Review: GONE GIRL

NO. SPOILERS.

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On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne reports that his wife, Amy, has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

The last time I reviewed a Fincher film on this website of mine, it was the 2011 Aaron Sorkin scripted, Facebook-flick, The Social Network. Since then he’s directed [a re-make of] The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as well as a couple of episodes of [the rather fantastic] House of Cards.

GONE GIRL, the film of the book (no, I haven’t read it), is Fincher’s latest effort and boy, it is a doozy.

There are few directors that get me frothing at the mouth with every new production – Nolan, Tarantino, Aronofsky, to name but three. Fincher also sits in that list. I fell in love with his work when I saw Fight Club (mind-blowing) back in 1999.

After that I explored back through The Game (mind-f***) and Se7en (visceral) and then worked forward into Panic Room (meh) and then Zodiac (over-long, but good enough to forgive). I didn’t think Dragon Tattoo was superb. Serviceable, yes. Classic Fincher? Certainly not. Social Network was very good – and then House of Cards reminded me that I missed him in film. In short: to say I was looking forward to GONE GIRL would be an understatement.

So much so I’m just happily tweeting typos…

And I was not disappointed.

Let’s start with the cast: Ben Affleck, as husband-in-search-of-missing-wife, Nick Dunne is a masterclass on playing Mr Average.

Gone-Girl

Relationships are weird things and, in every relationship, people behave in different ways and in this, Affleck delivers (nothing about this film makes him a superhero, but the weight of the world that he carries throughout? He will indeed make a great Batman) – I like it a LOT when good actors remind you just how good they are.

Playing the disappeared-wife, whose back story is told through diary entries along the way, Rosamund Pike excels. I’ll be honest, I’ve never really taken to her much in the stuff I’ve seen her in but in this, probably her best and yet most challenging work to date, Pike is on top form. It’s not an easy journey her character goes on and, at times, it’s a tough sell. I can’t imagine anyone else nailing it as well as she does.  

Neil Patrick Harris gets third billing but it’s Carrie Coon who really should be next on the list. Playing Ben Affleck’s ever-supportive / ever-present twin sister, Margot, Coon grounds the movie with emotion and brings the audiences questions to life without verging too much into exposition. That’s not to be mean to NPH, mind. His short but impactful performance is just the right side of sinister – and that’s all you need to know.

About all of it, in fact.

Yes, Trent Reznor’s scoring of the film is outstanding. And yes, the 149 minute run time keeps you gripped from start to finish. But to say any more would be giving hints as to where the film takes you and I’m telling now, going in ‘dark’, without knowing a thing, is probably the best way to see this film. GONE GIRL is a twisting, turning tale of the darkness that occurs in relationships. The stuff you don’t see, the stuff that both deny. The stuff that all of us have seen – or at least heard of.

It’ll push you to your limits of belief and it will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It will thrill you, make you question those around you, and it will make you feel sick.

But it does it so well.

I really did leave the cinema completely stunned by just how good it was. Writing this now, several hours later, and I’m still thinking about it. At times, it reminded me of Social Network, at others, Fight Club. The dark humour that spills through the celluloid during the film’s third act is to be enjoyed and revelled in.

GONE GIRL is a fantastically dark film.

GONE GIRL is Fincher at his best.

GONE GIRL is my film of 2014.

It might be yours too.

See it.

_______

Related post: ‘UK Cinema Release Dates for you Calendar

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Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

No spoilers.

TF4

A little over a week ago (and thanks to my childlike and somewhat ridiculous public excitement – I blame the Superbowl) those super lovely people at Paramount Pictures invited me to a ‘super-fan screening’ of Transformers: Age of Extinction (TF4), at the biggest screen in Britain, the London BFI IMAX.

TF4 Superfan Invite

I’m not kidding around, when that first trailer dropped, I admit it: I was so much SUPER FAN NUMBER ONE that my excitement was palpable.

Optimus Prime. Riding a dinosaur (or Grimlock as we geeks know him). You can’t get any more balls-to-the-wall nerdgasmic than that. No siree Bob.

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Now, let’s fast forward to the super-fan who has seen the film. First off, if you’d spoken to me the moment I left the cinema I probably would’ve said something like: ‘Transformers 4 is probably the most unintentionally hilarious film I’ve seen all year.’ – it’s almost tongue in cheek with its brazen audacity and the belief-suspending leaps of faith it puts before you.

