Gone Girl (2014)

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The perfect anti-date movie that shows off what a directing genius David Fincher is. A pure example of film making in practice that is paced brilliantly, stuffed with unending tension, striking performances and unnerving doubt. I’m sure whether you’ve read the novel by Gillian Flynn or not, you’re in for a treat. The first of a film this year that’s left the audience quiet as the credits appear and now in all of ‘Gone Girl’s’ darkness I can see the exciting light of Oscar season.

Five years married are Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). The film opens on the day of their anniversary, when Nick returns to find his wife missing and what looks like a suspicious break in leads him and police to question the worst. This film explores the days following her disappearance and digs under the image of modern married life, getting some very grimy fingernails in the process.

possible spoilers may follow, if you haven’t read the book and want to watch the film then carry on reading with caution!

It’s so clearly a Fincher film from the first five – ten minutes or so of the film. Just from the style, dark washed tone of the shots down to the way he so effortlessly and cleverly racks up tension and dread. The opening shots of Missouri and the quiet atmosphere they hold are very smart ways to work on that clear feeling of all too calm to be good feeling, and from pretty much this point onward the film never lets up that dark, twisted mood. It’s a very stylish film too and the way certain moments play out with his direction help the film down this worrying path. Fincher and his knack to make things scary, bleak or the like can be evident throughout and especially so with the multiple clued envelopes and this turned on its head anniversary treasure quest. The whole location is filled with prying people that could all be hiding things and you never know what to think, it’s such a thoughtful movie.

The film may be long, running at about 150 minutes but on the most part it never ever feels slow. Yes there are slower parts but it’s needed as it’s a very character focused narrative that works in its favour to let the people and plot breathe. There’s only a couple of moments on the flip-side of the main reveal that feel stretched but that’s no detraction from how good this film is at all. It’s a film where I believe nearly everything included feels right and necessary, it helps stir up that sensation of a dangerous relationship clawing at you as you watch the nightmare unfold.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross who helm the music for this film are on point constantly. You can feel that murky sense as the score waves over the action on screen. It’s a grungy and very dark vibe that helps the shadowy tense core of this story really hit home. A case of such well suited music that could easily be up for an Academy Award if nothing else outstanding comes along.

This film wouldn’t be the success it is without the performances and boy oh boy is there some top casting here, everyone works in this material and I couldn’t think of one acting decision that didn’t work. Ben Affleck breaks out and shows his better acting range with a character you can’t pin on and rightly so. It’s the husband in the murdering firing line and he plays that ‘is he, isn’t he’ role really well. Tyler Perry drops the drag and provides the front running amount of comedy as a big time lawyer who helps men in predicaments like Nick. Neil Patrick Harris is a fine choice to play the possibly creepy ex-stalker of Amy and a scene involving him and her may rival Carrie White’s prom night. Carrie Coon plays Nick’s twin Margo and she’s excellent. As you see her struggle to keep on side with her brother through his trials with the police and then the turn as she lands in the frame too, you get what a committed and believable actress she is. There’s no hesitation for me to say that Rosamund Pike as Amy is sheer class. The accent is as unshakable as the concern she carries on her unflinching shoulders. I didn’t know anything about the way this story would turn prior to seeing it and that’s a blessing I feel as it’s such a damn fine twist. She is beautiful, alarming and psychotic in her thought process and Pike displays the differing mechanisms of a calculating blonde terror as if she was born for the part.

I can only think of one small, forget that, tiny problem and that is that it has a healthy amount of black humour in it which is very well done and funny but in some cases it doesn’t work and it could be gritter concerning the subject matter but that’s just me really searching hard to shine a light on criticisms.

A turning dark ride of love, hate and the extremities of a broken marriage. So worth watching, a film of the year with award worthy turns from music maestros, David Fincher and Rosamund Pike. ‘Gone Girl’ is a thrill to behold and it’s darkness is a beacon of how good a twisted story can be done.

8.5/10

Fantasia (1940)

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I do love Disney and the wonder it can communicate is second to none at times but with this film, in which ashamedly I’d only seen a few segments of, I found myself mightily bored on the most part. There are some unquestionably magical moments, beauty and music work in harmony well a lot of the time but it’s very hit and miss and I just don’t get the universal praise it has.

