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January 14th, 2017

GONE GIRL (2014) ***

Nick (Ben Affleck) seems like your typically unhappy married man whose life is put under a microscope when his seemingly perfect wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing. Pretty soon, townsfolk, the police, and (thanks to a Nancy Grace-inspired newscaster) the nation thinks he’s a murderer. His wife loves mysteries, and as part of an anniversary present to Nick she had set up clues to her whereabouts. He dutifully follows the clues, hoping to find answers, but is she the one pulling the strings?

Director David Fincher is in the same mode he was in when he made The Game. Both films involve twisty plots and leading men who are sent on demented scavenger hunts in order to “learn a lesson”. Unlike that flick, Gone Girl’s twists hold up to closer scrutiny. It is also missing a shaggy dog ending that undermined The Game’s effectiveness. Instead, the ending (which I would not dream of spoiling) is rather downbeat, depressing, and even a bit tragic.

Not all of this works. Some of the plot twists are obvious, and the film runs on about a half hour longer that it really should’ve. The thing that keeps you engaged is the way that Fincher and screenwriter/author Gillian Flynn plays with the audience’s sympathies. One moment, we despise Nick for what (we think) happened. Once more of the story is revealed, he becomes more and more of an unlikely hero.

Affleck is ideal for this sort of thing. He tries to keep a stiff upper lip, even when he’s being accused of heinous deeds. I especially liked how he tried to maintain his composure throughout the nightmarish situation. However, the people around him perceive his composure as cold-bloodedness, which makes them more afraid of him.

Pike is great too. I don’t want to spoil anything, but she really goes all-out on this one. She plays up all the different aspects of her character extremely well. Her scenes with Neil Patrick Harris (who plays her creepy ex) in particular are unsettling. The gusto in which she throws herself into these scenes is quite admirable.

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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (2016) **

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is exactly what you think it is. It’s an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with zombies in the mix. I just wish the filmmakers attacked the project with a little bit more flair as the whole thing feels a bit too proper to be good fun.

The film has its moments to be sure. However, they are more clever than laugh-out-loud funny. I liked the scenes of women being fitted into girdles for costume balls and being forced to make room for their swords underneath their bodices. It’s also amusing how the class snobbery works. The upper class women look down on the heroic Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) because she got her zombie-killing training in China. (All the best ladies train in Japan, don’t you know?)

I just wish the zombie-killing sprees were fun. They lack blood and guts, and are over much too quickly before you can fully appreciate them. Director Burr Steers delivers on the atmosphere as the candlelit ballrooms are quite creepy. It’s just a shame he never really lets loose.

The two leads are engaging enough. Sam Riley is a lot of fun as the stubborn Darcy, who is in this version, a revered zombie slayer. He has a lot of chemistry with James and their bickering is rather fun to watch. In fact, the best scene of the movie doesn’t even have any zombies in it. It comes when Darcy asks for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. When she refuses, a swordfight breaks out between the two of them.

If the rest of the film had the same sense of fun about it, it could’ve worked. Most of the time, the tone is off just enough that even the seemingly can’t-miss scenes fall flat. Every now and then, Steers and company hit the right note and you can see what they were going for. That alone is worth a grin and a smile, but not enough to sustain an entire feature.

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There are a lot of words to describe Frank Zappa. Genius. Madman. Anarchist. None of those labels really do him justice. He was a man of enormous talent, and as this documentary points out; many contradictions.

I can't say I've ever been a big fan of his music, but I certainly admire the weird, offbeat way he approached it. (I actually think I like his ‘80s output more than I like the old Mothers of Invention stuff.) One fan in this film calls his work “Anti-Music” and that’s pretty much the definitive term for it. Although I like the fact that he pushed the idea of what music could be, I can honestly say that it’s not something I could really listen to over and over again.

Zappa was always a fascinating person, especially when he was being interviewed. The strength of the documentary is that much of it is just Zappa talking. Those looking to hear a lot of his music will get a taste of it, although the best stuff isn’t always used. The pacing of the movie is a bit dull as its interview/concert footage/interview rhythm gets a bit monotonous. On the plus side, it does get better as it goes along, especially once Zappa defends his work on Capitol Hill in front of a bunch of politicians who want to censor his music.

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words probably won't win him any new fans. The die-hards will probably walk away pleased though. It’s not bad or anything. It’s just lacking the anarchistic spirit that made the man a legend.

AKA: Frank Zappa.

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GOD FORGIVES… I DON’T (1969) ***

A train pulls into the station with its shipment of gold stolen and all the passengers dead. Gunfighter Cat Stevens (Terence Hill) and his buddy Hutch (Bud Spencer) know that only one man could’ve pulled off such a caper, the dastardly Bill San Antonio (Frank Wolff). Problem is Stevens already killed him. They eventually learn that Bill has faked his death and is sitting on the loot he stole from the train. The pair then teams up to get the gold back.

God Forgives… I Don’t was the first pairing of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. While their Trinity movies are better known, I prefer this one because it’s not nearly as jokey. Sure, there is some humor here, but it’s nowhere near as broad as the Trinity pictures.

Hill is a total badass in this. He has a number of good scenes, like when he turns the tables on a couple of card sharks. Heck, just the nonchalant way he slides down a rocky cliff is pretty cool. He and Spencer have a lot of chemistry and it’s easy to see why they were cast in so many movies together. Frank (The Wasp Woman) Wolff is also quite amusing as the fey villain.

Director Giuseppe Colizzi handles the action crisply enough. He works in enough of the Spaghetti Western motifs (like when the heroes get beaten and tortured, only to later come back stronger than ever) that endear themselves to fans across the world. He gets the picture off to a crackling start with a number of clever vignettes (including a montage of Hill blowing away several henchmen) and flashbacks (including a gunfight in a burning house). The pacing stalls however once the narrative becomes more straightforward and routine. When Spencer shows up, the film gains a little traction and it’s fun watching him and Hill play off one another.

Colizzi reteamed with Hill and Spencer for two sequels, Ace High and Boot Hill.

AKA: Blood River. AKA: He Never Forgives. AKA: God Forgives.

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