Example: yes I accept we’re dealing with house-sized transforming alien robots but MARK WAHLBERG IS PLAYING AN INVENTOR. Think about that for a second.

If you go into the film capable of accepting that as a fact (or as a running joke) then you’re in for a fun ride.

Story wise, it’s not bad: four years after The Battle of Chicago (see Transformers: Dark of the Moon- well, don’t see it, just know that it happened in that film) Transformers of all kinds are hunted all over the world and have, in the main, gone into hiding. Marky Mark’s CADE YEAGER (great name), a modern day rag-and-bone man, happens to find an old truck that he wants to break up and sell for parts.

Thing is, the old truck just happens to be one Optimus Prime (rocking an awesome nod to his original 1980s form) and then, well, someone tells the Feds and everything rolls out from there.

Before we carry on, let’s get the whole MICHAEL BAY thing out of the way. In my last Five things on Friday post I linked to an 8min video of what makes a Michael Bay movie (it’s 8mins long, worth watching, and embedded below).

TF4 is no break from this style.

In fact, Bay embraces it.

TF4 is pure Bayhem.

Soft country music, US flags flowing in the wind, low shots looking up (for no reason whatsoever), slowed down battle scenes – it’s all there. In fact, TF4 it so Michael bay, it almost verges into self-parody.

This is a man that loves American sunsets so much that in the opening chase, you go from glorious daylight, to an orange dusk, to a sunset over farmland, back to daylight (racing through fields), back to sunset (this time in the city), then to daytime (escaping on what can only be an actual race track – with the action and editing such that maybe he hoped you wouldn’t notice) to sunset again but this time out on the desert plains.

Obviously all these places exist in or near Chicago (probably) but are they all within 15mins of a farmhouse? With bonus magical yo-yo sunsets to boot? I don’t think so.

Example: these two images take place within minutes of each other.

Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 11.14.36 Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 11.14.49

Notice anything about the lighting?

Jesus.

It’s easy to criticise Bay. Too easy. But y’know what? The man nails bombastic action like no other and while the story may not be the best in the world, it’s better than previous efforts and jettisoning the ineffective Shia LeBeouf means what plot is there isn’t being held up by the acting equivalent of a damp cloth.

‘Yeah but, it’s just another robot smash up, but this time with dinosaurs, right?’

Well, yes (that’s the whole point) and no.

The first Transformers film was pretty good (purely because, aside from a novelty dancing robot car commercial, we’d never seen the Transformers made real before) but the following two sequels were rubbish. Terrible even. Age of Extinction breaks that mould and, contrary to the finality of its title, actually breathes new life into the franchise.

The Transformers themselves, leaving the obvious war hero tropes aside, are given at least some attempt of being different from one another, as well bit of personality to them (thank you John Goodman and Ken Watanabe). Plus, for the geeks, we get a new set of Decepticons, a couple of new kinds of Transformers (oh hey Drift, what’s that? You’re a Bugatti Veyron and a helicopter? Sweet!) and a brand new Decepticon leader.

But no more on that one…

On the character front, probably the best addition to TF4 is that of Lockdown, the gun [for-a-head] toting robot seen in nearly every bit of promotional material you would’ve seen.

This guy, standing in front of the monster space ship –

Lockdown

He’s a bounty hunter, with no affiliation to either side, and his presence not only mixes with motivations and ideologies of the characters we’ve known so far but also alludes to a larger story yet to be told.

Lockdown is a badass

Plus he’s a badass. That helps.

In closing, TF4 is Michael Bay doing his best impression of Michael Bay and it’s got robots that transform into dinosaurs and Mark Wahlberg saying things like ‘I think we found a Transformer!

It doesn’t matter what I say to you (really, it doesn’t), I doubt very much my opinion will sway you. If you’ve decided to see it, you’ll see it (see it BIG) and if you haven’t well, you know you’re not missing out.

I started off this review saying that TF4 is basically a joke but the more I think about it, the more it’s been growing on me. Put it this way: I can safely say Transformers: Age of Extinction is the best and most Transformer-y Transformers since the first one.

You’ll love to hate it or you’ll hate yourself for loving it.

In cinemas now.

ROARRRRGGHH!

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

NO. SPOILERS.

