Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GONE GIRL (2014)

Written by Gillian Flynn

Directed by David Fincher

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA October 6, 2014 5:35PM

I think "Gone Girl" is the first film I've ever seen that begins as a tense, foreboding mystery and as the story unfolds, evolves in to an outrageously deranged satire. But in the masterful hands of David Fincher, this transformation is seamless and absolutely perfect. Based on the mega best-selling book by Gillian Flynn, the director audaciously examines the explosive sexual politics of marriage, especially in these modern times where the role of women is constantly in flux between their traditional position and a more complicated, liberated role in the relationship. The film also takes a look at our preconceived ideas on guilt and innocence and how the media now has the power to shape these opinions.

On the morning of his fifth anniversary to his lovely wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) begins the day very low-key by visiting the under performing bar he owns with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon). When he returns home, something seems strangely amiss. The door has been left open and the furniture in the living room is shattered yet Nick doesn't appear overly concerned. He calls the police and Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) arrive to investigate. With a coffee cup never leaving her hand, the detective goes through the house, marking suspicious areas with yellow post-its, and peppering the missing woman's husband with a barrage of questions.

Days go by, a search party is formed and Amy's parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) go in front of the cameras to beg for their daughter's safe return. Nick, at the press conference, comes across as passive and oddly detached. Once television crime evangelist, Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle doing a spot-on Nancy Grace type) goes in front of her large-scale audience and proclaims Nick must be guilty due to his strange behaviour, he soon becomes the only logical suspect. But is he actually responsible for his wife's disappearance? If you have read "Gone Girl", then you know exactly how guilty Nick Dunne actually is. If not (like myself), then you will be able to savor all of the surprising twists and turns without any expectations. Nothing in this apparent crime, nor the couple's marriage, is what it appears to be on the surface. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn more about Nick and Amy from their early courtship to the more challenging marital times when Nick loses his job as writer and the couple having to move from New York to a small town in Missouri to care for his ailing mother.

Ms Flynn, a one-time film critic for my favorite magazine about entertainment, "Entertainment Weekly",  was lucky to get the unusual opportunity to have a hand on the screenplay and creates a solid adaption of her work. The author was also fortunate enough to have arguably one of the best film makers working today to be involved on the project. With a history of tackling stories that explores the darker side of human relationships which includes "Fight Club", "Zodiac" and "The Social Network", Mr. Fincher is in his element and brings his somber visual flair to these proceedings. The director receives invaluable help from his long-time crew who all have been recognized numerous times by the Academy for their work with him. This includes cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth, editor, Kirk Baxter and the eerie musical score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Mr. Affleck has become a well-regarded director with the films, "Gone Baby Gone", "The Town" and the 2012 Best Picture, "Argo" but as an actor, he's been adequate but never has done anything particularly noteworthy. That is now in the past as the Oscar-winner gives an impressive full-bodied performance that is sly, edgy and unpredictable. As more evidence piles up against his character, he makes you begin to doubt his involvement yet still never seeming to be completely guilt-free.

Reese Witherspoon is a producer of the film and flirted with the idea of playing Amy. While she may have been perfectly fine in the part but Mr. Fincher had another thought and that's when Ms Pike enters the picture. The British actress has been around for a while, making supporting appearances in films such as "Die Another Day" and  "An Education" but never made much of a solid impression. Clearly the director saw something in her and his instincts have paid off. Much like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction", Ms Pike's performance in "Gone Girl" will completely alter her career. She is mesmerizing as a woman caught between struggling to be the good wife and wanting no part of that role. To simply state she displays a crazy range of emotions would be a true understatement.

The supporting players are uniformly excellent with surprising nice turns from actors far better known for their comedic roles, Tyler Perry as Nick's lawyer and Neil Patrick Harris perfectly creepy as Amy's old flame but special mention must be made about Ms Dickens and Ms Coon. These actresses have made their mark previously on television (both on popular HBO shows; Dickens on "Deadwood" and "Treme". Coon in the recent hit, "The Leftovers") and the stage (Coon was a Tony nominee for the recent revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe") but their juicy roles here give them a shining opportunity to play a strong, fully-developed female character which, sadly, is rare these days in cinema.

