Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gone Girl

Before I saw Gone Girl, I wasn’t expecting the best things. Many of the people whose opinions I trust were somewhat underwhelmed by it, so I went in with low expectations.

Needless to say, those expectations were far exceeded. No, it’s certainly not a perfect film, but it’s certainly a very, very good one.

Let’s begin with what’s wrong with it. Like so many of the movies I’ve seen this year, the movie’s biggest weakness is its direction. Arguably the living king of the thriller, David Fincher fails to really find the right tone for his film. Fincher needed to find the right mix between a thriller and a movie about everyday life, as the movie is largely about how Ben Affleck’s character attempts to go on living his everyday life even as it is being ripped up all around him.

Unfortunately, Fincher does not really succeed, and it is not really until the film’s final, more thriller-oriented act that he really finds his directorial stride. The rest of the time, he seems to find himself unable to insert the necessary thriller edge, and the film’s tone is rather too pedestrian for much of the runtime as a result. In other words, the movie should mostly be about and feel like the everyday, but it should always have that thriller edge, which it is oftentimes lacking.

The movie is written by Gillian Flynn, who wrote the source novel, and I really did not come to a full appreciation for her script until I was able to look back on the movie after it was over. The early flashback scenes are utter brilliance as she uses a keen ear for dialogue to create conversations that are too good to be true. The way it never telegraphs anything and only shows you the parts of the picture you should be able to see at any given moment is also quite admirable.

Along a different vein, with their contribution to this film, it seems David Fincher has found the perfect creative team. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score is terrific and rivals the excellence of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Jeff Baxter’s editing and Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography are likewise excellent.

The film’s acting is probably its greatest strength, and perhaps its greatest surprise as well. Ben Affleck carries the movie quite well. He uses his limitations as an actor brilliantly in creating a character that was completely out of touch with his life before his wife’s disappearance and that is completely out of his depth after the disappearance. His lack of conviction is also handled impeccably well as Affleck makes his reluctant interest feel completely natural. It is an outstanding performance, easily his best since his Oscar-worthy work in Hollywoodland, and another sign, along with the work I just mentioned, that he has talent if he is challenged in the right ways.

As Affleck’s wife, Rosamund Pike is stunning. She takes on a deceptively hard character, and succeeds wonderfully. She takes two seemingly completely disparate personalities, the normal and the psychotic, and masterfully combines them into a single, completely believable human being. Simply stunning.

The supporting parts are also mostly well handled, not least by Carrie Coon as Affleck’s sister. As the investigating detective, Kim Dickens is also effective at portraying the appropriate sense that she strongly believes something but has to put her personal beliefs on the back burner until the evidence shows them to be true.

Tyler Perry is never anything special, but as the big-shot attorney, he exudes a truly astounding amount of charisma. Neil Patrick Harris, while certainly distracting, is not at all close to the terribleness Matt Damon achieved in Interstellar.

All in all, I was far more pleased with Gone Girl than I expected to be.



Of all of the movies coming out in 2014, this was probably the one I was looking forward to the most. Overall, I must say it was a mixed bag. With Christopher Nolan at the helm, it would be unrealistic to expect anything other than a great movie, but it was, at best, just that. It was not an excellent movie or a brilliant one. In many ways, it was a disappointment.

It most certainly is an ambitious movie, visually, scientifically, imaginatively. But therein lies much of its problems. There is too much suspension of disbelief required in the late-going, a problem only saved by Matthew McConaughey, and the entire thriller section in the middle is telegraphed (and therefore unsurprising), absurd, and completely distracting due to the overrated Matt Damon’s presence. Just like the plot twists in The Dark Knight Rises, these moments and sequences make it seem like Nolan is just going for ambition for its own sake right now, and I hope he stops soon.

The movie is about humanity destroying itself and then pushing its limits to persevere and save itself from self-imposed extermination. This is all fine, well, and good, but maybe Nolan and his brother should have persevered and saved their own movie from self-imposed extermination by coming up with a different reason to fear for the mission’s success that did not involve Matt Damon.

The rest of the movie, though, is breathtaking and brilliant. The visual effects are stunning, as is the art direction. Hans Zimmer’s score is another tone poem, and it works quite well. Similar to Emmanuel Lubezki’s work in Gravity, Hoyte van Hoytema finds a way to make his cinematography gorgeous and great, even when he’s limited to unusual angles in CGI background scenes.

The movie really succeeds, though, because of its acting. Matthew McConaughey is an able and effortlessly charismatic lead throughout, but he furthers that by taking advantage of his every emotional scene. His scene while watching his daughter Murph grow up before his eyes is the stuff legends are made of.

And as Murph, Jessica Chastain and Mackenzie Foy are both solid and manage to play off of each other rather well.

Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine are fine, but neither really overcomes the limitations the script places upon them. Bill Irwin as the voice of the robot TARS, is really the only other performance worthy of mention above all the others.

So all in all, it has that wow factor, but once you get past the “I just got my mind blown” moments, which it admittedly has in spades, the acting is really what keeps it all standing.

