August 2015 Film Diary, Part 1

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Short thoughts on the other/newer movies I watched in August. There were a lot of good ones so I’ll split this month into two posts.   

Gone Girl (2014) was grim, grisly, perverse and nasty and I enjoyed every bit of it. I’m a big David Fincher fan and his adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel (she’s also the screenwriter) is stylish and unsettling entertainment. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike play Nick and Amy, a couple whose twisted relationship turns toxic. Amy vanishes and all clues point to Nick, who doesn’t help his case by hiding an affair and being his usual aloof and inappropriate self. Amy’s diary documents abuse and fear of Nick’s wrath, but we learn that Amy’s a depraved villainess whose spite and narcissism inspire acts that make Ellen Berent and Phyllis Dietrichson look sweet. Meticulous Amy gets thrown off her plan by thieving lowlifes and a psycho ex (Neil Patrick Harris), while Nick uses the media to sway public opinion and to send his wife a message. The couple are as much under investigation, as as much a mystery, as the “crimes.” Great acting from Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit as detectives (love Dickens’ blunt but brilliant Columbo-esque: “juuust crossing it off the list”), Carrie Coon as Nick’s loyal twin sister, Tyler Perry as a seasoned attorney and Missi Pyle and Sela Ward as TV hosts.

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Valkyrie (2008). Bryan Singer’s take on the assassination plot against Hitler and attempted coup orchestrated by a huge group of German Army officials. Tom Cruise plays the insurrectionist Colonel who suffers devastating injuries in Tunisia, joins and then spearheads the mission already underway. I liked it but it felt less epic than it should, or was aiming for. Cruise’s intensity is always watchable to me, there’s suspense even though you know they failed, it’s painful to see how close they came and what tiny details determined outcomes, and the cast of supporting actors is excellent. Maybe more on their characters and their motives might have added the needed tension and heart.

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Chef (2014). Rarely has food been photographed this beautifully (Big Night comes to mind); you’ll get hungry watching this. Chef Jon Favreau is devastated by Oliver Platt’s scathing review. Unable to cook what he wants under Dustin Hoffman’s management, Favreau quits and gets a food truck. With his son working the social media, Favreau and sous-chef (John Leguizamo) serve Cuban fare all the way from Florida to Cali, father and son get closer and chef regains his confidence. Corny feel-good story with lots of cute things: tweets shown over people’s heads, Leguizamo’s spot-on impersonation of Favreau’s ex Sofia Vergara, nice to see the warm relationship the exes have, and best of all, the life lessons Favreau teaches his son when he’s talking about sharp knives and burned sandwiches.

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The Drop (2014). Excellent Dennis Lehane adaptation of his story Animal Rescue. Gripping, slow-burning crime drama. Tom Hardy is fantastic as a mild mannered, quiet and seemingly slow-witted bartender at James Gandolfini’s joint, which serves as a mob exchange for dirty cash. Hardy’s adoption of an abused pit bull puppy involves him with his neighbour (Noomi Rapace) and her psycho ex, who may be a notorious murderer. Hardy is emotionally scarred and adorably awkward with Rapace, hates getting pulled into the drama, and gets rattled by a heist that has him pressured by a persistent detective and the Chechen mob. He just wants to tend bar, care for the puppy and guard his own secrets. Deceptively simple story that balances careful planning with random events, fate with choice, and on the big Super Bowl drop night, a couple characters will surprise you. This was Gandolfini’s last movie and he’s super as the bitter and resentful cousin Marv who missed his wiseguy glory days and would sell anybody to be a big player.

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Grand Piano (2013). Thriller about concert pianist Elijah Wood making a comeback after an epic failure years before. This time sniper John Cusack talks to him through an earpiece and threatens to kill him and his wife if he plays one wrong note. Talk about pressure and a great concept (I’m imagining someone like Dana Andrews directed by Hitchcock in the 50s version). It’s flawed, has an absurd motive and some ridiculous frantic races off the stage and back, but is crazy fun and makes great use of the concert hall’s innards.

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Lost Heroes (2014). Documentary about Canadian comic book history and contributions. Starts with the WW2 embargo of US comics which caused an explosion of domestic comics, talent and unique heroes like Nelvana of the Northern Lights (predating Wonder Woman), Iron Man (predating Marvel’s version and totally different), Freelance and many more. When restrictions lifted after the war, companies shut down, artists and writers worked in the States or changed careers. The big 70-80s milestones are here: Alpha Flight, Captain Canuck, John Byrne’s work and the best-known Canadian character, Wolverine, right up through Todd McFarlane, Darwyn Cooke, Stuart Immonen, Jeff Lemire, many more.

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Lucy (2014). Scarlett Johansson is forced to be a drug mule, and when the crystals enter her system from the bag sewn into her belly, she gains Godlike powers. She’s able to manipulate matter and life energy, telekinetically move anything, read and control the minds of others, span and survey all time and space. In other words, she becomes like the X-Men’s Jean Grey/Phoenix. I got a huge kick out of looking at it this way, and seeing writer/director Luc Besson put such powers on screen better than the X films ever did. But once he had this type of character and concept, I wish he’d done more with it. Loved the effects and pulpy action, but the story fizzles out. Lucy’s emotionally detached, gets her revenge, shares her discoveries with professor Morgan Freeman, then changes form, becoming both the operating system in Her and the man-eating black goop alien in Under the Skin.

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7 thoughts on “August 2015 Film Diary, Part 1”

  1. It’s weird to see modern film here. 🙂 I agree about Chef. That was a nice surprise. We weren’t too keen on Lucy. Gone Girl was enjoyable although pretty far from my favorite Fincher, although that’s a high bar.

    1. Re Lucy, even putting aside all the stuff I recognized from comics, which made it seem unoriginal, does zero with the concept. It could have been so much more and just ends up with cool FX and a big question mark.

      Agree on Gone Girl not being in my top few Finchers, (I should do a list, been thinking about his movies lately) riveting though, like watching a modernized Leave Her to Heaven. Amy is that scary.

      1. I think part of my Lucy reservations is that I take issue with the premise that people do not use their entire brain. Limitless had the same premise, but it is based on a myth and not real science.

        A Fincher list would be cool. I know we both love classic film. but sometimes it is fun to fast forward a few decades to modern times. 🙂

        1. Yes that’s a good point too, and would using “more brain” make us that detached?

          I tend to agree with people who see a lot of Hitchcock in Fincher plus I’m a sucker for crime and stylish pulp, all reasons I love his movies so much. So if I did a list there would loads of classic references 🙂

  2. Have not yet seen Chef, but it’s on the list. As for Valkyrie, I didn’t feel Tom Cruise was the best fit for the part. I thought he was good for the first 3/4 but, sadly, I didn’t think his performance during the crucial ending really worked for me.

    Recently saw Gone Girl, and really liked how the film was structured. So many plot twists I never expected! I wanted to be sympathetic to Ben Affleck’s character but, in the end, was satisfied he was stuck with the psycho Pike.

    1. yes Valkyrie looked good but just didn’t connect emotionally. Cruise’s determination fits, but like you say it deflates at the end and they rush through that too which didn’t help.

      Agree about Gone Girl, they belonged together. It unfolded masterfully and felt like two films. Interesting to have the novelist write the screenplay too.

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