Sure, a few of the plot points, while quite clever, don't hold up under closer scrutiny but "Gone Girl" is so good that it's hardly a distraction. The combination of Gillian Flynn's deft skills as a storyteller and the stylish artistry of David Fincher has made this film one of the very best of the year. They have managed to take a unsettling subject matter and make it highly entertaining and thoroughly unforgettable.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Written by Jonathan Tropper

Directed by Shawn Levy

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. September 22, 2014 5:40PM

"This Is Where I Leave You" is a dysfunctional family comedy with dramatic elements. The film is very funny, in fact, hysterically at times. However, whenever any melodramatic moment creep in, it simply distracts, throwing things out of whack. The broad humor makes it very hard to take any of this clan's problems and anxieties seriously.

Shawn Levy, who helmed the "Night At The Museum" franchise and the low-brow remakes of "Cheaper By The Dozen" and "The Pink Panther", has no clue on how to find the right balance. He has taken the dark themes of the story, based on the book by Jonathan Tropper (who also had a hand on the screenplay) smoothed out the sharp edges with a breezy, sitcomy sense of humor. Appealing TV comedy vets, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and "Girls" quirky heartthrob, Adam Driver are also on hand to make all these complex situations go down easy.

Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda), a noted psychologist has assembled her adult children to return home to upstate New York after their father has died. Her son, Judd (Bateman) who works for a shock-jock (Dax Shepard) is struggling to hold himself together after he has caught his wife (Abigail Spencer) cheating with someone he knows quite well. Wendy (Fey), saddled with a workaholic husband and two hyper children, is still haunted by the neighbor boy (Timothy Olyphant) she loved as a teen but left after he became injured in an accident. The no-nonsense Paul (Corey Stoll) has to deal with his anxious wife (Kathyrn Hahn) desperate to get pregnant while also bitter that he stuck around to work with their father in the family business of sporting goods. Phillip (Driver), the wild-child, baby brother, arrives to the service with his latest girlfriend in tow; an older woman (Connie Britton) who also happens to be his former shrink.

Hillary informs her children that their non-practicing Jewish father's dying wish was that they sit shiva in his honor. Reluctantly, the brood agree to remain in their childhood home for seven days to mourn. This situation manages to stir up plenty of old grudges and petty bickering among the siblings. Some of their hostility is directed at their unfiltered mother who became a best-selling author on child-rearing which used her own as prime examples. Sharing their private adolescent challenges to the world still doesn't exactly sit well with them.

Each member of the Altman family struggle to work through their complicated issues within themselves and with each other but none of these characters are fleshed out nearly enough to offer a convincing resolution. This isn't for a lack of trying from the film's highly distinguished cast of actors which includes stage actress, Debra Monk as Hillary's close neighborhood friend and Rose Byrne as Judd's chatty high school crush.

While the heavy family dynamic in the really scary, dark comedy, "August: Osage County" was unbearable, "This is Where I Leave You" is unbelievable. You won't buy for one second that any of these people could possibly be related. That doesn't mean you won't have a good time and quite a few laughs. The real issue is that the film is trying much too hard to be something it's not. Which is any type of drama. Embrace the comedy and move on.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Written & Directed by Ned Benson

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. Septemeber 16, 2014 3:10PM

"The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them" starts off with Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Connor (James McAvoy) sneaking out of a New York restaurant after not having money to pay the bill. In the afterglow of that thrilling adventure, this young couple, clearly in love, begin making out in a nearby park. The next moment we see Eleanor throwing herself off a bridge, trying to end her life.

What happened in between these two scenes is explored in this inspired but disjointed film by writer/director Ned Benson. We learn that a horrific event is the catalyst that frayed their once solid relationship. The couple being unable to cope with this tragedy together is what ultimately drives them apart.

