From The Movie Snob. (For Mom Under Cover’s review, click here.)
Gone Girl (B). I’m not quite sure what happened here. I loved the novel this movie was based on. The movie, directed by David Fincher (The Social Network) is well made and faithful to the novel (from what I can remember). The casting and performances were good, or even great. So why didn’t I love the movie? I’m not sure, but I think the tale just seemed more far-fetched up on the big screen. Anyway, I definitely liked the movie, and if you want a knotty little mystery movie you should definitely give it a try. Of course I must avoid spoilers, so I’ll just repeat the minimal factual synopsis all the reviewers are using. Ben Affleck (Argo) and Rosamund Pike (The World’s End) star as Nick and Amy Dunne, a married couple who used to be NYC glitterati but who are now downsized schmoes living in Nick’s nowhere hometown of North Carthage, MO. As the movie opens, it is the morning of the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, and Nick discovers that Amy is missing. There are strange, minimal signs of foul play in the house. What happened to her? Did Nick have something to do with it? Suffice to say, secrets will be exposed. Affleck and Pike give fine performances, but even the actors in the smaller roles shine, especially Carrie Coon (TV’s The Leftovers) as Nick’s twin sister and Kim Dickens (Thank You for Smoking) as the skeptical detective Rhonda Boney.
David Fincher’s (Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network) latest offering, based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 best seller of the same name, is a dark thriller and a good one at that. (I didn’t read the book, so I don’t know whether the movie strayed from the novel.) The movie opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) stroking his wife Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) head and wanting to crack open her skull…to know what she’s really thinking….and then it picks up with the search for the missing Amy. As the plot unfolds, we learn both partners are liars and cheats and the marriage is nothing like the storybook romance it appears to be. Affleck more than adequately portrays the shallow Nick, but it is Pike (Pride & Prejudice, An Education) whose performance mesmerizes. Perhaps the discipline she uses to turn her natural British accent into the American middle-of-the-country-lack-of-accent fuels her controlled, depraved presence as Amy. Neil Patrick Harris is sublime as the stalker. Oh, and if I had been reading the book instead of watching the movie, the ending might have caused me to throw the book across the room.
The World’s End (B-). This is a crazy little movie from the same team that brought us Shaun of the Dead (which I liked) and Hot Fuzz (which I have not yet seen). Simon Pegg (Star Trek Into Darkness) stars as a middle-aged ne’er-do-well named Gary King. Having nothing better to do, King decides to round up his four best mates from his teenaged days, drag them back to their small hometown in the British countryside, and attempt to complete a legendary 12-pub crawl called The Golden Mile. The movie starts out seeming to be a thoughtful story about lost youth, trying to go home again, the sacrifices entailed in growing up, etc. Then it suddenly turns into a Stepford Wives–Body Snatchers type affair, and the half-sozzled quintet find themselves fighting for their lives (and, in King’s case, fighting to finish The Golden Mile). The lovely Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) appears as the sister of one of the buddies, and Pierce Brosnan (Die Another Day) unexpectedly shows up for a couple of scenes as well. It’s a bit half-baked, but I still got a kick out of it.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (2012). I think this book rode high on the bestseller lists for much of last year, and now I know why: It is a top-notch suspense novel that is very well written to boot. At the beginning of the book, a small-town Missouri guy named Nick Dunne discovers that his wife Amy is missing. The chapters alternate between Nick’s narration of the events from the time of the disappearance forward and entries from Amy’s diary that tell us a great deal of the couple’s backstory. Nick is not a straightforward narrator, and the reader is soon caught up in trying to figure out what Nick is holding back and whether he may have killed Amy himself. There are some great twists and turns along the way. Highly recommended—but don’t start it late on a school night. It is that hard to put down!
P.S. Imdb.com reports a potential movie version of the book starring Ben Affleck (Argo) and Rosamund Pike (Wrath of the Titans). I think they’d be good for the lead roles….