No, it's not really trying to be 2001: A Space Odyssey at all, but it's hard to really go to bat for it in any sort of committed capacity regardless.



It is an exceedingly rare event for a fledgling writer-director to achieve excellence with his or her first effort. With Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy has achieved excellence.

Gilroy’s direction brilliantly creates a perfectly intense and thrilling atmosphere, which is only aided by James Newton Howard’s great, Drive-like score. Gilroy’s script goes the extra mile, developing the characters and not just leaving them to act as pawns of the storyline. As the film is in many ways a character study, this is especially true and noteworthy of the main supporting characters.

Nightcrawler was given little chance by the general public because it was advertised as a sort of horror movie. This is exceedingly unfortunate as, while it is certainly not easy to sit through at times, this has everything to do with its fascinating protagonist and nothing to do with cheap scare tactics.

This sociopathic protagonist, Louis Bloom, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in a towering and fascinating 5-star performance of an intensely unlikable, profoundly watchable character, drives the plot through his gradual descent. The exploration of the depths to which he will sink to get the next big break is both nerve-racking and effortlessly watchable. It is easily the best performance of Gyllenhaal’s career and will be a hard one to top by anyone else I see.

The supporting cast, anchored by the solid, and sometimes heartbreaking, performances of Rene Russo and Reza Ahmed, ably-handles their parts.

At this unfortunately early stage in my movie-viewing efforts this year, this is my favorite movie yet, and it will take something rather special to unseat it. We’ll have to see if the consensus choice, Birdman, can do it.


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

My thoughts will be relatively short.

The last decade and a half have given us the opportunity to witness three of the new millennium's first decade's best films and three of the second’s most ambitious, if mediocre. It has given us the opportunity to witness the occasional brilliance Peter Jackson can achieve when directing the spectacle and the intimate moment in rapid succession. They have also showed us his apparent weakness for the spectacular, something which served him less than well with The Hobbit’s first installment and which only worked with its second because the moments of spectacle were given slightly lesser weight than the intimate ones.

Unfortunately the third and final Middle Earth installment ever, is saddled with action whose importance in the grand scheme of things is, according to the movie, much greater than it actually is.

For this third Hobbit is hurt most not by its lackluster continuity, as the first one was, but by its apparent lack of care about the characters the audience has been with for the preceding 6 hours.

This is not to say that its action scenes are not entertaining. Quite the opposite, in fact. They are thoroughly so. But they receive so much emphasis it’s hard to imagine what Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro were thinking. In a movie of such relatively abbreviated runtime as this, to, for instance, take the time to have Legolas do a slow motion jump sequence is an insult to the book, the film series, and everyone who cares even semi-passionately about either of them.

This stands as a detriment to virtually of the performances. Richard Armitage’s great work as an increasingly dragon-sick Thorin Oakenshield is arguably the sole exception. He handles his descent into madness very well and is equally believable in his return to his senses, his scene with Dwalin (I think) being of particular note. That being said, he could have been even better if given more opportunity by Peter Jackson. Some of Jackson’s staging choices and cinematography choices are head-scratchers and his decision to make the gold floor swirl around and stuff instead of zooming in on Armitage’s face is confusing at best. Additionally, one or two more scenes on the recovery end would have done wonders for his performance and would have almost certainly pushed him over the top for me.

Martin Freeman is one of my favorite actors working today because he is so darn likable and because he uses the same stock mannerisms to create such unique characters. He delivers here just as he did in the first two installments. But he could have been even better had Jackson given him more of an opportunity to shine.

There are a few other players worthy of mention. Graham McTavish, who I’m pretty sure plays Dwalin, is my favorite of the dwarves, and Luke Evans follows up his MVP performance in the 2nd movie (by my reckoning) with another solid, if lesser, effort here, that could have been helped by more focus on Jackson’s part. Billy Connolly is thoroughly entertaining in his very short time, and Evangeline Lilly, though largely lost (see what I did there?!?!) and forgotten for most of the movie, somehow makes her ridiculous romance with the hot dwarf worthwhile with her final scene.

On the other side of that coin, Lee Pace once again stinks it up with his effortlessly unintimidating performance. He is supposedly some sort of villain, at least to some degree. His character is given more potential depth in the finale, but he fails to capitalize on it in anything but his final scene, which is admittedly well done. Orlando Bloom is so universally bad all the time in every aspect of his acting career he need not be discussed here.

Howard Shores score brilliantly weaves together all of his prior themes into a wonderful score, and the special effects and set design are excellent as they have been in both of the predecessors, but it’s just not New Zealand, and that’s a real shame.

The one leg up I will give this final Hobbit movie over its predecessors is its credits song, featuring Billy Boyd’s extraordinary and magical voice. Its musical and lyrical tones as well as its instrumentation are all far more in line with the movie’s and series’ tone than those of either of its 2 predecessors were.

