Tag Archives: Gone Girl

Movie Review: Return to Sender (2015)

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It’s inevitable that everything Rosamund Pike does from now on is going to be compared to the remarkable Gone Girl. Unfortunately, that comparison will also be made for her latest, Return to Sender, and the results are not pretty.

Pike plays a surgical nurse who is violently assaulted in her home — just as she was preparing to move out of it — by a scumbag of a douche played by Shiloh Fernandez, who is quickly apprehended and sent to prison. Clearly damaged by the trauma, she starts doing the unthinkable by writing to her rapist and striking up an unlikely relationship…

It’s an uncomfortable film — especially as it nears its climax — but more than anything it’s just a weird one. There is tension and suspense, but it’s not exactly a thriller. There are dramatic elements, though it’s not a drama either. And most importantly, all throughout this film I knew exactly where it was heading, and I suspect most other viewers would too. I just don’t think you can call the so-called “twist” a twist when it’s so obvious that’s what was going to happen.

Accordingly, I’m not really sure why Pike would sign on to this project. It’s getting a mainstream release in Taiwan, but in all honesty it’s a limited release film at best (and that’s what it has received in the States) and a likely straight-to-DVD or VOD film in most other locations. Sure, Pike is very good in this, exuding some of the iciness and fortitude that scored her an Oscar nomination for Gone Girl. Fernandez, who has had some interesting roles (White Bird in a Blizzard, Evil Dead) is actually also impressive; he has this bad-boy look and vibe that’s really convincing.

But at the end of the day, I don’t really know what director Fouad Mikati was aiming for. I don’t want to give anything away, though what I will say is that there are similar-themed films that have done it better, or at least with much more conviction in what it is trying to achieve.

The ending was also just so lacking in punch that it makes you wonder what all the build up was for. It doesn’t help that Nick Nolte, who plays Pike’s father, typically slurs his way through all his lines, reminding you that you’re watching Nick Nolte as opposed to this poor woman’s father.

I was never bored by the film thanks to how uncomfortable it made me feel, but there’s just not enough here to make Return to Sender a genuinely enjoyable, compelling or even interesting experience.

2.25 stars out of 5

The 10 Best Movies of 2014

At last, my 10 best movies of 2014. Some controversial choices in here, and as usual, it’s probably not what my list would be like today, though I’ve stuck with the ratings I gave at the time of initial review (which can be accessed by clicking on the film title).

10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

The iconic Quicksilver scene
The iconic Quicksilver scene

With several movies on the same rating, I had to make a decision as to which film I wanted to squeeze into the 10th spot. After some self-deliberations, I decided I had to put a comic book adaptation in there. X-Men: Days of Future Past was my second-most anticipated film of the year and it lived up to expectations by effortlessly fusing the older and younger X-Men franchises through a complex but well-told time-travel concept that also cleverly inserted some historical events into the narrative. Terrific cast, superb special effects and a whole lot of action-packed fun, it paves the way perfectly for next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse.

9. Wild

WILD - 2014 FILM STILL - Reese Witherspoon as "Cheryl Strayed" - Photo Credit: Anne Marie/Fox    © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox
Reese Witherspoon sure looks terrible without makeup

On its face, this is basically a female version of Into the Wild, one my all-time faves, though there are enough differences across the board — whether it’s characters, plot or themes — for Wild to be a wildly satisfying emotional journey. It’s a great film for people who are past the innocence of their youth and are struggling to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Powered by fantastic performances from Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, this is a special experience I found both moving and uplifting.

8. Gone Girl

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Ben Affleck was perfect as the douchey husband

I didn’t expect Gone Girl to be so high on the list, only because I had already read the book when I saw it and many of the surprises had already been spoiled. But it’s hard to deny that David Fincher did a masterful job in adapting a difficult, multi-layered book with complex and difficult characters who are hard to root for. He captured the dark tones of the book superbly and had me on the edge of my seat even when I knew what was going to happen. Rosamund Pike was wonderful and Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris both surprised in how well they played their respective parts. A very impressive, unsettling experience.

7. Stretch

Stretch is one wild ride
Stretch is one wild ride

Probably the biggest surprise on this list. Not for me though. Stretch was hands down the funniest movie of the year. With Patrick Wilson at his all-time best, rampaging through the streets of Hollywood as a limo driver to the rich and famous, Stretch was weird, wacky and all over the place, but it was also a laugh a minute and so frenetic in pace that I was glad to have gone on this fantastic ride. I’m still shocked that the film has barely registered a blip on the radar of most audiences, but its 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes feels like vindication in my books.

