Helluuuur! Yeah yeah, it’s been awhile, I know. I haven’t had much to say over the past couple months, so by extension I haven’t had much to share. But I have seen a buttload of good movies of late, and figured it was time for a review dump. I’ve got some recommendations for yo ass, so pay attention.
The 3-year wait between David Fincher films (his last was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2011) has been excruciating, even if we did get two Fincher-directed House of Cards episodes last year on Netflix. But he’s finally back, all is right in the cinematic universe, and of course he has not disappointed with one of the mostly hotly anticipated films of 2014. Why do people like me worship this man’s work so much? It’s not too complicated. When people say the first job of a director is to know what he or she wants, David Fincher is the embodiment of that. If you’ve watched the A+ special features on any of Fincher’s movies, you know what I’m talking about. I have learned so much about the filmmaking process just by watching this man work, and I’m grateful to him for having been so open with his audience. I can’t wait to get Gone Girl on Blu-ray and spend hours poring through the bonus content. He also does some of the best, most informative commentaries you’ll ever listen to. He’s one of the most consistent and talented filmmakers alive, and he hasn’t made a bad movie since his first movie, which was 22 years ago. That’s something worth admiring, methinks.
Gone Girl‘s story is right in Fincher’s wheelhouse, from the police procedural aspects to dark subtleties of character to the frequent twisted humor, and of course his pure skill at shooting “fucked up shit”, of which there is plenty to be found here. Gillian Flynn crafted a fine screenplay off of her own book, which is not typically how Hollywood works when adapting major properties like this.
We have a very strong, diverse cast here. Ben Affleck is superb as Nick Dunne. As I look through his filmography, I feel confident in saying that this is indeed Affleck’s finest performance, with The Town and Good Will Hunting coming up closely behind. He has to do a little bit of everything in this performance, and it’s a joy to watch him work through the nuances of it. He gets to make his character act for the cameras within the film (how meta!), he has to handle some domestic violence, he has to be romantic, he has to be funny, he has to be contemplative. It’s really quite impressive. If Affleck still has any lingering haters left, they should admit defeat and pack it in for good after seeing this movie. His co-star, the lovely Rosamund Pike, will be a fresh face to many American viewers, but I’ve been a fan of hers since her breakthrough role as one of the Bond Girls in Die Another Day back when she was all of 23 in 2002. She’s had several other sizeable roles since, but she may never get to do anything again as interesting as Amy Dunne. Much like Affleck, she gets to portray a wide variety of emotions and character traits and she’s all-in the entire time. She’s marvelous.
The supporting cast is also phenomenal. Carrie Coon is perhaps the soul of the movie as Nick’s twin sister, Margo. I love every scene between the two of them. The always reliable Kim Dickens is excellent as the lead detective on the case. But here’s where it gets really interesting…who else but Fincher would have even considered casting Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris in a movie like this? They, too, are both great. I’ve been shitting on Tyler Perry’s mediocre creative endeavors for years, but if he didn’t know how to act before, he sure as hell learned while making this film. Harris’ skills here didn’t surprise me as he is a grade-A performer, but I don’t know any other director who would’ve thought of him for the pivotal role of Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend, Desi. Fincher even brought Almost Famous‘ Patrick Fugit out of mothballs as Dickens’ investigative partner. I was also a big fan of Casey Wilson as Amy’s best friend in the neighborhood, and Fincher went straight for my jugular by putting one of the hottest females in the history of Earth, Emily Ratajkowski and her “cum on me tits” as they’re described in the movie, as Nick’s side piece, Andie. This was Ratajkowski’s first major movie role, and I look forward to seeing a lot more of her in the future. But you get my point. J’adore the casting of this movie, from top to bottom.
As usual, every frame of the movie is beautiful to look at. Every technical aspect is superb, from the art direction to the subtle visual effects to the perfect sound design. There may be no filmmaker working today who operates with the technical precision of David Fincher and his loyal team. The film was shot on the Red Epic Dragon in 6K resolution, which is ridiculous. Fincher has collaborated with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth on his last 3 films, and I hope the relationship continues well into the future. I gave Cronenweth the Best Cinematography Biggie award for his work on Dragon Tattoo, and you can bet he’ll be in the running again this year. I love that they shot the movie on location in Missouri, and as I’ve said many times, it’s always nice to see different parts of the world on film. Clearly, Mr. Fincher agrees.
