Posts Tagged ‘ben affleck’

You’ve heard the scuttlebutt by now, of course — Justice League is a mess; Henry Cavill’s face looks ridiculous thanks to the shooting-schedule-necessitated decision to “erase” his mustache by means of CGI; the 9th-inning additional re-shoots are easy to spot; the so-called “DCEU” is doomed thanks to this film’s poor box office performance.

Some of these points are legit (the flick is certainly uneven, tonally and structurally, Cavill’s MIA ‘stache is conspicuous in its absence, the re-shoots (and brighter, “happier” color grading) undertaken by “relief” director Joss Whedon don’t fit in with Zack Snyder’s material), while others are clearly over-stated (the sub-$100 million opening weekend has been largely off-set by a stronger than expected “hold” over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period), but at the end of the day, even after filtering out the noise (much of it generated by a certain competing comic-book-publisher-turned-movie-studio), the simple fact remains — this is obviously an up-and-down affair.

Which, believe it or not, is actually something of an achievement in and of itself — the forced departure of original director Snyder due to family tragedy definitely meant this production had to pull some kind of a rabbit out of its hat, and while Whedon (who in the end only gets a co-writer credit that he shares with Chris Terrio) clearly steered the ship into more “light-hearted” territory a la his fan-favorite Marvel Avengers flicks, it’s hard to tell how much of what he came up with originated in his own mind, and how much was dictated by WB execs who, let’s face it, were almost certain to part ways with Snyder anyway and were reportedly displeased with the “dark” tone of what he’d come up with prior to his exit.  Indeed, everything about the finished product that is Justice League feels focus-group-tested, specifically designed to appeal to as broad (and, some would argue, dumb) an audience as possible. Snyder’s visual ambition is on full display in the early going, but is completely absent by the time the credits roll; Hans Zimmer’s throbbing, rhythmic soundtrack work is gone in favor of  Danny Elfman’s nostalgia-heavy score; jokes (not all entirely successful) fly left and right; the body count is pretty damn low for a movie about an apocalyptic alien invasion. In short, this is a movie clearly trying to be as different from its predecessors, specifically Batman V. Superman : Dawn Of Justice, as possible. But that was never going to be an easy task with the same guy in the director’s chair.

Taking all that into account, then, the simple fact that Justice League succeeds in much of what it’s trying to do (like it or not) is pretty remarkable, and the DCEU definitely feels like it’s heading in a new, sunnier direction after this. The resurrection of Cavill’s Superman (achieved by means that can be described as “morally questionable” at best, seeing as how Ezra Miller’s Flash and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg actually dig his dead body out of the grave) seems as though it was designed to be the narrative catalyst for the change, and that’s all fine and dandy, but it sells Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman short (as does much much of the movie in general) given that the newly-formed team decides that she just can’t lead lead ’em even though she’s essentially carrying this fictitious “universe” on her back these days. That’s a pretty significant slap in the face right there.

Gadot’s not alone in getting the short shrift, though, by any means — supporting players J.K. Simmons, Amy Adams, Connie Nielsen, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Amber Heard, and Joe Morton all get stuck with roles that punch far beneath their respective weight classes — but by and large the main starts come out of this whole thing pretty well : Jason Momoa offers a decidedly revisionist, but altogether successful, take on Aquaman; Ben Affleck again gets the Bruce Wayne/Batman balance more or less exactly right (not so easy to do in this case since he’s saddled with a lot of decidedly-out-of-character “comic relief” material); Fisher proves to be an inspired choice to play Cyborg; Ezra Miller’s Flash starts out annoying but finishes up endearing; Gadot makes more than the most of a criminally-underwritten part. Hell, Cavill even finally appears to be enjoying this whole Superman gig. The principal cast, then, proves to be more than enough to carry this film through its not-inconsiderable story bumps, logical holes, shifting styles, and dodgy effects.

Not to mention its less-than-compelling villain. Like a lot of people, I thought we were going to get a full-on clash with the villains of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World here, but in the end all we get is Ciaran Hinds as a lackluster Steppenwolf accompanied by a horde of dully-realized Parademons. Honestly, if I want a bad guy this generic and uninspiring, I’ll see a Marvel movie.

