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: :-)

 

The Social Network

October 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Movies

I guess you could pinpoint 2003 as the turning point in American mainstream internet usage to include “social networking”, even though it has been a part of computer usage since as early as the 1980’s and probably earlier than that. But the explosion of sites like MySpace and the lesser known Friendster brought it to the forefront and meanwhile in that snooty little college establishment known as Harvard, sniveling jerks were hard at work at revolutionizing easily the most prominent and vibrant internet social community we now know as Facebook.

Millions of people around the world use this site as a way of connecting, and reconnecting, with friends and family. It’s gotten to the point where you could very well see your own grandmother or great aunt “poking” you or “tagging” you in a photo. It’s kind of awkward and sick, but it’s the way things are now. So get used to it?

I suppose it’s apt, then, that we find out the story behind the making of Facebook since it is so popular and mainstream now. And Hollywood spared no expense. David Fincher, who has made himself a household name with films like “Fight Club”, “Se7en”, and the recent Oscar nominated “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, brings us this story that was already adapted as a book in “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich who came to fame with “Bringing Down the House”, the story of MIT grads who took down Las Vegas casinos with their Blackjack skills. Just like that book, the story is stylized and sensationalized so that we skip all the geeky intricacies of how things like this can be developed and get right to the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that people clamor for.

Well, just like in the film adaptation of “Bringing Down the House” which was the surprisingly drab and banal “21”, “The Social Network” fails on every level it’s trying to succeed on. Not only boasting the Oscar nominated David Fincher, but they also brought in Aaron Sorkin to write the script, Trent Reznor to co-write the score, and got some hot rising stars like Jesse Eisenberg (“Adventureland”, “Zombieland”), Andrew Garfield (“The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”), and the already famous Justin Timberlake.

But these elements don’t come together as a slam dunk as it should have. Sorkin’s tired act of making every character sound like they have an IQ of 160 grows weary within the first 15 minutes, and he doesn’t develop the characters at all. We’re supposed to understand that Mark Zuckerberg, the “inventor” of Facebook, is cold, calculating and backstabbing. But he’s also somewhat misunderstood. Unfortunately, through Zuckerberg’s cold gaze, we never really get to know him at all. Even if that’s Sorkin’s point–why make this movie in the first place?

The film begins auspiciously enough with Zuckerberg and his girlfriend having a far more intelligent conversation than they probably should which involves him saying he wants to join a “Final Club” after getting a perfect 1600 on his SAT’s which got him into Harvard in the first place. He says you have to do something special to be in a Final Club. His girlfriend doesn’t get it. And he writes her off, and she gets mad. Later, when he’s somewhat drunk, he blogs about her publicly and then designs a web site comparing different female co-eds from different campuses. His site is a big hit, but he also further damages his relationship with the girl that he kind of wants back.

Now here you have a promising premise…that never goes anywhere. And that’s because the film jumps from that right into the law suits that Zuckerberg (played by Eisenberg to the best of his ability) is having with his former associate, Eduardo Saverin (played by Garfield in another strong role). He’s also involved with a law suit from twin Harvard students named Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (try saying that name 5 times fast) that claim he stole their idea for Facebook. The story from there is an overblown and curiously undramatic study in betrayal and backstabbing that leads to the demise of the friendship between Eduardo and Zuckerberg.

The problem is that the friendship itself isn’t well established, and Zuckerberg is so hard to read that you never know what his motivations are or why he does any of the things he ends up doing. The other problem is that the real story isn’t even close to what this sensationalized adaptation is, and if you’re going to get it wrong, get it wrong the way they did in “Braveheart” at least. Make it interesting! There’s absolutely nothing interesting about these characters, and you couldn’t care less what happens to them because you know in the end they all become multi millionaires anyway. There’s no sense of loss, no sense of real calamity–and worst, there’s no conflict. There’s no explanation on why Zuckerberg turns to Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake playing Justin Timberlake playing Sean Parker) except that maybe it’s because he’s Justin Timberlake, and how can you turn down an offer from Justin Timberlake? The guy’s so cool.

There are moments where the story could develop but Sorkin manages to dismantle his own story by his dialog getting in the way of actual plot development. What works so well in “The West Wing” or “Sports Night” is that the story is told through the characters, and the dialog is a rhythmic progression that is like music that moves the story along. Here, it’s used as a device to simply boast how smart Sorkin is as a dialog writer. It serves no purpose and winds up coming off as smug and aloof to what the audience wants to see–which is drama.

Nothing’s really at stake for these characters and so they come off as just spoiled rich kids–which is exactly what they are. Yes, they’re smart. Zuckerberg deserves the credit he gets for being innovative. However, not only did he have a lot of help–but it’s not like Facebook was the first social network that was popular. It’s just that it’s the most popular *now*. MySpace was all the rage in 2006, and back in the mid 90’s, BBS’s were the way to go for social networking.

But the movie never delves into the actual development of Facebook, what makes it so easy and accessible and why people are addicted to it. Instead the film boasts a lot of attractive people drinking Appletinis and loud thumping club scenes that not only probably didn’t happen in real life, but aren’t interesting to watch either.

What I would’ve liked to have seen, and what this movie totally lacks, is a clear perspective. We’re never sure why Zuckerberg needs to create this social network–is it because he’s lonely because it’s so hard for him to make friends with someone because he’s so insufferable as a person? Sure that’s touched upon, but it’s never really paid off. Make this into a story about Zuckerberg’s personal toil with his own introverted nature and anti-socialism and what he lacks with people…and then ironically creates the most popular social networking site, possibly of all time. The film nicks and nibbles at this theme but it never fully explores it. It leaves it hanging in dead air.

While Facebook may have brought to light something that many were unaware of and revolutionized something in our culture, “The Social Network” did not.

My rating: :(