Category: 90 – 94% Excellent

Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl is a dark, suspenseful and brilliantly twisty thriller with a sharp satirical edge.

I saw Gone Girl back during its theatrical release and I had so many good things to say about it that it became a hard article to write – it’s easier to severely criticise something than to steep it in praise. The film really felt like an event, the widespread advertising had roused the interest of many people I knew. The trailer had certainly roused mine, it was an 18 certificate domestic thriller that really compelled me to wonder ‘Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?’ – I was sure that David Fincher would answer the mystery with his trademark style and vigour.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ haunting What Have We Done To Each Other? filled the huge and completely empty auditorium as I walked into it, immediately creating the film’s rivetingly dark, aberrant tone. The instrumental continued during the film’s opening, which I expected to be another of Fincher’s elaborate introduction sequences, but was actually far more understated. Dunne’s suburban Missouri neighbourhood is captured in a slick, foreboding manner by cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who has collaborated with Fincher on Fight Club, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The film’s first hour is riddled with a very ominous ambiguity. With his insouciant, equable manner, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) appears to be a likeable protagonist who is taking his shocking situation perhaps too much in his stride. As new details emerge from the case, however, we begin to wonder whether Nick’s nonchalance is a manifestation of a callous, sociopathic mind.

There’s not much more I can really say about either character or narrative development, as the film has a great twist. It is perhaps a spoiler to even say that, so I will stop. I was pleased to find that the film is just as good second time round, especially if you’re watching it with someone who hasn’t seen it, you can experience the film’s twists and turns vicariously.

In addition to its excellent plotting is a sharp satirical edge; Gone Girl’s satire on the media is far more cutting and resonant than anything in the dull, self-satisfied and heavy-handed Network (1976). Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) – the brassy, brash presenter of a Fox News inspired current affairs programme – doesn’t wonder about Nick’s curiously relaxed behaviour, she declares with absolute certainty that Dunne is a sociopath who has murdered his wife. Abbott obnoxiously raises her voice as she shamelessly peddles bias and hatred to masses of people, inviting ‘experts’ to falsely corroborate her toxic claims. As the film progresses we see the extent of Abbott and her programme’s fickleness and yellow journalism.

As the media circus that literally surrounds Nick gets increasingly hysterical and dangerous, the threat of mob violence seems only moments away until Nick recruits Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), an affable and brilliant lawyer. Bolt’s relish for challenging situations and unwavering confidence is very comforting for both Nick’s and the audience’s nerves – Perry gives a great performance as the amusing, quick-witted executive.

To support Cronenweth’s attractive photography and the wide, cinematic 2.35:1 format is the aforementioned excellent score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The score is a collection of electronic ambient music that ranges from the peaceful with Sugarstorm and Like Home to the dark and disturbing with What Have We Done To Each Other? and Consummation, which is a sound straight from hell.

Reznor and Ross are very adroit at creating music that perfectly fits and enhances each scene. Reznor gave an interesting insight into the collaborative methods between Ross, Fincher and himself in an interview with Hit Fix –

We made the decision to make music we felt belonged in that world, not for scenes, not for characters. We absorbed the script, we thought about the space it was in, the feelings involved, then spent a few weeks composing music from an impressionistic point of view, subconsciously almost, to run by David to ask ‘Hey, does it feel like it’s in the right world?’’

This approach was ‘right on the money’, inspiring Fincher which in turn further inspired Ross and Reznor.

The Academy is routinely criticised for omitting quality films from their nominations and commending works that don’t deserve it. I think this year’s greatest insult is a Best Picture nod for the comparatively insipid American Sniper over this delightfully warped psychological thriller. They nominated Rosamund Pike for Best Actress at least, but I can’t discuss her show-stealing performance!

93%

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The Hunt (2012)

The Hunt

Who would have thought a Danish Art House film could be so thoroughly gripping?

‘The Hunt’ is a truly accomplished film, its simple premise and themes are executed perfectly. The film is hugely engrossing and completely and utterly infuriating, which is a testament to the merits of its acting, direction, script and hyper-realism.

The film follows Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a lonely primary school teacher who relishes his job and is popular with both the children and the local community. Just as he meets Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) and begins a relationship with her, his relationship with another woman, 5-year-old Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), lands him in immeasurable trouble. What happens is a completely innocuous misunderstanding, but the community, the ‘adults’ who are supposed to be rational and fair, turn into a lynch mob.

The film is about the danger of mass-hysteria, ignorance and subsequently the frightening power of numbers. It teaches the importance of measure and consideration; it’s a much needed anecdote to the sensational vilification, general ignorance and trashy media that permeates our lives.

It’s the scare-mongering, amoral tabloids that partly brainwash and empower the dangerously ignorant lynch-mobs that arise whenever someone screams ‘paedophile!’ or ‘woman beater!’ These lynch-mobs normally consist of pugnacious, dreadful people who enjoy drama and violence rather than actually care about their cause.

The film is intelligently and thoughtfully written. The girl is by no means vindictive; as much as you want to vent your anger, she’s clearly far too young to understand what is happening. It’s the ‘adults’ who display their stupidity, their total lack of reasoning and fairness left me indignant for the entirety of the running time and subsequently the whole evening – the film really works.