This film, the third Disney movie is narrated by Deems Taylor who briefly explains orchestral suites before telling the audience how the works will be interpreted by Walt Disney and his animators. So it’s a combination of classical music with visual stories, some concrete tales and others abstract as they come. It’s conducted by Leopold Stokowski and there are eight sections in all.

It can’t be denied that the sounds of the Philadelphia Orchestra are amazing and of course music is a tool that stirs up imagery, so it only makes sense that this film plays on that but some of the images stirred up are slow or downright mad that they don’t work or bring about boredom. If a child saw this, I could only see them liking little animated moments but on the whole I’m sure they’d find it uninteresting, there’s not the clear cut beginning middle and end structure with characters to identify with. It’s perhaps too different and abstract to really be deemed a classic. I get it changed things with music and visual and that’s impressive but it’s not just fantastic.

There are some elevated moments that take you out of the declining slump you feel yourself sliding into and thanks to the return of a then less popular Mickey Mouse, that Disney magic starts to worm back into your being. It goes without saying that ‘The Sorcerers Apprentice’ is a recognisable sequence and the score by Paul Dukas mirrors the fantastical and worrying story of Mickey and his quest to stop working really well. The bouncy feel of it lifts the film especially after the frankly dull Nutcracker suite interpretation of fish and flowers that came before.

The entire section with dancing ostriches, hippos, crocodiles and elephants is bonkers. The ‘Dance of the Hours’ music isn’t that energetic or interesting enough to make the animated ballet come alive and so that’s another moment that had potential but fell to the curb. It’s like the ‘Rite of Spring’ which had moments of volcanic fury and dinosaur beauty but at times it lagged or never inspired which as a fan of dinosaurs is a real sad thing. It’s a film, that I feel, comes across as misguided, it has grand intentions and some of those strike the bullseye but the majority get lost on the path to the target board.

There are fun and quirky moments such as the quite brilliant post intermission chat with the soundtrack, which is a cool and unique idea and as the vertical character responds with waves of trumpet or violin sounds you get that feeling of magic and wonder that Disney is so renowned for. In some of the sections there are cute and fun things to watch so it’s not all bad, the Olympus cartoon with the rites of the multiple baby Cupids helping lady centaurs is nice to see unfold and the cute baby Pegasus might capture some little children’s imaginations as a character to love but it’s Mickey who steals the show as the wannabe wizard who dreams bigger than he’s capable and so the story of heart, ambition and power manifest into the famous mop and water calamity.

An undeniable quest of brilliance into exploring two art forms in different methods but it sometimes loses impact or interest with some slightly slow segments. It can quickly become boring but there are patches of wonder that save it from being the worst Disney film.

5.5/10

Not Another Happy Ending (2013)

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It’s almost unfair to label this rom-com as terrible because it doesn’t truly re-write the laws of the romantic comedy genre, and that’s what it’s attempting here, but it’s not great either. It’s cheesy in a few places, predictable and feels long but it’s by no means wholly unwatchable and some fresh performances from some of the main players alongside a couple of cool moments makes it okay.

This film sees a novelist; Jane Lockhart (Karen Gillan) finally getting a break by the hands of a struggling publication company. The head/editor of this business called Tom Duvall (Stanley Weber) sees some potential in Jane and signs her to a 2 book contract, though after the success of her first book she cannot find a way to finish the second and the resurfacing of a person close to her could only distract her further.

Amongst all these writing, non writing lark there of course is the core of a love story, though not an overly stuffed down your throat one to begin with, however clearly they set up the mutual attraction Jane and Tom have for one another. It is a little cheesy through a certain sequence where they have the lives of the two mirror and all their quaint editing meetings lead to a path signed ‘falling in love’. It’s just a bit rushed and from that point on whatever obstacles land in their way you just know it will all be alright. Aside from that major predictability which leaves near to no room for exciting uncertainty in plot development, the two characters are made for each other in their own way and so that’s sweet I guess.

