Tag Archives: films

Review: Gone Girl (2014 film)

Gone Girl (2014)

Screenplay by Gillian Flynn, based on her 2012 novel.
Directed by David Fincher.
Produced by Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon and Ceán Chaffin.
Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth.
Edited by Kirk Baxter.
Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox.
Budget: $61 mn. U.S. (made $368 mn., international)
MPAA Rating: R (language, some bloody violence and strong sexual content/nudity)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, and Neil Patrick Harris

Some movies are just damn creepy.  Yet this one was actually pretty mild in my view, relatively speaking.  (It’s a soft-to-moderate ‘R’.)  Flynn’s screen adaptation is very close to the original novel, so you can read my review on that for the synopsis.

The movie starts off much the same as the novel.  It cuts to the chase, and intercuts between the main-character points of view, all the way to the big twist.

Having read the book, I can say that most of the novel is intact here.  This is one of those rare cases that the script matches so closely the intent of the original, that it should go on record how great a writer Gillian Flynn is, as well as David Fincher, in bringing it to life, the way he did.  In an interview with The Kansas City Star, the Kansas-reared Flynn was on the record, stating, he “really liked the book, and didn’t want to turn it into something other than what it already was. … He wanted a faithful screen adaptation, not a whole new thing.”

The acting, I found was grade-A, for the most part.  I wasn’t too enthused with Ben Afleck’s performances, but it was still one his best to date.  Overall, the film elevated its players, especially Rosamund Pike, who plays “Amy Dunne.”  Those that haven’t seen Pike act on screen can see what she’s capable of, and those that have seen her may see a different side of her altogether.  The first shot of her in the movie, as she turns her head, kind of defines the meaning of ‘creepy.’

Unfortunately, like most screen adaptations, a visible amount of the novel’s depth was lost in scriptwriting process.  Whole scenes and characters were cut for time.  Worse, the execution “dialed back” on potential strengths.  Some of the music was redundant of Reznor/Ross.  And some of the editing, with quick fades, made the movie look like a two-hour trailer.  But even then, you could call it a superb two-hour trailer, that the film in whole still manages to stand out so well.

Though the film adaptation is not perfect and can’t really replace the novel, I found myself able to watch it more than once without getting tired.  Who can say that of most films?  Grade: A-.

Review: Boyhood

Boyhood

©2014 Boyhood Inc. / IFC Productions I, LLC

A Detour FilmProduction

Written and Directed by Richard Linklater

Produced by Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring, and John Sloss

Edited by Sandra Adair

Cinematography by Lee Daniel and Shane Kelly

Running time: 165 (5 mins. credits)

Budget: $2.4 mn. ($200K/year; made $43.4 mn. at box office)

First released at Sundance, Jan. 2014; domestic, July 2014

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some depictions of teen drug/alcohol use)

Reviewer age rating: 14+ (the language kids will hear anyway)

Stars

Ellar Coltrane; Patricia Arquette; Lorelei Linklater; Ethan Hawke; Andrew Villarreal; Jenni Tooley (Annie); Zoe Graham; Jessi Mechler; Marco Perella (Prof. Bill Welbrock, stepdad); Brad Hawkins (Jim, final stepdad)

Additional Cast (in order of appearance)

Elijah Smith as Tommy

Steven Prince as Ted (Olivia’s boyfriend after Mason Sr.)

Libby Villari as grandmother Catherine

Jamie Howard as Mindy (daughter of Welbrock)

Andrew Villarreal as Randy (son of Welbrock)

Ryan Power as Paul

Charlie Sexton as Jimmy

Evie Thompson as Jill

Nick Krause as Charlie

Roland Ruiz (Machette) as Ernesto

Richard Andrew Jones and Karen Jones as grandpa Cliff and Nana (Annie’s parents)

Sam Dillon as Nick

Jesse Tilton as April

Richard Robichaux as Mason’s boss

Will Harris as Sam’s college BF

Indica Shaw as Hooper

Andrea Chen as Sam’s college roommate

Mona Lee as high school teacher

Bill Wise as Uncle Steve

Alina Linklater as twin cousin #1

Charlotte Linklater as twin cousin #2

Maximillian McNamara as Dalton (dorm roommie)

Taylor Weaver as Barb (dorm roommie)

Review

For one of Richard Linklater’s best films, no scene is polished with visual effects or redubs, too short or treated like a “sound bite.”  Twelve years were spent filming, year-by-year, revealing actual growth of the actors, including his real-life daughter (with Christina Harrison).  Boyhood was difficult to write, piece by piece, direct and produce, on a tight budget, and Linklater does a decent job.  There have been films with multiple filming years, but not quite like this.

