Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014)

October 13, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Gone-Girl-2014-film-poster

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

Book Review: ‘The Accidental Billionaires’ by Ben Mezrich

April 22, 2011 in Book Reviews, Reviews

Here I go again, letting another book cut the queue of the books I’m supposed to be reading.  I had been interested in checking out Ben Mezrich’s (author of Bringing Down the House, the book that was made into 21) The Accidential Billionaires for ages — you know, the book that was masterfully adapted into one of the best films of last year, The Social Network — so I couldn’t help myself.

I got the e-book version in my little online shopping spree, thanks to the 30% off from the lovely but struggling folks at Borders.  I essentially started reading it yesterday morning as soon as I woke up (I keep the iPad beside the bed), and even though I was out the entire day, I somehow managed to finish the whole book before I got home.  Yes, it was a short book (with some very short chapters), but it was indeed a massive page-turner.  I can’t think of the last time I read an entire book in a day.

The Accidental Billionaires tells — in a dramatic, narrative style — the story of the founding of Facebook, from the dorms of Harvard into the biggest social networking phenomenon in the world.  I was surprised by how closely The Social Network mirrored the book in terms of plot and progression, and was even more surprised to see that Aaron Sorkin (the guy that adapted the book into the Academy Award winning screenplay) was one of the people that Mezrich thanked at the end of the book.

So if you’ve seen The Social Network, there won’t be much that in this book that you don’t already know — Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, the Winklevoss twins, Sean Parker — no wonder Mezrich thought it was a tale too extraordinary to pass up.  However, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story, even though I found myself constantly visualising scenes from the movie on just about every page.

The interesting thing about this book is that it does not read like traditional non-fiction.  Mezrich has made The Accidental Billionaires a work of ‘creative’ non-fiction using narrative techniques, including evocative descriptions and deft dramatisations.  As I read the book, I kept wondering just how much of it actually happened, because Mezrich’s primary source was Eduardo Saverin (the co-founder that was screwed over by Zuckerberg, who declined Mezrich’s attempts to contact him), who later refused to cooperate with Mezrich after his law suit against Zuckerberg was settled out of court.  Was Saverin telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or was his memory coloured by his anger towards Zuckerberg?  And honestly, did Facebook really get created because Zuckerberg and Saverin wanted to get laid?  Seriously?  Am I too old or is American college culture really that perverted?

On the other hand, Mezrich also had stacks of court transcripts at his disposal (from both the Saverin case and the ‘Winklevii’ case), as well as other eye-witness accounts and insider interviews.  But it still left a big question mark in my mind, especially because Mezrich admits to ‘re-creating dialogue’ based on the recollections of participants and the substance of their conversations.  Naturally, this meant certain conversations and correspondence may been compressed or may have never even happened.

However, thanks to Mezrich’s creative narrative techniques, The Accidental Billionaires is a crisp, enjoyable ride, albeit slightly one sided as most of it is from Saverin’s perspective.  It’s also somewhat unfortunate that Saverin stopped feeding Mezrich information after the settlement, because I think the book could have been even better.  The narrative started losing steam towards the end, probably because of the lack of information on what exactly happened, resulting in a fair bit of creative guesswork on Mezrich’s part.  Admirable effort, but it couldn’t completely disguise the problems.

3.75 out of 5

A word on the film

If there’s one thing I learned from The Accidential Billionaires, it’s that Aaron Sorkin is a screenwriting god.  In my humble opinion, The Social Network is one of those rare films that surpasses the book on which it is based.  I know David Fincher probably deserves a significant share of the credit, but Sorkin’s screenplay was phenomenal.  He managed to capture all the key scenes of the book (with little or almost no variation), which was great, but it’s the scenes he created that weren’t in the book that ended up being the most iconic scenes in The Social Network.  And the dialogue, most of which Sorkin must have just made up, kept the essence of the characters and simply elevated the story to a whole new dimension.  Mr Sorkin, I am in awe of your awesomeness.

Movie Review: The Social Network (2010)

October 31, 2010 in Movie Reviews

Admit it.  When you first heard that they were going to make a movie about Facebook, you thought it was going to suck too.  I certainly did.

But throw in Fight Club director David Fincher, producer Kevin Spacey and The West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin, base it around a nonfiction book by Ben Mezrich (who shot to fame with Bringing Down the House, which was made into the movie 21), and cast a bunch of young rising stars, and The Social Network suddenly becomes one of the best films of the year.

It is probably important to note upfront that accuracy of specific events may not have been a priority for screenwriter Sorkin when he wrote The Social Network, so don’t watch the film believing it to be entirely true.  However, we do know for a fact that certain things did happen.  We know that Mark Zuckerberg, a former Harvard student, created ‘Thefacebook’, a phenomenal social networking site that now has more than 500 million active members around the world.  We also know that he was sued by a few people — the identical Winklevoss twins for allegedly ripping off their idea, and his former best friend Eduardo Saverin, who Zuckerberg completely screwed over.

That’s all I’ll say about the plot, but believe me when I say it is a cracker.  The tone is set in the very first scene.  The characters are fascinating.  The relationships are compelling.  The dialogue is razor sharp.  And it’s surprisingly funny too.