Fincher’s other collaboration that needs to obviously continue indefinitely is having Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross compose his scores. The duo’s work here may be their most haunting musical landscape yet, it’s as brilliant as ever, and it’s a score I’ll be listening to for months to come.
Here’s my favorite track from the score, “Still Gone”:
Needless to say, I’m recommending you see Gone Girl in theaters as soon as possible. For me, it’ll be a see-it-twice flick, because having not read the book, it’s a lot to take in in one viewing.
My only gripe with the film was that because I wasn’t familiar with how the story ends going in, I was ready for the movie to end about 10 minutes before it actually did. I’m not saying the movie is too long (it’s a complex story that deserves it’s nearly 2½ hours), but every time I thought it was over, there was another scene. This happened 3 or 4 times before the movie finally did end. I’m thinking I might feel differently about this after a second viewing, but that was my honest initial reaction. Take it for what it’s worth.
IMDb Rating: 8/10
Biggies Consideration: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Ensemble Performance, Actor (Ben Affleck), Actress (Rosamund Pike), Supporting Actress (Carrie Coon), Cinematography, Film Editing, Art Direction, Original Score, Sound, Sound Editing
Denzel Washington kicking ass in Boston. That’s all I needed to get excited going into The Equalizer, but I was even more thrilled because this movie marked the reunion of Washington with his Training Day director, Antoine Fuqua (one of the only black directors who gets to make A-level studio films today). Denzel plays a former special forces guy (isn’t everybody these days?) who now leads a quiet, normal life in Boston reading classic books and working at a generic movie version of Home Depot (filmed in a former Lowes store in Haverill, MA). Then some stupid Russian mobsters fuck with a young girl he’s befriended (played by Chloe Moretz), and it’s reluctant hero time, bitches!
One of my favorite underutilized actors, Marton Csokas, also shows up as a Russian former spec-ops soldier turned mob enforcer. He is one of 2014’s best villains and has more than one really delicious scenes. Of course the action is excellent, and there a bunch of violent, awesome kills. Because this is what people are paying to see nowadays. It just feels good to see generic scumbags (especially foreigners) get what’s coming to them. I really do think it’s as simple as that. Americans love that stuff. At the screening I went to, the vast majority of the audience was over 40. This is not your typical audience for modern action movies, but when it’s Denzel dealing out the justice, older people show up, no matter how violent the movie is. It’s fascinating. Anyway, yeah, Denzel deals out vigilante justice to Russian mobsters and corrupt cops alike in this movie, and the audience I was in couldn’t have enjoyed it more. (Especially the annoying 60+-year old woman sitting behind me who blurted out a clichéd “Uh oh!” at full volume every time Denzel was about to kill somebody.)
Speaking of the action, I wasn’t crazy about the Home Alone-style way Denzel takes out the bad guys in the grand finale at the Home Mart store, but it was as fun to watch as it was dumb, which made it easily forgivable. The logical mind just can’t help but wonder why doesn’t he take the automatic rifle off the first bad guy he killed and use that on the rest of them? But hey, dudes getting killed by a sledgehammer and a nail gun is much cooler, so…whatever.
I mentioned how the Boston locations were one of the primary draws here for me (I’m from Boston, for anyone who hasn’t figured that out yet from previous posts). While the city looks great throughout the movie, the city itself is not as much a character in the movie as I’d hoped it would be. You could’ve shot this same script in almost any other big city in America and it wouldn’t have made any difference. So that was disappointing, but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. I’d still rather see Boston used as “generic city setting” than New York, L.A. or Miami for the 9,748th time any day of the week. On the plus side, there’s only one cheesy Boston accent in the film (from an otherwise damned good actor, David Harbour, who plays one of the corrupt police detectives). One day, Hollywood will come to the realization that not everyone in Massachusetts has an over-the-top accent.