It stars Ellar Coltrane as the highly talented but barely disciplined Mason Jr.  In the opening scene, six-year-old Mason watches the sky, and tells his mother, Olivia (Arquette) that, “if you flick water into the air just right, it’ll turn into a wasp.”  His assignments are often incomplete, and his homework would be described by his teacher as “big, crumpled-up chunks at the bottom of his backpack.”

He gets quite a few gutterballs in life.  Mason and his older sister, Samantha , finally get to see their musician of a father, Mason Sr. (Hawke), back from Alaska.  “I wish we could use the bumpers,” the son says, landing the bowling ball in the left gutter.  The father responds, “Bumpers are for kids.  What are you, two years old?  You don’t want the bumpers.  Life doesn’t give you bumpers.”

The film is loaded with metaphors like that, as well as easter eggs.  A few of Linklaters relatives appear in the film.  (See the Cast above.)

The date at any given moment is never explicitly told.  Instead, signatures are used, including the Iraq war, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at a signing event, the kinds of phones used, and the music.  The children and the adults age as they would, and life’s struggles are never off the radar.  It doesn’t shy away from narcissism or domestic abuse.

Thankfully, the film’s politics are marginalized.  The pro-Obama woman had a dream of kissing Obama; and the anti-Obama man tells Mason, “This is private property; get off.  I could shoot you.”  And Dad gets the kids to steal the political yard signs.  His keys jangle as he moves quickly.

Of course, there’s a bit of “Dad-speak.”  Mason Sr. swears on occasion when talking to his kids; in one of the early scenes, Sam tells him, ‘that’s fifty cents for the f-bomb.’  And stepdad #2, Welbrock (Perella), in a string of drinkers that Mom brings home, teaches Mason and Randy (Villarreal) golf, and utters both “goddamn it” and “son of a bitch” when missing a hole.  It’s both funny and sad to see him drive to King Liquor, allegedly on a regular basis.

After pulling up, he says to the kids in the car, “This is just in case we have guests this weekend.”

As soon as the driver’s side door is shut, Randy tells Mason, “He always says that, but we never have guests.”

Randy blows a large gum bubble, and Mason pops it; the bubble deflates slowly.

Back home, Welbrock pours vodka into a plastic cup, with Sprite.  He then hides the bottle behind the detergent.

Linklater’s dialogue-dependent writing often surpasses the performances.  (This goes especially for the kids at their youngest.)  This is some of Linklater’s best writing.  Just the way the story’s cut together is both smooth and sharp, with obscurity for taste.  The scene where Mason gets his ‘kewl’ note from Nicole (Mechler) directly follows the one where Olivia is on the floor, crying, with Welbrock reentering the scene; most of his torso is obscured by the garage door, as he says, “Your mother had a little accident.”  There were warning signs.

But the movie rawness also made the film less visually real.  The actors could’ve been better fine-tuned in their performances to fit the scenes.  It’s a bit of a paradox that you have to extensively rehearse and reshoot to get the results right, while doing that you run the risk of losing emotional rawness.  Linklater wanted sort of a ‘raw balance’ there, but he chose not to push it, ‘playing it safe.’  (Not that he could with the budget he had.)

On what it manages to expose, I found it at times laid-back and self-centered as Mason can be.  (Personality will, however, distort one’s view of the past, so this is not unjustified.)  There’s some drug content and realistic adult dialogue, and a talk on contraception with the daughter, but there’s no catching the parents having sex or anything really embarrassing like that.  And there’s Coldplay’s Yellow, used in the opening scene; that song can ruin anything.  (To be fair, the song was popular.)  The script chooses to ignore some things that can’t be ignored if the goal was to develop a complete picture.  I would call to attention the childhood parts of Louie (FX), but the comparison might not be fair; every life is different.

There’s a unique and heartfelt touch to Boyhood, though.  Theoretically, it nails a few things.  No film has touched the long-exposure of life as this one has, a modern take at something rather old, such as watching the sky.  Linklater manages to put a lot of life into the picture, enough that it’s hard for his shy daughter, who plays Sam in the film, to watch.

Will it answer life’s questions or questions on childhood?  No, not by itself.  The film with its characters actually asks the viewer to think about those questions.  The father certainly can’t give an answer when Mason asks, entering adulthood, the point of life.  The father basically suggests ‘winging it,’ as he did.  And Olivia dives into midlife crisis/disillusionment when the nest empties.  But the film does answer some big questions, however always from the point of view of its characters.  Sheena (Graham) actually has to tell Mason that technology exists really to serve information not life.

