Wednesday, October 29, 2014

See No Evil - 2006

"See No Evil" - 2006
Dir. by Gregory Dark - 1 hr. 24 min.

Official Trailer #1

by Clayton Hollifield

There are a couple of reasons why you might be interested in watching "See No Evil."  Either you're a horror fan who watches everything, or you're a WWE fan who wants to see whether or not Kane can act.  I'm in the latter camp; I rarely watch horror movies for any reason, but my love of professional wrestling can lead me to some supremely dodgy entertainment choices from time to time.  I'm not going to say that "See No Evil" is a particularly good or bad horror film; I haven't watched enough of them to be able to tell when something's playing with it's genre's tropes, and it's not like I didn't get anything out of it.  But absent Kane's presence, there's no freaking way I would have ever gone within a Blockbuster going-out-of-business sale of "See No Evil."

A few years back, a couple of police officers manage to save a woman from a crazed killer, but not before she's lost her eyes, one of the policemen dies, and the other has his arm chopped off with an axe.  Fast forward to today: a bunch of wayward teens get the opportunity to help clean up the decrepit Blackwell Hotel over a long weekend instead of spending a month in jail, while being supervised by the one-armed policeman, Frank Williams (Steven Vidler).  What they don't know is that Jacob Goodnight (Glenn "Kane" Jacobs), a giant, ugly, murderous man is lurking in the halls, waiting to pluck out people's eyeballs before he murders them.

If that sounds awful, allow me to offer this music video, also directed by this film's director, Gregory Dark.

Linkin Park - "One Step Closer" - directed by Gregory Dark

So now you know what the movie looks like.  Dark is a renowned music video director, helming videos for everyone from Britney Spears to the Melvins.  And that's entirely what the movie looks like - one of Dark's videos.  I didn't have a problem with that, other than it kept reminding me that I hadn't seen Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" video in forever (which he didn't direct).

As for the question of whether Kane can act, I think it's fair to point out that a lot wasn't required of him here.  His wrestling character has always been horror-based, he's a legitimately large, intimidating man, and when you ugly him up and give him a chain with a meat-hook on the end of it, he's pretty damned believable as a twisted serial killer.  He's not asked to deliver much in the way of lines, and honestly, the entire thing coasts on Kane's presence and appearance, and the atmosphere that Dark brings to his projects.  Kane's wrestling character is fairly talkative for a demon, so it was a little disappointing that most of the dialogue in the film came from the rest of the cast, which basically means a bunch of idiots playing snotty teenagers, without much charm or wit.

This was the first WWE Studios release, and they played it pretty smart.  The story is an extension of Kane's character, they hired a director who could pull off the atmosphere necessary, they went with an R-rating (because what the hell is the point of a cleaned-up horror movie), and picked a genre that's fairly profitable, so long as the budgets are kept reasonable.  That's not to say that all adds up to a "good movie," because I wouldn't claim that.  But I did enjoy watching Kane tear through annoying characters, and I'll probably eventually see the sequel that came out this year (maybe next Halloween).  If you like wrestling AND horror movies, this might be more enjoyable.  But know going in, you need to like one of those two things, or this might be the longest hour and a half you could spend.

1.5 / 5 - TV (HD)

Monday, October 27, 2014

PCU - 1994

"PCU" - 1994
Dir. by Hart Bochner - 1 hr. 19 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

"PCU" represents one of the very first times that I remember a movie review.  I knew they existed, and read them in the paper without much thought or attention, but it was The Oregonian's contemporary movie review for "PCU" that made me want to see it.  I can't seem to track that review down at the moment, but my memory says that the reviewer gave this film an "F."  He watched "PCU," and then declared it a flat-out, complete failure as a film.  I had seen the trailer and couldn't figure out what could possibly be that awful about it.  It was that reviewer's insistence that there was nothing of merit at all in "PCU" that piqued my curiosity, and got me into the theatre to check it out for myself.