THE-AMAZING-SPIDER-MAN-2

To say I’ve been excited about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (TASM2) for a little while now would be an understatement.

Back in July 2012, I signed off my review for the first film saying –

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“Here’s hoping future installments deliver on the early promise [that at least some of] the cast have shown.”
-

Well, did it?

Max Dillon

No. It didn’t.

And I’ll get to why shortly. But first, the good stuff.

The Cast

TASM2’s main players are perfect (it’s the secondary characters that make you cringe*). Andrew Garfield is Peter Parker just as much as he is Spider-Man. The latter of the two, especially in the earlier action scenes, never better in fact. Funny, fast-talking, and clearly very much at ease with who he is, Spider-Man of 2014 is pretty darn spot on.

On a related note, much has been said about the outstanding chemistry between Garfield and his leading lady, Emma Stone. This, again, is a definite highlight and the screen sparkles and shines whenever the two of them are together throughout. In fact, some of the film’s best laugh out loud moments come from their quick-fire back-and-forths; their relationship has never been more believable.

Jamie Foxx, as new villain Max Dillon – aka Electro – is actually really good too. His journey from ignored nobody through to genuinely messed-up-in-the-head super-villain is superb and in all honesty, probably deserved more screen time than he actually got (but we’ll come back to that).

Dane Dehaan is a great Harry Osborn but again, not for very long. I haven’t seen Dehaan in anything since the seminal super-powers flick, Chronicle, so it’s good to see him bringing the gravitas and pain to the always conflicted character that is the heir to Oscorp.

Finally, on the casting front, it must be said that Sally Field is without doubt one of the best things in the entire film. Her screentime can only add up to something around 15mins in total, but the emotional punch her Aunt May delivers in one particular scene (as well as others) makes her stand head and shoulders above all else and the film is much better for it.

Thank you, Sally Field.

Sally Field Aunt May

All those great actors, all those great performances – what could possible go wrong?

The Script

It’s terrible. I mean, really really terrible. There were rumours of multiple rewrites and myriad changes constantly throughout the making of this film (an entire character, in the shape of Shailene Woodley’s Mary-Jane Watson was written, shot, and then later edited out of the final cut) and the script has clearly suffered for it. Admittedly Jamie Foxx is a great actor, but he’s worthy of an Oscar nod for pulling off this line with a straight face –

“Soon, everyone in the city will know how it feels to live in a world without power, without mercy, without Spider-Man”

If TASM2 had an honest movie poster it would read:

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Great actors do their best with terrible lines.’


The Plot

To say the plot [and pacing for that matter] of TASM2 is ‘convoluted and messy’ would be an understatement. In the original Spider-Man trilogy, it is universally accepted that Spider-Man 3 is the worst of the three. With the blame, amongst other things, being placed firmly on there being too many villains and not enough time. Sadly, you can say the exact same thing about TASM2.

The Goblin’s arrival seems unnecessary and rushed, especially as Dehaan was doing such a great job as Osborn (and moreso when you remember it took James Franco’s Harry Osborn a full two-and-a-half-films before he finally turned), and the appearance of the mechanised Rhino later on in the film is almost laughable in its whole only-reason-to-exist-is-so-that-we-can-sell-more-toys cheek.

It’s a joke.

Spider-Man 2 poster

Thing is, it’s not only that TASM2 tries to cram in as many references as humanly possible, but its also Sony’s whole ‘we’re building a world/platform for sequels’ thing.

The problem here is twofold. First, the story loses focus and feels bloated. Second, and this is the major deal-breaker, as a result of this ‘sequel-itis’ Spider-Man never really goes through any real sense of surprise or peril.

Don’t get me wrong, while more bad things happen in this film than the first one, there isn’t any real point throughout that you think ‘Oh no! How will Spider-Man get out of it this time?’

I get it. He’s a super-hero. But still. Even his lowest ever low point doesn’t actually feel that low, and that’s a really bad thing.

In Closing

As I’ve already said, TASM2’s casting is [almost] perfect and the film gets away with a lot because of it. However, more time should’ve been spent on the story at hand, not on the wider sequel-set-ups and, as a result, the end result lacks any real emotional impact.

What this franchise needs is a change of director.

Yes, my main points of contention have been about story, pace and scripting, however, perhaps a new/decent director wouldn’t let those things through the net. Marc Webb has already been signed up for TASM3, and I really don’t hold out much hope for it to be much better than this.

