structure and action set pieces, in the sense that there is one primary villain in control of an army of otherworldly creatures as they deign to conquer the planet.  But, in The Avengers, the villainous figurehead was Tom Hiddleston’s Loki – a complex, charismatic, compelling character whose motivations were rooted in deeply personal issues involving the heroes.  Justice League‘s villain is a powerful enough physical threat, but that’s all this particular character has to offer.


The heroes, on the other hand, are rather well-handled.  Wonder Woman is still the coolest part of the entire DC Extended Universe and Gal Gadot continues to command the screen anytime she appears upon it.  Batman is much closer to the Batman we know from the original comic book source material, if slightly cheekier.  I staunchly loathed Ezra Miller’s cameo as the Flash in Dawn of Justice, but I take it all back.  He shines in the role as the comedic relief and I was completely wrong about him.  He’s my second-favorite member of this Justice League five.  Aquaman – taking on the appearance established during the Peter David-helmed run on his comic in the mid-nineties – is presented in a way that helps the character make strides towards dispelling the perception that he’s a minor-leaguer who only “talks to fish”.  And Cyborg makes up for his lack of a personality (by design) by proving himself an invaluable asset to the team.

The film is funnier than most previous DCEU films (with the exception of Wonder Woman) which will anger Marvel fans who will claim that WB is only aping Marvel and will also anger DC fans who hate fun things.  Can’t please everyone, I guess.  Or, ofttimes . . . can’t please seemingly anyone for those in the business of making major studio films.  But I enjoyed the humor.  It’s done at appropriate times and works pretty well.  Most of the humor comes from the Flash and it’s not really “hilarious” in the way that Guardians of the GalaxySpider-Man: Homecoming, or Thor: Ragnarok is, but more highly amusing.  That’s not a criticism; that appears to have been the goal, and it’s met with solid results.


There is plenty of action throughout the film.  As Bruce and Diana are assembling (Uh oh.  Can I say that?) the League, the pace slows a bit, hurt somewhat by the fact that we all know where this portion of the story is heading.  But the film has enough to offer beyond that to keep it fun.  Said action didn’t leave me quite as breathless as that in director Zack Snyder’s two previous DCEU outings (Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice), though there’s one particular battle around the middle of the movie that came pretty darn close.  Snyder famously departed Justice League when it was near completion after a horrific family tragedy and Joss Whedon stepped in to finish it.  Despite what that 13-year-old kid on Twitter you know with 35 followers thinks, it’s impossible to know exactly what Snyder and Whedon were each responsible for without having been a part of the film, itself, so maybe the switch had something to do with the slight downturn in spectacle.  Or . . . maybe it didn’t.  Still, even if the excitement isn’t quite up to the standards of those two earlier films, it’s still plenty worthy of the Justice League.

I mostly got what I wanted out of Justice League: iconic characters interacting for the first time in live action, more of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, some barnburning action scenes, snippy dialogue, and some surprises along the way (stay through the credits!).  I would have preferred a different approach towards the villain, but I can get over that.  I suppose the Internet will likely find something minor and innocuous to obsess over and use to define the entire film, like they did with the Martha scene in Dawn of Justice.  But let them refuse to enjoy life.  I had fun with this movie and am ready to see what’s next in the DCEU.  There is plenty of gold left to mine (Supergirl?  Hello?  Anyone listening out there?) and as long as the films stay above the quality of Suicide Squad from here on out (as this one easily does), then I’ll be more than satisfied.

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Review – Justice League

81. The Accountant


The Accountant is the latest film from director Gavin O’Connor, about an autistic mathematician who gets wrapped up in the shady business of his equally shady clientele.  While O’Connor has been hit (Warrior) and miss (Jane Got A Gun) for me, I can’t say the same for the outstanding cast – maybe the strongest in any film, this year.  Taking the lead is Ben Affleck and he finds himself surrounded by the likes of J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, and Jean Smart.  That’s pedigree right there, folks.

I knew, if nothing else, I’d enjoy that cast.  Affleck is a tremendous talent both on- and off-screen, Simmons gave one of the greatest performances of all-time in Whiplash, Kendrick was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for Up in the Air, Bernthal is one of the three best performers in the history of “The Walking Dead” (along with Andrew Lincoln and Melissa McBride), Tambor is an ever-reliable character actor, Lithgow has reached legendary status over the years, and Smart has compiled an impressive filmography over the course of the last three-plus decades.  Also, I’m a mathematician, so the film had that in its favor, too.

Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  What I got was a solid action thriller that didn’t quite live up to its potential, mostly due an eye-rolling “twist” in the third act.  Leading up to that, The Accountant mostly has a strong sense of identity, narrowing its focus towards telling a compelling and exciting story with believable, sophisticated characters.

Affleck’s Christian Wolff is a well-meaning man who keeps company with people who aren’t quite as well-meaning.  Being as intelligent as he is, he knows what he’s capable of and what his talents can be best used for, and those things aren’t legal.  He needs the money, though, and has complete confidence that he can handle himself.  In his downtime, he relaxes with his Jackson Pollock original painting and his copy of ACTION COMICS #1.  When he finds that other, much more innocent people have gotten mixed up in his dirty business, he sets out to fix the problem.

Nearly the entire film works, and works well.  The narrative is complex and mature.  The characters are strong and intelligent (unless one considers how long it takes Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s Investigator Medina to find the obvious connection between Wolff’s aliases).  The pacing is brisk but even.  Not all of the remarkable cast gets as much screen time as I was hoping, but they’re there to serve the story and they each get at least a moment or two to shine.  For the most part, all is well.  Until it happens.

I’m not going to spoil exactly what it is, but as I mentioned above, there’s an attempted twist that completely fails and nearly derails the film.  It’s a twist that isn’t a twist.  And I say that because this “twist” is frustratingly clichéd and entirely predictable.  Up until that moment, the film is an intelligent, seasoned thriller that asks its viewership to rise up to its level.  And then it feels like O’Connor suddenly wants to pander to a less-discerning general audience that needs a “surprise” in order to spread positive word of mouth about a film.  It’s unnecessary and disappointing.  Making the entire situation even more frustrating is that the film as a whole would have been better served and of an even higher quality than it was shaping up to be had the twist been revealed to the audience near the beginning and then used to help build the tension for a more captivating climax.  I just know that had the twist been confirmed earlier in the picture, the denouement would have had a much stronger sense of urgency and the suspense would have been through the roof as the audience waited for the truth to dawn on the characters.

The good news is that, once the reveal takes place, the way the film handles it is fresh and unexpected.  But by that point, I was so deflated by being hit with such a common Hollywood trope that it wasn’t enough to make up for it.

The Accountant is a very good film that is almost (and could have easily been) a great film.  I hate to punish it so much for one crucial mistake, but it’s a creative choice that completely boggles my mind.  Or at least, the handling of it does.  The film is still worth checking out for everything else (the action, which I’ve failed to mention is intense and riveting, as well) but brace yourself for a “twist” that you will have probably deduced on your own long before the film reaches the end.

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81. The Accountant

18. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’m going to say this with pride: I loved Man of Steel.  It was exciting (those fight scenes . . . THOSE FIGHT SCENES!!!), intelligent, emotional, memorable and resonant.  People are still talking about it.  And they’re talking about it for reasons other than the fact that it leads directly into Batman v Superman.  They’re talking about it because it gave them something to talk about.

And, fittingly, people are already talking about Batman v Superman, as well.  It’s become clear over recent years (and I’ve discussed this before), that audiences have taken on an air of entitlement.  In many of the reviews I’ve seen for Batman v Superman, this entitlement makes itself known.  Everyone is declaring that this movie “has to be” this or “has to be” that or “shouldn’t” do this or “shouldn’t” do that.  Closed-mindedness is the truest sign of audience entitlement.  And I’ve been seeing it everywhere.

So, I went in (wearing a Superman shirt.  #TeamSuperman!) very open-minded, as I always do.  I love these characters and I always hope for the best when I sit down for one of these movies.  But I also don’t lie to myself about why I’m there.  I want fights.  I want special effects.  I want to see things I never thought I’d see in live-action.  Anything else on top of that is extra.  I find it amusing when people see a comic book film and complain about things like character development or subtext.  I like those things, too.  And I like when comic book movies have those things.  But when Batman v Superman was announced almost three years ago, I didn’t see or hear one single person celebrate by saying, “Yes!  I can’t wait to hear all of the introspective dialogue!”  So, let’s stop pretending, people, okay?  As long as these films stay true to the basic themes of the characters and have sweet fight scenes, special effects, and just take me away for a couple of hours, then I’m good.  If they have all of the other good stuff on top of that, then it becomes something special.  But, in my heart, I want excitement.  I want thrills.  I want wish fulfillment.  I’m not looking for Memento, here.  In fact, I’d be disappointed if that was what I got.