Every generation gets their own version of "Animal House," retrofitted for it's times.  In this case, a pre-frosh, Tom (Chris Young), is visiting the campus to see if it's a good fit for him.  Unfortunately for Tom, his weekend guide has been signed up for that duty as a prank, and lives in a giant house called "The Pit," populated with every kind of slacker available.  The guide, Droz (Jeremy Piven), is immediately distracted by tormenting protesters - PCU stands for Port Chester University, but it's really "Politically Correct University."  A plot between the University President Garcia-Thompson (Jessica Walter) and an underground frat weasel, Rand McPherson (David Spade) to remove the Pit residents from The Pit is put into play, all while Tom flees various groups he's offended while fleeing from other groups he's offended previously.

Glancing over the cast, it might occur to you that a film starring Jeremy Piven and David Spade might have a likability gap.  Granted, this was made before Piven was in full "Entourage" mode, and was just piling up funny bits in other people's movies, but you wouldn't, at this point in time, be watching "PCU" under those circumstances.  Thankfully, this story doesn't ask you to actually root for Droz.  You may end up doing so, but more because his character wants nothing more than to continue being a facilitator for chaos, and a fixer for those who are wronged along the way.  There's one great scene that makes it clear that you don't have to root for Droz, a flashback to when he and Rand were roommates as freshmen (which brings up the point of why Rand has also spent seven years at PCU).  Droz considers it a "nightmare," but the flashback consists of Droz howling at Rand to go to sleep so that he can sleep with some girl in peace, and Droz wrecking their room in fury that Rand won't go to sleep.  It's funny on it's own, but it's also a clever little piece that tells you the filmmakers know that you're possibly not going to like Droz anyways, so they're not even going to try to justify his behavior.


I suppose the big question is whether or not "PCU" is funny.  It's certainly derivative, although that's not a barrier to a film being an enjoyable one.  I have to say that it is funny.  Yes, there are things that haven't aged well; I don't really care about the costuming, it's accurate enough for the time, as are the stereotype groups Droz and his crew are constantly in conflict with.  The thing that's probably aged the worst are the maybe half dozen statements that begin with "times have changed" or "these days..."  I'd let that slide if it was only once, but those kinds of things are going to make younger audiences roll their eyes, and remind everyone else that this film was the product of another time.  It's hard to get mad about stuff like that - not every film is timeless and will find an audience in perpetuity, and it's probably something that no one was even thinking about as it was made.

But if you're one of those people who like dumb comedies (or "save the house" films, as this literally is), there's some good material here, like everything that Gutter (Jon Favreau, in an early film) does.  His character doesn't get the most screen time, but he's possibly the most likable guy in the entire film, mainly because he's not malicious in his intentions (and because he makes up for his mistakes by accidentally delivering George Clinton and P-Funk to the Pit Party).  Piven's motor-mouth stylings actually work pretty well, and there are a couple of pretty great bigger gags in the film (my two favorites: raining meat and torturing a donor party with the Starland Vocal Band).  There are consistently good little gags along the way (detail stuff, like a Womynist (look it up) getting mad at Rand, and just yelling "Republican!" at him), and truthfully, the silly politically-correct groups haven't really changed that much over the last twenty years, except in the way they dress.

"PCU" doesn't re-invent the wheel, but the wheels on this bus work just fine.  I don't know that anyone could come across this movie now and really get into it - it is in many ways a product of it's time (one way that's a bonus - a pretty decent soundtrack, including a Mudhoney cover of Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up").  At the same time, that damning Oregonian movie review really peeled back the curtain for me: I've always been baffled why movie critics are consistently brutal on comedies, and seem to take their mere existence as a personal affront to be met with a stream of profanities, screamed until a critic is laying in a pool of their own tears, hoarse with rage.  Droz himself has the answer to that:

Get us laid!

As funny as "PCU" is, this isn't going to be on anyone's list of greatest films.  But it's bizarre to see anyone get so worked up over a film that's main point is that people take themselves too seriously, and it's a good idea to throw back a few and watch a legendary funk band every now and then.  I hope that reviewer was just having a bad day, and eventually was able to come to terms with having to live in the same universe that yielded "PCU."

3 / 5 - TV (HD)

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Limey - 1999

"The Limey" - 1999
Dir. by Steven Soderbergh - 1 hr. 29 min.

