Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gone Girl

I debated whether to see this movie or not, just as I debated whether or not to give it an official review. It's not that I didn't expect it to be good, or that I didn't enjoy the film after seeing it (as you can clearly see by my star rating), but it's a very dark movie that most people I know probably wouldn't necessarily enjoy seeing. If you want a good comparative for Gone Girl, just look at director David Fincher's previous works: Fight Club, Se7en, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, among others. I recently started to appreciate Fincher's works after the incredible film he almost won the Oscar for, The Social Network. He has a very distinct visual style that I actually really enjoy, even if he doesn't direct films I tend to consume. We probably wouldn't have seen this movie if my wife hadn't read the novel by Gillian Flynn, which is full of twists and surprises. Just so you know up front, there won't be any spoilers discussed in this review, so feel free to continue reading past this point.

On a seemingly normal morning, Nick Dunne goes to the bar he and his twin sister co-own where the two discuss his troubled relationship with his wife Amy over a game of LIFE. He recounts their picture-esque courtship and how devoted they were to each other at the beginning. Since then, he feels their relationship has deteriorated mainly as a bi-product of Amy's selfishness and her unrealistic expectations for him, punctuated by the fact that it's their fifth wedding anniversary. Every year she sends him on a complex scavenger hunt as if to highlight his failings as a husband. After their conversation, Nick returns home to find that the house appears to be broken into, with all the signs of a struggle within. What's worse is that Amy is nowhere to be found, and all signs point to him as the primary suspect.

I don't dare go any further into the plot, as the unfolding narrative to this mystery is one of the most satisfying parts of Gone Girl. Fincher sets the stage perfectly by giving us a struggling couple and a perfectly ambiguous leading man. Ben Affleck's characterization of Nick is a flawless portrayal of a broken man who's made poor decisions and who finds himself in an unimaginable situation. In any other movie a performance like his would certainly be the main focus of the story, but Rosamund Pike's portrayal of Amy is absolutely mind-blowing. To talk about the specifics of her performance would certainly break my promise to remain spoiler-free, so suffice it to say that she is the highlight of a very, very good film.

All of the performances are top-notch here, but one of the unlikely standouts was actually Tyler Perry as the hot-shot defense attorney brought in to represent Nick after public perception reaches a horrifying low. Perry is the perfect blend of confidence and intensity, and I wouldn't have thought it possible before seeing it for myself. This is, after all, the man who brought us innumerable "Madea" films. Neil Patrick Harris also acts contrary to type, as a slightly obsessive former boyfriend of Amy. Also, Carrie Coon put in an emotional performance as Nick's supportive twin sister, Margo. Her range is really impressive, and as the film progresses we see more and more of her acting chops as Margo realizes the truth about her brother.

Gone Girl has all the hallmarks of a David Fincher film: it's incredibly intense at some parts, it has a haunting score delivered by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, the cinematography beautifully utilizes a lot of steady cam, wide and slow zoom-in shots, and the actors are uniformly excellent. Despite the undeniably polished production, however, the content itself is very raw. There's a lot of harsh language, some very violent scenes, and a few moments of nudity. Unlike most R-rated films I've reviewed, this one definitely earned its rating for a reason. This isn't an uplifting experience in any way, shape or form. Gone Girl is a gripping, tragic, cynical take on domestic life and pop culture's perceptions of crime based on media outlets. The social commentary throughout this film is spot-on, showing both extremes for what they are.

Once credits roll, I don't think most people will know quite what to think. The ending doesn't necessarily offer a lot of closure, but that was never this story's M.O. It's about the ideas and the psychology of the characters, and what they will or won't do to find something they can live with. It's full of thought-provoking and dark themes, and though it isn't one that you'll probably want to watch over and over, I think it would definitely reward repeat viewings. The screenplay is expertly written, and the twists and turns of the novel translate seamlessly to the screen by author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn. Most novelists struggle transitioning to writing screenplays, but Flynn did a remarkable job and may earn an Academy Award nomination for her efforts here.

Again, I don't want to encourage people to go see this if they're wanting something wholesome or inspirational. That isn't what Fincher's films are about. If you want to see an excellently crafted and disturbing crime drama, then you have found it with Gone Girl. I think it's easily one of Fincher's best (#2 to The Social Network, in my opinion), and it's also one of the best films of the year. That isn't to say that it's the most entertaining or enjoyable film of the year, but it's the most engaging and challenging film I've seen in quite some time. It isn't a film that everyone will or should seek out, but I have to give Gone Girl four stars.

GONE GIRL is rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language

**What did you think of Gone Girl? Did it keep you guessing or were you bored with the mystery? Let me know in the comments section!**

The Book of Life

This year hasn't had a lot of animated features, but the ones I've seen so far (The LEGO Movie & How to Train Your Dragon 2) have both been excellent. I didn't necessarily have the same expectations for the somewhat under-the-radar release that was The Book of Life. With it's unique, almost stop-motion animation style, I anticipated something along the lines of Corpse Bride when I went into the press screening last weekend. The one thing that gave me hope in this picture being worthwhile was the involvement of Guillermo del Toro, who directed the recent Pacific Rim and many other visually resplendent films.

A small group of semi-delinquent school children are taken to a museum, where they are led to the Mexican section and shown a glowing text called "The Book of Life". They are told about a young man named Manolo who is competing for the affections of the beautiful Maria against his friend, Joaquin. Overseeing this struggle for Maria's affections are two gods, La Muerte, ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. On the annual Day of the Dead celebration, the two deities make a wager to see which of the two boys will go on to marry Maria. However, Xibalba has an ace in the hole after bequeathing a magical medal to Joaquin that will make him invincible.

My first impression of this film wasn't necessarily a positive one, as the goofy humor at the beginning reminded me of a direct-to-DVD Tinkerbell film or something (don't ask why that's my go-to reference). As the story progressed, however, I found myself enjoying the characters more and more. The fact that this is all more or less based on actual Mexican folk-lore was really intriguing to me, as that particular culture's mythology isn't often explored in cinema. The animation of the characters almost made them appear doll-like, as if carved and assembled entirely from wood. Some of the visuals go a little overboard at times, harkening back to action movie tropes that seem somewhat out of place, but otherwise I really enjoyed the animation in this film.

What I didn't enjoy quite as much were the musical choices. Taking recognizable (if not exactly fitting) songs and giving them a Mexican flare worked well in some instances, but was mostly a little pandering and unnecessary. Strangely, one of the few songs that was clearly an original composition stood out to me as easily the best in the entire film (titled, "The Apology Song"). It's not often you hear bands like Radiohead and Biz Markie in children's entertainment, and they definitely took me out of the movie every time they were used.

Other than that, I actually enjoyed this movie quite a bit. A lot of the story elements aren't that original, but the creative visuals and some of the surprisingly comedic dialogue carried my enjoyment through the weaker parts of the film. While I wouldn't say it's great, I do think this is a solid film that most kids are going to enjoy. It introduces some interesting ideas and folk-lore that we aren't often exposed to, and I appreciate the unique perspective director Jorge Gutierrez brings to the table. It isn't going to be in my top 10 for the year, but I'm happy to give The Book of Life three stars.

THE BOOK OF LIFE is rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images

**Have you seen The Book of Life? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments section below!**