The music helps the film an awful lot, as I guess most films do, but here you only feel the emotions thanks to the soundtrack which feels like aural manipulation and perhaps with a less obvious song or nothing at all the impact may have been nonexistent. In the case of a scene that did feel kind of sad we have Emeli Sande to credit for giving us that goosebump layer over the action.

Considering this is a movie all about an author and her issues with carrying on writing, you’d think the script would be tighter or at least fresh in a sense. It doesn’t do anything of major note to re sculpt the rom-com genre and that’s a shame. The idea of Tom trying and failing to make Jane unhappy because he feels that’s how she writes best is a neat trick but after one plan that’s dropped to make room for the more soppy factor of his discovery that he’s in love with her. The best writing inclusion was a cool and surprising addition concerning a recurring character in Jane’s mind. I really liked that part. The whole dad/daughter dynamic felt cliched to stir up family drama and the inevitable romance bangs away in the front of your mind throughout the whole film as you wait for it to just happen already.

On the plus side, I liked the style of the film. It’s presented in a quirky cool way. A fashionable film if nothing else anyway. From the image of the cast to the settings and locations, they do well to make both the characters and Scotland look different and trendy. The clutter and uneven mess of Tom’s company looks the part to tell us from the outset that this place looks in a state. Jane’s apartment is cleanliness personified and that works to show how she occupies her time doing everything including naked baking to try and get her novelist mind working. The costuming department can be proud in the design of Jane who looks proper cute and polished in her buttoned up shirts, hats and twee trousers. A character with lots to like and potential to burn from her great author sounding name to her look.

I liked moments of the comedy attempts to. A good number of lines made me smile and the film works on that level of feeling homely, it possesses that sharp British/Scottish quality. The witticisms do land more than they crash and that’s good to notice, though after a while it feels like the comedy wains to let the romantic story blossom, yawn.

My biggest problem with the film is that it reverted to having a happy ending and the entire time I was praying that for a British made film it would come up with a clever and un-Hollywood ending but alas. Especially given the name of the movie I was expecting, not a twist but a unique or intelligent close that could be interpreted different ways and at one specific moment I felt happy because I thought the filmmakers had done it with a somber graveside scene which falls apart pretty quickly.

It’s just not a resoundingly fantastic or even great movie because the script feels long and unshined, which is ironic due to the film being about the whole journey of writing. Gillan, Iain De Caestaecker and a couple of good jokes are only gems in this otherwise uninteresting film.

5/10

The Equalizer (2014)

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It may have a slow opening with ample space to breathe into the life of Denzel Washington’s character but don’t let this kind of too long beginning fool you, as when Washington becomes the man he’s been hiding then you’re in for a whirlwind of loud noises and brutal dispatches.

A friendly and extremely kind yet precise and ordered man by the name of McCall or Bob (Denzel Washington) has a job and a collection of literary classics to read but it’s clear there’s something deeper concerning his background. It takes the harsh female beating of diner chum and nighttime call girl Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) for this clinical and efficient side of Bob’s to surface. Though by getting involved in the prostitution circle Teri was trapped in, Bob now has to keep one step ahead of some imposing Russian gangsters led by Teddy (Marton Csokas) and become the man people rely on, the Equalizer.

I’ve never seen the TV show, only ever heard of it, so I have no idea how close to the series this sticks apart from casting Denzel is a stark opposite to the original but he’s Denzel so he’s fantastic. If this movie, by employing a reasonable amount of slo-mo and defined extreme close ups resembles the style of the show then kudos and if not then they’ve mastered a stylish and crystal clear method to tell this action thriller story. Either way they win. Of course, not seeing the show from the 1980’s I don’t know if this plot in any way takes ideas or elements from an episode or episodes plural. It’s a good enough plot though even if it does fall back on the expected Russian vs American cliche. There’s a lot in the film to suspend your disbelief at too, let the awesome mind and tactics of McCall/Bob wash over you and you’ll mightily enjoy it, otherwise you may not.