So, where does Batman v Superman fall on that spectrum?  One of the things the entitled declare is that the film is “too serious”.  That’s not a legitimate criticism.  That’s a personal preference.  Being based on a comic book doesn’t necessitate any particular tone.  And being serious doesn’t automatically preclude a film from being fun.  Even if the story is “serious”, it’s still a movie about a rich guy with toys fighting a super-powered alien.  That’s fun no matter what else goes down.  But the film is allowed to make statements and contain gravitas.  Warner Brothers is trying to distinguish its cadre of characters from that of Marvel, which is a great idea.  The tone is one way of doing that (though handcuffing themselves and becoming a slave to said tone can be a problem, down the line).  So, what of Batman v Superman‘s tone?

Well, it’s serious, just like they said.  But, again, that doesn’t keep it from being fun.  What’s evident after seeing both this film and Man of Steel is that Zack Snyder has a particular story structure that he’s very comfortable with for these films.  There’s a lot of set-up, set-up, set-up, and then a final hour that just goes gangbusters with some of the craziest comic book action and ideas that you’ve ever seen on film.  And that’s fine.  Who’s to say that a film can’t be structured that way?  At the end of this movie, I felt exhilarated and my adrenaline was truly pumping.  That’s a success in my book.

That’s not to say that the movie is perfect.  In fact, some of the criticisms that the professionals have are, in fact, accurate.  The first half is somewhat unfocused.  Warner Brothers and DC are playing catchup to Marvel and trying to follow in their footsteps by crafting their own universe into a sprawling film franchise.  But, rather than adapt Marvel’s approach of establishing the characters in individual films and then bringing them together, WB is bringing them together, first, and then branching them off into their own films.

As a result, whereas Snyder’s Man of Steel was very intent on establishing Superman and his supporting cast, Batman v Superman isn’t able to take the time to do the same for the new characters.  And, yes, that includes Batman.  As strange as it sounds for a character who has penetrated the zeitgeist to the extent that Batman has, we could have used a separate Batman film with the new Affleck version in order to see who, exactly,  this new Batman is before we got to this film.  What are his motivations and goals?  What is his motus operandi?  His history?  Since we don’t get that, he absolutely comes off as an unreasonable villain for nearly the entire film.  He essentially wants to keep all aliens off of the planet, whether they’re a threat to us or not.  And if he can’t keep them off, then he wants to kill them.  Yes, that’s right – for the majority of the runtime, Batman is Donald Trump.

Snyder could also stand to learn that there’s a difference between laying foundation for future stories and forcing scenes into a movie that shout into the audience’s faces that more stuff is coming.  There are a couple of scenes that do just that and it’s frankly disorienting.  Not confusing.  Not by the end, at least.  Just jarring.

And is it wise to launch a universe with an aging Batman?  If he’s “already too old to die young”, as Alfred says, how much longer can he realistically be doing this within this continuity?

Also,for all the complaining that the film is too serious, the attempts at humor (and there are some) generally fall flat.  I wouldn’t call them groan-worthy.  Just obvious and unoriginal.  So, perhaps it’s better that they leave the humor to the folks over at Marvel.  Perry White gets a good line or two, though.

Also, I think that I’m going to hate . . . H-A-T-E . . . Ezra Miller as the Flash.  Of all of the recent casting related to the DC Cinematic Universe, his was the only one that furrowed my eyebrows.  And I cringed at the small glimpse we got of him in this.  Not optimistic about that one.

So, those are my criticisms and concerns.  Now for what I liked . . ..

Firstly, there was clearly forethought in the construction of Man of Steel and bridging from that movie to this one.  There were lots of whiners about the climax of that film as if the audience was a step ahead of the filmmakers and catching things that Snyder and company weren’t.  Not true.  In fact, it’s never true.  Filmmakers always know their films better than you.  Snyder is aware of everything I mentioned above.  He just made the choice to forge ahead, anyway, and risk that those issues wouldn’t do much (if any) damage and would even pay off later.  We’ll see.  I hope so, as I’m pulling for them.