Theatrical Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

At this point in his career, director Steven Soderbergh is a well-known commodity, as is his visual and editing style.  Sure, he's done micro-budget indie films that deviate from what people know him for, but this is the guy responsible for the "Ocean's Eleven" films, which pretty much cemented what people expect from one of his films.  When "The Limey" was released, things were a little different.  Soderbergh was known for a decade of indie films like "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," and "The Limey" was his follow-up to the slightly-underperforming (yet completely brilliant crime masterpiece) "Out of Sight."  "The Limey" seemed like a bit of a step backwards into indie-land at the time (although if you look at Soderbergh's career, bouncing between small and large films is a characteristic of his resume), with no huge stars, just people who had turned into character actors over the course of their careers.

"Tell me about Jenny."  This is the the demand that Wilson (Terence Stamp) makes of pretty much everyone's he meets in Los Angeles.  Wilson is a Cockney career criminal, and Jenny (Melissa George) was his daughter, who has perished in a fiery car crash in the hills of L.A.  One of her friends, Ed Roel (Luis Guzman) wrote a letter to Wilson about Jenny's death, and Wilson shows up at his doorstep to piece together what actually happened to Jenny.  The name that keeps popping up is Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda), a '60s music producer who had been seeing her.

The plot itself is pretty straightforward: Wilson shows up, figures out who is responsible for what's happened to his daughter, and then proceeds towards a showdown with him.  It's a solid plot with a sense of inevitability that builds over the course of the film.  But it's the execution of the story that makes "The Limey" a special film.  It's probably easiest to discuss the acting; Terence Stamp is riveting in his role, Luis Guzman makes the most out of his supporting role (as he seemingly always does), Peter Fonda is suitably smug and earnest (witness his self-absorbed short scene explaining what the '60s were really like to a barely interested younger lover, who is trying to pay attention from the bathtub), Lesley Ann Warren is a necessary and lively counter-point to the matter-of-fact aggression, playing Jenny's closest friend, Elaine.

Some of the things that Steven Soderbergh's films have become known for are on full-display here; non-linear editing, divorcing dialogue from what's on-screen (in this case, showing actors reacting while their own dialogue flows over top of the footage), a languid pace (even though this story takes place over a relatively short amount of time, it doesn't feel hurried), a certain style of soundtrack (provided by Cliff Martinez, who has worked on other Soderbergh films since), and a matter-of-fact visual approach.  Perhaps the best example of the last point is what I thought was the best scene of the film, involving Wilson showing up at a warehouse, having a violent confrontation, getting kicked out, and then walking back into the warehouse to finish his business there.

The scene in question, subtitled because that's how the internet is.

The unmoving camera shot at the end of the scene is perfect, the scene is perfect, the conclusion is perfect.  Just in case you had any doubts as to whether one ought to mess with Wilson, those doubts are settled by the end of the scene.  Despite the straight-forward nature of the story, the editing style keeps viewers constantly wondering what's happening.  It's not disorienting as much as it feels like a stream-of-consciousness manner of film-making, and by the time Soderbergh starts to work in alternate possible conclusions (as in the party scene), the viewer has been conditioned to know that they're going to have to wait a minute to know if what they're seeing is what's really happened.

Above all else, "The Limey" is a clever film, down to it's marrow.  The choice of casting Terence Stamp and Peter Fonda as adversaries is one that carries cultural weight.  Turning Captain America into a faux-hippie businessman plays off of his past.  As for Terence Stamp, his past is actually interpolated into the film itself - re-using footage from the 1967 film, "Poor Cow," in flashback scenes.  This approach is uncommon, but a deeply clever way to get around flashbacks with actors who are cast largely because of some passing resemblance to the older actor.

The result is that "The Limey" is an exhilarating crime film, one that has a distinct personality and pace, and owes nothing to the elephant in the room in '90s crime films, "Pulp Fiction."  Upon it's release, "The Limey" was pretty much completely ignored, but it's aged well, and remains a powerful, pleasing film.  The distinct approach to the material and the excellent work by the cast elevate this film to an equal (in a creative sense) to the other films that Soderbergh made in this string.  His next three films were "Erin Brockovich," "Traffic," and "Ocean's Eleven."  Considering "Out of Sight" and "The Limey," that's an incredibly strong run of five films, and this one is the one that people are least likely to have seen.  I'd recommend taking care of that oversight as soon as possible.