There is a palpable sense of danger throughout the film, you genuinely fear for Lucas’ life; seldom have I empathised with a character so dearly. Who would’ve thought a Danish Art House film could be so thoroughly gripping?

‘The Hunt’ is a thought provoking, tactful and important film that should be seen by as many people as possible. It’s one of the best films of 2012.

93%

12 Angry Men (1957)

12 angry men

’12 Angry Men’ is a true timeless classic.

The film examines prejudice and the sheer callousness of human behaviour, issues which will forever be relevant. After being retired by a seemingly indifferent judge, a vote declares that 11 out of the 12 jurors are happy to see the accused, an 18-year-old Latino from the slums, be executed by the state. Initially this seems unremarkable, you assume that they all have good reasons for their verdict. However it’s soon apparent that most of the jurors have just glossed over the facts, reaching their damning conclusion because they ‘just think he’s guilty’ – there’s even one juror who can’t wait to leave the room so he can go to a baseball game.

Only Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) is disturbed by the hastiness of it all; he doesn’t know whether the kid is guilty, he just wants to at least talk about it before the jury so swiftly condemns him to death.

I’ve praised films such as ‘Killer Joe’ for their success in engrossing its audience despite much of its story occurring in very few locations. However, compared to ’12 Angry Men’, ‘Killer Joe’ is a veritable action adventure – this legal drama never leaves the jury room. Its success in gripping its audience and fully involving them in the characters and plot is a masterful achievement of writer Reginald Rose.

At the table sits a spectrum of personalities, all of whom you can identify and resonate with. Some are measured, some are fickle, some are blinkered and one or two are downright pig-headed and obnoxious. The natural, timeless performances allow you to cross-examine them; they are all personalities one has come across before, and the viewer can probably draw parallels to people they know – this is one of the film’s core strengths.

Sidney Lumet’s debut feature is to be lauded for its reserve and lack of sensationalism. There may be those who doubt the credibility of the some of the case developments, but to my relief, I personally found few if no traces of hyperbole or implausibility.

’12 Angry Men’ is a film that I truly admire, a timeless classic that deserves the attention of all generations – it will continue to live on as many of its contemporaries continue to date.

90%

Killer Joe (2012)

killer joe

Some may be offended by it, but I think Killer Joe is the best film of 2012.

Killer Joe’s premise is simple but invigoratingly delivered. Chris Smith (Emile Hirsh) has got himself in trouble with the underworld, if he doesn’t produce some cash, he’s a dead man. He reasons with his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) that everyone would be happier if his obnoxious mother Adele was killed, particularly as she has a $50,000 life insurance policy. Considering Adele is his wretched ex-wife, he agrees, as does his girlfriend Sharla (Gina Gershon) and teenage daughter Dottie (Juno Temple). Although Chris doesn’t have the money up front, Killer Joe, a Dallas police officer who moonlights as a contract killer, accepts the job on the condition that Dottie serves as sexual collateral.

‘Killer Joe’ is a fantastic thriller with a warped tension that you don’t encounter that often. This film confirms that Matthew McConaughey is on a rapid upward trajectory, he gives an intense performance that’s utterly steeped in menace. Though ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper remains largely restrained and ambiguous throughout the film, each syllable of his southern drawl is loaded with a palpable danger. His performance is captivating; it creates a pervasive, looming sense of dread and depravity that suggests something very bad is going to happen at any moment.

The praise doesn’t stop with McConaughey, the whole cast delivers to the best of their ability, it really is an actors’ film. If I hadn’t researched her, I would have assumed on the credibility of her southern accent that the British Juno Temple was a Texas native.  She shows good dramatic range as Dottie, the slightly strange, child-like girl at the centre of the film.

William Friedkin has outdone himself with his second collaboration with writer Tracy Letts; he directs the taut, punchy material perfectly. What’s most refreshing is that 77-year-old Friedkin was bold enough to release it uncut with the dreaded NC-17 certificate; he wasn’t going to allow himself to sell out.

Seeing as the film’s source material is a stage play, it isn’t a film of many sets; it seldom leaves the confines of the Smith family’s trashy trailer. Much like their first collaboration ‘Bug’, ‘Killer Joe’ impressively manages to deliver biting tension and a maelstrom of chaos in a cramped, domestic setting.

I can honestly compliment every area of this film. Tyler Bates’ score is brilliantly suspenseful, especially when it introduces Killer Joe, it further adds to his aura of danger. The film is also beautifully shot – it’s stunning in high definition.

Despite the menace and darkness of it all, the film is laced with deadpan humour, especially in the film’s final quarter, the demented absurdity of which leaving you wondering what the hell just happened!

92%

American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho

A funny, solid adaptation with a perfectly realised interpretation by Christian Bale.

