The Silver Bullet ~ Return to Sender

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Synopsis: A nurse living in small town goes on a blind date with a man who is not the person he says he is.

Release Date:  TBD 2015

Thoughts: Do you hear that sound?  That’s the sound of Rosamund Pike, the Oscar-nominated star of Gone Girl, being pigeonholed…at least according to the trailer for Return to Sender.  Looking like a dramatic tale of revenge with a few tricks up its sleeve, I’m sure Pike (who you should also check out in Jack Reacher) will be up for the task but I wonder if the film wouldn’t be better served by an actress that hadn’t recently played a flawed anti-heroine (and played it damn well).  I’m willing to believe that Pike filmed this before Gone Girl landed her on Hollywood’s A-List and while I’m interested to see how much of a welcome diversion this will be, I just have a sinking feeling that it’s going to be compared unfavorably to Pike’s 2014 hit.  Time will tell.

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 ~ The World’s End

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

Director: Edgar Wright

Rated: R

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: This summer has seen a lot of super heroes pass by the silver screens of your local cinema.  May started the season strong with Iron Man 3 only to see a very small part of my future hopes get dashed with a disappointing Man of Steel in June.  I liked July’s The Wolverine more than most but was wondering what would be the highlight of August.  Turns out that the true blue superheroes of the summer arrived in the second to last weekend…and they weren’t even wearing fancy costumes.

Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness) and Nick Frost (Snow White and the Huntsman) lead the cast of The World’s End, the final installment of the The Cornetto Trilogy (each film is connected to a flavor of Cornetto ice cream) after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  Though in all three films Pegg and Frost play different characters, there are running gags in each that the dedicated viewer will pick up on easily…The World’s End being no exception.  Once again working with director Edgar Wright, the trio has wrapped up their trilogy on the highest of high notes.  It’s a fast, funny, incredibly entertaining film that plays to the strengths of everyone involved.

As the boozy mid-life loser who can’t get his life together, Pegg decides that returning to his hometown and completing a failed pub crawl from 20 years prior with his four best mates will somehow jump start the next chapter in his life.  Trouble is that he hasn’t been home in years and his chums want nothing to do with him.  Rounding them up isn’t easy but it is funny as Pegg frantically lies and cheats to get the men together.  Arriving in their small English hamlet, it appears that the tiny town hasn’t changed a bit.  We as viewers can see that the idyllic (and idyllically named) Newton Haven isn’t quite right, but the men waste no time in kicking off their journey from pub to pub on their way to the final destination…The World’s End.

The film is economic as it unspools, with nary a frame wasted or line thrown away.  In fact, the jokes come so fast and furious that a second or third viewing is nearly required to make sure you catch all that Wright and Pegg have weaved into their tight script.  Even the clever pub names like The Old Familiar, The Famous Cock, The Two-Headed Dog, and The Beehive get some laugh mileage due to the simplicity in which they are delivered.

The film is more similar to Hot Fuzz than Shaun of the Dead, though all three films involve Pegg and Frost stumbling into (sometimes literally) the heart of a sinister plot.  Like Hot Fuzz, the first half of the film is a strong set-up to a sharp left turn at the halfway mark that Pegg and Wright already have you buckled up for.

While the previews have given away/hinted at what’s really going on in Newton Haven, I won’t spoil more details because that’s for you to uncover for yourselves.  Even though this plot twist midway through figures heavily into the remaining minutes of the film, it carefully remains a secondary storyline to the main narrative of Pegg’s journey from aimless drunkard to heroic figure.  Starting off nearly unredeemable in his service to self, it says something that the script makes the character not only likeable but relatable by the end credits.

Aside from Pegg and Frost, there’s a whole troop of fantastic actors that fill in the rest of the sharply written roles.  As the three other members of the group, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), Paddy Considine (In America), and Eddie Marsan (Jack the Giant Slayer) each offer a distinctive flavor to the parts they are undertaking.  Even better is that Pegg and Wright have given all five men enough backstory to help us tune in to these men without much exposition.  As the only notable female, Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day, Jack Reacher) mixes well but just happens to be the least interesting character in the group…there’s always one.