And yet, this still ends up being a somewhat pleasing — uhmmmm — crowd-pleaser. The character designs are cool, the pacing is brisk enough that you don’t need to think about the film’s flaws until it’s over, the action sequences (particularly those obviously overseen by Snyder) are stirring and dynamic, the “fist-pump” quotient is reasonably high. Yes, it’s clear that DC is trying to “Marvel-ize” their movies from here on out, but given the absurd amount of critical and financial pressure on them (Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad both being successfully tarred with the “disappointment” label despite taking in about $900 million each at the worldwide box office, roughly triple their budgets) maybe “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” was the only option they were left with.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I realize I’m in the distinct minority in finding Snyder’s vision for these flicks to be inherently more compelling than your typical brain-dead blockbuster fare, but the people have apparently spoken, and while Justice League doesn’t quite hit all its marks — there’s no way it could —  for folks who felt the DCEU had gotten off on the wrong foot, it shows that WB is more than willing to adjust course “on the fly” in order to, as the Brits say, keep the punters happy. I’m a bit pessimistic going forward, to say the least, but there was enough of the DCEU that almost was on display here to have me leaving the theater reasonably happy. For now, at any rate.

12489243_1674589672821667_4430624289856009994_o

If there’s one thing that’s even more pathetic than the “Marvel Guy” vs. “DC Guy” debates that have been raging among comics fans for years, it’s seeing those same arguments steroid-pumped beyond comprehension now that four-color funnybooks have become the go-to “IP source” for multi-million-dollar Hollywood blockbusters. “Marvel movies are the best!” “You take that back, DC movies are the best!” — it’s all so mind-numbingly tedious.

Not to mention fundamentally dishonest. Just as neither publisher deserves to have anyone rooting for them given their sorry ethical histories and largely substandard product of recent vintage, the same is true for both cinematic universes — by and large, they’re entirely unexceptional on their best days, offensively mediocre on their worst. 2016 hasn’t bucked this trend in the least to date, with Marvel’s Captain America : Civil War being yet another bland two-and-a-half hour TV episode with lots of guest stars, and DC’s Batman V. Superman : Dawn Of Justice being a largely grim and self-serious effort that, while being nowhere near as lousy as its numerous critics allege, still doesn’t manage to rise above the level of being anything more than a visually interesting, painfully over-earnest slugfest. But damn if people haven’t succumbed to their most base tribal impulses and self-segregated into camps according to which celluloid super-hero brand they think is better.

The internet is the battlefield of choice for these less-than-noble unpaid warriors for the Dinsey and Warner media conglomerates, which I suppose is better than watching folks fight it out in the streets, but the gusto with which each camp promulgates its ultimately untenable position that either one or the other is all that good has given way to the sort of excesses that usually only emerge in the philosophical or political arenas, and there they can be can at least be understood to a degree (if not excused) given that the subjects under debate actually matter — which, I’m sorry, is hardly the case here. Whoever ultimately wins the battle for your super-hero dollar at the box office, be it Disney/Marvel or Warner Brothers/DC, isn’t going to put food on your table, educate your kids, stop global warming, eradicate nuclear weapons, curb police brutality, or block a mentally unstable sociopath from being elected president. They don’t care about you —- who why should you care about them?

maxresdefault

And yet, care about them people most certainly do — to a degree that can only be called alarming, at this point. For evidence of just how absurd it’s all become, look no further than the petition swirling around online to shut down Rotten Tomatoes, the aggregate-score movie review powerhouse website, simply because the appraisals pouring in for DC’s latest mega-blockbuster, Suicide Squad, are wretchedly poor on the whole. This will go nowhere, of course — but the fact that there’s even one person out there, never mind thousands, who would like to permanently silence opinions that run counter to their own is a troubling sign of the insanity that has gripped some of fandom’s more unfortunate quarters. Shit, it’s bad enough when folks try to drown out the originators of dissenting viewpoints, but RT is nothing more than a conveninet clearing-house for opinions that have already been expressed elsewhere. Do get a life, people.

Still, it’s not like Marvel fans can claim any particular moral superiority on this front, either. Earlier this year, when an entirely more reasonable petition emerged (on Rotten Tomatoes, no less!) asking for Disney to stop paying critics for phony positive reviews, it was met with howls of derision and racked up several million “dislikes” to only a few thousand signatures in its favor. The hard-core Marvel fans want their insular worldview protected at all costs every bit as much as their DC-loyalist counterparts, and they don’t even mind that supposedly “impartial” critics are getting paid to do the reinforcing.