4.5 / 5 - TV (HD)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Foo Fighters: Back and Forth - 2011

"Foo Fighters: Back and Forth" - 2011
Dir. by James Moll - 1 hr. 41 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

There's a big part of me that's a huge Foo Fighters fan; I saw them play on their very first tour, and I've got the t-shirt to prove it.  I would have been to one of their first couple of gigs, if I had only been over 21 at the time.  So I was pretty thrilled to finally sit down and watch "Foo Fighters: Back and Forth," to try to glean some insight into the things that have happened to the various band personnel over the years.  Although they're pretty much the face of alt rock for the last couple of decades (!), it hasn't been an entirely smooth ride.  I'd assume that's the case with any long-running creative endeavor, though.  I'm not sure you could find half a dozen people and expect that any fifteen year run would yield no problems over that span of time.

Plot recap?  Well...  The Foo Fighters were initially born out of the ashes of a pair of influential bands from the early 1990s (although the two bands were not equally popular), Dave Grohl and Pat Smear from Nirvana, and William Goldsmith and Nate Mendel of Sunny Day Real Estate.  They were an immediate success, band members came and went (Grohl and Mendel are the only two members who started and are currently with the Foo Fighters), and the band steadily grew to the point of playing sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium.  The last third or so of the film is devoted to the recording process of their seventh LP, "Wasting Light," which was notable for being produced by Butch Vig (who produced that Nirvana album that everyone knows), having former Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic guesting on a song (as well as former Husker Du/Sugar frontman Bob Mould).

The big question all music documentaries must face is whether or not this could have been covered on an episode of "Behind the Music."  "Foo Fighters: Back and Forth" passes that test in a couple of regards.  First, there are no tearful reunions with jilted ex-Foos, although they are interviewed and have the opportunity to say their peace.  There's no ridiculous on-stage jam with all the Foos, past and present, no hugs, no tears.  Although there is a bit of a bow placed on the story by Grohl at the end, saying that he wouldn't change anything that had happened, the film is also honest about what happened with each of the members, even when it's not particularly complimentary to Grohl.  A prime example of this was Grohl's choice to re-record Goldsmith's drum parts for what would be the Foo Fighter's second album, without Goldsmith's knowledge.  That's the sort of thing that you can't really go back on; even though Grohl is considered one of the all-time great rock drummers, it's a pretty aggressive statement that someone's work isn't good enough.  The situation probably could have been handled better, but it still would have been extremely difficult to stay in a band when you've been deemed insufficient.

Another way in which "Back and Forth" passes expectations is in it's soundtrack, and use of performance footage.  Although I can't remember any instances of a full-song being performed by the Foo Fighters, the live footage is used very well.  One great example of this is, during a point where Pat Smear is talking about the drudgery of touring and playing the same material every night, there's a montage of Dave Grohl introducing the same song in the same way, probably a dozen times in a dozen different places.  Beyond the Foo's material, there is also a lot of their then-contemporaries featured, and there's actually examples of the other bands when they're being talked about.  All of this might seem minor, but I assure you it's not.  It adds up to a well-rounded musical picture of not only where the Foo Fighters' members come from (both in terms of the scenes that they came from, and the actual bands themselves), but what was going on around them at the time.

The Foo Fighters fan in me loved the movie, but the last third (and what's come after, for the band) had me shaking my head in admiration at the shrewdness of Dave Grohl.  It's important to know that with the specific personnel assembled for the making of "Wasting Light," expectations were extremely high.  The Foo Fighters have evolved into a very good arena rock band, drawing huge crowds wherever they go.  But when you get all available hands on deck from an album that changed the course of popular music, at least for a few years, that's a whole other deal.  The glimpse at the recording of "Wasting Light," which ended up being a very successful album for the band, both critically and popularly, trumps the usual mid-career magazine cover-article interview, but hits all the same points.  The band is in a good place, stronger than ever, and this is the best work of their career.  So you should buy it.  But watching what's come after for the Foo Fighters, like the "Sound City" documentary/soundtrack, and the upcoming HBO series "Sonic Highways," which documents the recording of the Foo Fighters' upcoming eighth album of the same name, Grohl has turned documentary film-making into a way to promote his albums, in a way that other bands haven't.

