Movie Review ~ Gone Girl

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The Facts:

Synopsis: With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Carrie Coon, David Clennon

Director: David Fincher

Rated: R

Running Length: 149 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  I’ve been trying hard lately to catch up on my reading…especially with so many page to screen adaptations coming out in the next few months.  Even more challenging is that I try to time my finishing of a book as close to the release date as possible so the elements of the story are still fresh in my mind.  Recently, I finished the disappointing This Is Where I Leave You a few weeks before the slightly less disappointing film was released but with Gone Girl I was down to the wire, catching the film when the book’s pages were still warm from me blazing through them.

This actually helped me more than I could have ever dreamed because it afforded me the opportunity to pinpoint exactly where screenwriter Gillian Flynn improved upon her own novel.  By combining characters or excising them all together, Flynn has tightened what was already a taut narrative…and the end result is a film as razor sharp as they come.  Of course it helps that she had David Fincher as her director because he’s all about economical delivery, ready and willing to trim the fat to ensure his work is as lean and direct as can be.

That works well for Flynn’s tricky tale of marriage and murder where everyone seems to have a secret ready to be exploited.  Her novel was a blockbuster hit when released in 2012 and it’s truly a wonder it made such a seamless transition to the screen, largely keeping its twists under wraps until the moment of impact. Even knowing where the film was heading, I was engaged enough that I was on the edge of my seat right along with those in the audience that weren’t prepared for the journey Flynn and Fincher were about to take us.

It’s 2012 and the morning of the fifth anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne.  Transplants from New York, they’ve been living in Nick’s Missouri hometown thanks to the economic downturn that saw both lose their jobs and reexamine their financial future.  Instead of celebrating, however, Nick is plunged into a nightmare when he returns home to find Amy has seemingly vanished into thin air.  As the police, media, friends, and family descend upon the town and start to examine the crime and, by proxy, the Dunne’s marriage we learn that some secrets won’t stay hidden for long.

Like the novel, the movie jumps between Nick’s present day narrative and Amy’s diary entries written from the time they met up until she goes missing that paint a different picture of the happy couple.  So far the marketing of the film has kept Flynn’s surprising twists in check and you won’t get a spoiler out of me…but let’s just say that through some clever bits of storytelling the film is far from over just when you think you’ve reached the end.

As is typical with Fincher’s work, the casting is pretty spot-on even if several choices are quite different from the original novel.  Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the blond-haired tanned creation on the page but he’s wholly convincing as a husband on the edge, trapped by evidence that suggests he should be more concerned with his wife’s whereabouts than he appears to be.  Same goes for Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) as the vanished Amy who has an even more delicate balance to play.  Pike’s always been an interesting actress but I was wondering if she was perhaps too chilly to play Amy, and boy was I wrong.  Her steel gaze turns out to be a major advantage here and Pike handily swipes the movie away from her more famous co-star every chance she gets.

In supporting roles, Fincher scored with Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister caught between what she knows is true about her sibling and the evidence that suggests more and more he knows where his wife is.  Another fine performance comes from Kim Dickens as a local cop assigned to the case with good instincts that she doesn’t quite know what to do with. Both Coon and Dickens represent Fincher thinking out of the casting box — here’s hoping their work elevates them as it should.  Also, I should add as a longtime fan it’s also nice to see Sela Ward cameo as a scoop hungry television personality.

Surprisingly, Fincher makes two unfortunate mistakes with the casting of Neil Patrick Harris (A Million Ways to Die in the West) as a man from Amy’s past and Tyler Perry (Alex Cross) as Nick’s high-powered attorney.  Harris seems too slight and off the mark for where the character needed to be, though admittedly he’s saddled with the least successful dialogue Flynn transported over from her book.  Perry, meanwhile, looks positively giddy to be out of his Madea garb and into some power suits…though his unconvincing acting still borders on atrocious.  These two distractions could be written off had they not been so pivotal to the story.  Too bad.

At 149 minutes, I was worried the movie wouldn’t be able to keep its momentum going strong but Fincher has never met a film he couldn’t move along at a breathless pace.  Like the book, the movie is pleasing enough for the first 45 minutes or so but really hits its stride around the hour mark before making a full out sprint to the finish line.  There’s some devious work afoot here and it’s incredibly satisfying.

I realized about halfway through Gone Girl how starved I’d been for a sophisticated, adult thriller.  Though it seemed to go out of style in the late 90s and been replaced by the political/espionage mystery fare Fincher has made his second bid (after 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) for its resurgence.  When the story is so good, the lead performances so on the money, and the direction this precise, the bar has been raised again for any takers that wish to challenge themselves to rise to Fincher and Co.’s level.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gone Girl

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Synopsis: A woman mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary.

