The Card Counter is a masterpiece film that keeps you thinking, and it will blindside you in many inviting ways. The film has elements of greed, gambling, and success, and it has an intensity that comes from focusing on a brilliant criminal with a dark past who can’t put that past behind him.
Directed by Paul Schrader, The Card Counter is the story of William Tell, played by Oscar Isaacs. Tell is an ex-military interrogator. The film starts with Tell in jail, developing his card counting craft. Tell has a poker face that never wavers throughout the film, and he is not a gambler to mess with.
After Tell hones his card counting craft he hits the poker tournament circuit and makes big bucks by flying beneath the radar. Tell’s quiet life of making bank via poker is interrupted when he encounters an enemy from his past, Gordo, played by Willem Dafoe. But Tell meets Cirk, played by Tye Sheridan, who is also an enemy of Gordo, and the two team up to travel the poker tournament circuit. Their efforts to thwart Gordo lead to some interesting but sometimes weird vibes between the two. Tell also has the help of, and develops a relationship with, financier La Linda, played by Tiffany Haddish.
The Card Counter is pure Paul Schrader, as he plays mind games with his audience and keeps us questioning who to trust. Oscar Isaacs is a revelation in the film and Tye Sheridan is also brilliant.
If you love Schrader’s previous work, or if you like films about casinos and high stakes risks, you will love this film. Four stars for The Card Counter.
Sean Penn has a vivid and melancholy directing style. His directing and performance in Flag Day make it a touching and emotional film, and the performances by his kids, especially daughter Dylan Penn, add depth. So the film is powerful, but it can also be hard to watch at times.
Flag Day is the true story of Jennifer Vogel, played by Dylan Penn, who grows up with a broken life and many struggles. Her father is John Vogel, played by Sean Penn. John is a con man and a criminal, and he is in and out of Jennifer’s life. Dylan also struggles with her mother Patty, played by Katheryn Winnick, who tries to convince Jennifer that her father is not a good man. But Jennifer is desperate for a relationship with her father, and she also hopes that her father can connect with his son Nick Vogel, played by Sean’s actual son Hopper.
Despite Jennifer’s efforts to help her father, he keeps falling back into crime. The emotional tension from her father makes it difficult for Jennifer to avoid relapsing into her own past drug use. But despite the obstacles, she picks herself up and tries to find other outlets to help her keep moving and still have faith in her father. Dylan’s performance as Jennifer is invigorating and impressive.
The interaction between Sean and his daughter Dylan in Flag Day is moving. With Sean having faced many challenges in his own life, seeing him perform with his daughter in Flag Day brings many touching, but sometimes difficult, moments. Sean does deliver one of his best performances since 21 Grams (2003) in Flag Day, and those two films have a similar feel.
I enjoyed Flag Day for its theme of reconnection between a daughter and a father. I also loved how Dylan’s performance thrives in a film directed by her father, and I appreciated Sean’s realism in both his directing and his performance in the film. But this is largely offset by the heavy and dark emotions of the film. Three stars for Flag Day.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings takes the next phase of the Marvel cinematic universe to a whole new level. It has a unique and appealing approach, and is an absolutely brilliant and spectacular Marvel film. The film had me in pure adrenaline mode, and the action was non-stop fun.
The film focuses on Shang-Chi, played by Simu Liu, who changes his name to Shaun while living in San Francisco. His close friend Katy is played by Awkwafina. Shaun’s life takes a drastic turn as his past comes back to haunt him. He realizes that his sister Xialing, played by Meng’er Zhang, is in danger and he must fly to Macau to get her to safety. Shaun’s enemy is actually his father, Xu Wenwu, played by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. Shaun was taught to be a master of martial arts by his father, but to overcome his father’s evil past he must learn to adapt to the powers he has inherited.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like a rollercoaster ride of kung-fu extravaganza, and I loved it. Its fighting choreography mixed with brilliant technology provided energy and excitement. The film also has some hidden realizations that will be exciting for Marvel fans.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings provides the perfect foundation for a new Marvel hero, and for what to expect later from Marvel. There is an element of importance and curiosity in the film.
This is easily a four-star film. The film is enthralling, not just because of the action sequences, but also for the hidden gems in the film. Whether or not you are a Marvel fan, do not miss Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.