Obviously, one's enjoyment of a music documentary is going to hinge on how much someone likes the band in question (unless it's something like "Searching for Sugar Man"), so only you know if you care about the Foo Fighters.  For me, it's a no-brainer.  This isn't exactly re-inventing the wheel, but more like putting a wheel in an unexpected place, like those three-wheeled motorcycle things that kind of look like Transformers.

"Foo Fighters: Back and Forth" is a good documentary that doesn't ignore the rough patches for the band, but doesn't really wallow in them in pornographic detail, either.  There's no simple answers, other than that the Foo Fighters keep chugging along, and it seems to keep working for them.  This adds up to something that's worth your time, so long as you've got a favorable view of the band.

3.5 / 5 - TV

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Black Dynamite - 2009

"Black Dynamite" - 2009
Dir. by Scott Sanders - 1 hr. 24 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I think I've officially seen more spoofs of blaxploitation films than the real deal.  It's okay, I've got "Blacula" on my DVR, in honor of the Halloween season.  "Black Dynamite" goes in a different direction than other spoofs (and spoofs in general, actually) - instead of putting someone who clearly has no business being the lead in an ass-kicking movie front and center, they find someone who ought to be the lead in an ass-kicking movie and let him take everything extremely seriously.  The result is a lot of fun, whether or not you have any affinity for Jim Kelly or Isaac Hayes movies.

Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is everything you imagine when you see a hero from the 'hood, wearing a mustache and afro to go along with his leather jacket.  Unfortunately, someone has killed his younger brother, Jimmy (Baron Vaughn), in a mix-up over a new drug to hit the streets, smack.  Black Dynamite vows to avenge his brother's death, but soon finds himself in the midst of a much larger plot aimed at his community.  Ultimately, this leads to a trip to Kung-Fu Island and a showdown with Fiendish Dr. Wu (Roger Yuan), and nothing less than a hand-to-hand combat showdown with President Richard Nixon (James McManus).

Trying to explain why comedy works is difficult.  I found "Black Dynamite" to be a really, really good comedy, which implies strongly that the comedy here works well.  A lot of the credit for that has to go to lead Michael Jai White; it's hard enough to develop real martial arts skills and to be able to pull off a lot of these stunts legit (there's a great scene where he jumps up and kicks out the overhead lights - not only is it something that an awesome action hero would do, but it's something that White just jumps up and does without any help), but then to put those skills in the service of comedy...  To be sure, the script and jokes are tight.  They've got to be, when the jokes in a scene can come from anything from the boom mic dropping into frame, to clueless erroneous line readings (my favorite being, "Sarcastically, I'm in charge."), to Black Dynamite having unexpected rage-filled overreactions to other characters on occasion, to actual jokes being told.  In this way, "Black Dynamite" borrows heavily from "Airplane!," rewarding extra attention being paid with extra gags.  And, like "Airplane!," "Black Dynamite" is endlessly quotable.

To my mind, "Black Dynamite" is probably the best blaxploitation spoof film out there.  It helps that it's genuinely funny, it helps that there's a story being told (even if it's an amalagmation of every black-focused low-budget movie from the 1970s).  It helps a lot that White would feel at home leading a legit action film.  When you can get past the gag of having an unlikely comedian being the focus of this kind of movie, it opens up a lot of options as to the story you can tell and the humor you can wring from it.  I was continually impressed by the fact that "Black Dynamite" wasn't a one-joke movie.  For a film with a short-ish run-time, there is a lot crammed into the film (including the origin of Roscoes Chicken and Waffles), and no lulls in the story at all.  It's one joke after another, with no let-up, and they come from all angles.

Instead of beating a dead horse (being that "Black Dynamite" is really funny, and I think you should see it), I'll just leave things at that.