And here’s where things get really frustrating for somebody who just wants to hate ’em all and be done with it like myself — idiot-ass anti-RT petitioning aside, the more rational DC fans do sort of have a point, because the boat-load of negative reviews that Suicide Squad is attracting to itself like flies on horse’s backside are proof-positive that plenty of critics are, in fact, completely in the tank for Dis/Mar.

suicide-squad-assembled

I don’t offer that opinion simply because they’re saying it’s bad, of course — all art is subjective and you can like or dislike something for any reason at all according to your whims or, preferably, logic — but because of why they’re saying it’s bad. The big knock on Batman V. Superman was, of course, that it was “too dark” and “no fun,” and while writer/director David Ayer has certainly concocted another dark flick with Suicide Squad, it’s all kinds of fun, riddled as it is throughout with gallows humor, intense action, memorable characters, superb performances, standout effects work, sharp and witty dialogue, and breakneck pacing that doesn’t give you too much time to think about its gaping plot holes. In short, it has almost everything the paid gatekeepers of public taste said the last DC flick was lacking  (and certainly everything you could ask for in a brainless summer “popcorn movie”)— and yet they still uniformly despise it. I may not have a whole lot of respect for DC/Warner as a corporate entity, but damn — I still know when the fix is in, ya know?

For those unfamiliar with the particulars here, they’re fairly basic : concerned by the threat posed by super-powered villains in world where Superman is now (presumed) dead,  cold-blooded Pentagon operative Amanda Waller (portrayed with Oscar-worthy calculating menace by Viola Davis) assembles a crack team to beat the baddies at their own game that’s composed entirely of — super-powered villains? Well, okay, who better to fight ’em than their own kind, I suppose, and she’s got herself a crackerjack crew here consisting of assassin-who-never-misses-a-mark Deadshot (Will Smith), gang-banger who can control fire El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie burglar extraordinaire ( I needn’t tell you what his weapon of choice is given his name) Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), scaly and amphibious monster of the sewers Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), honest-to-goodness immortal witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and the Joker’s even-crazier-than-he-is girlfriend, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). In the field, the misfit army is led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the most highly-decorated special forces operative in US military history, and his back is protected by Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a modern-day samurai warrioress with a soul-trapping supernatural blade. And every one of these already-unstable reluctant soldiers is corralled into service via a combination of manipulation of their weaknesses and/or personal blackmail — and a nano-tech bomb implanted into their skulls that will go off the second they break ranks. The best they’ll get out of the deal is ten years shaved off their respective prison sentences. The worst is they’ll end up dead and the government will deny ever sending them in the first place, given this is a strictly “off the books” operation. If you’re thinking it all kinda sounds like The Expendables with super-powers, you’re absolutely right.

And, like all the films in that venerable trilogy, this thing is an absolute blast of stupid, high-voltage hijinks from start to finish. The set-up is minimal, we get plunged right into the action when the Squad is tasked with cleaning up a mess of Waller’s own making )after one of her conscripts “goes rogue” and threatens to destroy and entire city on the way, of course, to world conquest), and it never lets up. Any flick that eschews conventional three-act story structure as blatantly as this one does is bound to be a bit wobbly when it comes to “Plotting 101” basics, but Ayer weaves in any number of brief-but-effective character “beats,” the team’s chemistry is fantastic on the whole (particularly the “caretaker/caretaken” relationship that forms between Deadshot and Harley), the threat they face is formidable enough to warrant serious concern, and everyone gets to contribute to the final victory. The acting ranges from good (Courtney, Kinnaman) to great (Davis, Smith, Robbie, Hernandez, Akinnuoye-Agbaje), there are fun and even essential cameos from Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash, Jared Leto’s highly-anticipated new iteration of The Joker (think Cesar Romero on a “cocktail” of PCP, Flay Agaric, and high-grade crystal meth) steals every scene he’s in,  and long-time comic book readers even get treated to a smattering of respectful “Easter Eggs,” such as when the gang rescues Waller from the “John F. Ostrander Federal Building” — a nod to the legendary scribe of most of the seminal Suicide Squad stories of the 1980s. In short, those last-second re-shoots that Warners ordered appear to have paid off as there’s literally something in here for everyone from seasoned fans to the most casual of “newbie” viewers,  and yet none of it feels forcibly shoe-horned, so expert is the execution. Yes, it’s packed to the gills and beyond with stuff both vital and less-than, but it all works. In short, this is the DC movie that everyone who says they don’t like DC movies has been asking for — heck, it even offers all these folks  nearly every specific thing they claim was missing in previous efforts.