Jesse Eisenberg is brilliant as Zuckerberg.  He is mesmerizing to watch, and really makes you believe Zuckerberg is a genuine prick.  While Justin Timberlake has received mixed reviews as Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, some believe he is being tipped for a Best Suppporting Actor Oscar nomination.  Personally, I don’t think it weas an Oscar-worthy performance, but it was very good, and definitely better than what anyone was expecting.

The rest of the ensemble cast was terrific too.  The standout for me was the new Spiderman Andrew Garfield (Saverin), who grows on you as the film progresses.  But I really can’t poke a hole in any of the performances.  I think in years to come, The Social Network will be remembered as a classic that featured actors who went on to become superstars.  It’s already got Eisenberg and Garfield and Timberlake (all of whom should go on to bigger roles), not to mention Rooney Mara, Hollywood’s new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Armie Hammer, who plays both the Winklevoss twins, was hilarious, a great contrast to their more serious business partner Divya Narendra, played by Max Mingella (son of the late and great Anthony).  Even Brenda Song, who has a small role as Saverin’s girlfriend, was dynamite in a couple of scenes.

The Social Network is captivating drama at its best, and I’ve already seen it twice.

4.5 stars out of 5

Predicting Oscars 09: who should win and who will

February 21, 2009 in Entertainment

oscarI’m excited.

The ceremony for the 81st Academy Awards is finally about to take place.  I’ve finally managed to see most of the nominated films for the major catgories that are available to me (see reviews here, here and here).  While I initially predicted the winners and losers when the nominations first came out (here and here), the landscape has changed a little and I feel that now, since I’ve seen most of the films, I can also comment on who deserves to win.

So for tomorrow night, here’s who should win and who will (only categories with films I’ve seen).  If there is an asterick (*) next to a nominee it means I have not seen that film (so my views do not include it).

Best Picture

slumdog-millionaire1Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: All great movies.  Based on my ratings and reviews of the films, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader scored the highest marks, but I would give the nod to Button.  I just thought it was such an unusual and memorable film.  Though not quite as good, it had a certain Forrest Gump-feel to it (probably because of the same writer).

Who will win: Slumdog Millionaire has been tipped all along and there won’t be anything standing in its way come Oscar night.  There is a teeny little chance for an improbable upset by Button (which had the most nominations) but I can’t see any of the scandals derailing what should be a glorious night for Slumdog.  Especially now that all the child actors are coming to the ceremony (albeit after the voting).

Best Director

boyleNominees: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Daldry (The Reader), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) Gus Van Sant (Milk)

Who should win: A very difficult one to pick because I feel they all did terrific jobs in their respective films.  If I had to pick one I’d have to go with Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire was just that little bit more extraordinary than the others, and the way he pieced it all together was absolutely masterful.

Who will win: Danny Boyle.  No doubt about it.

Best Actor

rourkeNominees: Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)*, Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Sean Penn (Milk), Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

Who should win: A coin-toss between Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke.  I saw The Wrestler first and thought Rourke was a lock based on his emotional, nuanced performance, not to mention his amazing physical resemblance to a real-life wrestler.  You felt his physical pain in the ring, you felt his emotional pain outside of it.  It was the performance of a lifetime.  But then I saw Milk and Sean Penn’s performance just blew me away.  Yes, he was playing a real-life character, but man did he do it well.  You honestly believed he was the inspirational Harvey Milk.  Too hard for me to choose.

Who will win: Mickey Rourke.  He’s the sentimental favourite and Penn has already got one (for Mystic River).  The only way Rourke can lose is if he really pissed off as many people in the industry as he claims (and judging from his BAFTA acceptance speech I can kind of see how it might be possible).

Best Actress

kate-winslet-golden-globes-2009-best-actressNominees: Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River)*, Meryl Streep (Doubt), Kate Winslet (The Reader)

Who should win: Really tough choice.  I think as far as the performance is concerned, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway are all very deserving (Jolie was very good but not quite there).  But based on the difficulty of the roles they had to play I would give Kate Winslet the edge.  Her character was so important to what The Reader was trying to tell and she played each phase of Hanna Schmitz’s life wonderfully.

Who will win: Kate Winslet.  It’s her time.  Streep is consistently this good so she won’t stand out as much, whereas Hathaway is young and she’ll have plenty of chances (plus her role is less sensational).

Best Supporting Actor

ledgerNominees: Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey Jr (Tropic Thunder), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)

Who should win: Heath Ledger.  As terrific as Hoffman was in Doubt and Shannon was in Revolutionary Road, Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight will forever be remembered as one of the great ones.  I still remember when he was first cast as the Joker and plenty of people scoffed at the idea that he could pull it off (even after Brokeback Mountain).  No one is denying that he was the right man for the role now.

Who will win: Heath Ledger.  All the major awards leading up to the Oscars indicate he will win.  I honestly believe he deserves it, even if he were still alive today – the performance was that mesmerizing.  The fact that he’s not around anymore just about locks it in.