As the film with the biggest budget of the trilogy, The World’s End has an excellent production design by Marcus Rowland that’s filmed well by Bill Pope (Men in Black III).  Add to that impressive special effects that don’t get in the way of the action or comedy and Wright’s trademark stylish directing choices and you have a film that feels like the full package of move entertainment.  Easily (and strongly) recommended…especially if you’ve enjoyed the previous films.

The Silver Bullet ~ The World’s End

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Synopsis: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

Release Date:  August 23, 2013

Thoughts:  While I wasn’t as over the moon about Shaun of the Dead as some were, I did enjoy the two leads (Simon Pegg, Star Trek / Star Trek: Into Darkness and Nick Frost) because you could tell the two really played off of eachother well.  Their second collaboration, Hot Fuzz, wasn’t as big of a hit but I quite enjoyed the hammy over-the-top comedy for what it was.  After the slightly disappointing Paul, I’m happy to report that their newest film The World’s End looks like a return to fine comedic form for the duo.  Reuniting with their Shaun and Fuzz director Edgar Wright (who also showed fine visual flair with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), I expect Pegg and Frost to guide The World’s End to a modest late summer last hurrah hit.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Die Another Day

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond is sent to investigate the connection between a North Korean terrorist and a diamond mogul who is funding the development of an international space weapon.

Stars:  Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, John Cleese

Director: Lee Tamahori

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  With three films under his belt, Brosnan’s next venture into Bond territory was delayed slightly to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Bond films and the 50th anniversary of the publication of author Ian Fleming’s work.  Going into the release day, there was a lot of hype around the movie concerning the far-out premise and the casting of an Oscar winner as a sort of female Bond.

I remember seeing Die Another Day the morning it was released in Dublin, Ohio while I was on tour with a show and how much I was looking forward to it.  At the time, I found the film to be overblown, overlong, and finally tipping the scales to gimmickry after avoiding it for so long.  I’m not sure that I’ve seen it again until recently when I was surprised to find myself enjoying what would be Brosnan’s last time onscreen as James Bond.

After a prolonged prologue set in Korea, for the first time we see Daniel Kleinman’s opening credits incorporating film elements into his design and accompanied by Madonna’s admittedly one-note but fitting theme song.  (Madonna herself also becomes the first theme artist to cameo in a Bond film in a small role that nevertheless sticks out like a sore thumb).  Changing up the credits was a benefit as it had to show some passage of time in a creative way.

There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo in the way of a plot concerning cloning, diamonds, and a very large ice palace owned by wealthy magnate Gustav Graves (Stephens, son of Maggie Smith, who obviously inherited his mom’s way with a clipped one-liner) but it’s best not to get too involved with the more silly details happening in the film.  It’s best to enjoy what the gigantic budget bought for us in the way of impressive special effects and well maneuvered stunt sequences.

Brosnan is his usual dapper self, not letting a 14 month stay in a Korean prison hold his superspy back for long.  Dench is tart per usual but she must have had other work at the time because her role is noticeably shorter than it was in The World is Not Enough.  Pike is nicely ensconced as chilly Bond girl/MI6 agent Miranda Frost and Yune makes the most out of his underdeveloped diamond acne-d villain.  If someone can explain to me why Michael Madsen shows up I’d be interested to hear!

That leads us to Berry who is introduced ala Ursula Andress in the first Bond film, Dr. No.  When I first saw the film I wasn’t impressed with her but over time the role has grown on me and it’s easy to see why there was buzz about her character Jinx getting her own spin-off but, alas, like Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies it was not meant to be.

Bringing on yet another new director, the producers went with an Australian and Tamahori brings a smart sensibility to the film.  He keeps the light stuff light and the full throttle action on high alert so even if the film is a little too long for its own good it still doesn’t feel like its overstaying its welcome.

Some feel that Die Another Day is a lesser title in the world of 007 and even if it is…there’s a lot to like in it that would keep even the casual action moviegoer interested.  Brosnan’s four Bond films are the most consistent of any of the previous Bonds so some credit should go to him for taking good care of Bond in his tenure.