Gone Girl

October 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

Gillian Flynn could style herself as the 21st century’s “it” girl when it comes to writing flashy novels and even flashier screenplays, turning the movieworld on its head with some savage social commentary and sexy characters that actually make us tingle with excitement.

I’d buy that for a dollar.

In “Gone Girl”, Flynn’s third novel and her first screenplay, she shows she’s a bit green but fully capable of handling her material on the big screen. It helps tremendously to get a visual director such as David Fincher, who has had a very successful career in this century–and knows how to weave a spellbinding story into something timeless. He’s done that with “Se7en”, “Fight Club” and “Zodiac”. And here, in “Gone Girl”, he uses a big canvas with Flynn’s somewhat long and winding screenplay that delivers the goods–albeit the run time wears down its welcome in its closing moments.

The story revolves around a married couple that is starting to fall apart in their relationship as their personal lives are following suit. Nick (Ben Affleck) was a somewhat successful writer in New York; Amy (Rosamund Pike) has grown up somewhat living off her parents’ wealth and a reputation built from a character that her mother created, Amazing Amy. Amazing Amy is a popular children’s book series, much like Ramona from Beverly Cleary. Amy of course lives in the shadow of Amazing Amy, and therefore we get our first glimpse into a dichotomy of character. Both of them lose their jobs and have to move out of New York to Nick’s home town in Missouri to care for his ailing mother, who dies of cancer. This leaves them in a big house and an empty lifestyle.

Amy has an enormous trust fund from her parents and uses some of it to start up a bar (called simply The Bar) with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon). On the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing in a peculiar way. Nick cannot figure it out, especially since his wife was leaving “clues” for him leading up to their 5th anniversary gift (she did this every year for them). But the police begin to get suspicious of his odd behavior, and the media immediately is attracted to the story due to the profile of Amy being a young, blond beauty–and being based on a popular pop culture character.

As the plot continues, more themes emerge about the phoniness of humanity and the pressures the media puts on stories, making something out of nothing, wild accusations that lead the court of popular opinion to decide a person’s fate. But meanwhile, as the story unfolds, a few surprises change our minds about the characters in very distinct and severe ways.

One of the intriguing supporting characters is that of Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris), who is surprisingly not a suspect but used to stalk Amy. Because Nick has garnered all of the negative attention, especially when it’s revealed that he had an affair while married, Desi simply exists as wallpaper until his character becomes very prominent in the latter half of the second act.

Nick also hires a high powered and highly successful lawyer (think Johnny Cochran) played inexplicably by Tyler Perry, and they try to find a way to save Nick’s life as it’s fairly imminent that he will be tried for the death penalty if everyone believes Amy is dead.

Flynn has a very sharp pen, and has a sharp and dark look on the world of marriage and relationships in general. I wouldn’t say she’s a full blown cynic–it’s just that we are talking about very superficial people to pick apart. That’s not too hard to do, but she uses them as a jumping off point. There’s also TV show hosts and the mob mentality of the public that seems to want to ruin other people’s lives without worrying about their own business.

There’s a joke at the end about being on a reality show that rings true to the characters–but I almost feel like that joke should’ve done visually to end the film on a slam dunk, rather than have it used as a throwaway line.

Most of the satire and social commentary is deliciously satiable. There are a few routes where it could have gone that may have made an even bigger point (it never really gets into social media, which would be a prime target right now); but overall, I found the film thoroughly enjoyable. The performances by Affleck and Pike are top notch–Affleck is perfectly cast as a somewhat aloof Everyman, and Pike has that little touch of elitism and snottiness that makes her appealing and revolting at the same time. Coon is also very good as the doting sister of Nick, and even Perry turns in a good performance as the lawyer.