After Eleanor is released from the hospital, she leaves her husband and moves back home with her family in the suburbs. The full house includes her French cliché of a mother (Gallic screen legend, Isabelle Huppert), serious Professor father (William Hurt), single-mother sister, Katy (Jess Wexler) and her young son.

Connor has no idea where his wife has ended up but desperate to locate her. Having to give up their apartment, Connor has temporarily moved in with his distant restaurateur father (Ciarán Hinds). He has followed in his father's footsteps but hasn't achieved the same level of success. Connor is struggling to keep his bar/cafe afloat but engaging in physical altercations with customers isn't great for business. His only real friend, Stuart (Bill Hader) works in the kitchen and at a loss on how to help his distressed buddy.

Eleanor (yes, she is named after that Beatles song which is explained in the film) decides to further her education and with her father's pull, enters an important course taught by his former colleague (the great Viola Davis). Connor has tracked down Eleanor and begins stalking her at the campus before getting the courage to approach his estranged wife. The reunion is less than jubilant but does break the ice that has the couple begin tentatively speaking.

The original concept of "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" is that there were two separate films subtitled "Him" and "Her" which covered the demise of the couple's relationship from each of their point of view. However, when Harvey Weinstein bought the films for distribution, he felt it would be better to combine the two films which lead to "Them". It's unlikely this was a smart move but you can have an opportunity to judge for yourself, if you desire, as "Him" and "Her"will both be released in October.

Back to "Them", we see fragments of  Eleanor and Connor each trying to move forward with their lives while looking back, hopeful, for some sort of reconciliation. While these scenes are well-written and superbly acted, we are left in the dark on a few of the important key events that occurred between these two; their everyday lives together, the actual break-up and dealing with the tragic circumstance. Any of these moments would have helped connect emotionally to what we are given to witness. Perhaps the individual films will shed more light and flesh out the issues between Eleanor and Connor, however this condensed version feels incomplete.

The supporting cast is really terrific and they all, surprisingly, get several opportunities to shine and strut their stuff. But the film belongs to Chastain and McAvoy, two magnetic screen personalities who complement each other quite nicely. The performers expertly capture their character's pain and melancholia as they strive to come out of the darkness and once again, find their light.

The consolidation of two separate stories to make "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them" doesn't seem to have helped improve the film. The elimination of that cinematic experiment only managed to make the film less focused and undistinguished. Despite the setback, this is still an admirable work filled with highly impressive performances.

Monday, September 22, 2014


One of the biggest events of the fall cinema season, The 52nd Annual New York Film Festival kicks off on September 26th and runs through October 12th. The opening night selection is "Gone Girl", the highly anticipated film adaption of the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn. David Fincher ("Sev7n", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (U.S. Version)") directs this mystery-drama about a man (Ben Affleck) who becomes a suspect after his wife (Rosamund Pike) disappears on the eve of their fifth wedding anniversary. Neil Patrick Harris (?) and Tyler Perry (???) also star.

The centerpiece selection is the world premiere of "Inherent Vice". Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights", "The Master") is the first filmmaker to make a movie from the works of Thomas Pynchon. Set in the 70's, Det. "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) gets involved in a messy case involving the disappearence of the boyfriend (Eric Roberts) of his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston). With Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro and Reese Witherspoon.

"Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)", the latest from Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Amores Perros", "Babel"), closes out the festival. Michael Keaton plays an actor who was once famous for playing a super-hero and now struggles to get a Broadway show off the ground while dealing with his complicated family life and bruised ego.This dramedy also features Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone.

For more info and the complete slate of films, please click below:

The 2014 NYFF

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Written by Justin Lader

Directed by Charlie McDowell

Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. September 2, 2014 2:30PM

"The One I Love" seems like it's going to travel down the predictable marriage-in-crisis-and-what-can-we-do-to-save-it path but this delightful indie comedy veers way off in an unexpected direction. In fact, this film took me completely by surprise with it's clever twist early in the plot (which doesn't happen too often). The imaginative script by Justin Lader expertly blurs fantasy and reality as it humorously examines the everyday reality of their significant other and the person they wish they could actually be. This is the first feature by Charlie McDowell and he delivers the goods that makes "The One I Love" feel original and great fun to watch.