And where Batman is Donald Trump, Superman is Jesus.  This is nothing new, of course, as Superman has been portrayed as a Christ-like figure for many years.  Batman v Superman doesn’t even attempt to be subtle about it, however, and I have no problem with that.  It’s an easy comparison to make and plays heavily into the underlying theme regarding the muddied separation of man from god.

Superman is perfection, as he was in Man of Steel.  There has been a great pedigree of actors to play the character but I think Henry Cavill is my favorite.  He has a strong vulnerability that’s unique to him, while also coasting through the everyman persona.  And I believe in him.  I believe he wants to do good and I believe he can and he will.  Frankly, due to the contrasting portrayals of Superman and Batman in this film, if you’re still for Batman by the time the fight begins, you might be kind of a dick.

Ben Affleck, as expected, did just fine as Batman.  I’m not sure where he falls on my list of favorite Batmans, but I have no complaints.  The Affleck hate is silly and childish.  When I ask people why they hate him, they never have a good answer.  Let’s all grow up a little and learn about objectivity, shall we?

Amy Adams, as always, owns her role.  I was glad to see her have more to do as Lois than I expected in a film this crowded.  Jeremy Irons is fine as Alfred but, again, we know nothing about him.  Really could have used that solo Batman movie as a lead-in.  Laurence Fishburne doesn’t get much, but he makes the most of his screen time.  Jesse Eisenberg was fine.  I expected to hate him.  I didn’t hate him.  I didn’t love him, but I didn’t hate him.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was absolutely breathtaking.  And I mean that in every way I could possibly mean that.  When she first showed up in full costume, I actually got chills and the audience applauded.  After she was cast, I rolled my eyes at the people who complained that she was “too skinny” to play Wonder Woman.  Wonder Woman’s strength comes from her heritage, not her physique, and she’s been drawn in many different ways by many different artists throughout her long, long history, and not always with muscles on top of muscles.  I would think that such “experts” would know all of that.

But she was absolutely captivating and it was obvious that she was having a blast.  And by “she”, I mean both Gadot and Wonder Woman.  They were practically one and the same.  She radiates power in both the external and internal senses and I just want to see more, more, MORE!

Finally the last hour is just wall-to-wall action and is everything I go to these movies to experience.  And it was just that – an experience.  These characters do the things you have always wanted to see them do.  It’s beautiful.  I could have sat there and continued watching the finale until I died of old age.  So, when people say this film has no aspect of fun, I say that they’re just putting on a sour face to maintain a semblance of their self-perceived reputation.  Because that last hour is pure joy.

So, here’s what it comes down to.  It’s not a perfect movie.  It does a lot right.  But it also gets ahead of itself on many occasions.  The question is whether or not something like that really bothers you.  I noticed it.  It bothered me, to an extent.  Are you bothered by unconventional film structuring?  I’m not, so much.  Real life stories play out at different paces and in different ways, so I don’t see why fictional stories can’t, too.  But, without question, I got more good out of this movie than bad.  By a long shot.

Comparisons to Marvel Studios are going to persist, though.  That’s unavoidable.  And Marvel far outperforms WB in terms of creating a connection between its characters and its audience.  And that’s largely because they were patient and took their time in building their universe and rolling the characters out to the audience one-at-a-time.  And it’s also partially because they’re getting better behind-the-scenes talent who understand what works for general audiences.  Because in order for these films to succeed, they need the general audience.  I was a little concerned that the Suicide Squad trailer got virtually no response, tonight, and that was from a converted crowd.  Harley Quinn got a little bit of a reaction but even she didn’t get all that much.  If the diehards aren’t reacting, I can’t help but wonder if casual moviegoers are going to show up.  I hope it’s great and I hope it does well.  We’ll know in August.

Bottom line: the first two acts are a mixed bag with plenty of good but plenty of distractions as well.  The final act is why you’re really there.  And it’s completely worth the wait.  As a whole, the film isn’t among the very best comic book films.  But you can’t miss it and keep your geek cred.  So, stop pretending you aren’t going to see it and just go, already.  And don’t even try to tell me you didn’t enjoy that climax, you dirty, dirty liar.

18. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice