Wednesday, October 8, 2014

THE FIVE WAYS THAT SUGGEST DAVID FINCHER'S "GONE GIRL" IS REALLY A HORROR MOVIE


David Fincher’s thriller GONE GIRL virtually tied with ANNABELLE, the horror movie prequel to THE CONJURING this past weekend at the box office. Both took in over 37 million, and both prove that the nation’s audiences love to sit on the edge of their seats at the Cineplex. And, not surprisingly, GONE GIRL has a lot in common with the horror genre too. In fact, if Fincher’s SEVEN brushes up against terror, his GONE GIRL could be considered such a genre entry as well. Here are five reasons that suggest so. (Note: there will be plot spoilers ahead so you have been warned!)


Its antagonist is monstrous
First and foremost, the antagonist in GONE GIRL goes way beyond the normal femme fatale one would find in a thriller. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) has a lot in common with the dangerous female characters from film noir. She could be a Hitchcock blonde with her icy beauty and sophisticated allure. However, her diabolical agenda renders her less Tippi Hedren and more Hannibal Lecter. Amy’s actions go way beyond what passes for vengeance in most pulp fictions. She’s not just vile; she’s villainous. And her deeds are more than just self-preserving. They’re sociopathic.


Its main setting is a haunted house
David Fincher loves to work with the extraordinary cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. In fact, Fincher’s recognizable signature  - low, warm light and lots of shadows – is a staple of noir and horror. And in Fincher’s thrillers, Cronenweth is an absolute expert at making the maximum out of the mystery by painting the light with his disquieting darkness and eerily still camera work. The DP has proven in everything from FIGHT CLUB to GONE GIRL that he knows how to place suspect characters in suspicious settings, and make the modern world as scary as anything supernatural.

Just look at how he shot THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Cronenweth photographed the characters sitting at a boardroom table, practically static as they gave depositions, and made it look as dangerous and terrifying as anything Phillip Marlowe ever discovered in a darkened alley. In GONE GIRL, Cronenweth shoots the Dunne’s beige, bland suburban house like it’s a well-decorated prison. The home of hapless husband Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is vast, lonely and filled with secrets. Has track housing ever been so disturbing? Cronenweth’s shadowy geography kept Nick in the dark in GONE GIRL, both physical and metaphorically. And the audience too.


The creepy music would make Dracula feel right at home
Film composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose have collaborated with Fincher on two other occasions – THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – and both times they produced moody scores that added to the eeriness of those edgy stories.

With their music for GONE GIRL, they’ve made even more out of such dismaying tones. The chords are sultry and yet foreboding throughout. It’s spooky in the film and as a stand-alone soundtrack as well. Such a score could easily accompany a modern vampire tale. And in many ways, that is exactly what GONE GIRL is.


The murder and mayhem is truly terrifying
Say what you will about the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise, but antagonist Jason Voorhees was basically a big, dumb killing machine. He was practically a shark in a hockey mask, driving forward from one inevitable bloodletting to the next. In GONE GIRL, Amy Dunne is so calculating, cold and vicious that she’d make a Manson girl blush. The death on display in GONE GIRL is simply shocking. And somewhere, Eli Roth and John Carpenter are covering their eyes behind their hands.


The lethal combination of sex and murder is a horror staple
The female vamp archetype has always driven screen thrillers. Bad girls like Barbara Stanwyck in DOUBLE INDEMNITY and Kathleen Turner in BODY HEAT made homicidal tendencies haute, hot and horrifying. But seldom has film noir seen a villain as unstoppable and ferocious as Amy Dunne. Her peer group is more like horror’s Freddie Krueger and Norman Bates. In fact, if the mother from “Aliens” had a showdown with the ‘Amazing Amy’, I’d bet on the 5’8” stunner vanquishing the space creature in a minute flat. That’s how horrid the antagonist of  GONE GIRL is.


The movie title itself works on a couple of levels, and one clearly points to horror. Of course it refers to the so-called ‘disappearance’ of Amy Dunne since she is perceived to be a possible kidnap victim in the first hour of the film. More importantly however, the title points to how far Amy is from what everyone thought she was. Amy was never really the beautiful, erudite and loving woman that her husband, friends and family thought she was. Instead, she’s hovering on the fringes of societal norms as her humanity has long vanished. What’s left is an utter monster.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

THE AFI'S SERIOUS CHOICE OF COMIC STEVE MARTIN FOR THEIR LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD


On Friday, the American Film Institute announced that Steve Martin would receive their 43rd annual Life Achievement Award. AFI CEO Howard Stringer described the new recipient as “an American original” and he went on to further laud the actor, comedian and writer by saying, “From a wild and crazy stand-up comic to one who stands tall among the great figures in this American art form, he is a multi-layered creative force bound by neither convention nor caution. His work is defined by him alone, for he is the author – and a national treasure whose work has stuck with us like an arrow in the head."