Which is a real shame, because he makes a darn good trailer.

Two supporting characters in particular really SUCKED for me.

First: Paul Giamatti. It’s clear PG is meant for bigger things to come in [the already planned/announced] TASM3 however, as Russian gangster Aleksei Sytsevich – aka The Rhino, I can’t work out if he’s woefully miscast or utterly wasted. Whichever one it is, he brings the film down.

Second, Marton Csokas turns up in a random cameo as Ravenscroft Institute’s Dr Ashley Kafka and, when that happens; the whole film takes a swerve into Batman Forever territory. Every time I saw him, it was as though the director had just stepped out for lunch or something. I wanted to throw popcorn at the screen it was that bad.

For the uber-geeks out there, wondering if there’s any kind of post-credits sting similar to the first one (with Dr Connors getting a visit from a mysterious inquisitor) you’ll be sadly disappointed. That being said, many publications are reporting that there’s an X-Men: Days of Future Past scene midway through TASM2’s credits.

But this is not the case at the IMAX.

But it is happening at other, regular cinemas. FYI and all that.
——

Final words –

DO see this film if you’re a comic book / Spider-Man geek and you want to make your mind up about it yourself.

DO NOT see this film if you thought the first TASM was a bit lacklustre. TASM2 will only let you down further.

 

Whatley out.

 

 

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Review: Under the Skin

Lost for words.

Scarjo

Dark.

Twisted.

Unnerving.

Disturbing.

I left the cinema feeling sick to the pit of my stomach.

Under the Skin is magnificent.

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There is much to say, but also too much.

Many other reviews give you tip offs, things like which characters are driven by what motivations, or where certain characters have come from and where they’re headed. I can’t do that. I can’t. I want you to see this knowing as little as possible.

In fact, I can’t recommend enough that you go into this completely cold (even if you can’t, even if you’ve seen a review that says ‘This is terrible!’ or if you’ve heard from someone that it’s completely rubbish. Ignore that person. Do not listen to their advice).

Just make sure you do go into it.

Go into it at the cinema.

Go into it alone.

Or with friends.

Just go into it.

And don’t look away.

Don’t look back.

Follow her in.

And let her under your skin.

 

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Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Just beautiful.

The grand budapest hotel wallpaper

I think I am growing tired of the advice of ‘if you like things by X, then you’ll like the new thing from X’, never more do I see this offered when it comes to the films of Wes Anderson.

Some people enjoy his films, some people simply cannot stand them. But look, this isn’t going to be one of those reviews because, to put it simply, if you’re a Wes Anderson fan, you don’t need me to tell you to see this already.

For what it’s worth, I like most of his films. My favourite, to date, is The Royal Tenenbaums, however The Grand Budapest Hotel (TGBH) comes extremely close to knocking it from its perch and is quite easily , Anderson’s most accomplished film to date.

It is immediately Anderson, yet understated. It is symmetrical, yet imperfect. Anderson’s usual tricks and flares shine here, in this long-forgotten world and, most importantly, do not get in the way of  the story (which he has been guilty of in the past).

And that story, it is both at once absurd and sublime.

Gustave M

Ralph Fiennes is magnificent, as Gustave M, the prolific fancier of women, old and older. An appreciation of good manners, charm, and delightfully chosen swearing, he holds the film together wonderfully.

It would be prudent at this point to dive into a list of notable actors/characters from the film and reel off why it is they’re so good (or so bad) but there are two reasons why this will not be happening. First off, the cast for TGBH is incredible (and to list them all would take far too long).

Grand Budapest Hotel Cast

Second, I keep coming back to the story. It is not that it has texture, or that it shows such depth, nor even is it the wonderful characters that show up en route, it is simply in the telling that makes it such a fantastical journey. And the story has stayed with me.

This is the most heartfelt Anderson film since Tenenbaums, and it is a delight. Crafted with inception levels of story telling, ghastly creatures worthy of their own horror film, and locations suited to something from from a comic book, TGBH is superb.

I recommend it, heartily. I laughed, a lot. And, between you and me, I very nearly cried.

In short:

If you like ice cream, you should eat ice cream. If you like Wes Anderson, you should go see TGBH. If you like amusing and oddly romantic stories, soaked in whimsy and exquisitely told, then you should book your ticket now.

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