suicide-squad-trailer-00

And yet, for all that, the knives are still out, and for all their millions, DC and Warner still can’t seem to catch a break. I won’t go so far as to say that I “feel sorry” for them — they’re a rich corporation and this movie, negative reviews and all, is still going to rake in a ton of cash and make them even richer. But I know a crock of shit when I see (and smell) one, and I would be remiss in my (mostly voluntary, it must be said) duties if I didn’t call out the well-organized “whisper campaign” against this film for exactly what it is. So fuck all the naysayers, it’s never been more clear who’s lining their pockets (free passes to the local preview screening of the next Marvel Studios flick and empty promises of a “potential set visit if you’re ever in the LA area” is usually the going rate to buy “major” critic or blogger, if you must know) — Suicide Squad is easily the most fun you’ll have at the movies this summer.

 

 

 

batman-vs-superman-poster

One thing about being paranoid — sometimes it can actually give you a little bit of, believe it or not, clarity.

Take, for instance, the advance reviews for Zack Snyder’s heavily-anticipated Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice that have been appearing online over the last few days. After literally years of hype, the movie itself is finally here and so, it would seem, is the moment of truth — not only for it, but for the entire nascent DC cinematic universe. Only truth seems to be pretty hard to come by, at least as far as this flick is concerned, among the self-appointed arbiters of public opinion working the digital plantation.

To be sure, the vast majority of critics out there seem to either mildly dislike or actively loathe it (for proof of this look no further than its current 32% score on Rotten Tomatoes), and most for the same nebulous-at-best reasons : it’s “too dark,” they say, or “not much fun” (complaints which seem to have resonated with the “suits” at Warner Brothers, who are already busily assuring the masses that the forthcoming Justice League film will have a “lighter tone” to it — despite the fact that it will be overseen by the same director). But a little bit of legwork shows that many — shit, maybe even most — of these same self-appointed judges of artistic merit (hey! Kinda like me!) were only last week lauding to high heaven the sadistically grim, pessimistic, joyless, 13-hour bloodbath that was season two of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, and a few months back were equally effusive in their praise of the just-as-dour (and frankly sexually, racially, and politically repugnant) Jessica Jones, another product of the so-called “House Of Ideas.” Dis/Mar have been called out on their “whisper campaigns” against competing “product” (and let’s face it, that’s what super-hero movies are) before — most notably those directed against studios that held the cinematic rights to their own characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men — and it doesn’t take any great genius to see that the same thing could easily be going on here. Film critics, by and large, are an even cheaper investment than politicians, and for the price of a free pass to your next blockbuster or, better yet, the promise of a set tour should they ever happen to be in Hollywood, most of ’em will say just about anything.

On the other side of the coin, though, a scant few minutes of “assignment prep” reveals that some of the (admittedly few) voices of support for Batman V Superman, particularly in the comics press, are coming from people who give positive write-ups to even the most blatantly and obviously lousy DC comics (in other words, most of them). I won’t name any names, but when I found that one of the most glowing reviews of BvS I came across online was written by someone who also had nothing but terrific things to say about the painfully creatively bankrupt Dark Knight III : The Master Race, I was hardly surprised.

And so that aforementioned paranoia of mine has, I think, paid off, since it allowed (or forced, take your pick) me to actually go into this movie today trusting no one’s opinion,  and with absolutely nothing in terms of expectations one way or another. I have to say — it felt kinda good. The “good vibes” didn’t last, though — but maybe that’s not necessarily such a bad thing?  Bear with me as I attempt to explain —

batman-v-superman-poster-ben-affleck

Plenty of movies can leave you feeling emotionally drained, psychologically confused, or even a scarred, blubbering wreck, but with Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice, Zack Snyder has crafted something that may very well be the first of its kind — a film that leaves you feeling physically exhausted. You have no real reason to be, of course, since all you’ve been doing for the previous two and a half hours is sitting on your ass, but seriously — this isn’t so much a movie as it is a full-scale sensory assault that just so happens to use celluloid as its weapon of choice. Snyder knocks you flat on the mat within the first few minutes and never lets you catch your breath, much less get up. There are points where one is tempted to do their best Roberto Duran impersonation and simply say “no mas,” but truth be told there isn’t even time for that. Between DP Larry Fong’s almost-overly-arresting visuals, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s insistent, percussive musical score, David Brenner’s breakneck-paced editing, and a script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer that clearly suffers from an acute case of ADD, the word we’re looking for here is relentless.