So all in all it’s a mixed bag for me. It had tons of potential, only some of which was realized. Peter Jackson’s direction of the action scenes, which are, admittedly, very entertaining, and some of the more comedic scenes, which are very funny and which does not include Bilbo’s return to the Shire, is great, but his inability to discern the less important elements of the story from the more frivolous elements is a shame. Whether this weakness was brought on by his own failings or by the whims of studio executives does not matter as Jackson takes the blame, unfortunate and unfair as that may be.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What I Would Have Nominated in 2014

Despite seeing 4 movies in the past month (maybe a little longer than that), I have yet post a review on any one of them. Now that I'm finished with finals and the hellish world of taking 18 hours in one semester and am back home, I 100% promise that at least one review will be up by the end of the week. Hopefully everything I've seen will be reviewed by then, but I promise at least one.

Before that, however, I figured I'd do my annual post about what I would have nominated this year. This is essentially my top 10s in the 8 major categories, and will be updated every time I see a new movie. In matters such as this, suspense is overrated, so I'm including the 4 movies I've yet to review. You'll just have to wait to see why.

Also, if you look through the rankings and can think of a performance from a movie you know I've seen that I haven't listed that you want to know my thoughts on, ask! Who knows. I may have even forgotten about it and meant to include it.

Best Picture:
  1. Nightcrawler-94
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel-93
  3. The Imitation Game-93
  4. A Most Wanted Man-93
  5. The Lego Movie-90
  6. Gone Girl-87
  7. How to Train Your Dragon 2-84
  8. Interstellar-83
  9. 22 Jump Street-83
  10. X-Men: Days of Future Past-80
Other Films with Scores >80: Guardians of the Galaxy; Belle; Boyhood

Best Director:
  1. Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler
  2. Christopher Nolan for Interstellar
  3. Anton Corbijn for A Most Wanted Man
  4. Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
  5. Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game
  6. Clint Eastwood for American Sniper
  7. Richard Linklater for Boyhood
  8. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for The Lego Movie
  9. David Fincher for Gone Girl
  10. Peter Jackson for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  11. James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy
Best Actor:
  1. Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler as Louis Bloom-5
  2. Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game as Alan Turing-5
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man as Günther Bachmann-5
  4. Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel as Monsieur Gustave H.-5
  5. Bradley Cooper in American Sniper as Chris Kyle-5
  6. Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar as Cooper-5
  7. Ben Affleck in Gone Girl as Nick Dunne-4.5
  8. James McAvoy in X-Men: Days of Future Past as Charles Xavier/Professor X-4.5
  9. Channing Tatum in 22 Jump Street as Greg Jenko-4
  10. Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies as Bilbo Baggins-4
  11. Jonah Hill in 22 Jump Street as Morton Schmidt-4
  12. Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy as Peter Quill/Star-Lord-4
Best Actress:
  1. Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle as Dido Belle Lindsay-5
  2. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl as Amy Elliott-Dunne-5
Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Ethan Hawke in Boyhood as Mason Evans, Sr.-4.5
  2. Richard Armitage in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies as Thorin Oakenshield-4.5
  3. Luke Evans in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies as Bard the Bowman-4
  4. Bradley Cooper in Guardians of the Galaxy as Rocket-4
  5. Riz Ahmed in Nightcrawler as Rick-4
  6. Willem Dafoe in A Most Wanted Man as Tommy Brue-3.5
  7. Tom Wilkinson in Belle as William Mansfield, 1st Earl of Mansfield-3.5
  8. Mark Strong in The Imitation Game as Major General Stewart Menzies-3.5
  9. Matthew Goode in The Imitation Game as Hugh Alexander-3.5
  10. Charles Dance in The Imitation Game as Commander Alastair Denniston-3.5
Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Eva Green in 300: Rise of an Empire as Artemisia-4.5
  2. Rene Russo in Nightcrawler as Nina Romina-4
  3. Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game as Joan Clarke-4
  4. Jessica Chastain in Interstellar as Murphy "Murph" Cooper-4
  5. Carrie Coon in Gone Girl as Margo "Go" Dunne-4
  6. Mackenzie Foy in Interstellar as Murphy "Murph" Cooper (young)-4
  7. Patricia Arquette in Boyhood as Olivia Evans-3.5
  8. Rachel McAdams in A Most Wanted Man as Annabel Richter-3.5
  9. Evangeline Lilly in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies as Tauriel-3.5
  10. Anne Hathaway in Interstellar as Amelia Brand-3.5
Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Imitation Game (Graham Moore, from the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges)
  2. A Most Wanted Man (Andrew Bovell, from the novel by John le Carré)
  3. Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn, for her novel)
  4. 22 Jump Street (Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman, and Jonah Hill, from the TV series 21 Jump Street created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell, and the film 21 Jump Street, written by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)
  5. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Dean DeBlois, from the children's book series How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell)
  6. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, from the novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien)
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, from the comic book series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning)
  8. X-Men: Days of Future Past (Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn, from the comic books "Days of Future Past" by Chris Claremont and John Byrne)
  9. American Sniper (Jason Hall, from the memoir by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice)
  10. 300: Rise of an Empire (Zack Snyder and Kurt Jonstad, from the graphic novel Xerxes by Frank Miller)
Best Original Screenplay:
  1. The Lego Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Dan Hageman, and Kevin Hageman)
  2. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
  4. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan)
  5. Belle (Misan Sagay)
  6. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)