DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Monday, 6 October 2014

Gone Girl

If you were to simply describe the plot of Gillian Flynn’s pulpy bestseller it would come off as an outrageous Joe Eszterhas-style potboiler ripped from the era of early 90’s sexual thrillers. But when orchestrated by a master of the genre, at the top of his game, where other filmmakers would have made this picture into a sloppy ham-fisted mess, David Fincher makes two and half hours a completely engrossing experience, terrifying and witty in equal measure and self-aware enough not to take itself too seriously.

Gone Girl (2014) dir. David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Kim Dickens, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris

By Alan Bacchus

David Fincher has recently commented about the infinite number of ways someone can shoot a scene, but to him ‘there’s a right way and a wrong way’. Fincher does it the right way in every scene in this picture. Fincher renders Flynn’s ostentatious material with a mix of procedural precision, emotional realism and healthy doses of social commentary on mass media.

Ben Affleck as Flynn’s tormented husband searching for the mystery behind the disappearance of his wife, is a sly bit of casting. Affleck’s frequent onscreen persona as a handsome privileged dickhead (think Dazed and Confused, Mallrats, Changing Lanes) helps us immediately understand the character of Nick Dunne, a frustrated husband living in smallish town Missouri at the end of his marriage. As Amy Dunne Rosamund Pike wears her character like a second skin, a woman scorned by her husband’s disinterest in her, and feeling lonely and isolated. As the title suggests action is set in motion when Amy goes missing, leaving only a few traces of evidence of a potential murder.

Kim Dickens, underrated character actor from almost everything, finds a high profile meaty role as the lead investigator. With understated intelligence Rhonda Boney follows the trail of breadcrumbs to Nick’s suspected involvement. It doesn’t take long for the story to catch fire in the press, latching onto a steamy narrative of this surly husband knocking off his innocent wife.

Media hysteria escalates along the lines of early 90’s cause-celeb trials of OJ Simpson, The Menendez Brothers and Pamela Smart, wherein Nick can’t even leave the house without a horde of reporters following him. Somehow he manages to sleuth different breadcrumbs toward his wife’s own psychological problems. Past and present co-exist harmoniously creating a clever psychological battle of wits of husband and wife, even though they are rarely in the same room together. Is Nick the murderer? Is he being framed? If so, by whom? Is Amy a Machiavellian trickster plotting a grand scheme of revenge?

Deliberately twisty, anything less than the two and a half hours running time would not do the material justice. One could even split the film into specific chapters with their tidy narratives, themes and arcs. As told mostly in flashback Amy’s story is given as much weight as hubby Nick’s and Fincher is clear to paint both characters in shades of grey. Most of us have seen/read enough mystery novels/films to be able guess any number of potential outcomes, but the best potboilers find their thrills in the journey to get to the end. And Fincher’s seemingly effortless directorial choices wring tension and suspense in every moment of doubt.

One of the underrated weapons of David Fincher’s arsenal is a razor sharp eye for editing. And the credited editor, Kirk Baxter has the precision of a surgeon. The picture’s opening credits is for instance perhaps the quickest credit sequence in the history of cinema, clever superimposed over a quick montage designed to establish the location. And after this picture there’s no doubt, Fincher and Baxter are the modern masters of the montage. There’s a lengthy sequence in which a lot of information is revealed and visually demonstrated in flashbacks. And yet, with mindboggling skill Baxter and Fincher craft a delirious symphony of cinema putting us into a hypnotic trance which hooks us for the rest of the picture.

Gone Girl finds David Fincher at his most confident, elevating salacious airport fiction into an elegant and captivating cinematic delight.

***½

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

All That Jazz

The influence of Fellini’s 8 ½ is clear in Bob Fosse’s own memoir-like fictional film. The story of a theatre director under immense pressure to make his next show a hit, while under the usual pressures of the business, told with a mixture of fantasy and realism is cut from the same mould as Fellini’s great picture. The creative evolution of Fosse’s work from 'Sweet Charity', 'Cabaret' and 'Lenny' seems to culminate in this overly ambitious yet invigorating explosion of cinema.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Insomnia

While Erik Skjoldbjærg built upon the established cinematic traditions of procedural crime thrillers, in the light of the recent trend of atmospheric crime procedurals such as True Detective, The Killing, Prisoners, 1997’s Insomnia, in hindsight looks to be a direct aesthetic antecedent  for these other more successful pictures/series.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Pickpocket