Martin is an inspired choice. He’s perhaps the major, singular comic voice of the last 50 years. From his time as a writer on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in the late 60’s, to his sold-out stadium stand-up days in the 70’s, to his influence on “Saturday Night Live” and the generation of comedians who’ve come after him, Martin’s legacy is unarguable. We could not have had Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell or Jimmy Fallon without him. Martin was the comedic voice of his generation and he turned that into movie gold as well.

Starting with “The Jerk” in 1979, Martin was able to blend the sophomoric with the intellectual, and that one-two punch has made most of his films both uniquely silly and intellectual simultaneously. On its surface, “The Jerk” may appear as all broad caricature and sight gags, but Martin injected his story with plenty of biting commentary on the American class system and racism.

In films like “Roxanne” and “All of Me” the outrageousness of the slapstick visuals that Martin excelled at like few others were juxtaposed against the comedian’s scathing indictments against prejudice and sexism. In “Roxanne”, perhaps Martin’s best film, he not only updated the story of “Cyrano de Bergerac” to show that expectations of beauty and manliness haven’t changed that much since the 17th Century, but he brought a pathos to the whole shebang that was worthy of Charlie Chaplin. 

 “All of Me” showcased Martin’s incredible physical grace as two personalities took over his brain, fighting for control of his body. Throughout, Martin wove sexual politics into the laugh-out-loud farce. Clearly, he had learned well in his early days, writing Emmy-winning sketches for the liberally adroit Tom and Dick Smothers, and throughout his career, Martin added gravitas to the lightest of fare. He was a serious man, who was serious about comedy, and serious about making the comedy have true bite.

Martin could be a triple threat, writing, directing and starring in his scathing satire on Hollywood moviemaking with “Bowfinger” and he was a formidable serious actor as well. He played self-centered cads (“Pennies From Heaven”), unlikable Hollywood sorts (“Grand Canyon”), and corporate villains (“The Spanish Prisoner”) in straight projects that had nary a sense of humor. One of his greatest onscreen performances was in John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” where his priggish ad exec is forced to travel with a gauche salesman (John Candy). Of course Martin gets the laughs, but he also aces the pathos, particularly in the last act when he realizes how much his companion has been an asset on their journey home for the holidays.

Martin exhibited a rich, haut cool on screen when needed, like in “Shopgirl” of “It’s Complicated”, but he could also play an utter ‘everyman’ and gave terrific performances in films like “Parenthood” and “Father of the Bride”. Even in efforts like his attempts to reboot “Sgt. Bilko” and “The Pink Panther”, Martin demonstrated a sense of comic timing and physical hilarity that cannot be taught, even if it didn’t exactly save those misfires.

What may be the most important part of Martin’s film legacy was his ability to master comedic language and physicality equally. There are few true great comedians in film today, and even fewer who could play both anywhere close to Martin’s capabilities. Throughout his work, especially in film, his tongue is as funny as his body. And in movies like “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, Martin is hilarious whether he’s talking the talk or walking the walk, or sitting in a wheelchair faking paralysis.

All in all, the AFI has made a shrewd and worthy choice in choosing Martin. There can never be enough accolades for comedic stars that too often get the brush when it comes to such awards. Every actor will tell you that comedy is harder to do than drama, but the number of Oscar-winning comedies is inconsistent with that, and that’s somewhat of a tragedy. Indeed, the AFI failed to honor the likes of Chaplin, Groucho Marx, and Blake Edwards in their time, and it’s great to see such comedic standouts as Martin, and Mel Brooks a few years back, getting their just due from this venerable institution.

The only troubling thing about choosing Martin now is that many others that were due, and older, were not called. Stars that started their sterling movie careers in the 1960’s, like Michael Caine, Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall, have yet to be called and may never be called now as the AFI seems to be culling from the 70’s and later periods. It’s also a shame that no ‘below the line’ stars have been lauded yet, including a household name like composer John Williams. He is most certainly worthy of the AFI Life Achievement honor, but whether the Institute will be that bold remains to be seen.