Best Supporting Actress

cruzNominees: Amy Adams (Doubt), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Viola Davis (Doubt), Taraji P Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)

Who should win: The ones that stood out for me were Amy Adams and Taraji P Henson.  Marisa Tomei was wonderful in The Wrestler but I liked the other two more.  Viola Davis was barely in Doubt, though she made great use of her limited screen time.  Penelope Cruz was good but I didn’t think the performance was Oscar-worthy – or maybe I just didn’t like the character.

Who will win: Penelope Cruz.  In this case, I think the least deserving will win.  She’s the most well-known of the group and her role was different and explosive.  Plus all the focus has been on her leading up to the Oscars.  I hope she doesn’t win but I think she will.

Best Original Screenplay

in-brugesNominees: Frozen River*, Happy-Go-Lucky*, In Bruges, Milk, WALL-E

Who should win: Having only seen 3 of the 5 nominees, I don’t feel sufficiently equipped to judge this one.  Out of the 3 films I did see, they were all very good, but probably In Bruges stood out as just being somewhat special.

Who will win: In Bruges has taken a lot of the lead-up awards, but WALL-E is also a favourite because it manages to do so much with so little dialogue.  I’m going with In Bruges but won’t be surprised in WALL-E took it out.  Note I originally picked Milk, but that was before I saw most of the films.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: “Adapted” screenplay is thrown around a little loosely because some of the scripts I’m sure barely resemble the original source.  Nevertheless, I thought the adaptation of The Reader was sensational, dealing with the majority of the themes and events perfectly in Bernhard Schlink’s novel.

Who will win: Originally picked Doubt but after seeing the film I felt the adaptation could have been better.  I have a feeling this award will be lumped with the bunch of awards that Slumdog Millionaire will win on the night.

Cinematography

Nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: Another tough one.  I’m don’t have any technical specialty so this is based purely on what I thought looked best.  And using that criterion, I thought Changeling was particularly memorable, though Slumdog Millionaire’s eye-opening portrayal of Mumbai was also impressive.

Who will win: Slumdog to bag another one.

Editing

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire

Who should win: Another technical one, but I liked the work in Button, where editing was particularly important.

Who will win: This might be one of those sympathy awards given to Button, which, despite all its nominations, continues to be beaten by Slumdog.  I hope so because I think in this case it deserves the award.

Art Direction

benjamin-button1Nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Duchess*, Revoluntionary Road

Who should win: I thought the Art Direction in Changeling was the best, though The Dark Knight was pretty cool too.

Who will win: A category where Slumdog was not nominated?  Chalk this one up to Button because when the two films go head to head, it’s going to lose out most times.

Makeup

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Who should win: No contest – the make-up in Button was just ridiculous.  Sure, Hellboy II was good, but we had seen it all in the first film.

Who will win: Button.  The make-up had to be seen to be believed – especially the old Cate Blanchett.

Visual Effects

buttonNominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Iron Man

Who should win: Another no contest in favour of Button.  As goods as the effects were in the two superhero films, the effects in Button were the best I’ve ever seen.  Freakishly amazing.

Who will win: See above.  Button all the way.  It cannot not win.

Costume Design

Nominees: Australia*, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Duchess*, Milk, Revoluntionary Road

Who should win: Only seen 3 of the 5 films, so not qualified.  Though from what I’ve seen of the other 2, The Duchess looked great.

Who will win: The Duchess had won the earlier awards so I look for the trend to continue.

Music (Original Score)

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance*, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E

Who should win: To be honest I can’t really remember much of the music in any of the films – except the Bollywood music in Slumdog.

Who will win: Slumdog, just because it’s the favourite to win.

Music (Original Song)

slumdogNominees: Slumdog Millionaire (twice), WALL-E

Who should win: Slumdog – one of the songs was pretty good.

Who will win: Slumdog – it has a 2 in 3 chance anyway.

Sound

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E

Who should win: The sound in The Dark Knight stood out for me amongst the nominees.  It was probably the Batcycle.

Who will win: Slumdog.

Sound Editing

the-dark-knightNominees: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E, Wanted

Who should win: Now this I remember pretty well, and The Dark Knight was phenomenal.

Who will win: The Dark Knight.  I hope it gets this one – and Slumdog can’t just win them all.

Animated Film

walleNominees: Bolt*, Kung Fu Panda, WALL-E

Who should win: Not a big fan of animated films but WALL-E wasn’t too bad.  Kung Fu Panda was pretty ordinary and Bolt (which I haven’t seen) didn’t look too crash hot either.

Who will win: WALL-E – pretty much a lock. 

Slumdog Millionaire wins DGA Award, eyes Best Picture Oscar

February 1, 2009 in Entertainment

dga

Despite the recent child exploitation controversy, Slumdog Millionaire has continued its march towards the 2009 Academy Awards with a win in the 61st Director’s Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film (to Danny Boyle).

This confirms that both the film and the director are favourites for the Best Picture and Best Director awards at the Oscars next month.

By the way, the other nominees were: David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) and Gus Van Sant (Milk).

Personally I thought it was great that Christopher Nolan finally got some recognition for his outstanding effort in The Dark Knight.

 
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