6. Whiplash

Tense
Tense

I went into Whiplash with my expectations raised already, and it still impressed the hell out of me. Never did I think a movie about drumming could be so intense, and yet it turned out to be arguably most suspenseful film of the year thanks to the brilliant writing and direction from Damien Chazelle and the performances of JK Simmons and Miles Teller. Energetic, powerful and pumping with adrenaline, Whiplash is a unique instant classic that deserves all the superlatives.

5. The Babadook

Terrifying
Terrifying

It’s not often that a horror film makes the list, let alone an Australian horror film. The Babadook, however, is a legitimate masterpiece that also happens to be the scariest movie of the year. It’s the anti-modern-horror flick in the sense that the characters are well developed, it’s creepy and atmospheric, genuinely tense, and the scares are not merely cheap tactics. You could tell it was going to be different from the very first scene. Rather than make you jump, The Bababook makes you squirm and quiver because the terror penetrates beyond just the surface and seeps all the way to your core. People with children will get an additional layer from the experience.

4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Nothing beats talking horseriding apes
Nothing beats talking horse-riding apes

I doubt this movie is on anyone else’s top 10 list of 2014, but if you know me or have been following this blog, you’ll know that I have a certain bias towards movies with talking apes. And talking apes who ride horses and shoot guns? Forget about it. I know Dawn of the Planet of the Apes probably isn’t, objectively speaking, one of the best films of the year, but it’s easily one of mine. Granted, Dawn is not as jaw-droppingly awesome as its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It makes up for that, however, with more apes, more ape character development and more large-scale ape action. Losing James Franco also helped. Dawn is the only movie I watched twice at the cinema in 2014, and it was just as spectacular and powerful the second time around. I can’t wait for War of the Planet of the Apes in 2017.

3. The Imitation Game

I think I just invented Playstation!
I think I just invented Playstation!

Every year there seems to be a highly regarded movie that I love even more than everyone else (that is, apart from the one that has talking apes), and this year that film is The Imitation Game, the tragic “true story” of British code-breaker Alan Turing. I just found the film to be a captivating experience. It’s a multi-layered drama-thriller filled with intriguing characters, educational and exciting plot developments and moving moments. With the incredible Benedict Cumberbatch steering the film, it turned out far more interesting and compelling than a code-breaking story should have been. I was engrossed from start to finish. It’s probably one of the few films I saw last year where I can’t really nitpick about anything.

2. Interstellar

So pretty
Alright…

When I first saw Interstellar I thought everyone would love it as much as I did, but as I realised later on, a lot of people hated it for various reasons. Too long, too slow, too corny, too little logic, too little real science, too “out there”  — all of these criticisms could be considered valid, though for me the biggest challenge was always getting past the fact that I’d have to stare at the smug face of Matthew “Alright Alright Alright” McConaughey for nearly 3 hours on an IMAX screen. In all seriousness, I think Interstellar is perhaps one of the most epic and beautiful sci-fi films ever made. From the scale to the ideas to the risks that Christopher Nolan was willing to take with the plot and the characters, it’s everything that I want from an epic cinematic experience. Sure, it got a bit melodramatic at times, though I think it’s a film needs melodrama more than it doesn’t need it, especially given Nolan’s past catalogue of films. I enjoyed the visual spectacle, I enjoyed the story and I enjoyed the sci-fi concepts and ideas. In terms of pure entertainment and visual splendor, Interstellar sits atop all other films of 2014.

1. Boyhood

Ethan Hawke is the only person who doesn't age in the film
Ethan Hawke is the only person who doesn’t age in the film

It’s a shame 5 stars is the most I can award to a film because there are rare occasions when I feel it’s just not enough. Boyhood is one such film. As remarkable as the fact that it was shot over 12 years with the same actors, what is even more impressive about Boyhood is director Richard Linklater’s ability to mould all that footage into a deeply human, poignant and emotional movie that’s as close to depicting real life on film as a fictional motion picture can be. It’s a film like no other, one that truly has to be experienced personally to appreciate what the fuss is all about. It’s now in my pantheon of favourite movies of all-time.

Honourable mentions: A Most Violent Year, The Lego Movie, Horns, The Good Lie

So there you have it, my best and worst of 2014. Some surprises, some controversy, for sure, but a list I’m very happy with when it’s all said and done.

Movie Review: Dark Places (2015)

dark places

Dark Places, adapted from Gillian Flynn’s second novel of the same name, is a film that likely would not have been made without the success of Gone Girl, her third book. While Dark Places is a fine book, it’s not the game-changer like Gone Girl was, and correspondingly, the film is not quite in the same league as David Fincher’s extraordinary film adaptation from last year.