As I mentioned, the ending drags on a bit longer than it needs to and I still think a visual comment about the status of phony people would have been more potent than drawing out the ending in exposition. By the last scene, however–which is a bookend and repeated from the first scene–it’s still palatable. There also may have been a  lot of potential Nick and Amy’s in the theater getting a kick out of this movie. While it certainly is entertaining and I think a married couple can have a good time watching it–it certainly can serve a purpose as more than just a movie about two people who probably shouldn’t have married each other to begin with. Maybe its larger point that people marry because of what society tells them than what their heart does that should stick with you–and hopefully does not get lost in an otherwise hoot of a film.

My rating: :-)

 

Argo

October 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

This really happened. Keep that in mind when you watch some of the things this film depicts. A trashy sci-fi film, fake at that, saved the lives of 6 people. Now, some of the facts are a bit worked (the script and source material picked wasn’t originally called “Argo”), and I’m sure some of the climactic scenes are dramatized for effect–but director Ben Affleck does a masterful job of putting it all together in a very fun, very engaging, and very absorbing drama.


The story revolves around what is known as the “Canadian Caper”–after the Ayatollah takes power in Iran during the Iran Revolution, the US embassy is stormed and is taken hostage. Six of the members of the US embassy, however, escaped, and took refuge at the house of an ambassador from Canada. The six that have left aren’t accounted for at first; but the Iranians soon notice that there is a discrepancy in numbers. So they will hunt down the six missing and kill them if found. These are the stakes for the US government, and the CIA is brought in. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, in possibly his most low key role) is the one who comes up with the idea of faking a movie production and claiming the 6 are actually Canadian, on location in Iran scouting for filming a science fiction lark that’s basically a rip off of “Star Wars”. He gets this idea one night while talking to his son watching “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”.


The CIA is hesitant, to say the least, at first. They want to make up a story that the missing six are Canadian, but they are teachers or agricultural industrialists. Mendez points out it’s in the dead of winter in Iran (snow is on the ground), and the only North American school that was in Iran had been closed for almost a year already. Mendez’ plan is “the best bad idea” they have, and so they reluctantly approve it. Fortunately for the CIA, they have a guy in Hollywood that they’ve used before in the past, a make-up artist named John Chambers (gleefully played by the always reliable John Goodman) who happily agrees to help but isn’t quite sure at first how to put it in motion. He enlists the help of a film guru, Lester Siegel (brilliantly played with gusto by Alan Arkin), to bring the project together. They need to make it as “real” as a fake movie as they can–photo ops, a poster, storyboards, a script, and media hype. Somehow they manage to do it (albeit a little too easily as far as the portrayal in the film) and Mendez is assigned to go to Iran, disguised as an associate producer, to meet with the six that are now “part of the film crew”, and get them safely on a plane back to America.


When Mendez gets there, the six escapees are less than impressed with the idea and their covers, and don’t initially trust Mendez (who goes by a cover name). Mendez promises them he’s gotten people home before but admits never in this way. He gives them their cover identities, one being the director, another being a screenwriter, another being a cameraman, etc. They have a day to memorize their covers and know all there is to know about their identities as Canadians, and then they have to go into Tehran to “scout” the location.


It’s a bit less than successful on the scouting, as they’re attacked by some local Iranians who don’t like the look of them; and the housekeeper where they are staying starts to suspect who these six people really are. Tensions begin to mount as the Iranian hostage crisis continues into 1980, and the militants know that six people are missing, and are finding ways to locate their identities.


Meanwhile, Mendez is told by his friend Jack O’Donnell (an Oscar caliber performance by Bryan Cranston), that the CIA has pulled the plug on the “Argo” cover. They’re going to send military to the airport and get them home that way. Mendez doesn’t go for that, and against orders, continues with his plan.


The sequence of getting these six to the airport and the attempt at getting them safely on the plane is exciting, nailbiting, and dripping with suspense. Even though you’re pretty sure you know how this all is going to work out, there are so many close calls (again, most likely dramatized for effect), that you’ll be gripping your seat white knuckled the entire time. This is where Affleck really shows off his chops as a competent and even great film director.