The film tries not to force anything down the throat of the viewer, and that’s a plus.  It serves a humorous reminder—as opposed to a dark one—that life doesn’t have a point, but is instead filled with passing moments, sometimes with awkward smiles and laughs, and even some howling and whooping, and swimming, and a cute little girl that screams in joy at the Potter event.

“You know what, I’m going to be Mommy Monk.”

So much of the film is easy to watch for good reason.  Half of its 160 minutes will fly by before you know it.  Just like life.  The tone of the film changes from part to part, from childishness, to being shaken, to ‘being cool,’ to college.  It makes for a nice, poetic view at growing up.  And if you catch the secret at the end, you’ll be going, “Oh, man,” as I did.  The film might actually be deliberately long to hide its easter eggs.  You might as well buy it.  Grade: A.

Anatomy of a Scene

Approximately 52 mins. in, after Welbrock melts down (and yells “I hate squash!”), Mason is watching, on his laptop, The Landlord (2011), a Funny or Die video of Will Farrell dealing with a small toddler of a landlord (Pearl McKay).

“How many times can you watch that, Mason?” asks Samantha.

“It’s funny.”

“You know what, you need to relax,” Farrell says to Pearl in the video.

“I want my money!!!” Pearl screams in the video, with a subtitle.

“Has he ever gotten this bad before?” asks Mason, of Welbrock.

“No,” responds Randy.  “But he’s yelled a lot.”

“Yeah, but he hasn’t thrown and broken stuff,” Mindy adds.

The scene ends with Farrell telling Pearl, “you’re already drunk.”

Review: The End of the Affair


“What on Earth is a novelist?” asks Sarah.
“Research,” replies Maurice.  “On your husband.”

The End of the Affair

©1999 Global Entertainment Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Written, Directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, 1992, Oscar® Winner)
Based on the 1951 novel by Graham Greene
Produced by Neil Jordan and Stephen Woolley
Cinematography: Roger Pratt
Editor: Tony Lawson
Music: Michael Nyman
Running Time: 102 min.
Budget: $23 mn. (made back about half in U.S. domestic gross)
MPAA Rating: R (sexual content, nudity, some violence)
Reviewer Age Rating: 14+ (overall moderate/mild, no adult language)

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Juilianne Moore; Stephen Rae; Ian Hart; James Bolam; Jason Isaacs

Stephen Rae made his acting debut in Neil Jordan’s directorial debut, Angel (1982)

Synopsis

“This is a diary of hate,” Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes) types on his typewriter as the story begins.  But we don’t know who he hates.  We suspect it is the husband he hates, as Bendrix weighs how much he loves Sarah Miles (Moore) based on his measure of jealousy.  Such jealousy to include her buttons, on all day; and her shoes, for walking away.

They’d fallen in lasting love.  There was a time he chased after her, made love to her, but the love affair lasted only as long as War World II remained active.

Henry (Rae), her husband, comes to suspect that his wife has a lover, but Bendrix and Miles never get caught, not even with the ‘bumbling but amiable’ Mr. Parkis (Hart).  As the war settles with a nearby bomb explosion and shattered glass, a promise is made.  The affair may end, but the love never does.  Reading Sarah’s diary, a result of the investigation he uses to his advantage, the mistaken Bendrix would chase her again after so much distance and time passed.

It is eventually disclosed whom he hates and blames in association as everyone loses a part of something.

The Hire

Bendrix does Henry’s bidding of hiring the investigator…reporting only to him.

“Are you intimate?” asks Mr. Savage (Bolam).

“No,” Bendrix lies.  “I’ve only seen her once since 1944,” he adds.

“I don’t understand.  You said this was a ‘watching’ case.”

“Can’t one…love or hate, long as that?”

“There’s nothing discreditable about jealously, Mr. Bendrix.  I always salute it as the mark of true love.”

“I’ve come on behalf of the husband.  He thinks she’s deceiving him.  ‘She has secrets.’”

“Ah, secrets.  Yes.”

“There may be nothing in it, of course.”

“In my experience, Mr. Bendrix…there almost invariably is.”

Take

The performances are good, with its Award winning/nominated cast.  There, I found no considerable flaws.  This is one of Fiennes’ better work that he appears more like a film character than as, well, a Fiennes character.  Moore is also fairly convincing.  The father-son relationship with the detective makes a nice, unexpected and growing touch rather than a distraction.

Jordan’s screenplay and direction, however, is a bit lacking in comparison to the novel.  While much of the film is solid with its dialogue and conveyed emotion, enough is missing that, in action, it comes off easy and simple, at least toward the end.  It charges with moments of passion, but it repeats a few sequences at length, filling time rather than detail.  In concept, it is a classic, with some strong and important points, but as far as watching it again I’m not sure what more I would get out of it.  Grade: B+.

