Is Gone Girl the Greatest or the Worst Hate Story Ever Told?

Gone Girl Rosamund Pike

I’m drinking a glass of wine as I write this review of Gone Girl, as I imagine this is how many fans of the book enjoyed reading Gillian Flynn’s twisted and twisty tale of the worst marriage ever.  I didn’t read the book, so the twists came as genuine surprises to me, and I credit my fellow critics for not really spoiling much in their reviews when the book and film are so damn spoilable.

But the thing you have to know about David Fincher’s film adaptation (spun for the screen from Ms. Flynn’s own hands) is that EVERYTHING about it (okay, and maybe this is a spoiler, so sue me)…is a ruse. Continue reading

Life in the Key of Malick in To the Wonder

To the Wonder 1

I could’ve done without the “the” in Terrence Malick’s latest cinematic symphony To the Wonder.

To wonder…

…that is what Malick’s life as an artist has been all about. To wonder…what it’s like to kill for the heck of it (Badlands)…to love when life is like a shaft of wheat blowing in the wind (Days of Heaven)….to wonder what it’s like to kill someone and mean it, to live
and love in war (The Thin Red Line)…to wonder what it was like to discover a new land, a new love, a new way of life (The New World)…to wonder about the beginning and end of time and the loss of a loved one (The Tree of Life).

To the Wonder is a meditation on loneliness.

Continue reading

Film within a Film in Seven Psychopaths and Argo

Currently in cinemas across the nation two films take on the old “film within a film” schtick – one going absurd while the other playing it straight.  Both have garnered critical acclaim but only one has seen box office success and is being bandied about with awards buzz.  Seven Psychopaths and Argo couldn’t be more different in style, substance and intent – yet they both hang (and in one case, hang themself) on the central conceit of a film within a film.

First up is Seven Psychopaths.  Boring title and lousy marketing aside, I had high hopes for award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh’s second feature film as his first, In Bruges, is one of my favorite films from the past five years.  The plot of Seven Psychopaths sounded darkly madcap enough – a hapless bunch of dog thieves (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap the dog of a gangster (Woody Harrelson) and hilarious melee ensues.  Sadly, what might have made a good short-story is trapped amongst other not-so-good stories as one of the friends of these dog-nappers is a struggling, alcoholic writer (Colin Farrell) working on a terrible screenplay called Seven Psychopaths that he intends to use to eschew the typical psychopathic thriller.  We get introduced to these psychopaths as he makes them up and some are more interesting than the rest, though as Walken’s character puts it so succinctly at one point, “It all gets a little tiresome after a while.”  Continue reading

Becoming a Townie

Now, Ben, I'd really like to help you revive your career. What can I do for you?

The Town is one of those rare mainstream Hollywood movies where it seems the stars have aligned for all involved, including an audience desperate for some A-list entertainment.  Writer/director Ben Affleck is back in Boston with some street cred after his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, proved he had some talent behind the camera and his Oscar win for screenwriting was no fluke.  Here he takes his gamble one step further by casting himself as the star, and he does a decent enough job with the role, not surprisingly giving himself all the best angles and never demands too much of himself while he’s clearly playing on home turf in this Charlestown crime drama.   

As a director, he’s smart enough to line up a great supporting cast.  Continue reading

A Review of Kevin MacDonald’s “State of Play”

Im telling ya, Ben, I dont care what they say, this long hair is gonna work for me.

Crowe explains to Affleck, "I'm telling ya, Ben, I don't care what they say, this long hair is gonna work for me."

Yesterday’s News Still Blog-Worthy
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A gruff old-school reporter (Russell Crowe playing his A-game) becomes personally entangled in a breaking news story surrounding his old college buddy turned congressman (Ben Affleck, not as bad as you would think) and a young female aid who died under mysterious circumstances in the surprisingly plausible political thriller State of Play from director Kevin MacDonald who was previously responsible for The Last King of Scotland.  Though designed as a throw-back to paranoid investigative thrillers from the 1970’s, relevance is gained when the massive cover-up revealed becomes a vehicle for the filmmakers to explore the death of print news at the hand of digital mediums.

The twisty and engaging screenplay is credited to three scribes: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray. But it’s Gilroy’s fingerprints that shape the story with all the overlapping dialogue and conspiracy talk that will remind many of his Michael Clayton.  Adapted from a sprawling BBC miniseries created by Paul Abbott, the trio is especially deft in their condensing of the story into a fully digestible two hours. Even as new characters and twists keep coming, the audience is never left out in the cold. They also give the cast plenty to chew on with some great throw-away lines amidst all the posturing between the cops, reporters, politicians and sleaze-bags.