Still, Martin is a bold choice. The Academy Awards never saw fit to nominate him for an acting award for “All of Me” or “Roxanne” even though he’d won tons of critics awards for them. To see Martin get both an honorary Oscar last year, and now be pegged for the AFI’s most prestigious honor, says a lot about not only the man’s enduring legacy but also about the due that his comedy, all comedy, truly deserves. Wild and crazy, isn’t it?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

ONE WOULD THINK…BUT THEN AGAIN


You would think certain things in Hollywood would be obvious and  self-evident, but then again, if you look at them from a different angle, well, you might see something else entirely. 

For example:

One would think a smart, involving thriller like A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES would be doing better at the box office, but then again, the Liam Neeson audience these days isn’t exactly looking for anything this challenging.

One would think the NSA could catch the ass hat that stole the iCloud pics of JENNIFER LAWRENCE, et al., but then again you’d think our expert spies could also find ISIS members through their Twitter accounts too.


One would think that the reason GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY keeps making gobs of money is due to it being one of the better comic book movies, but then again its ginormous success is really due to the fact that there was precious little competition worth seeing at the Cineplex this past summer. 

And one would think that Chris Pratt's Star-Lord character was the breakout character in the movie, but then again, everyone knows it's really Groot who steals the picture.



Also, one would think that with the success of Tony Stark, et al. the name THE AVENGERS could only refer to the hugely popular Marvel heroes, but then again, for anyone over 40, the term refers to Mr. Steed and Mrs. Peel.

Speaking of comics, one would think that DC Comics would be able to create great movies with their amazing array of titles, but then again, it’s actually more extraordinary that they’ve been able to ace TV with ARROW, GOTHAM and THE FLASH.



And with GOTHAM, one would think that the villains would be the most interesting characters, but then again, if you saw the pilot, you know that the two cops (Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock) were the best things in the show.

While we're on the small screen, one would think that the movies could find great roles for Oscar nominee Viola Davis and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, but then again, TV is outshining film these days, so the small screen is where you'll find them shining in HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER and RED BAND SOCIETY, respectively.

One would also think that People magazine would have enough smart journalists working for them to avoid the racist comments about Viola Davis and her new show (http://huff.to/106gsmT), but then again, most magazines and newspapers haven’t exactly aced social media yet. 



One would think that Shailene Woodley’s followers will be anxiously lining up for her next DIVERGENT movie, but then again, if they’re true fans, they'll seek out her terrifically edgy indie WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD.

And one would think that Lindsay Lohan would look at Woodley’s career choices and think, “That could’ve been me” but then again, LiLo is probably only thinking about choices for her next night out.



And speaking of WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD, after stealing that movie, as well as SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR and Showtime’s PENNY DREADFUL,  one would think that the world would be Eva Green's oyster, but then again, Hollywood doesn’t really know what to do with someone like Charlize Theron, so I won't be surprised if it takes studios a while to come around and cast Green in every lead in sight. 

One would think that David Fincher might falter one of these days, but then again, he's the best director of his generation so why shouldn't his new thriller GONE GIRL be great too? (BTW...it's getting absolute raves and it opens next Friday, October 3rd. Can't wait!)



One would think the big opening weekend for Denzel Washington’s THE EQUALIZER would be a cause for celebration, but then again, if you’ve ever seen the Edward Woodward TV version you'd probably be depressed at how far afield this movie reboot is from the source material.

One would also think that an Oscar contender like THE IMITATION GAME would have come up with a better poster than this rather pedestrian one, but then again, Benedict Cumberbatch is such a red hot star right now, his face is probably enough to sell the movie. 



Speaking of Cumberbatch, one would think he could’ve made it easy on himself and simply voiced Smaug for THE HOBBIT movies in the recording booth, but then again, he's the consummate actor, so of course he donned the motion capture suit. 



One would think that after the tepid reviews and so-so box office for GODZILLA, Hollywood might have hesitated to order up a sequel, but then again, bad begets bad in Tinsel Town, so why am I surprised?

And finally, one would think that Jennifer Lopez, who is such a capable actress when she wants to be, would do more things like the movie OUT OF SIGHT, but then again, if you know what you're money-maker is, I suppose you shake it.






Sunday, September 21, 2014

FIVE STORIES FROM THE FILM INDUSTRY THAT LEFT ME FLABBERGASTED THIS WEEK


If you think it’s been a confounding couple of weeks with a new war in the Middle East, Scotland voting “no” on separation, and all the NFL domestic violence issues, they were equally troublesome in Hollywood. Granted, much of what I am writing about today does not reach the level of drama as those more important stories, but nonetheless, the following five items left me flabbergasted.
 