Wrath of the Titans (F). Wow. How could this movie go so wrong? Okay, granted it’s a sequel to a remake of a 1981 movie that wasn’t very good in the first place. Nevertheless, the original Clash of the Titans holds a very special place in my heart. Thirteen-year-old me thrilled to the sight of ancient Greek hero Perseus (Harry Hamlin, TV’s L.A. Law) slaying Medusa, battling giant scorpions, and saving Princess Andromeda from a giant sea monster. The bloated 2010 remake didn’t recapture the magic of the original, and it inexplicably introduced a second female character to distract Perseus from Andromeda, but it was not totally bereft of charm. This movie, however, was quite bereft of charm — and logic, editing, and everything else that makes a movie good. Well, with one exception; it does feature the lovely Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice), who replaces the original actress as Andromeda. But unfortunately, Pike has nothing to do in this movie except follow Perseus around, get tossed like a rag doll in the occasional ancient Greek explosion or earthquake, and look gorgeous through the photogenic streaks of dirt and blood that appear on and disappear from her face at random. And how much money did they have to dangle in front of Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) and Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) to get them to appear in this stinkbomb? Anyhoo, the plot, such as it is, is something about Hades and Ares scheming against Zeus and the rest of the gods in order to release the ancient Greek titan Kronos, so Perseus has to pad out the film, er, I mean go on a mythical quest, to find out how to stop Kronos from destroying the universe. Oog. The stupidity was palpable.
Barney’s Version (B). I sort of wanted to see this movie anyway because it features the lovely Rosamund Pike (An Education), and then Paul Giamatti (Sideways) won a Goldon Globe for his performance as Barney Panofsky, so I decided to go ahead and see it. It’s a pretty decent movie about a not-particularly-likeable guy. At the movie’s start, we learn that Barney is a sad older guy who’s apparently given to calling his remarried ex-wife Miriam in the middle of the night and saying rude things to her new husband. Most of the rest of the movie is a flashback, showing us how Barney reached this sad pass. Back in the 70s he was hanging out in Rome with some free-spirited artistic types, but somehow he wound up with a career producing a horrible Canadian soap opera. He smokes cigars, and he drinks too much. And a brief encounter with a detective early in the film tells us, intriguingly, that he is a suspect in a long-unsolved murder. But I have to say, although Giamatti gives his customary fine performance, Barney still came off as a bit of a cipher to me. Why would an elegant beauty like Miriam (played by Pike) fall for a schlubby, hockey-obsessed quasi-alcoholic like Barney? I’m not sure I get it.
Pride & Prejudice (A-). This is the 2005 remake of the beloved Jane Austen novel, starring Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go) as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen (Robin Hood) as Mr. Darcy. Being a big Austen fan, I was predisposed to like it, and I still do. On watching the DVD, I was surprised to see Carey Mulligan (An Education, Never Let Me Go), whose career is quite hot at the moment, in the small role of Kitty Bennet. Apparently this was Mulligan’s first movie. The movie also features Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), who would also appear with Mulligan in An Education. Anyhoo, it’s a lovely adaptation of a great story. The “behind the scenes” extras on the DVD are not particularly insightful, but they do give a few facts about Austen and make it clear that the cast of the movie really enjoyed working together.
An Education (A-). This 2009 release has been nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for young Carey Mulligan (Pride & Prejudice). I think the nominations are deserved. Mulligan plays Jenny, a bright British schoolgirl in 1961. Her dad (played by Alfred Molina, Chocolat) is a loutish fellow who is set on Jenny’s going to Oxford, for all the wrong reasons. So when David, a suave fellow in his 30s, comes sniffing around Jenny, he easily gets dad to bless the relationship by pretending to be an Oxford man himself–with connections. A sordid affair begins, with David’s friends Danny (Dominic Cooper, Mamma Mia!) and Helen (Rosamund Pike, Pride & Prejudice) looking on. Peter Sarsgaard (The Skeleton Key) does a good job of playing David convincingly as someone that a naive schoolgirl could find attractive despite an underlying creepiness. A good film about a creepy subject–especially creepy considering that it is based on someone’s memoir.