The music was a stand out quality for me, that may or may not be because of the booming impact IMAX speakers have, but it certainly keeps up that edge of grungy suspenseful darkness which works in favour of the impending circle of Russian mobsters and the way in which McCall can flip in a matter of seconds between normal civilian to hard nosed killer. There were at least a few moments that got me sitting upright and only part of that is down to the newly installed stiff chairs in the screen. Be it extremely loud gunfights or bangs or nail biting scenes of tension this film does deliver on those points.

It’s a heck of a vehicle for demonstrating how tension can be done right, especially in the final climax between McCall and a host of Russian baddies. The closed and near pitch black setting of a B&Q style home depot store lets the tension settle into your skin like an unshakable rash of nerves. It might be like an adult version of ‘Home Alone’ but there’s no denying that the ways people die in this scene and the film in general are pretty dark and bloody.

I think it’s up there as one of the better films to come out this year, it may have a Hollywood ending, it may not be thought inducing or subtle but it’s tense and racks up the revenge thriller reading to a number not identifiable on the dial. It’s obvious there’s a set up for sequels and that excites me because seeing what other insane ways this Equalizer can come up with to get even and serve justice like a real life Batman gives scope for more action and thrills. Some people might think it’s too long which I sort of agree with and others may think it’s too violent but it works for this character and the seedy world he got himself thrown into. A solid film that sells more so because of Washington as a star.

Denzel Washington is pure badass in this film. It helps that he can demonstrate that nice guy next door vibe to really display the differences in mode his character has. The OCD angle to set up the past he had and the way he can deal with situations is acted lightly and well, pushing aside the sometime annoying CGI zooms and pans from his eyes to the room around him as he sees a way to come out on top. When he really does kick into gear and becomes the Equalizer he sells it completely, he’s even scary at times in the bold and brutal way he goes about offing people in his way. Chloe Grace Moretz of course has a top billing thanks to her status but she’s not in it much at all though in the very little screentime she gets she proves what a diverse talented actress she is. The big bad played Csokas is brooding and dominant in his crash course to find out who McCall is and stop him. It’s a steely almost inhuman look he possesses throughout and you never know how he’s going to react so top acting from him.

I found it entertaining, delightfully violent to help the story along, it was a little too slow and long at times and of course it takes a lot to swallow but damn it, get a glass of water and swallow that pill of disbelief because it’s worth it. Kick-ass, almost non stop and tense to the last.

7/10

The November Man (2014)

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A vague Bond/Bourne spy type thriller here based on a series of ‘November Man’ novels by Bill Granger. It may not do anything spectacular to smash out of the genre and in fact typical settings and spy cliches are a major pitfall but on the whole I enjoyed this film, really I did. It’s quick on the most part, bloody, dark and shows Pierce Brosnan in a more rugged light.

5 years after an incident Montenegro, agent Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is retired and in Switzerland, though it isn’t long until some dramatic event calls him back into the game, where he blurs the line between good and bad confronting old partner David Mason (Luke Bracey) to track a missing female and uncover who was behind a bombing. Peter gains the help of case worker Alice (Olga Kurylenko) to try and jump in the lead in finding the missing woman.

It has its predicted twists and turns with the idea of never knowing who to trust and I like that, it’s never overbearing or so out there that the twists become laughable. Yes, high stake political players and dingy cities make for cliched thriller tropes but that’s surely to be expected in this kind of film…right? Well maybe you want it to do something slightly different to reinvent the thriller wheel but you take what you get, especially when this Roger Donaldson movie succeeds in creating tension and delivering on action.

The attempts at Jason Bourne like hand to hand may not be overly thrilling, the only times they try this sort of thing is with a few kicks or knees to a head or with an all too brief mano o mano combat scene between Peter and David. There’s a lot more visceral battle conclusions than I was anticipating, with brutal bloody head-shots and the like scattered amongst the film. Heck, even the very very end of the this movie has a moment such as this and I won’t lie, it made me jump!