The entire cast is really good. I especially enjoyed the cameos by Bill Pullman & Melissa Leo. Denzel gets some good acting moments and makes everyone around him better per usual, but there’s nothing here that really challenged him. Some of the stuff this character is able to do on his own in this film seriously stretches the suspension of disbelief, but again, because it’s Denzel, you’re willing to dismiss the implausibility of it in favor of the enjoyment of watching him do it. There aren’t more than 5 other actors who you’d give this kind of leeway to. I could hear my subconscious saying, You wouldn’t put up with this shit if Channing Tatum were doing it, but Denzel is allowed to do whatever the fuck needs to be done, goddammit. He truly is one of the last true movie stars we have. Appreciate him now before he gets old, folks, cuz we’re only 5 or 6 years away from that reality, which is utterly depressing.
Apparently, Washington is willing to do an Equalizer sequel (which would be his first-ever sequel if you can believe it), and to that I say…yes. Although it would be very difficult to top what he’s able to singlehandedly accomplish in this first outing. The only way you could one-up this one would be to send him to the Middle East and have him destroy ISIS and Al-Qaeda all by himself. Maybe we can combine Taken and The Equalizer and send Liam Neeson‘s Brian Mills and Denzel’s Robert McCall to rid the world of all evil in the same movie. Who wouldn’t pay to see that?
IMDb Rating: 8/10
Biggies Consideration: Best Original Song (Eminem‘s “Guts Over Fear”), Best Stuntwork
Sidebar: Two things about Denzel Washington. One, I wish he’d have made this movie 10-15 years ago. He’s 59 now (turning 60 in December) and is able to do this action just fine, but it would’ve been better if he were in his 40’s doing this stuff instead of his 50’s. And it would’ve meant he could do several sequels without being “too old for this shit” age as he and Liam Neeson are now. But this wasn’t the kind of action movie that was being made in the late 90’s/early 00’s, so maybe that’s unrealistic to begin with. Second, I want Denzel to do a movie sometime soon where he goes up against an actor who is his equal (or as close to it as any mere mortal came come). When I think of some of my favorite Denzel movies, he was often co-starring with at least one other great actor who challenged him (Morgan Freeman in Glory, Gene Hackman in Crimson Tide, Ethan Hawke in Training Day, hell even Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire). Nowadays, he mostly does movies where he’s The Man, with no other A-listers getting equal screen time. He takes on the rest of the cast instead of going head-to-head with one other actor. He battled Mark Wahlberg in 2 Guns last year, but that was a stupid movie. He was the #1 guy in Flight, and Ryan Reynolds and Chris Pine simply aren’t on his level in Safe House and Unstoppable. Those movies are really good, but he hasn’t been in a true acting battle in more than 10 years, and I miss that Denzel. My dream scenario: Denzel Washington vs. Daniel Day-Lewis in a movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Droooool…
This was James Gandolfini‘s final film role, and he goes out in fine style, playing the manager of a “drop bar” that is part of a network of locations where illegal gambling and drug money gets stashed for Chechen gangsters in NYC. Shit goes bonkers after the bar is robbed for several thousand dollars. Tom Hardy, who is quickly becoming one of the best actors working today, gets the most screen time as Gandolfini’s cousin who is also the primary bartender at the joint. It was written by acclaimed author Dennis Lehane, adapted from one of his own short stories. I found The Drop to be a riveting small-scale crime drama. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity in the film and there are no real good guys, and I loved the gritty realism in that. The only other person in the movie you may recognize is Prometheus‘ Noomi Rapace, who is continuing to make a nice transition from her native Sweden (where she starred in their Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies) into American cinema. This is also the debut American film from Belgian director Michael R. Roskam, and I’m very interested to see what he does next. Hopefully this film will open some more doors for him over here.
The Drop is gone from most theaters now because this is the kind of movie the masses don’t show up for in theaters anymore without major starpower attached, but I insist you give it a rent when it’s available digitally, which should be very soon. You’ll not regret it.
IMDb Rating: 8/10
Biggies Consideration: None
Enemy is a movie I’d been curious about for months, but when I finally sat down and watched it (it’s only 90 minutes long), I sure as hell was not ready for what I got. If you know as little as I did about it going in, this movie will mess you up. In a good way. I recommend not looking up a lot about the plot beforehand. The film is a tantalizing mix of the stillness of Stanley Kubrick and the precision of David Fincher, and it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2014. After making the excellent Prisoners just last year in his American debut, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve comes right back at us with a brilliant, head-scratching mindfuck of a movie that demands repeat viewing and makes you think about what you just saw (that rarest of traits in modern filmmaking). I f’ing loved it.