With that said, Dark Places, directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, is still a solid mystery-thriller that turned out much better than the TV movie-style mediocrity I had been expecting. Part of it is because of the talented cast featuring the star power of Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Chloe Moretz and Tye Sheridan, though I suspect it is more because the producers knew they couldn’t turn in a half-hearted effort because they knew Gone Girl was going to raise the bar extremely high (even though the two films were shot at around the same time).

Twenty-eight years ago, Libby Day’s mother (Christina Hendricks) and two sisters are brutally slaughtered, and only other surviving sibling, her brother Ben, is convicted for their murder. In present day, having exhausted all the sympathy and goodwill handouts in the world, Libby (Charlize Theron) finds herself in desperate need of money, forcing her to agree to help out — in exchange for payment — a nerdy “Murder Club” (these things actually exist) seeking to “solve” her cold case. Together with the club’s treasurer, Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult), Libby reluctantly begins investigating what really happened all those years ago.

The film goes back and forth in time, focusing on Libby in the present and Ben (old Corey Stoll and young Tye Sheridan) in the past. Gradually the layers of the mystery are pealed back, and Libby discovers that her brother may not have been who she thought he was.

Sounds fascinating, right? And I haven’t even discussed one of the prominent themes of the film, devil worship and satanic rituals, a topic that was sending shock-waves of fear through the community back in the 80s.

I was sceptical of the casting of Theron in the beginning because the Libby Day of the book was short and frumpy. It’s true that Charlize is too tall and glamorous to fit that description no matter how hard she tries, though her performance is convincing enough for the physical discrepancy to be a moot point.

It was also good to see Theron re-teaming with Hoult after working together for Mad Max: Fury Road, albeit in completely different roles and circumstances. Hoult is solid despite not really getting to do much to show off what he can do. The same goes for Stoll, who is everywhere these days, while Sheridan gets to do more but can’t exactly capitalise on the opportunity.

The two who steal the show are Chloe Moretz and Christina Hendricks. Moretz, as the Ben’s wild girlfriend Diondra, stands out because she’s such a strong and dominatin personality. Hendricks stands out for another reason — she looks virtually unrecognisable as a struggling single mother, looking as plain as can be with virtually no make-up.

It’s a good cast with good performances, but if we’re being honest we’d admit that they were chosen for star power as opposed to fit for their characters.

Dark Places never bores and remains interesting as long as the mystery is in play. My issues with the film are largely as same as the book — it never lets up to the potential of its premise. The progression is too straightforward, the turns and revelations not explosive enough. There’s not a whole lot to separate it from your run-of-the-mill mystery-thriller. With a no-name cast and smaller budget, this would have been a straight-to-DVD or TV movie.

However, it would have been a pretty good straight-to-DVD or TV movie, and the fact that the production is as high-profile as it is means Dark Places is still better than the majority of films in the same genre, even the theatrical releases.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014)

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I honestly had no idea what to expect when I rushed to see Gone Girl, the highly-anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s breakthrough novel directed by the legendary David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club, Seven). The early buzz was overwhelmingly positive, but through word-of-mouth I also learned that many who had read the book first found the film underwhelming.

As a huge fan of the book, I can’t say that surprises me. A significant part of Gone Girl’s allure stems from its delicious twists and turns, and knowing exactly how things will turn out will obviously dampen the experience. There’s just no way around it. No one would be able to enjoy The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense as much if the twists in those films had been spoiled in advance either.

With that in mind, I thought Gone Girl was brilliant. I had been curious to see how Fincher would handle the multi-layered material, the difficult themes, the portrayal of the main characters and the controversial ending — and he delivered about as well as I could have imagined, with a steady, confident, yet understated control that captures the tones and essence of Flynn’s writing.

Keeping in line with my usual effort to be as spoiler-free as I can, I thought adapting Gone Girl to the screen would have been a nightmare because of its multiple view points, shifts in time, and the clever use of a diary plot device. I was therefore surprised at how seemingly straightforward it was for Fincher and Flynn, who adapted her own novel, to make everything work so well. The result was a film that followed the novel — both in plot and progression — very closely, so much so that I can’t think of any salient things that didn’t make the jump successfully.

If you’ve seem the trailer or heard about the film in passing you’ll know the story is about a beautiful woman (Rosamund Pike) who goes missing in a small town and her husband (Ben Affleck) becoming the prime suspect for her murder because he’s not acting the way a loving husband would. It sounds like such a simple, cliched premise, and yet the amazing thing about Gone Girl is that it explodes and snowballs into so much more, asking complex questions about relationships, marriage, parents, children, sacrifice, compromise, honesty, sexual politics, the economy, the public psyche and role of the media. I could probably write an entire essay about all the things about the book/film that fascinate me, but that would involve dreaded spoilers, and I can’t possibly have that. What’s relevant is that all these questions from the movie are also asked in the film, and that’s what kept me interested and on the edge of my seat.

