Category Archives: Film Listings/Ratings

Gone Girl (David Fincher – 2014) A

Gillian Flynn’s novel is packed full with plot twists, subplot, backstory, alternate points of view and a whole lot of subtext about relationships, our image and what we choose to portray, modern news cycles, shitty parents, fame, and awful people…whew. the film captures all that pretty much perfectly! At 2.5 hours a less competent director could’ve made a mess of things. Here we get the story of Amy Elliott Dunne and Nick Dunne told perfectly from the moment they meet at a New York City party and through the events that happen years later after they get married, have troubles and she is gone.

The movie is at face value a thriller, a procedural of sorts as we try to suss out what happened to Amy. Is Nick involved? Is he good guy or a bad guy? In reality there is much more going on here as I alluded to in my opening. The film (and the book actually) manages to capture our attention from the opening close-up shot of Amy’s head lying on a white pillow and Nick’s monologue:

“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head….cracking her skull open and unspooling her brain….”

It worked very well for me and I loved every minute of it. Sure, the book has more nuance and more balance between the him and her points of view but Fincher delivers beautifully shot scenes and perfect restraint in his movie. His choice for Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) is excellent as well. They play those roles so well that I could not see anyone else in their shoes, especially Pike. Even Tyler Perry is used to great effect here. This is a dark and morally ambiguous film with characters who are tough to like by and large. Still it is one of the best I’ve seen recently and would love to watch it again.

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen – 2013) A

What a horrific story. Obviously, slavery is a horrible enterprise but here we see it just how terrible it is framed with the true story of Solomon Northup. He was an educated free black man, a well-off violinist, a husband and father of two living in upstate New York. He gets abducted and sold as a slave in Georgia where his nightmare goes on for 12 years! It really is a horrible journey as we follow Solomon from one master who is “kind” to the next who can be described as a monster (although his wife might be even worse). We meet various slaves and see how they try to adapt and survive. Northup on the other hand faces various difficult choices and  tries to survive a day at a time. He is not a hero, he is not hatching plans to free his fellow slaves. He just wants to get home and his actions are at times not enviable.

McQueen does a brilliant job in telling this difficult story and builds well-rounded characters who we grow to hate, love or pity. The movie is tough to watch at times but it never felt exploitative or gratuitous. It is just bold and unflinching in its depictions of slavery and its impact on everyone. The movie has a lot of excellent performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon to Michael Fassbender as his sadistic master Epps and Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, Epps’ favorite and most unfortunate slave. It is not a movie I want to watch many times over but it is a great telling of this tragic story that I’m guessing almost no one knew about.

World War Z (Marc Forster – 2013) B-

I think I might’ve liked this film a bit better if I had not read -well really listened to- the book. The audio book is a fantastic telling of the story through multiple witness accounts after the zombie war is over. The narrator is just compiling the data for record keeping. He interviews a number of people all read by different readers in the book. It makes it seem somewhat…real and very engrossing. Why even call this movie “World War Z”? It makes the Brad Pitt character more of an action hero and completely alters and simplifies the conclusion of the war. It’s not a terrible movie. It has some good set pieces and the plot unfolds well. It just falls too short of its source material and I could not ignore that.

The Master (Paul Thomas Andersen – 2012) B

It was different than what I expected. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not my favorite P.T. Anderson movie. It’s not really about a cult leader who is played by Philip Seymore Hoffman but about the character of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). He is a WWII vet who is not the sharpest tool in the shed. He is violent, a drunk and seems lost after the war. He is a prime candidate for indoctrination by Lancaster Dodd. We see the rise of this cult from Quell’s perspective as he gets sucked into Dodd’s world. The acting is excellent by everyone here, the direction is as good as I would expect and the film is not boring. It just needed some sort of sympathetic anchor.

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée – 2103) A-

The strength of this movie is really the awesome performances by Jared Leto (so unrecognizable) and Mathew McConaughey. They do a great job as a transvestite, Rayon, and homophobic cowboy, Ron, who are diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-eighties. With lots still misunderstood about the disease and no viable FDA-approved drugs to treat the symptoms they start a “business” to bring in drugs from Mexico, Europe or even Japan. Ron played by McConaughey, is the driving force of the film. The movie does a good job in capturing the chaos of that time and place that was known as the AIDS epidemic and how slow the wheels of government were turning in getting people the help they needed. It’s also a very sweet film with moments of triumph, joy and pain.

Flight (Robert Zemeckis – 2012) C+

A movie that starts off with a bang and then labors through over two hours of the portrait of an alcoholic. That is not too bad if it did not get terribly boring throughout most of that span. Despite a very good performance by Denzel Washington as Captain Whip Whitaker I just mostly did not care. The most interesting segment was involving the conversation with a cancer patient we meet in the hospital stairwell where captain Whitaker was recovering after the plane crash.