Surrogates (C+). Disposable sci-fi/action fare starring Bruce Willis (Bandits) (good grief — this is the first Bruce Willis movie I’ve seen in like 8 years). The premise is certainly interesting. In the near future, no one ever leaves the house; instead we plug into a computer network and use very realistic androids called surrogates to go out and do everything for us. Naturally, the surrogates tend to be rather better looking than their human owners; moreover, there’s no requirement that your surrogate be the same age, race, or sex as you are. Anyhoo, there’s a shock to the system when two androids get gunned down and, despite “foolproof” safety systems, their human operators die at the same time. Willis, who’s an FBI agent, follows the clues to a reservation of “Dreads” (humans who view surrogates as abominations and refuse to use them) and beyond. When his own surrogate gets destroyed, he has to pull his pasty, out-of-shape self out of his chair and do some literal footwork to find out who is behind all the shenanigans. The lovely Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) plays Willis’s wife, and Radha Mitchell (Henry Poole Is Here) plays his FBI partner.
Oh, and they used exterior shots of the Bank of America building in downtown Dallas as the headquarters for the sinister corporation VSI. Cool!
And that, friends, is The Movie Court’s 1000th post. How about that?
Fracture (C+). Despite a warning from my sister that this legal thriller was pretty mediocre, I spent a chunk of my Sunday afternoon on it. It stars Anthony Hopkins (Noah) and this hotshot newcomer Ryan Gosling (The Big Short), and the Dallas Morning News reviewer gave it a B. Plus, it co-stars Rosamund Pike, who played the icily gorgeous femme fatale Miranda Frost in the James Bond flick Die Another Day. So it seemed to have potential. Anyhoo, Sir Anthony plays a brilliant aircraft engineer who discovers that his much-younger wife (EmbethDavidtz, Schindler’s List) is having an affair. He shoots her in the face, but she survives, and he insists on representing himself in the subsequent trial for attempted murder. Gosling is the D.A. who draws a case, a cocky lawyer who’s about to quit prosecuting in favor of a job with a big corporate law firm. But the alleged perpetrator has a few surprises for him in the courtroom. I was never bored, but I didn’t leave satisfied either. Go see the German flick The Lives of Others before it disappears from the Inwood Theater instead.
Just in time for the holidays we have been graced with two exceptional movies for your consideration.
Pride & Prejudice (A). It is apparently very difficult to make a bad movie from a Jane Austen novel. I loved both the delightful Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma and the wonderful Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and I have greatly enjoyed updated versions of JA’s work such as Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary. (Okay, the version of Mansfield Park from a few years ago didn’t stay with me, and the recent Bollywood Bride & Prejudice was a bit of a misfire. But still, they weren’t bad.) This P&P may be the best of them all (although I’ll confess I’ve never seen the popular A&E version starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle). Keira Knightley (Laggies) is charming as the intelligent but headstrong Elizabeth Bennet, and Matthew MacFadyen (Anna Karenina) adeptly handles the difficult chore of making Mr. Darcy simultaneously unlikable and sympathetic. Great supporting performances too, including Rosamund Pike as the lovely but shy oldest Bennet daughter Jane (hard to believe Pike was also the icy villainess in Die Another Day,that James Bond movie with Halle Berry), and Judi Dench (Murder on the Orient Express) as Darcy’s monstrous snob of an aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourg. If you have the slightest fondness for costume dramas or romance, you must see this movie.
Walk the Line (B+). I simply don’t know how to write a review of the new Johnny Cash biopic without comparing it to Ray. Both are great movies featuring great performances, and the subjects’ lives had more than a little in common. Joaquin Phoenix (her) doesn’t really look much like Johnny Cash to me, but he still does a heck of a job, and I was blown away when I learned after seeing the movie that he did all of his own playing and singing. Reese Witherspoon (Four Christmases) is, if anything, even better as June Carter, the great love of Cash’s life. Her singing and playing are phenomenal as well. But if memory serves, I gave Ray an A-, while I just can’t elevate this one into the “A” category. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because Cash’s life just wasn’t as vividly eventful as Charles’s. Like Charles, Cash had big problems with drugs and family life, but unlike Charles he didn’t have crosses to bear like blindness and racism. I guess being madly in love with one woman when you’re married to another (with several children to boot) would be pretty bad, but Cash spends so much of the movie bottoming out on booze and pills that he lost a little of my sympathy and interest. (Although I recall reading that Ray gave the life of Charles a bit of a whitewash, so maybe a more honest movie would have lost a point or two in my book.) But if you’re even a casual fan of Johnny Cash’s music (and I’m the casualest), you’ll enjoy this movie. Plus you’ll probably get to check off several of next year’s Oscar nominees in one movie.