Review: The Double (2013)


“I’d like to think I’m pretty unique.”

The Double (2013)
Story by Avi Korine and Richard Ellef Ayoade
Based on the novella of the same title by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Directed by Richard Ayoade (Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace)
Cinematography: Erik Wilson
Edited by Chris Dickens and Nick Fenton
Music: Andrew Hewitt
Produced by Robin C. Fox and Amina Dasmal
Production: Alcove Entertainment; Film4; British Film Institute
Distributor: StudioCanal UK
DVD (U.S.) ©2014 Magnolia Home Entertainment
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg; Mia Wasikowska; Wallace Shawn (Mr. Papadopolous, boss); Yasmin Paige; Cathy Moriarty (waitress); Noah Taylor (Harris); James Fox (The Colonel); Craig Roberts (Detective #1); Chris O’Dowd (nurse); Lydia Ayoade (Test Invigilator); Paddy Considine (Jack, “PT Kommander”)

Synopsis

Seven years dedicated, Simon (Eisenberg) has worked for his company, and yet it has been as if he was never there.  He is a hard worker, and yet he is meek and un-confident in his image; he feels outside of himself, enough that he uses Pinocchio to describe his existence—unable to be ‘a real boy,’ unable to pull his own strings.  He becomes invisible to the point that security fails to recognize him as an employee, or even that he exists.

Simon’s family isn’t easy on him either.  Much of everything and everyone in his life treads on him in slow, monotonous and quirky ways.  Every time he is alone in an awkward setting, things just malfunction on him.

Suddenly he gains the confidence to try to make contact the beautiful Hannah (Wasikowska), who works in the same department of the company—a copier.  He loses his briefcase in the process—the doors of the subway close on his case, and the handle breaks off as he tries to pull on it.  Still, security does not recognize him.  Simon regularly asks for a single copy—something very uncommon—just to see Hannah.

She dubs Simon “creepy guy,” almost shrugging off the fact that he’s been watching her through the windows via telescope.  But, of course, with her own desire to be less invisible, she attracts shadowy fellows that fail to live the so-called life in the area.  One of these men, as Simon sees through his telescope, decides to stand on a ledge, make contact with binoculars watching back at Simon, and wave before stepping off to his death.  Suicide is common enough in these parts that a local government department exists in dedication to picking up the unfortunate cases… They list Simon among the “maybes.”

Day after day, he slaves away, and finds a way to connect with the girl.  He pieces together fragments of red-on-white pictures she threw away.

The unreal part of the story begins as Simon James’s doppleganger appears.  The new guy’s personality and name are in reverse order: James Simon, confident in image, not meek and not a hard worker.  But now a new employee at the company, quickly moving up in the bureaucracy.

James appears to befriend Simon.  It all seems great, but really all James is doing is taking advantage of Simon, and Simon is too meek to see it.  And by the time he does, James is able to blackmail him with pictures of himself and Melanie (Paige), the boss’s daughter, because James’ face is identical to Simon’s.  And security forgets about Simon’s existence entirely: in a Catch-22 of a scene, he can’t get back into the system because “you’re not in the system.”

Take

The completely hypothetical nature of the setting is done well, with deep uses of color, as opposed to black & white photography (something I probably couldn’t tolerate well in this case).  It makes for one of the stranger films to date, and yet the story manages to convey a reality at the same time, as director Ayoade knows and states in the interview (available on the DVD).  The film surrounds the concept of invisibility: where no one cares what happens to you, if you allow yourself to walk along such remote paths in absence of personal confidence.

It can become Kafkaesque, even dangerous, for someone to allow him/herself to be taken advantage of for so long.  The film is unreal, but it serves as a good reminder not to become or remain a victim.

The acting was good, even though Eisenberg didn’t have much range.  Eisenberg considered his role as James/Simon with esteem, with more originality than that of his role as Mark Zuckerberg, but the execution wasn’t that dynamic.  Some of the understated nature of the script already came of as bland, further affecting the potential of the performances under Ayoade.

It could’ve easily been PG-13 if it wasn’t for the occasional string of f-bombs, but the film was nice enough to show desperation with a side of humor instead of horror.  Still, it should’ve been stronger, regardless of the language.  The film is creative in its minimalist, retro design, but it kind of fell on its back toward the end (literally).  It may have been great directorial work for Ayoade, but I didn’t feel like bothering to ask what was going on by the end as the nonsense wasn’t really compensated, emotionally or otherwise; it had an “open to interpretation” ending.  Simon’s long walk against a striped background did however manage to convey what it needed to.  Grade: B.