Jake Gyllenhaal turns in a skillful dual-role performance as a man who becomes obsessed with an apparent doppelganger after he sees someone who looks exactly like him in a movie. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about the story. Trust me, it’s better this way. The fantastic Melanie Laurent plays school teacher Jake’s girlfriend, while the new-to-me (and drop dead gorgeous) Sarah Gadon plays the wife of actor Jake.
This film is a visual masterpiece and a clinic in photography. They shot the film in Toronto (on the Arri Alexa system), but I didn’t know that going in, so I’m watching this movie with these incredible aerial city shots thinking what the hell city is that? First of all, I had no idea Toronto was that big, but I also love the architecture they showed off. I’ve never had much desire to visit Canada, but I might now have to see Toronto in the flesh at some point just because of this movie. I love the yellowish tint they added in the intermediate, which made the city feel oddly menacing and desolate. The movie is also filled with visual symbolism that you must pay attention to. This is not a movie you watch casually whilst doing other things. If you’re not 100% focused on it, you’re gonna miss something.
After making Prisoners and now Enemy together, I believe Jake Gyllenhaal has found his very own Martin Scorsese in Denis Villeneuve. I want these two to keep working together. And I want Villeneuve to keep working on American films, because after only a couple of years, he’s already announced himself as one of the most interesting filmmakers working today.
Enemy is now available to rent or buy. If you haven’t seen this by the end of the year, then your opinion about the best movies of 2014 is invalid. If you see it and hate it because you thought it was too weird, that’s fine, but you better have seen it so you can at least take part in the discussion.
IMDb Rating: 8/10
Biggies Consideration: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Jake Gyllenhaal), Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score
I don’t even want to describe the plot of this movie, because much like Enemy it’s a better experience when you know nothing going in. What I can tell you is that it’s a single-location story, which is one of my absolute favorite subgenres in cinema. Incredibly, the location is Tom Hardy’s character Ivan Locke‘s car, and Hardy owns the screen by himself for 85 minutes in maybe the best performance of his career. Basically, his character spends a long nighttime drive making and answering a bunch of phone calls (all the other actors are off camera and all we get are their voices) as his family life and successful career are both put in jeopardy over one bad decision he’s made. That’s all I’ll say. It’s absolutely riveting stuff, and again it’s an incredible performance by Hardy. The movie is written and directed by Steven Knight, who is probably best known here for writing Eastern Promises.
Locke is available now for digital rental/purchase, and I strongly urge you to be one of the people who’s in-the-know about this film. It’s one of my strongest recommendations of the year so far, and I want everyone to see it.
IMDb Rating: 8/10
Biggies Consideration: Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Tom Hardy)
And now, just for kicks, I present:
MY 5 MOST ANTICIPATED MOVIES FOR THE REST OF 2014 (in preferential order)
1. INTERSTELLAR (11/7) – Christopher Nolan does space and attempts nothing short of giving us this generation’s 2001. Sheeee-it. The more we get from this movie in the form of trailers and TV spots, the more excited us Nolan fanboys get. Allegedly some big shots in Hollywood have already seen it and loved it (including director Edgar Wright). I desperately, desperately, desperately want to see this in 70mm IMAX as Nolan intended, but the nearest theater to me with that format available is 5 ½ hours away, which fucking blows. But don’t think I’m not going to try and arrange a road trip with some like-minded people I know here. It’s got an amazing cast. It’s got a brand new Hans Zimmer score (the first time he’s attempted true sci-fi like this). And most awesome of all, it’s got a 169-minute runtime. I seriously doubt that it’s gonna top The Dark Knight, but there are whispers that this is Nolan’s best movie yet. If so, we’re talking all-time status here. My body is ready, Mr. Nolan.
2. THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (12/17) – This is going to be a fascinating experience for me. The Hobbit films certainly don’t compare to Lord of the Rings with regards to reaching legendary status, but I’ve loved both of them anyway, and I’ve definitely enjoyed them more than the majority of critics have. I expect big things out of the finale (though certainly nothing as epic as The Return of the King), and I’m very curious how Peter Jackson is going to use this film to bridge the gap between the Hobbit films and the LOTR films, as he has promised to do. I haven’t read The Hobbit book, so I don’t know how the story ends. Who will live? Who will die? How far into the film do they kill Smaug? Another fascinating question: how long is it gonna be? I’m betting Jackson is pushing for it to be more than 3 hours (Desolation of Smaug was 2:45), but does he have the balls (or the approval of the studio) to make it close to 3:20 like the theatrical cut of Return of the King? I hope so!
3. EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (12/12) – I’ll admit I haven’t been blown away by the 2 trailers, and I’m still incredibly weary of having the entire primary cast of Egyptian characters be comprised entirely of white people. That said, the cast is pretty amazing, it’s going to look and sound amazing, and Ridley Scott says it’s his most epic film yet, which is saying something. DreamWorks’ underrated 1998 animated version of the Exodus story, The Prince of Egypt, is one of my all-time favorite movies, so it remains to be seen whether this new incarnation will even be able to top that. I badly want this to be one of my Best Picture nominees this year, but there are a lot of things that could go wrong, so I will try to go in with reasonable expectations; key word being try. I’m also very interested to know what the score is gonna sound like, as Scott is working with Spaniard composer Alberto Iglesias for the first time on this picture. He’s also working with a new editor (Billy Rich), so, yeah…we’ll see how it goes.
4. INHERENT VICE (12/9 limited, goes wide in January) – It’s a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie, dammit. What’s not to anticipate? I don’t expect this to be anywhere near as good as There Will Be Blood, and the weirdo story here may or may not be my bag of tea, but I’d rather see any new movie from PTA than something new from just about anyone else.
5. THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART I (11/24) – Not because I’m a huge Hunger Games fan, but the second film was such a massive improvement over the first that I’m really excited to see how the series wraps up under the direction of Francis Lawrence. Unfortunately, Lionsgate made the trendy greedy move of splitting the finale into two parts, so we have all have a massive cliffhanger to look forward to. Hooray. Fuck you, Lionsgate.
By the way, I’m still waiting for another 2014 film to present a serious challenge to The Raid 2, which I saw back in April and remains the best movie I’ve seen this year. There are some heavyweight contenders yet to come out (several of them are on this list), but Gareth Evans‘ masterpiece is still on pace to become the first pure action movie (though admittedly it’s also a crime drama) to win Best Picture at the Biggies since Terminator 2 in 1991.
And now for a random media story worth commenting on:
News broke this week that Adam Sander has signed an exclusive, 4-picture deal with Netflix. This means Netflix is expanding its reach from TV shows to movies and will finance 4 of his upcoming flicks, which would then be available exclusively on Netflix. This is a groundbreaking move for a star of Sandler’s “caliber”, but it should prove an interesting experiment. It’s still possible that they’d be available to buy on DVD/Blu-ray later and maybe even appear in theaters after an exclusive Netflix window, but it seems unlikely the theater chains would accept that (rightly so in my view). It’s also unclear if these will be his next 4 movies in a row or just 4 new movies whenever they can get them done. Apparently none of them have been written yet, and we don’t know if they’ll all be original properties. Many entertainment pundits are writing click-bait “Is this the beginning of end of the movie theater?” articles, which I find utterly ridiculous. I feel like I’ve been reading “demise of the cinema experience” articles for a decade now, and I’m getting more than wee bit sick of them. Until Netflix is ready to finance a $200 million blockbuster on their own, we needn’t worry about them destroying the theatrical experience. Personally, I found this to be fantastic news. If it keeps Adam Sandler off the big screen for a few years, that’s something we should all be thankful for.
If IMDb is right, Sandler has only one more upcoming film in the books, 2015’s sci-fi comedy Pixels. In theory he’ll be relegated to Netflix for the foreseeable future after that. As I scroll through his filmography, Adam Sandler hasn’t made me laugh in over 10 years, and he’s one of the laziest movie stars we have, so I shall not miss him one bit.
That’s all I got for now. Stay tuned for…other things…at an undetermined time!