For the most part, Affleck takes a back seat, not a big shot, not overdoing anything, but letting the characters breathe. These six people are the most important in the film, and he lets them be that. His character is the protagonist, but he doesn’t have any big melodramatic uproars or “speeches” that make everyone know that Affleck is at the helm of this whole project. He lets the film speak for itself, and that’s the mark of a true filmmaker.


There are a few little scenes of social commentary about the situation in Iran as well. For a brief moment the camera captures a few Iranians eating at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in downtown Tehran. The camera doesn’t linger, no character makes a mention of it, but Affleck seems to be clearly saying this: they eat our franchised fast food, they entertain the idea of filmmaking in their country, and yet they hate us and want us all dead. Hypocrisy maybe?


Again, he doesn’t push this on us. Only brief glimpses into Iranian lifestyles, and some of the Middle Eastern customs and cultures, and coverage of the demands of the Iranians during the hostage crisis are given. This isn’t a preachy film by any means. But I certainly think there is a message that says “not much has changed” since the crisis ended in 1980. You look at some of the footage, and it is exactly what we still see on the nightly news that goes on over there, especially concerning us, and especially with the recent embassy attack we had only a month ago.


But it’s not all serious, either. The script provides a lot of laugh out loud moments, well delivered by this excellent cast. There are great moments of comic relief just before the suspense can be overbearing.


This is a special film–it gives a deserved nod to the Canadians, to the determination of Mendez, and even the pat on the back from former President Carter who gave the go ahead to keep the mission alive and possible for the six escapees to return safely. This is a quiet film about heroism, but its heroes aren’t big and bulky with witty one-liners and bombastic hi-jinx. Unlike its fake movie counterpart, “Argo” is simply a classy story that says heroes can be soft spoken, but they never give up. And because of that, there’s always hope for a happy ending.


My rating: :D

Introspective: “Kids” (1995) Vs. “Dazed and Confused” (1993)

August 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment, Home Video

I have no idea where this came from. Maybe I was just thinking of teen movies and these two popped into my head randomly. It happens. But it got me thinking of the stark differences of the film “Kids” released in 1995, directed by Larry Clarke and written by then 19 year old Harmony Korine; and “Dazed and Confused” released in 1993 written and directed by Richard Linklater.

OK, obvious thing jumps out first: one is a comedy, a retrospective piece of nostalgia; the other is a realistic drama of the present times in teenage culture. I realize that there are major differences. But I find the differences interesting and that’s why I’m writing this. Linklater’s film is almost a love letter to the 70’s; but also, to those last days of “innocence” that we have when we don’t have to pay for the consequences we ultimately will when we become adults.

“Kids” shows us the price we do pay.

I’ll say right off the bat, that I like both of these films. But it took me a while to appreciate “Kids”. I was a teenager when this film came out, and I rented it after seeing all of the praise. Honestly, I didn’t care for it when I first saw it. I was in the wrong mind-set. I knew these kids. I saw this almost every weekend with people I knew. And I hated these kids. I resented them and hated the fact that they were being given this kind of screen time. But I missed the point. That was the idea. You weren’t supposed to condone what these kids did. Meanwhile, in “Dazed and Confused”, which I saw when I was in my 20’s, I enjoyed it as I would any nostalgic film about adolescence or growing up.