Though it’s Crowe and Helen Mirren as his sparring and quick-witted boss who shine the most, this is essentially an ensemble piece, and it’s especially clever when Jason Bateman arrives on screen for a few pivotal scenes as a smug public relations guru who’s too dumb to realize he knows too much. The cast also includes Robin Wright Penn as Affleck’s wife, Jeff Daniels as the arrogant majority whip and Harry Lennix, who as a D.C. detective makes a compelling case here for the lead role in the Barack Obama Story. The only miscalculation in the casting is poor Rachel McAdams, lovely but annoying in her high-pitch as Crowe’s blogging tag-along looking to kick it old-school and get something in print.

By the third act State of Play overplays its hand in its attempts to be timely with too much talk of the privatization of the military, Capitol Hill sex scandals and traditional newspapers losing out in the digital age to bloggers more concerned with gossip than real journalism. It could’ve also been more subtle in its preaching about the importance of serious investigative reporting.  It should be commended, however, for an otherwise smart screenplay that doesn’t spell out all its twists and turns too early and the well polished cast who give the film a slick sheen. Even though it might be reporting on yesterday’s news, State of Play still makes for solid rainy day entertainment and is worthy of blogging about.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

A Review of Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone”

Who knew that behind the camera Ben Affleck would be able to deliver such an audacious and wickedly depressing piece of Dickensian subversion?  Against all odds, his debut as a director is on par with Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter and Robert Redford’s Ordinary People.

Masterfully Crafted Descent into White Trash Hell, 29 October 2007
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

In some ways, “Gone Baby Gone” plays like a horror film. It depicts a seedy world full of drug dealers, murderers, corrupt cops, pedophiles, child killers, and down-on-their-luck Bostonians trapped in an urbanized “white trash” hell where the two African-American characters, a Haitian drug lord and a noble police chief (Morgan Freeman), wield the most power from opposite sides of the law. Director Affleck showers his hometown with humanistic shots of everyday people milling about, seemingly minding their own business, while their world decays and rots around them. The socio-political subtexts of “Gone Baby Gone” tick quietly like a time-bomb underneath the surface of an otherwise rote crime flick about the race to find a missing four year-old girl. I imagine this deep, dark, and morally questionable under-pinning is what has kept mainstream audiences from connecting with the film while critics have hailed it as a masterpiece.

Adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel (author of the similarly themed and depressing “Mystic River”), “Gone Baby Gone” is masterfully crafted from the opening shot to the closing scene. Ben Affleck proves to be a far better talent behind the screen than in front of it, and while the casting of his younger brother in the lead role may seem like nepotism, Casey Affleck gives a richly complex performance as the private eye who uncovers the truth behind the kidnapping of the little girl. The dialog, strung poetically with grim and vulgar Bostonian street-talk, reminded me of “Good Will Hunting.” With Ben Affleck credited as a co-screenwriter here, this film disproves the popular myth that Matt Damon (or an unnamed third party) was the primary force behind their Oscar-winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting.”

Like the best of the actors-turned-directors (Robert Redford, or “Mystic River” maestro Clint Eastwood), Ben Affleck is able to get his cast to deliver amazingly rich performances oozing with pathos. Ed Harris, who sometimes over-acts in one-note fashion, is a powerhouse as the lead officer on the case and delivers quite possibly the best performance of his career; his character’s seething rage and fractured view of justice will leave you literally shaking. Amy Ryan, as the strung-out mother of the girl, delivers the type of pitch-perfect portrayal that the Supporting Actress Oscar was tailor made for. Casey Affleck, following his great turn in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” shows that he is an actor to be reckoned with, raw and emotive, and equal or superior in many ways to contemporaries like Ryan Gosling. Older brother Ben is such an actor’s director, he even manages to deliver a heartbreaking scene towards the end where Michelle Monaghan (in the otherwise thankless role of girlfriend and partner to the male lead) displays a range you didn’t see coming.

For the acting, for the dialog, for the intricately complex and devastating crime drama that unfolds, and yes, for the directing, “Gone Baby Gone,” as depressing a piece of subversion as it is, ranks as one of the year’s very best.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0452623/usercomments-54

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Check out my reviews of past crime thrillers set in Boston:

The Departed:  http://imdb.com/title/tt0407887/usercomments-359

Mystic River:  http://imdb.com/title/tt0327056/usercomments-222