Filmmaker/actor, Mark Duplass ("Jeff, Who Lives At Home") and Elizabeth Moss (TVs "Mad Men") play Ethan and Sophie, a couple whose relationship is in trouble. Their marriage is strained due to no longer properly communicating and further damaged by infidelity. Seeking help from a counselor (Ted Danson), he puts the two through several exercises to try and repair their marriage but without much success. The counselor finally recommends they go away together to a private house out of town to focus on each other and reconnect.

Here's where things get tricky. For as much as I want to reveal the details to what happens once they reach the retreat, I also don't want to spoil the surprise. Let's just say that once Ethan and Sophie explore the guest house in the back, they each experience the ideal partner which also happens to be their current partner. I realize this may be a little too vague but trust me, you will enjoy the film much better not knowing all the specifics.

As we reach the third act, the story drifts too far in to campy science-fiction with the film losing focus and some of it's whimsical charm dampened. The ending is sly but you see it coming. None of this causes any serious damage as the film remains utterly engaging and pleasantly strange.

Moss and Duplass are the whole movie and thankfully have a nice chemistry. They convincingly portray a loving couple who have lost their way and really want to find their way back but a highly unusual obstacle prevents them from easily working things out. Duplass usually only gets the chance to make a big star turn in one of the films he creates which is too bad as he makes a fine leading man. Moss has an opportunity to display her more sunny and softer side than on her television show.

"The One I Love" takes a playful and offbeat approach to exploring the age-old dilemma regarding love, marriage and trust. While it may not be entirely successful, the film is still an admirable and enjoyable attempt at shaking up the age-old romantic-comedy conventions.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


After a dismal and very disappointing summer season, Hollywood is hoping that the fall movies will help bring people back to the theaters. Looking over the upcoming slate of features, I think they may have a good shot. I have put together a list of some of the interesting films that I'm anticipating.

All dates are subject to change:


Release date: September 12, 2014

"The Skeleton Twins" offers a mini-"Saturday Night Live" reunion as Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star however, this dark comedy is very far from any zany skit they might have performed together. They play long-estranged siblings who come together after each experiences a tragic event and try to figure out what went wrong with their lives. Although the actors deliver the laughs which they're well-known for, Wiig and Hader are also given an opportunity to display their little-seen dramatic chops.


Release date: September 26, 2014

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith ("The Talented Mr. Ripley"), "The Two Faces of January" is a mystery-thriller set in the 1960's involving Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as a wealthy American couple traveling to Greece. They unwittingly get involved with a con-man (Oscar Issac) who may or may not be trying to help them after the couple is entangled in a murder.


Release date: October 17, 2014

Winner of a special jury prize for Breakthrough Talent for writer/director, Justin Simien at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Dear White People" looks at outraged African-American students over white classmates throwing a party with an "African-American" theme at an Ivy League college. This potentially controversial satire deals with the issue of race thoughtfully and with good humor.


Release date: October 24, 2014

Bill Murray heads the impressive cast of "St. Vincent", a dramedy about a drunken war vet who becomes the unlikely baby-sitter to the young son (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher) of a desperate single mother (Melissa McCarthy). This is the feature debut for writer/director, Theodore Melfi and also stars Terrence Howard, Chris O'Dowd and Naomi Watts.


Release date: October 31, 2014

Losing about twenty pounds for the role, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a creepy L.A. videographer providing a local television station with crime footage in "Nightcrawler". The longer this reporter is out on the street, the more he gets too involved in his work. This is the first feature directed by screenwriter, Dan Gilroy and also stars Bill Paxton and Rene Russo (Gilroy's wife).