So let’s go ahead and get into the plots of the two films. If you’ve never seen it, “Kids” depicts a sort of “Day in the Life” of street kids from New York that seemingly have no parental influence at all. The gang is led by a kid named Telly (played wonderfully by Leo Fitzpatrick) who has a pretty dark secret and loves deflowering virgins. But not only virgins…young virgins. We’re talking 13, 14 year old girls. That’s his whole MO. And that’s actually what I hated first of all about this film. Its protagonist, it seemed, was such a scumbag. As the plot progressed, there were no consequences for him at all. He got away with everything. It was disgusting. It was vile. He was such a pig. And yes, all of this was lost on me. I really thought there would be some kind of redemption. Years later, I’d realize that all of the stupid things these kids do in a 24 hour period are exactly what we see every day while we’re growing up, and we do nothing about it. Larry Clarke and Harmony Korine weren’t trying to say that these kids have any hope at all–they’re showing kids for what they are. And these kids were hopeless. But there are some characters we do take pity on. Well, for one thing, the innocent virgins that are sacrificed at the hands of this total pig named Telly. And I think giving him a spreadable disease was a stroke of genius by Korine because we take for granted all of the promiscuity of our youth. We don’t think of the consequences, and that’s exactly the point of “Kids”. Now, is he offering what we can do to stop it? No. Is that irresponsible? Well…maybe. But maybe we try to bury all of that truth. Certainly in the 50’s, the youth culture is depicted as Soda and Ice Cream Shop farers who think that holding hands is a real sign of true love. But was it reality? Maybe what “Kids” is just trying to do is expose the truth in any generation of youth, not just the 90’s. 90’s youth culture wasn’t so innocently depicted. We were depressed and we had Nirvana, and we had flannel. But parents, in any generation, will put the ear muffs and blind folds on and think their kids are fine when they’re not. “Kids” is not a dated movie.

Now, moving on to “Dazed and Confused”–this movie is dated as far as it’s stamped with being in the 1970’s. But it’s not dated in its depiction of youth. The story revolves around the final days of some of the students, and some of the first days of freshmen, and some even in between. They’re all going to the same party, and some are smoking weed, all are drinking, and some are going to have sex. But there’s a sense of fun about this film. The kids aren’t ever depressed or reflective. They’re simply acting upon what’s going on in their world. Some are nerds and geeks, some are princesses, some are burnouts. All of them are there for a common purpose, even if they’re at odds with each other. But even in the few tension filled instances, we’re never worried about these characters. And so we’re presented with the difference between the two movies: “Dazed and Confused” is a comedy that shows very little of the consequences. But it does show promiscuity, underage drinking, all of the things those parent groups rail against. So why is this movie so damn charming?

Well, tone says everything. First of all, there isn’t one mention of a sexually transmitted disease, which I’m sure was rampant in the 70’s, just like any other teenage generation. Second, these kids don’t get caught. They don’t really suffer any consequences. They represent the idealistic way we think about our past. We don’t remember the bad things. We just remember how much fun we had. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m simply pointing out the tone of the film, which is on the other spectrum from “Kids”.

“Kids” wants you to see the reality. The scabs, the scars. “Dazed and Confused” is the make-up and photoshopping. And both serve separate purposes. “Kids” will make you sick to your stomach, even though you’re watching kids do almost the same things you’re seeing in “Dazed and Confused”. But “Dazed and Confused” doesn’t show things in a negative light, either. And there is an innocence to it, with the focal point of the freshman who has a crush on a sophomore that also thinks he’s cute. The way these two communicate and develop is so adorable, you can’t help but root for them. That isn’t present in “Kids”. In “Kids”, those two kids would’ve had sex and one of them or both of them would’ve regretted it.

So now you’re probably wondering why I’m wasting all of this word count on such an obvious argument. Well, what I guess I’m trying to say is, we need both of these films. We need to be reminded that the past was fun, youth was fun, youth needs to be celebrated and youth needs to be innocent. But we also need to be reminded that it isn’t all fun, it isn’t all games, and the harsh reality is just what it is.

The kids in “Dazed and Confused” would most likely look back 20 years later and say, “Man those were good times.” The kids in “kids” would most likely look back and say, “How are we still alive?”

Well both of those are valid, and the great thing is…if you are still alive, then you at least have the chance to remember those good times. Whatever you still have to live with, you’ll never get those times again. “Kids” and “Dazed and Confused” remind you, in very different ways, that they’re precious, and that taking anything for granted is part of youth–and whether you treasure it or you throw it away or you plague others with your self-destruction, it’s all still just a parth of youth. Kind of profound…something you’ll never appreciate while you’re that age.

“Kids” reveals something harsher, “Dazed and Confused” reveals something more enjoyble. It’ll depend on how you are as a filmgoer to determine which movie you’ll appreciate more. But coming from me, appreciate both. Equally. Just on different terms.