I had mixed feelings when I heard about the casting. I love Ben Affleck as a director, but as some of you may know, I’m not the biggest fan of his acting. As the douchey Nick Dunne, however, Affleck has found a role that was custom made for him, and he absolutely blitzes it. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call it the best performance of his entire career. I’m not encouraging award voters to jump on Affleck’s bandwagon, but if they did I would resent it a lot less than when they went nuts for Matthew McConaughey.

As Affleck’s other half, Rosamund Pike is a low-key choice for Amy Dunne considering all the other big names that were being rumored for the role at the time. I didn’t love her performance at the beginning, but there were reasons for the way she acted the way she did, and by the end of the film I was sold.

The supporting cast was also very strong. When I first heard Neil Patrick Harris was involved I was still picturing him as his alter ego in Harold & Kumar, so I thought he would be cast as Nick’s flamboyant lawyer Tanner Bolt. Instead, he was fantastic as Amy’s wealthy, creepy ex-boyfriend Desi, and the even bigger shock was that Tyler Perry (yes, Tyler Perry!) was awesome as Tanner Bolt. Those casting choices completely bowled me over.

I was also impressed with the performances in two supporting female roles — Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister Margo, and Kim Dickens as lead detective Rhonda Boney. Both extremely important characters who served their functions well without stealing the show from the stars of the show.

The film is quite long at 149 minutes and occasionally feels like it, especially towards the end as the story searches for the perfect point to end on. But Fincher’s pacing is superb, and his ability to manage the subtle shifts in the film’s tone throughout all its twists and turns — it’s sometimes drama, sometimes black comedy, sometimes horror — is what glues the story together. A lesser director might have turned Gone Girl into a clunky mess, but Fincher gets it just right.

The ending is something I was curious to see because apparently Flynn had “rewritten” it for the big screen, though the changes are more artificial than substantial. I’m not disappointed, however, because I loved the book’s chilling ending.

Having said all that, I’m sure I am less enthusiastic about the movie than I would have been had I not read the book first. It helps that I have a terrible memory and that I read it more than a year ago, but like I said, there’s just no way around it. I’d say that the book is better at keeping the twists hidden while the movie can struggle to conceal what’s coming, though that’s a natural advantage given that readers can be manipulated easier on the page than on the screen. Still, I would recommend those who have seen the movie to give the book a try, and vice versa, because the two present two rather different, but equally rewarding experiences.

4.25 stars out of 5

My 15 Most Anticipated Movies of 2014!

While I am still a fair distance from completing my “worst of” and “best of” lists for 2013, I am already getting very very excited about the movies that are going to hit our screens in 2014. This year promises to be an epic one in terms of big screen blockbusters, much-anticipated sequels and remakes, high-profile projects of top directors and some intriguing fresh stuff. I’m excited.

Without further ado, these are my 15 most anticipated movies of 2014, ranked in descending order. Stick around after the list for an even longer list of movies that missed the cut (that I really want to and will probably see anyway) and more!

15. Jupiter Ascending

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The Wachowskis (The MatrixCloud Atlas) always tackle big, ambitious projects, which is why I am really looking forward to their next one, Jupiter Ascending, about a universe where humans are at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder. It stars Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum and Sean Bean, who will almost certainly die in it.

14. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

amazing spider-man-2 poster

The second installment in the Spiderman reboot should be better than the first, which I felt was a little too similar to the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire one from just a few years ago. I do like Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as the leads more, and this time the villains are played by favourites Jamie Foxx (Electro) and Paul Giamattie (The Rhino). Also good to see the kid from Chronicle (Dane Dehaan) score the Harry Osborne role. The trailer looks awesome too.

13.Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Even though I had anticipated it to be lame, I ended up really enjoyed the first Captain America, and I think the sequel, set after the events in The Avengers, has the potential to be even better with an old buddy coming back as the enemy and the addition of screen legend Robert Redford. I think it will dovetail nicely into The Avengers sequel and provide more grit and emotional impact than its predecessor. Despite all of this, I wouldn’t have put it in my top 15 had I had seen the trailer, which blew me away.

12. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

mockingjay

No trailer out yet but if the first two films in The Hunger Games trilogy are anything to go by, then the first half of the finale, Mockingjay, promises to be one heck of an ending. I must admit, this was close to missing the list because I had already read the book and I’m still peeved that it has it been split into two parts for greedy reasons. And the second reason makes me concerned that there could be a lot of fillers and not a lot of action. Still, I am really looking forward to it. Besides, anything with Jennifer Lawrence in it makes this list.