Christian Bale delivers a superbly realised interpretation of Patrick Bateman; his performance has already become iconic. The nuances of Bateman’s voice, which has an air of arrogance and comical sincerity, are identified by Bale and expertly delivered; Bale’s performance is one of my all time favourites. The truly original narrator, endlessly quotable script and brilliantly dark, idiosyncratic humour have created a large following; it’s the proverbial cult film.

The film follows Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street executive in the prime of his life who is surrounded by equally affluent and aesthetic contemporaries. He is achingly vapid and appears not to have a sincere relationship with anyone, not even his ‘supposed fiancé’ Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon). In Bateman’s world, everything is for surface value, even his job, which he continues with because he ‘wants to fit in’. As the strain of his lifestyle begins to overwhelm him, Bateman begins to indulge in his violent urges.

The film is adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 controversial novel of the same name. As anyone who has read ‘American Psycho’ will testify, there are passages that are simply unfilmable; the film was always going to be toned down in comparison. However, I feel the film has been neutered somewhat, I feel the film is lacking a visceral edge, it nails the satire, but it isn’t quite dark enough.

As the novel progresses, Patrick Bateman becomes increasingly psychotic and depraved, he descends into the depths of madness, and this isn’t quite captured in the film. As sordid as it sounds, I do believe the film should have been crueller, darker; it should have put more emphasis on the depersonalisation and sadism of Bateman. There is one moment concerning an axe and a raincoat which is thoroughly entertaining and memorable, however it borders almost on slapstick, which it certainly didn’t in the novel. The violence rightfully didn’t enter exploitation cinema territory, I wouldn’t wish for gratuity. But, then again, how do you define gratuitous? At what point does a film or book become gratuitous? These are questions that were at the forefront of my mind when reading the novel, and I think it’s very hard to answer.

Despite this, it is a good adaptation; Harron and Turner’s script is sharp and overall makes good use of its difficult source material. For instance, the film incorporates the book’s music chapters to great comic effect; Bateman expressing his admiration and laughably deep analysis of Genesis, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and The News to prospective victims. Through these scenes the viewer witnesses the lengths of Bateman’s vapidity.

It is a rather difficult film to wholly appreciate and absorb on initial viewing, which is good, because I feel ‘American Psycho’ has much replay value; I have revisited both the book and film countless times. Much like the novel, the film polarised audiences, and it doesn’t surprise me. When viewing for the first time, one must appreciate Bret Easton Ellis used a large helping of hyperbole to convey his message of greed and superficiality, and also a good deal of surrealism. The film isn’t entirely rooted in reality. The way in which Bateman’s associates repeatedly forget each other’s names and identities and how Bateman’s actions become questionably implausible may confuse or deter the viewer. However, some would say that in our world of revolting socialites and vacuous celebrity and fashion culture, the extent of American Psycho’s hyperbole is becoming increasingly dubious in places.

‘American Psycho’ is a peculiar creation. Many people get it and love it, however I’m sure many would be perplexed by it, maybe completely disappointed by it. I am biased, but I know that I am one of many people who fully appreciate ‘American Psycho’, part of a large group who will know what you mean when you say ‘I have to return some videotapes’. Some won’t like or appreciate it, and that’s no detriment of the viewer’s, but if you do, then I think you’ll find yourself revisiting the film and picking up a copy of Ellis’ compulsively readable novel. However, regardless of whether you like it, I can guarantee that you’ll never hear Phil Collins’ ‘Sussudio’ in the same way again.

90%

Pulp Fiction (1994)

pulp-fiction-w1280

Pulp Fiction is a film with few flaws particularly worth mentioning. Since its release in 1994, the film has become a modern classic. The film’s non-linear narrative leaps backwards and forwards in the characters’ shared experience, engaging you in such a way that you begin to run through your head the chronology of the characters’ stories, making sense of Tarantino and Avary’s complex script. This complexity makes Pulp Fiction easily re-watchable. I have seen it many times, and recently I was lucky enough to catch a screening at the Duke of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton, which was an experience that reminded me of how special this film is.

‘Pulp Fiction’ explores the following principal characters: Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, a pair of loquacious hit men who appear to exist in a style vacuum; Butch Coolidge, an ageing but courageous prize fighter; Marsellus Wallace, a seemingly omnipotent mobster and Mia Wallace, the flirtatious wife of Mr. Wallace whom Vincent Vega is assigned to take out to dinner. The characters’ stories famously clash with each other, regularly to chaotic and hilarious effect. Tarantino is yet to return to this kind of form.

After ‘Jackie Brown’ in 1998, he spent time making the entertaining but comparably meagre ‘Kill Bill’ films, which were well orchestrated viscera, but ultimately below him. He then made ‘Death Proof’, which was an offensively bad, juvenile piece of work with a script of unprecedented annoyance. However, Tarantino made a comeback with ‘Inglourious Basterds’, which had a rather appealing premise and many memorable scenes. 2013 sees the launch of ‘Django Unchained’, which, with its ensemble cast and inevitable flair, is one of the most exciting films of the year.

‘Pulp Fiction’ has all the components of a classic, it has the scope and the quality. It is the favourite film of many people, achieving a popularity similar to other classic crime films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, films that are firmly considered as ‘required viewing’.

94%