There are a number of problems with the film, one annoyance for me was the inclusion of a character with great potential that came to nothing. An apparent trained and deadly female killer who had little screen time and did literally not much at all to demonstrate the awesome power she could have done. She either needed to have been seen more or not at all. After a brilliant fast paced opening twenty minutes or so the film begins to droop. Not a great thing as there aren’t many fast sequences amongst the slower feeling scenes to lift the film from this sag. It’s a little bit dumb and long with things being shown that don’t need to be either because they stretch the running time or we can see the outcome coming before it’s shown. None of the actors apart from Brosnan really get a grip to come out with a glean and bursts of slow motion feel a bit out of place in this kind of movie.

One of the biggest stand outs in this film is the talent of Pierce Brosnan who clearly utilises on his background as one of the James Bonds, he has that danger and charm mixed to perfection and elevates this more so as the ‘November Man’ making you question him as a good or bad guy. One scene in particular where he has the obligatory sitting at a table with valuable victim of enemy’s leads him to a surprising and angry outburst that Brosnan spits with appropriate venom. Olga Kurylenko has a few times to prove she’s not the helpless screaming female, especially when she gets into her more adult Hit-Girl get up but there are a lot of times that she’s there to be helped along by Brosnan’s Peter.

Like I said, I still enjoyed the film for all its faults. It has a suitable of tension, Brosnan is great and it never ever gets dull or boring in story. I can’t see it being a memorable film or doing very well as a series, if it does get the green light for further productions, but for a late night movie to provide some hard edged typical thriller fare, then you’re in the right place.

6/10

Beverly Hills Cop 2 (1987)

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It’s a real shame this movie doesn’t decide to amp things up or go in any drastic change of direction for the sequel, as it falls under the spell of weak follow up movie. The same style, wisecracks and street smarts of Foley aren’t so cool anymore and the rehashing of near the knuckle comedy and humorous dialogue doesn’t come across as well this time around.

This film coming three years after the original sees the return of Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) in Beverly Hills on the news that Captain Bogomil (Ronny Cox) has been in a shooting. A serious crime sweeping through the place, involving the alphabet becomes the case Foley has to take on and with the help of returning duo Rosewood and Taggart (Judge Reinhold and John Ashton) he may just prove his Detroit backdrop can win the day once again.

I still enjoyed watching this film, though it’s in the first part of the movie that the fun and swift feelings come at you, by the wrapping up and clue piecing together, it starts feeling a string of slow. The story is simple enough with a group of criminals under a unseen boss robbing locations and leaving behind their alphabet mark. It’s not such a twist really in the actual person as Foley gets it straight away and the conclusions of the villains are a mad rush of bullets and fury.

A lot of this sequel in tone or plot feels like a patchy carbon copy of the first and that’s not a good thing at all. Putting to one side the snappy charisma Eddie Murphy brings, there isn’t the same wow hitting you in the face as first time round managed to provide. I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s terrible or lost the original’s heart but it has certainly slowed the impactful beat down a tremendous amount, even the funky reuse of Harold Faltermeyer’s theme can’t lift the film into the stratosphere I so hoped it would near.

A lot of unneeded extra focus becomes a draw back, what with Rosewood’s Rambo obsession becoming a character stitch on that does nothing aside from him going batty with weapons at the end. The constant scenes of Foley entering places otherwise unattainable to the public becomes less funny and more annoying as people buy into less creative ploys mastered by Axel. The best use of his smarts is when getting the Beverly Hills house for himself.

It’s just another film to give shine to Murphy as a lead character, don’t get me wrong he does it superbly well, balancing the more plain moments of police thoughts with the higher insane moments of Axel anarchy like a perfectly structured scale but apart from him, the other actors don’t get an awful lot to do that makes you overly appreciate them. The return of the buddy cop pairing to trio dynamic is okay but just peters out now and again. The villains, one of whom is played by a Basic Instinct-esque Brigitte Nielsen don’t really get their teeth into the bad side of actions. It’s all very run of the mill fare to let Murphy run riot.

The opening song ‘Shakedown’ with the shots of Detroit city is a great energetic sequence, the massive lorry smashing into fleets of squad cars is a fun barrel of crashing and wrecking and then there’s the rightful and happy comeuppance of a snot nosed uninterested chief of police. It’s cool to see a young Chris Rock appear on camera too. The silly cameo of Hugh Hefner isn’t really a positive or negative just a star turn in a mildly entertaining sequel.