4 / 5 - TV (HD)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Etsuraku (Pleasures of the Flesh) - 1965

"Etsuraku" (translated - Pleasures of the Flesh) - 1965
Dir. by Nagisa Oshima - 1 hr. 31 min.

Film still, from Criterion Site

by Clayton Hollifield

First off, you've got to know that a Japanese film from the mid-1960s is probably not going to live up to a title like "Pleasures of the Flesh."  There may be a parallel universe where a film with this title and from these circumstances is going to yield a Dionysian orgy of Earthly pleasures, but in the universe we're all sharing?  Please.  You know this has got to be more morality tale than Fellini film.  Surely enough, that's exactly what we have here, and it's a decent one, at that.

Atsushi (Katsuo Nakamura) is a sweaty, nervous tutor to a young girl, Shoko (Mariko Kaga).  A criminal returns to blackmail Shoko's parents, and Atsushi is asked to deal with the matter.  He does so, although Shoko is never to know about this, and the police seem never the wiser.  One person does figure it out, Hayami (Shoichi Ozawa), a bent politician, who uses his knowledge to blackmail Atsushi into watching some of Hayami's embezzled loot until he can get out of jail and reclaim it himself, five years later.  Eventually, Shoko gets married to a cosmetics magnate, and feeling betrayed, Atsushi loses the plot, deciding to blow through the thirty million yen in a year of decadence, at the conclusion of which he will kill himself.

At the core of the morality play is the question of what keeps a man from turning into a monster?  Atsushi, as a tutor, is fairly timid and meek, but the character's evolution over the film suggests that the only thing keeping ordinary folk from going nutso is the opportunity and resources to do so.  Once Atsushi decides to spend the money, consequences be damned, he essentially begins to hire women that vaguely resemble Shoko, paying out the sum of one million yen a month to take his hatred of her out on their bodies.  Don't get excited, there's not much visual evidence of this.  And he also starts feeling entitled to take his hatred out on everyone else around him.  He's cruel to the women (there are a series of them, each relationship ending somewhat catastrophically), he's mean to others around him, and begins to throw his weight around.  On the other hand, the people around him are very willing to give him whatever he wants because he's splashing cash around like there's no tomorrow (which, in the context of the story, there really isn't).  So normal people don't really come off any better than he does, and he's a grade-A asshole by about half an hour into the film!

Probably the most interesting part of the film is when each of the women inevitably reveal themselves to be something other than a living, breathing, Shoko-shaped love doll for Atsushi to pound his hate out on/in.  Atsushi seems to be a lost cause pretty quickly, but his projection of another personality onto another woman can only last so long before the charade falls apart.  One woman ends up being owned by the yakuza, another has a destitute husband and small children, a third is a virgin who tries to walk into the ocean to avoid being raped by Atsushi, only to agree to a sham marriage with him, a fourth is a mute child-like streetwalker who can't really avoid being who she is.  When Atsushi can't keep up the image in his mind, things fall apart.

"Pleasures of the Flesh" was not a bad film, it was just disappointingly chaste in it's portrayal of a man on the run boning his way through a fortune on his way to a date with destiny.  For a film that has "flesh" in the title to be a largely cerebral enterprise is cruel irony.  On the other hand, it was a decent story told well (visually, there are some interesting things going on here, like director Nagisa Oshima's repeated motif of having characters on opposite ends of extremely wide shots, a visual metaphor for Atsushi's disconnect from reality, and the lack of emotional connection any of the women in the film feel for him, even when being paid handsomely to fake it), and it makes me curious about Oshima's other films.  There were a few genuinely surprising moments, including a series of twists at the conclusion, that raise the question I always have when I see a film from someone I don't know anything about: is this as good as it gets, an average representation of what he's capable of, or is there a better work lurking out there in his filmography?  As always, more research is needed.

2.5 / 5 - Streaming

Monday, October 6, 2014

Gone Girl - 2014

"Gone Girl" - 2014
Dir. by David Fincher - 2 hrs. 29 min.