And yet, believe it or not, I say that with a certain degree of admiration. Snyder has always been about spectacle over substance, and in many ways is the perfect blockbuster director for the overly-media-saturated “information” (insert loud snorting sound here) age we live in. His film adaptations of 300 and Watchmen were essentially straight-up visual Cliff’s Notes translations of their comic book antecedents and the sophisticated sleight-of-hand he developed working on those projects to conceal the fact that he literally had nothing (or at least nothing new) up his sleeve actually serves him quite well here. That’s because the story for BvS is a paper-thin affair — although even at that there are still plot holes large and obvious enough to plow the new, muscled-up Batmobile through — that is, at its core, a confused mash-up of the classic Batman story The Dark Knight Returns and the 1990s-speculator-market-driven Superman storyline Doomsday (or The Death And Return Of Superman, if you prefer) that sees an older, more world-weary, decidedly more brutal Batman/Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck) conclude that Superman (Henry Cavill) is an existential threat to the human race that he’s going to end, until the two of them realize that they’re both, to one degree or another, being played for suckers by ruthless billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who resorts to “Plan B” — a standard-issue CGI monster, wouldn’t ya know — when his “Plan A” of getting ’em to kill each other off doesn’t work out. Fortunately, at the hour of our heroes’ greatest need, a new and unexpected ally turns up in the form of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and the day is saved — but at a decidedly heavy cost. There are a handful of nods thrown in the direction of purported “real-world issues” like, I dunno, what we’d do if there actually were a super-being, but they’re not examined with anything like genuine depth since Snyder and his screenwriters clearly have a firm opinion on the matter, anyway. And why not?  Said super-being is one of the stars of their movie, after all.

12363083_1033132330040956_8425434038535267224_o

That’s probably about as deep into “spoiler” territory as I care to get, but I will say this much: Snyder-bashers can take heart — the same shortcomings he’s exhibited in previous efforts are on full display here, as well. His actors are left largely to “do their own thing” while he concentrates on assembling his frenetic, hyper-stylized symphony for the eyes. With a veteran cast such as the one assembled for this production that’s really not much of a problem — Affleck doesn’t deliver a performance anywhere near as good as Michael Keaton’s definitive turns under the cowl from nearly 30 years ago (goddamn but I suddenly feel really old) but is probably the best Batman and Bruce Wayne we’ve seen since, Eisenberg is a frenzied whirlwind of tech-billionaire menace as Luthor (think of an even more ruthless, amoral, and mentally unbalanced version of his take on Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network),  Amy Adams radiates quiet confidence and capability as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons uses Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred as a jumping-off point for his “Q from James Bond” interpretation of the character, and solid pros like Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane turn in, well — sold pro work as Daily Planet editor Perry White and Martha Kent, respectively.  Both Scoot McNairy and, especially, Holly Hunter knock it out of the park in supporting roles clearly beneath their talents, though, and while that, sure, is a good thing on paper (and on screen), when each of them is so obviously better than the material they’re given, it shines a bit of a light on how lackluster that material actually is.

The two names missing from that laundry list of actors, though, offer stark evidence of both the pluses and minuses of Snyder’s “spectacle above all” approach : Henry Cavill just doesn’t seem to be asked to do much as Superman other than show up and look perfect and he responds accordingly, while Gal Gadot, whose directives were probably more or less the same, doesn’t just steal, but robs, beats, and runs away with her scant few minutes’ of screen time. It’s the most stark difference between “just doing your job” and “doing your job to the very best of your ability” that I’ve seen in recent memory. Bring on 2017’s Wonder Woman already! No rush on that Man Of Steel sequel, though — and funny enough, there’s not one currently planned, either.

08d16d4567f303c46f16a66041eca2f620352f4b

As I’m sure the previous paragraphs have no doubt ably demonstrated (and if not, my bad) Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice is a mixed bag. But at least it’s an exhilarating, breathtaking one. Nowhere near the trainwreck its probably-purchased detractors would have you believe and nowhere near the triumph its probably-purchased cheerleaders are fighting against the tide to convince you it is, at the end of the day it’s a brutally operatic demonstration of the best and worst of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking (particularly Zack Snyder’s version of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking) duking it out right in front of your pinned-open eyes : as cinema it leaves a lot to be desired, but as pure spectacle it’s hard to imagine how it can be topped.