Olympian soccer star Hope Solo
WHY CAN’T THEY CATCH THE HOLLYWOOD HACKER?

Can’t they nab the jerk who’s assaulting women online with his release of their most intimate photos he’s stolen? I wrote about this a few weeks ago (http://bit.ly/1rJGLLN), and it strikes me that this might be an inside job at Apple or the NSA. How is this creep able to hack into over a hundred accounts? Apple blocks anyone after three mistaken password guesses, so how did he hack all those celebs so easily?

Well, now he’s dropped a second round of hacked photos from various iCloud accounts and the FBI or Apple still don’t seem to have an UNSUB (unknown suspect) in their sites. Seriously, with all our NSA spying and CIA eavesdropping capabilities, how was this allowed to happen twice in as many weeks? I feel especially sorry for soccer star Hope Solo. She sure didn’t need her candid shots exposed like they were when her week already was awful due to her domestic violence charges remaining in the news.


WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON WITH JOHNNY DEPP?

Can Johnny Depp play real people anymore? In the 2014 thriller  TRANSCENDENCE he played a virtual human being, and now in TUSK, an otherwise good horror movie, he gives a performance that would graciously be called a caricature. It’s so over-the-top hammy that it ruins the last third of the movie. Time was Depp could make normal people interesting like in WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE or DONNIE BRASCO, but those days seem long ago now compared to all the wigs, putty noses, and goofy accents he’s trotted out for films like CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Gene Wilder created his Wonka without changing his looks or voice, but Depp seems to lately be feeling the need to act with a capital A. I still am a fan, but it’s getting awfully hard to remain so these days.
Julianne Moore in the yet to be released STILL ALICE.
WHY SO MANY OBSESSIVE OSCAR PREDICTIONS?

Websites like GoldDerby.com and Sasha Stone’s AwardsDaily.com exist to predict and pontificate over movies and their accolade potential. But this week, Gold Derby’s panel of awards prognosticators almost unanimously declared that Julianne Moore would finally win her Oscar for the yet-to-be-released STILL ALICE (http://bit.ly/1p8Di2L). Elsewhere, others are as certain about Steve Carrell’s chances as Best Actor for FOXCATCHER, a film only festival attendees have seen.

Look, I love a good horse race as much as the next movie fan, but some pundits’ certitude borders on asinine. I remember how so many thought Matthew McConaughey was a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination two years ago for MAGIC MIKE. Some practically were trying to will it to happen. It didn’t, of course, though MM did take Best Actor the next year for DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

The problem is that these 'expert sites' are potentially robbing some chances of films before they’re even seen. Even worse, some voters just read these sites and vote accordingly with what's said without honoring their responsibilities as Academy members to judge things for themselves. I’d love to see Carrell win, or Michael Keaton, or Benedict Cumberbatch, or Eddie Redmayne, but I’d like to see their movies in contention first before the game is called "over".


THE DOMESTIC BOX OFFICE IS DOWN SO THAT MEANS MORE MOVIES NEED TO BE MADE TO PLAY IN CHINA?

In the Hollywood Reporter this week, some studio executives said that because American audiences are unreliable, that put more pressure than ever to create tent pole movies that play overseas, particularly in China. Ah, no. Here’s the way to make more movies that play at home and abroad. Make better ones. Make more original ones. Stop with so many sequels, reboots and superhero sagas. As David Fincher said, superhero movies are boring because we know the stories and we know the hero will prevail. Stories succeed best when they keep the audience in rapt attention and uncertain of what's to come next. If we get ahead of the story, we’ll become bored. That’s why the nation’s 2014 box office has been so tepid. Too much Wolverine, and not enough wow.


WHY DO YA TITLES HAVE TO BE SO DEPRESSING?

This weekend THE MAZE RUNNER kicked ass with a weekend gross of 32 million. A lot of teens, particularly young girls, showed up for this one, as they have for THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT and of course the entire run of mediocre TWILIGHT movies. But all of these stories are downers. Even the excellent THE FAULT IN OUR STARS was about terminal cancer, for heaven’s sake! And the theme of teenagers trapped in a dystopian society with few choices or pre-ordained tracks they're forced to take, seem so one-note to me. And not really a reflection of today's times. I know college degrees don’t mean much these days, the 1% are still too few of the population, and the world is filled with more and more chaos and strife, but I’d think younger people would gravitate towards something less depressing in lieu of such realities. Can't movies be Xanax or Zoloft?