Official Trailer #2

by Clayton Hollifield

Finally, the movie year of 2014 has begun.  Yeah, there's been a lot of movies out this year, and a ton of them that I didn't even need to see to know that I didn't need to see them.  There's been fun stuff like "Guardians of the Galaxy" (or any of the other comic-book adaptations), but "Gone Girl" is the first movie of the year that I've just gotten lost in the story, and not had much of an idea where things were going to end up.  Not only that, it was a great ride from beginning to end, a tense thriller with twists and turns that just don't let up.

On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home to find a mess, but he doesn't find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), anywhere.  There is blood, but no body, and the police, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), tries to get to the bottom of things, which appear less clear than they initially appear.  First assumption: she's been killed, and that Nick is probably responsible for it.  And just like every time a pretty blonde wife disappears under suspicious circumstances, bloodsuckers like Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle, playing a Nancy Grace clone) turn it into a 24-7 media circus.  Nick and his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) do what they can to clear his name, but it's pretty much all they can do just to keep out of the media's lenses, and they don't really even stay a step ahead of the police in this matter.

First things first, this is easily the best film I've seen this year.  I mean, I haven't seen "Godzilla" yet, but I feel safe in saying that this is in the discussion for best movie of the year, to this point.  As much as I enjoyed "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "Gone Girl" is probably the best possible argument to let director David Fincher tackle the other two books in that series.  His visual sense, mastery of suspense and tension, and expert pacing (this was a two-and-a-half hour film, preceded by twenty minutes of trailers, and never once felt like it was lagging or wasting time) are all on full display here.  The questions that drive this film, namely what happened to Amy and whether Nick did it, aren't answered on accident, and when they are answered, the answers raise more questions than I had before.  This is a complicated story, and there are lot of threads about, and it doesn't get any more confusing than necessary.  That is masterful storytelling.

I also loved the casting in this film, all the way around.  For people who have nothing better to do than hate Ben Affleck, casting him as Nick is kind of an act of trolling (which I whole-heartedly endorse).  If you don't like him, you're going to be inclined to immediately believe the worst about his character, which "Gone Girl" makes clear is at least partially the result of training by decades of sensationalist, irresponsible media coverage of these kinds of crimes.  If you're a fan, watching what happens when an imperfect man and his life is suddenly put under intense pressure and scrutiny is going to be a painful, uncomfortable experience.  The story isn't entirely about the standard knee-jerk media coverage of crimes like this, but the way that coverage affects both how the principals in the story are treated and how they must behave to avoid adding to the flame that's attracting all of the moths. This aspect of "Gone Girl" was handled well, cleverly, and was boosted by the casting of Tyler Perry as a sort of a "celebrity lawyer."  It's almost impossible to have a neutral response to Perry - he's a huge star who has done nothing of note aside repeatedly playing a comedy character in drag, so it's really easy to view him as little more than a buffoon (which is my bias showing), which is pretty much exactly how you should feel about lawyers who are famous pretty much for being on Nancy Grace's show.  As an aside, Perry is also physically larger than Ben Affleck (which is saying something), which is a necessary component of Nick's relationship with Tanner Bolt; it's a subtle thing, but requiring someone physically larger to direct Nick plays up to the distinct possibility that Nick murdered his wife in a rage.

There's a lot of this movie that I won't talk about, just because to spoil much of anything would be awful.  That makes it exceedingly difficult to talk about Rosamund Pike's performance throughout the film (the story is told in a somewhat non-linear fashion, but that aspect doesn't make the film difficult to understand), but a lot of the story rests on her shoulders, and she carries it.  She kind of kicks everyone's ass, in this department.  Beyond that, "Gone Girl" is a successful film.  I mean, it's the first movie in a while that I want to encourage people to see.  It's the kind of movie that theatres are made for; you need to be locked in a dark room away from the world's distractions, devoted to nothing more than paying attention to this story to get the most out of it.  There are some movies that don't suffer from being broken up or from periodic distractions.  "Gone Girl" isn't one of those films.  The tone is remarkable and enveloping, the mood is involving (no matter where the material heads), the acting is top-notch, and the story flat out kicks ass.  This isn't a cool movie, it's one that will find it's way into some of your worst fears, and take you on a ride from there.  So see it, like right now.

4.5 / 5 - Theatre