Release date: November 7, 2014

Christopher Nolan, the director of "The Dark Knight" trilogy and "Inception" is back with an intriguing science-fiction film. The trailer for "Interstellar" doesn't reveal too much plot (thank goodness!) but it seems the world is threatened by a dangerous force out in space. Some astronauts (which include Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway) are sent out to try and save mankind. With Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck and Ellen Burstyn.


Release date: November 7, 2014

Stephen Hawking is a world renowned British theoretical physicist who suffers from ALS and "The Theory of Everything" explores his early life as a student at Cambridge in the 1960's. Eddie Redmayne ("Les Misérables") plays Hawking and Felicity Jones ("The Invisible Woman") is his first love, Jane who becomes his wife and supports him as the illness progresses. Oscar-winner, James Marsh (2008 Best Documentary, "Man On Wire") directs.


Release date: November 21, 2014

"The Imitation Game" reveals the little-known story of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a British mathematician who helped defeat the Nazis by breaking their Enigma code. However, instead of becoming a celebrated figure, Turing lived his final years humiliated and imprisoned due to his secret private life. Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode co-star.


Release date: December 25, 2014

The film "Into The Woods" is based on the acclaimed Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim but you would never know it from the recent trailer. Not one note is sung but this fairy-tale based project is definitely still a musical and directed by Rob Marshall who did wonders for the stage-to-screen adaption, "Chicago". A starry cast has been assembled (with half I didn't know could sing) including Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.


Release date: December 25, 2014

"Unbroken", the second film directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the amazing story of Louis Zamperini, an American who went from competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to fighting against Hitler as a solider in WWII to surviving a plane crash and drifting in the Pacific for almost two months before becoming a POW and held by the Japanese for two years. Jack O'Connell portrays Zamperini who passed away at the age of ninety-seven in July.

Monday, August 25, 2014

LAND HO! (2014)

Written & Directed by Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz

Where & When: Sundance Sunset Theaters, West Hollywood, CA. August 5, 2014 1:45PM

Maintaining a friendship is hard. Growing old is even harder. "Land Ho!" is a senior buddy, road-trip picture that takes a delightful journey through Iceland as two men decide to reignite their mundane lives at a time when they've feeling increasingly invisible in society. Lead by two sensational performances by Dr. Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn, not much really happens as the film is filled mostly with intimate, very funny and somewhat strange conversations which makes this little film even more impressive. "Land Ho!" is the first film by the team of Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, both experienced indie filmmakers individually that have done well with their previous works on the festival circuit. Together, they build on their strengths to make a fresh, unpredictable and completely first-rate comedy.

Mitch (Nelson),a currently divorced, recently retired doctor calls on his former brother-in-law, Colin (Eenhoorn), also now divorced, to catch up on old times. It wouldn't seem like these two guys would share much in common as Mitch is boisterous and crass while the Australian Colin is reserved and highly composed. Yet there is some kind of connection although they bicker and make each other crazy much like, I'm quite sure, their former spouses. On a whim, Mitch invites his friend to join him on a trip to Iceland and travel through the country. Colin tries to decline the generous offer but Mitch is a man that doesn't take no for an answer.

After arriving in Reykjavík, the men have very different ideas on how they want to spend their vacation. Colin plans to relax and catch up on some books while Mitch wants to party, meet some women and have a true adventure. Mitch's niece (Karrie Crouse) and her friend, Janet (Elizabeth McKee) just happen to be passing through Reykjavík and plan to spend the day with the fellas. Mitch thinks his plans for a wild party will begin with the arrival of the young women and although Janet does manage to get sloppy drunk, the evening is pretty mild filled with mostly more conversation.

As these golden boys continue their scenic trip through this beautiful country, more bickering ensues but soon these guys begin to really connect. Mitch and Colin actually share their feelings and fears in a way that only men can understand.

With an unobtrusive shooting style, unflashy editing and the actors seemingly not to be performing, "Land Ho!" feels very much like eavesdropping which should appeal to some viewers in this age of reality programming.  "Land Ho!" breaks out of the routine Hollywood buddy comedy and offers an unfussy alternative spin. In between the laughs, there are wistful and poignant moments that take you by surprise.