Tag Archives: Rosamund Pike

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

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

Movie Review: Jack Reacher (2012)

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It’s unfortunate that Jack Reacher got a bad rap before the film was even made, simply because Tom Cruise was cast as the titular character.

I haven’t read any of the popular novel series by Lee Child upon which the film was based (I believe the particular book for this film is One Shot), but from what I understand Jack Reacher is a mammoth blonde haired and blue eyed dude who is like 6’5″ and naturally ripped like the Rock on steroids (hang on…), and Mr Scientology is a brunette and reportedly anything from 5’7″ to 5’9″ — and that may be with or without lifts.

But having not read the books, it made no difference to me. In fact, there was really only one instance in the entire film where Cruise’s size, or lack thereof, posed a problem for the storyline, and even then they fudged it quite well so you wouldn’t really notice.

Irrespective of the so-called casting issue, Jack Reacher is a superior action thriller. To be honest, it wasn’t exactly the type of film I thought it would be. I had expected it to be all about this macho superhero dude who goes around beating up a whole bunch of bad guys like Liam Neeson in Taken, and to be be fair, there is a bit of that, but Jack Reacher actually has a rather intelligent mystery at its heart.

Without giving to much away, the film begins with a seemingly random act of violence that appears to be an open and shut case. Even a soft-hearted defense attorney played by Rosamund Pike felt it was an unwinnable case — that is, of course, until enigmatic loner Jack Reacher is called out to investigate.

Jack Reacher is one of those guys who only exists in the macho fantasies of daydreamers and novelists. Women love him and men want to be him, or at least beat him up. He is a genius investigator, has a photographic memory, is unstoppable in hand-to-hand combat and is also somehow an expert marksman. And on top of all that he is all about justice and has a heart of gold.

If you can stomach this type of imaginary guy less likely to exist in real life than Edward Cullen, then Jack Reacher is an absolute blast to watch. It is a stylish film that keeps audiences guessing with twists and turns while providing thrills with car chases, violent confrontations and skillful detective work.  I had no problem believing that Cruise (who had Child’s blessings, by the way) could be  someone who could kick so much ass while delivering perfect one-liners, and it’s a credit to his acting abilities that he could pull off such a role.

Pike did an adequate job without being particularly impressive, and Robert Duvall had a small but crucial role later on in the film. The supporting cast standout, however, has to be legendary German director Werner Herzog as the shadowy villain, who won me over just by his awesome voice alone.

Sure, there are some plot holes and inconsistencies and things that don’t make a whole lot of sense, but on the whole, Jack Reacher is a very solid start to a franchise that I can definitely see myself following if more sequels are rolled out.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Barney’s Version (2010)

A bit of a delay in this review, but I guess better late than never.  I wasn’t quite sure going in what to expect from Barney’s Version, a drama starring Paul Giamatti as a man who, based on the snippets from the trailer, likes his ladies.  That was pretty much all I knew.

Well, I admit I was surprisingly impressed with Barney’s Version by the time the credits rolled.  Based on the 1997 novel of the same name by Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version is a crafty, captivating film bolstered by some superb performances.  Paul Giamatti is brilliant as Barney Panofsky, an unlikely ladies’ man who recalls his unusual and highly interesting life through various flashbacks dating back to the 1970s.  I won’t say much more about the plot because it’s the type of film where you don’t really know where it’s heading but you just go along for the ride.  There’s lust, romance, friendship, betrayal and an intriguing mystery too, ensuring that there’s hardly a dull moment in the lengthy 132 minute running time.

What surprised me about Barney’s Version is that I enjoyed the film despite the immensely flawed and unlikable protagonist.  Barney is a fascinating character but he’s a complete douche no matter which way you look at it.  Nonetheless, Giamatti’s performance makes Barney human and almost sympathetic at times.  I was shocked to discover that I was actually touched by Barney’s story towards the end.

Of course, it’s not all Giamatti (who won a Golden Globe for his performance).  The supporting cast was also amazing and it is a travesty that not more acting nominations were garnered.  Dustin Hoffman was a standout as Barney’s father.  Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman and Bruce Greenwood were also fantastic in their respective roles.

I understand some of the complaints about the film — that Barney was too much of a prick for the film to be enjoyable, that Giamatti was too fat and ugly to attract such pretty ladies, that it was misogynistic, etc etc — but I think they are missing the point.  For starters, the film is called “Barney’s” Version for a reason, and although the format doesn’t quite capture the ‘unreliable narrator’ of the book as well as I thought it should have, this was Barney’s story from his perspective and his memory.  Besides, there are far less attractive men with more attractive women in the real world, and in any case, I personally thought Giamatti’s persistence and zest for life did give him a peculiar charm (but hey, what would I know?).

Ultimately, I found Barney’s Version to be a lovely film about the ups and downs of life and its moments.  It’s not perfect but it’s one film I’ll likely remember years down the track.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Surrogates (2009)

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Directed by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) and starring Bruce Willis, Surrogates is a sci-fi film with tremendous potential but falls well short of reaching it.  It is based on a comic book series but feels more like an under-developed short story – you know, the type you see in sci-fi anthologies based on a brilliant idea but with only a so-so plot.  At the end of the day, it’s not a bad film, but certainly not one you’re likely to remember a couple of years down the track.

Surrogates is a difficult film to introduce because it’s hard to talk about the premise of the film without giving the essence of the story away.  Nevertheless, most people will have a fair idea if they’ve seen a preview or can put two and two together (think sci-fi and the title of the film).

As often the case with such films, the best part of Surrogates is the beginning when it brings the viewer up to speed with this new high-tech world in which the story takes place.  You then have a mystery that needs to be solved, and in comes Bruce Willis to save the day.  However, as it turns out, the plot itself is not particularly intelligent.  It’s a pretty standard affair with plot twists that are more likely to elicit ‘mehs’ than gasps.

The action was good, but was it outstanding?  No.  The drama was adequate, but was it great?  Definitely not.  What you end up with is a sci-fi film with a promising premise (albeit not an entirely original one) but a poor storyline that fails to fully engage the audience.  While it was effectively an action flick, it got too caught up in the moral/ethical/philosophical stuff and ended up not properly developing either aspect of the film.  The short running time of 89 minutes is fine for a movie like this, but it makes you wish they did more with it.  With a better script and improved execution, Surrogates could have been a lot more than it turned out to be.

That said, the special effects and make-up were impressive.  We are beginning to reach a point in time where the age of the actor will become irrelevant.  We might soon start to see movies where 70-year-old actors can play 20-year-olds – for the entire length of the film.

Jonathan Mostow is a decent director, having been at the helm of films such as Terminator 3, U571 and Breakdown (his last 3 films), but in this case you wonder whether he was restricted by the script.  Bruce Willis provides another ‘tortured soul’ performance we’re used to seeing.  Rosamund Pike is okay, but Radha Mitchell finds herself in a rather thankless role.  The worst, however, had to be James Cromwell and in particular Ving Rhames, who both appeared as though they were just in it for the paycheck.

To be honest, I was surprised at how little marketing Surrogates received.  With a budget of $80 million and Bruce Willis (plus an assortment of recognisable stars) you would have thought it deserved more.  Perhaps they knew well in advance that it wouldn’t be worth it.

3 stars out of 5!

To be honest, I was surprised at how little marketing Surrogates received.  With a budget of $80 million and Bruce Willis (plus an assortment of recognisable stars) you would have thought it deserved more.  Perhaps they