11. The Hobbit: There and Back Again

gandalf

After about 100 hours of on-screen drama and action, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit will finally conclude, and I don’t doubt that it will be awesome. Admittedly, some people have been disappointed with the first two installments, but I remain highly intrigued as to how Jackson will continue to expand the LOTR universe and bestow upon us the final chapter, which is where all the action is — at least in the book — anyway.

10. Edge of Tomorrow

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Tom Cruise may be certifiably insane, but he still knows how to pick good roles in blockbuster movies. Edge of Tomorrow is pretty much Independence Day meets Groundhog Day/Source Code — a soldier fighting against aliens is caught in a time loop of his last day. It could be bad, but it could also be spectacular, and my guess is leaning to the latter. Check out the trailer and try to tune out the annoying music.

9. Godzilla

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I know, I know, Godzilla has been done a gazillion times and the last time Hollywood gave it a go in 1998 it was widely panned. But there is cause for optimism this time because it is directed by Gareth Edwards, maker of the critically acclaimed Monsters from 2010, and stars Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as well as Heisenberg, Bryan Cranston. And after a slew of successful monster movies in recent years such as Cloverfield and Pacific Rim, it may be that Hollywood has finally figured out how to tackle the iconic beast.

8. Transcendence

transcendence

The premise is a bit iffy — a terminally ill scientist downloads his body into a computer — but because it stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Kata Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Paul Bettany I’m very interested in seeing how Transcendence pans out. At the very least it should be a visually stunning film as it is directed by Wally Pfister, cinematographer of Inception and The Dark Knight. If they approach it intelligently it has the potential to be this year’s Inception or a stylish cult classic.

7. Non-Stop

Non-Stop-Liam-Neeson

It’s no secret that I think Taken is one of the best action flicks of all time, which is why I am sooooo looking forward to Non-Stop, which may have a lame title but reunites Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra. In short, this is shaping up to be Taken on a plane (and all the passengers are Maggie Grace), and while I doubt it can re-capture the magic of Taken it should still be a white-knuckle adrenaline ride that promises to feature a lot of serious ass-kicking.

6. Robocop

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I’ve been hearing about the Robocop remake forever, and this year it’s finally hitting our screens. The original is a classic and one of the films I loved as a kid, and reports claim that this will be a clever reboot that is fresh while paying homage to its predecessor at the same time. And of course it will have spectacular special effects and tremendous action sequences. The trailer definitely raises the expectations.

5. Exodus

exodus-christian-bale

Director Ridley Scott, Christian Bale, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton. There’s no trailer yet and not a lot of information about it, but Exodus is gearing up to be one epic “interpretation” of the exodus of jews from Egypt as led by Moses. Batman, by the way, is Moses! I’m not exactly sure what to expect from this but I am definitely intrigued because the names attached to the film indicate that it should be totally excellent.

4. Interstellar

interstellar-2014_teaser-trailer

Anything Christopher Nolan makes, I watch. And how’s this for a synopsis: “A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.” Oh, and the film stars Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine. ‘Nuff said. Could be the movie of the year.

3. Gone Girl

gonegirl

One of the best books I read last year was Gillian Flynn’s psychological thriller Gone Girl, which promptly made me go out and read her other two books, Dark Places and Sharp Objects. I was interested when I heard about a film adaptation and exploded with excitement when I heard David Fincher was directing it. Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, believe it or not, seem like excellent casting choices too. Done right, this story about a housewife who disappears and leaves her husband as the prime suspect could leave my jaw on the floor just like the book did.

2. X-Men: Days of Future Past

xmen

I’ve been a fan of all the X-Men movies and thought the “young version” with Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) was the best one yet. This one promises to blow all of them away. It’s an extremely difficult and ambitious project to include pretty much all the characters from the old and new franchises — yes, that includes Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page and everyone else — but if director Bryan Singer can pull off the time travel concept it has the potential to be the best superhero movie EVER.

1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

dawn

Of all the films coming out this year, there is one I want to see more than any other — and it’s not even close! After the mindblowing awesomeness of Rise of the Planet of the Apes — which was surprisingly my favourite film of 2011 — can you blame me? There’s no James Franco this time but Andy Serkis’s Caesar still is, and he’s joined by the likes of Gary Oldman, Kerry Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Jason Clarke. With improving special effects, the apes are looking better than ever, and the action appears ready to take off from the get-go. I can’t wait!

Read on to see the 21 movies that missed the cut.

Continue reading My 15 Most Anticipated Movies of 2014!