Release Date: October 3, 2014

Thoughts: I’ve yet to meet a David Fincher film or marketing campaign I haven’t liked and it appears as though Gone Girl will be no different. From the clever poster to this simple first trailer for the drama/thriller adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, this looks like the dark material that Fincher thrives in. Another thing Fincher always seems to have going for him is surprising casting and while Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the most out of the box choice for the role of the husband suspected of being involved with his wife’s disappearance, it would appear he fits the role quite well. Though multiple A-list actresses sought the titular role, Fincher opted to go with the lesser known Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher, Die Another Day) and if early buzz is to be believed, she’s a revelation. I’m waiting until later in the summer to give the book a look-see but have every confidence Fincher and Flynn will deliver the goods.

Movie Review ~ Thanks for Sharing

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A romantic comedy that brings together three disparate characters who are learning to face a challenging and often confusing world as they struggle together against a common demon: sex addiction.

Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Josh Gad, Alecia Moore

Director: Stuart Blumberg

Rated: R

Running Length: 112 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I was supposed to attend a screening of Thanks for Sharing with a friend visiting from out of town.  Plans changed at the last minute so I found myself in the theater alone for an early morning look at this dramedy and for the first 45 minutes, I was disappointed that I was there solo.  You see, I thought my friend was missing out on a chance to see a breezy and engaging look into the lives of several members of a support group for sex addiction.  It wasn’t long after that first quarter hour, though, that I began to realize my friend was the lucky one in this equation.

It’s around the halfway point that the film becomes aimless and worst of all, charmless.  The congenial air that writer/director Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right) pumps into the first half is deflated by a second act that gets bogged down in trivial emotions and obnoxious performances.  What’s left must be seen as an unbalanced cinematic outing, one that never reclaims the promise of independence that arrived at the outset.

So what went wrong, exactly?

The success story here is the charming courtship of recovering sex addict Mark Ruffalo (Marvel’s The Avengers, Now You See Me) and cancer survivor Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man 3).  She’s dealt with death, recovered, and doesn’t want to spend her time worrying about a mate that has serious hang-ups.  Ruffalo sees that that poses a problem for their future so forgets to mention the meetings he attends and why he may not want to go all the way on the first date.  Instead of this turning into another “Big Secret I Can’t Tell” frustrating plot device, Blumberg deals with it rather succinctly and lets this adult relationship go through its peaks and valleys naturally.  Ruffalo is one of the most underrated actors, respected though he is, and his contribution to this film is invaluable.  Paltrow, too, succeeds in role where we feel she’s letting her guard down and really being the amiable person she appears to be.

Good work also comes from Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption), Joely Richardson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Patrick Fugit (We Bought a Zoo) as a family of addicts/enablers cautiously finding new footing and trying to forgive the past.  Though Robbins tends to speak in dime store self-help book talk, the actor brings a certain gravitas to the dialogue that makes it ring true.

The problem couple here is a greatly miscast Alecia Moore (aka Pink) and the ever-annoying Josh Gad.  Moore is a gifted musician and songwriter and it’s probably best she stick to music because her acting isn’t convincing in the least, watching her struggle through some serious scenes isn’t very fun.  Gad’s man-child shtick was old the minute he used it in Love & Other Drugs and though he’s had good showings in 2013 with The Internship and jOBS, he’s back in Jack Black-wannabe form here.

I’d say the problem lies less with Blumberg’s script, contrived and conventional as it is, but in its ensemble structure.  The best kinds of ensemble pictures (e.g. any Robert Altman film) succeed because every character is interesting/appealing in some way or another.  If we don’t like peeking in the lives of the people featured in overlapping stories, there’s room for the audience to start to distance themselves from the ensemble as a whole.

Thanks, but no Thanks.

The Silver Bullet ~ Thanks for Sharing

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Synopsis: A romantic comedy that follows the lives of three friends who meet while attending 12-step meetings to help treat their addiction to sex.

Release Date:  September 20, 2013

Thoughts: Oscar winners Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow join Mark Ruffalo (Marvel’s The Avengers), Josh Gad (The Internship, jOBS), and Alecia Moore (aka singer Pink) star in a comedy from one of the writers of The Kids are Alright, in what could be considered edgy material in some circles.  Though group meetings for sex addiction may raise some eyebrows, this seems to be a harmless (read, slight) opportunity for more than a few of the above actors to not take themselves so seriously.  I’m hoping the script shapes up to be more about finding some healthy balance in relationships rather than exploring the nether regions of material we’ve seen before.