Axel Foley and Eddie Murphy, there isn’t much difference. Fun, jerky, annoying, brilliant and quick, it’s a star show for the actor in this sequel but just because he may be having a laugh in it doesn’t mean we all are. Watch the first one instead.

5/10

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

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This is a bodacious high school comedy and coming of age story that captures the youth and dramas of teens, that feels exciting and has good, not overly long winded touches of emotion concerning the growing pains of these characters. This film also succeeds in creating a world you want to jump into, it makes me wish I experienced that American school year lifestyle, especially the 80’s party swinging atmosphere shown in this movie.

A brilliant first directorial outing for Amy Heckerling who manages to shine a magnifying glass over work, play and studies of a small core of high schoolers, from weed and surf obsessed slacker Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) to the will they won’t they awkward attentions of Mark ‘Rat’ Ratner (Brian Backer) and Linda (Phoebe Cates). Mixed up in that is the strained career hopping of Brad (Judge Reinhold) and the confident talkers/sexual partners that are Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) and Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

All the characters have believable traits and you can invest in their trials and tribulations whether you like them or not, that’s a sign of good writing and kudos Cameron Crowe for taking his novel and adapting it into a fun yet accurate portrayal of high school lives. Each character has a moment or two to step out and take the spotlight leaving you learning something extra about them, even the teachers have a chance to get some funnies or crack wise, Mr. Hand is a prime example of showing how a high school film doesn’t need to take one side, pupils and teachers both have a need to get their sides shown. The only slight negativity is the way that ‘Rat’ and Mike resolve the icky sticky situation that occurs and I would have liked to see more of Stacy….not in that way, there’s hints that blossom slowly about her character thanks to interactions with other people involved with her and it would have been nice to see a softer more true side to her, letting the facade drop could have been a fantastic dramatic option to give but it doesn’t happen sadly.

It’s a very well made and cool film with comedy playing a central and key part to the developments of these people as you both laugh at them and laugh with them. Imagery at certain times are brilliant, the awkward first date between ‘Rat’ and Linda is cringe but fantastic, even just the opening sight of seeing them both dwarfed by humongous chairs in the restaurant to the non-diagetic noises of terror as the waitress comes for the bill with a worried Ratner wallet-less. Their are some great lines of coaching or sharp observation that stem from either Stacy, Mike or Mr. Hand. Then there’s the visual and acting comedy of Penn as Spicoli who encapsulates the layabout student so much that it made me remember the sounds and sights of my time in school with certain slackers in mind.

It’s an energetic soundtrack to work with the frantic bustle of the Ridgemont Mall and the hustle of their school, from the emphatic percussion and squeals of The Go Go’s’ ‘We Got the Beat’ that runs over the pacy opening to the funny snippet of a Led Zeppelin track that Rat uses to try and be smooth. It’s a collection of songs that blend with the action so well that it becomes part of the film never really making you realise it’s there, a good thing I believe as it doesn’t take us out of the movie.

Sean Penn is so in the zone as Jeff Spicoli that it makes me wonder whether he went method and actually got high for the part or is just Penn and a great actor truly making you think he’s a skiving stoner. It’s a gnarly performance to watch though he flips the comedy of Jeff as a dumbnut on the head with certain looks in his eyes making you feel that he realises he’s doing wrong or not helping himself that stops just shy of making him a tragic character. Jennifer Jason Leigh looks utterly gorgeous in the film and sells the sure and sex smart character of Stacy beautifully that it feels like some twist or crash in the plot when you come to see she might not be so educated. The same goes for Romanus as Mike who is cocksure, excuse the word choice considering his character’s journey but then he displays that other angle of human emotion making us see beneath the show and see a more frightened unsure guy. Every player in this film works as their character really well to make the film come to life.

Apart from it not being as astounding as there was room for, I thoroughly enjoyed it and if you compare it to the coma inducing film that is ‘Dazed and Confused’ then this film is an ace in the pack. The end credit what happened next titles for the characters are naff and not funny to be honest, some character work could have been explored more but all in all this film is classic, sensitive and funny.

7.5/10