Sunday, October 5, 2014

BOOK VS MOVIE: Gone Girl

If there's one thing that's never completely perfect, it's marriage. Sure, the early years might seem perfect, but it's never that way as time wears on. Because after all, who are you really married to?

That's a theme that's been in countless works of fiction, the most recent entry being Gone Girl. It's easily one of the acidic depictions of marriage ever captured. Seriously, you thought George and Martha form Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? had a toxic union.

Gillian Flynn's novel is just dripping with hatred and contempt. Usually that's a trait for perhaps either a lone scene or even a character. But for a whole novel? That is a daring move. (A Jane Austen quote comes to mind: "I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.")

Apart from a few tweaks here and there (some scenes/minor characters removed, minor details altered), Flynn keeps the viciousness very much alive in David Fincher's adaptation. And as expected from any Fincher film, the cast is sublime. Everything about the film is so deliciously wicked, but nothing can top Flynn's script. (Oh, and Rosamund Pike's performance.)

But which of the two reigns supreme? The novel is very good (even though some might think otherwise) though Flynn manages to improve it for the film. But both are fine works in their own right, so choosing is a bit hard. (Thankfully, not too hard.)

What's worth checking out?: I'd go with the movie.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Trip to Italy

There's a scene in Michael Winterbottom's The Trip to Italy where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (once again playing "themselves") discuss the disadvantages of doing a second restaurant review column. Coogan argues that a second anything isn't as great as the first. (Brydon only replies "The Godfather Part II.") An ironic discussion considering The Trip to Italy is just as good (if not better than) the first film.

It's true that sequels aren't usually as great as the original film, but what makes The Trip to Italy stand out is that it has the first film's charm. (Most sequels are absent of that.) It's a small detail but one that works in the long run.

Now this may be because I'm a bit of a film and literature snob, but the various references and discussions throughout the film were a nice touch. Whether it's discussing Lord Byron's own trip to Italy or reminiscing over Italy-set films like Contempt or La Dolce Vita, it's simply a detail that those who admire those things will like. (Again, it could just be me.)

Here's a detail that's worth bringing up: in the first film, there was a subplot of Coogan trying to further his own career and improve his personal life. This time around, it's Brydon facing dilemmas. And much like Coogan's work in the first film, Brydon provides some good dramatic moments as well as comedic.

The Trip to Italy is one of the rare instances where the sequel improves on the original. It's charming, funny and, all in all, very entertaining. And is there a better way to take your mind off your troubles than by watching a comedy?

My Rating: ****

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

People are complicated. Everyone knows that. We all have our ups and downs, our good days and bad days. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond were right when they said nobody was perfect.

That's the running theme throughout Ned Benson's The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. Revolving around the strained marriage of a young couple, the film depicts how difficult life can become when something unexpected happens. (C'est la vie, after all.)

The film has an eclectic roster of supporting actors. Amongst them are the likes of Viola Davis, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert and Bill Hader. They all do well within their screentimes but Davis easily steal every scene she's in.

Now onto the leading actors. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, both of whom are fine actors, provide good performances in an otherwise decent film. Both have done their fair share of somber roles in the past and this film is no different. However, here there are simply the building blocks for what could have been great performances.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them works in some scenes but overall is lacking. (Oh, to have seen the original cut.) All of the actors do their best, but it doesn't feel like it's enough. Still the film does provide a nice glimpse into a certain kind of people. (All the lonely people, where do they all come from?/All the lonely people, where do they all belong?)

My Rating: ****

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Love Is Strange

Hollywood doesn't seem to understand how same-sex relationships should be depicted in films. Ever since Brokeback Mountain (and even before then), films revolving around such relationships are often lit in a melodramatic light. When will same-sex relationships be depicted the like any other relationship?

Thankfully, Ira Sachs' new film Love Is Strange has fulfilled that wish. The relationship depicted is not an angst-riddled one, not in the least. Instead, the bond between George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow) is much more subdued than what's usually depicted. (Not to mention they're adorable together.)

What's also worth mentioning about George and Ben is that their relationship isn't even the prime focus of the film. Instead, the film revolves around everyday life and those close to them. Again, this is a rarity amongst films with LGBT relationships but thanks to Sachs, he makes it work.

Molina and Lithgow, both fine actors, bring their roles to life. They're intimate without being too revealing. They're honest without being blunt. In short, they make their roles human.

Love Is Strange is a sweet little film. There's not a single false note at any point. To sum things up, this film is perhaps the most honest film you will see all year. (And yes, the R rating is stupid.)

My Rating: *****

The Skeleton Twins

It's practically a requirement for a comedian or comedienne at some point in their career to do a serious role. It's true. There have been a number of Saturday Night Live alumni that have dabbled in drama.

And the newest members of the "comedians doing drama" group are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig thanks to Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins. Now I haven't seen much of their work on Saturday Night Live, but what Hader and Wiig do here is amazing. (And I don't say that a lot, mind you.)

To be honest, a film focusing on the same material that The Skeleton Twins doesn't sound like the most appropriate for a comedy. (Then again, it's more of a drama with the occasional funny scene.) But when you have names like Hader and Wiig, all that matters is that the film works.

Now onto the performances. The film co-stars Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell, both of whom are very good in their roles. But The Skeleton Twins is Hader and Wiig's show. They have wonderful moments together, both funny and sad.

While it doesn't work in some scenes, The Skeleton Twins is still overall a very effective film. As mentioned many times throughout this review, Hader and Wiig are well worth the price of admission. Long story short, it's worth checking out.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Boyhood

If there's one thing that can be said about Richard Linklater, it's that the man has patience. After all, he made a trilogy over the span of nearly twenty years, so what else could he be capable of?

The answer is in the form of his new film Boyhood. Shot over a period of twelve years, the film revolves around a young boy as he experiences life around him. And it's not an always happy one either.

It's certainly a bold move on Linklater's part to make Boyhood for that period of time. Sure, there have been films set during that time frame but filmed? It's not commonplace for films, that's for certain.

As is often the case with a Linklater film, the acting is excellent. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are very good in their roles but the main highlights are certainly Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (the director's own daughter!). It's not very often you see consistent performances from young actors. (Usually such performances are...hollow.)

Boyhood is a one of a kind experience of a film. To repeat a cliche, it's something unlike any other film you've seen. Seriously, be sure to see it before the year's out.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Boy, Liam Neeson's career has certainly gone down a different path in recent years, hasn't it? He went from starring in dramas like Schindler's List and Kinsey to starring in action movies like Taken and The Grey. Certainly not the usual roles for an Irish actor in his sixties.

And he continues this trend with his role in Scott Frank's A Walk Among the Tombstones. In many aspects, the film doesn't really provide anything new. That said, however, it does have a few perks to it.

You know how most films of this nature, the main culprits are either drug dealers or member of the mafia? Surprisingly, A Walk Among the Tombstones has the former as supporting characters. (And they're not the vicious kind either.) You don't see that very often, that's for sure.

But does that make A Walk Among the Tombstones good? Well, in two words, not really. It starts off relatively promising before slipping into B-movie material (particularly how women are treated an depicted throughout the film). It's not schlock but it's not too far off from it.

Anyway, A Walk Among the Tombstones is solid in some scenes and flimsy in others. Neeson is good as are Dan Stevens and Boyd Holbrook. But if you want to see a good thriller from Frank, your best bet is in the form of The Lookout.

My Rating: ***1/2