The Bresson brand of neo-realism is perhaps exemplified best with this unconventional character study of a Parisian thief desperately in need to self-fulfillment. Remarkably Bresson's seemingly simple approach uncluttered by the elements of traditional cinematic narrative allows the master filmmaker to create as much uncompromising tension as anything in Alfred Hitchcocks's filmography.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Noah

After rebooting his career with two small scale earth-bound pictures, The Wrestler and Black Swan, to my surprise Aronofsky launched back into big idea cinema with the previously unfilmed biblical story of Noah and the Great Flood. It’s a strange mix of epic swagger and Hollywood heroism and the intellectual cinematic gymnastics which Aronofsky has been known for. Ultimately it’s mildly rewarding and nothing of the intense feelings of emotion he made his name for in his more successful pictures.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Amistad

Steven Spielberg’s slavery drama exemplifies the late-career inconsistencies of the hitmaker. Startling moments of dramatic intensity and eye-popping depiction of the horrors of slavery are marred by heavy-handed preachiness. Thus, like many films of the post 80’s era we can admire the film but never feel fully satisfied by it in the end.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Crocodile Dundee

The story of the rustic Aussie cowboy Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee character brought to the vacuous Manhattan lifestyle in the height of Reagan-era 80’s decadence milks every ounce of comedy and charm from this scenario. It was an unlikely megahit in 1986, but even today the film remains highly watchable thanks to the easy-going naturalism and uber chemistry from its two newbie stars Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Breaking the Waves

Von Trier’s extravagantly conceived neo-realist fable seems now like a monumentally significant film in the cinema of the new millennium. Laying out Von Trier’s grandiosly tragic and melodramatic journey of her golden heart heroine under the handheld griminess of Von Trier’s shaky documentary style creates a strange but inspired cinematic experience unlike anything that came before it. Not only did it jump start the Dogme movement but legitimized the lo-fi aesthetic for all filmmakers to come.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Riot in Cell Block 11

Cinematic tough guy Don Siegel first exemplified himself as a director with vision with this razor sharp prison thriller, at once as a first-rate claustrophobic thriller but also as a critique of the inhumane conditions in US prison system at the time.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Considering the massive overkilled marketing push behind this film, the inspired mix of absurdest humour and sharp satire make Anchorman 2 a genuinely pleasant surprise. The almost 10 years between the first film and this one is worth the wait. While the character of lovable buffoon Ron Burgundy and his outlandish gags and set pieces are finely tuned, it’s the film’s sharp critique of the commodization of modern news which sets the film apart from other money-making franchise ventures, such as 'The Hangover'.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Agony and the Ecstasy

With Easter coming around, this also means the season of a historical epics – both in theatres and home video. Agony and the Ecstasy was one of the bigger films of its day, a 70mm showcase, telling the story of the Michelangelo and his tempestuous relationship with Pope Julius I who commissioned the surly artist to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As usual with this kind of the film, the superb production value carries the weight over a dull story and hammy characterizations of historical figures.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

What a pleasure to see at age 70 Martin Scorsese, into the latter stage of his career, deliver one more sprawling crime picture, in this case a film which acts like a capper to a trilogy including Goodfellas and Casino, three pictures connected by the director's blistering cinematic pace, it's fascinating viewpoint into three segments of high stakes crime and corruption and it's sympathetic portrait of three contemptible characters. Once again Scorsese succeeds.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

George Washington

David Gordon Green’s dreamy feature debut renowned for its swath of Terrence Malick affectations feels even more warm and inviting fourteen years later. The consciously lazy narrative of a group of rural Texan kids, black and white, co-habitating happily, and growing up impervious to the pretty bleak squalor around them, is the functional foundation for Green’s lush tonal aesthetic. Essentially the film is made up of small moments of infectious and hypnotising beauty, moments and scenes which don’t always coalesce together fluidly, but collectively whet our palette through its nostalgic filter of childlike naivete.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s already celebrated picture consciously manages to find a medium ground between the intimate and avant-garde roots of his earlier pics and the broad historical canvas of American slavery. As devastating it is to see slavery depicted on screen he never seems to match the level of visceral impact as his debut Hunger. Thus, however powerful and moving there’s a feeling he’s tamed himself for the sake of American and Hollywood acceptability.