 

MV5BMTk0MDQ3MzAzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzU1NzE3MjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_

I’m going to proceed with a fair degree of  caution as I write this, and you should probably do the same while reading it, because I’m about to level a pretty serious charge at a film I generally liked, and try to avoid too much by way of “spoilers” while doing so, even though it’s a pretty safe bet that almost anyone who’s interested in seeing David Fincher’s highly-acclaimed Gone Girl has probably already done so. Why the tip-toeing, then? Well —  call it a courtesy simply because, hey, not everyone has seen it yet, as evidenced by the fact that I just caught it at the local discount house (the Riverview in Minneapolis, for those interested in such details) tonight and the joynt was packed to the rafters.

First, the good : Fincher is certainly in top form stylistically here, and handles both his actors, and his admittedly combustible subject matter, with the deft touch of a skilled and schooled veteran. He doesn’t go overboard on the “flashy” stuff as he did in his generally failed take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and he shows a previously-undisclosed penchant for handling humorous material (parts of this film are actually very funny) with a degrees of subtlety and sympathy that you never would have guessed at based on his work on, say, Se7en or Zodiac (no offense to either of those modern crime masterpieces, but let’s face it — one thing they most assuredly lacked was any sort of comic relief, and for good reason). The “how he goes about his job” is most definitely not in question here — but the nature of said job certainly is.

As for the cast, Affleck has rarely (if ever) been better, Rosamund Pike delivers a performance that should finally get her on the Hollywood “A”-list, and some eyebrow-raising choices that Fincher has made, most notably in casting Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, pay off big-time, especially in Perry’s case, who proves once and for all that when he’s given good material — my polite way of saying “stuff he didn’t write himself” — he can really hit the mark.

But ya know what? For all that, I feel more than just a bit guilty for liking Gone Girl  as much as I did for one simple reason : it’s the most blatantly , nakedly, and unapologetically misogynistic flick to come down the Hollywood pipeline in ages and makes notoriously anti-woman fare like, say, any “slasher” horror franchise, seem positively  tame in comparison.

rs_560x415-140925120320-1024-gone-girl.ls.92514

Yeah, I know — I actually like most “slasher” flicks, so who am I to cast stones, right? The key distinction, though, is that there’s no pretense involved there — you know exactly what you’re getting into, and I admit : I’m capable of locking my conscience away in a strong box and going along for the ride when it comes to indulging my way-too-numerous-to-mention cinematic guilty pleasures. Gone Girl, on the other hand, is a film buried under layers of “importance” and “respectability” — the self-appointed arbiters have taste seemingly all judged it to be an “important” movie, one with a “message.” Unfortunately, that message is : women are deceitful, calculating shrews who will do anything to twist and shape a man into exactly what they want them to be and then trap them, via marriage and pregnancy, into mundane, emasculated existences that they never asked for and certainly don’t deserve. They’re heartless ball-busters, I tell ya, the lot of ’em.

“But wait,” I hear you say, “isn’t this movie all about a guy who may or may not have murdered his wife?” Sure it is — for a time. And here’s where that whole avoiding “spoilers” thing gets tricky : yes, for about the first half of the film, that’s definitely the “big question.” But once Fincher resolves the issue of whether or not Nick Dunne murdered his wife, Amy, the whole enterprise takes a massive 180 that’s definitely exciting from a purely narrative standpoint, but more than a bit nauseating from a psychological and sociological one. Sure, Nick’s a rotten husband — he’s inattentive, self-absorbed, and is even carrying on an affair with one of his students behind his wife’s back, but the clear editorial viewpoint taken Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the novel on which said screenplay is based) is — the bitch had it coming.

rosamundgonegirl_640px

 

Scene after scene (much of this films is told via flashbacks) shows Amy to be a calculated schemer, a petty and resentful nag, an ambitious social climber, a sociopathic puller on the heartstrings of several men, an inveterate liar, an accomplished con artist, and a remorseless manipulator. Sure, her old man’s a bastard, but as any good crisis manager will tell you, the best way to control the public’s perception of a situation is to “get out in front of the problem” early on, and then rebuild your image and credibility later. The phrase “own it” is generally PR shorthand for “pretend to take responsibility so people will buy your excuses later,” and that’s precisely what Fincher and Flynn do here : they show all of Nick’s flaws first, so that we can forgive him for being such a dickhead once we learn that his “long-suffering wife” is anything but. It provides for a nifty and unexpected plot twist, to be sure, but it’s all in service of a toxic as hell message.

Whether or not Nick is actually guilty is a revelation — shit, the revelation — I’m taking such pains (it hurts, dear friends, it hurts!) not to give away here, but  I can safely say this much : once the fact of his innocence or guilt has been established, he becomes the victim of the story all the way.

Gone-Girl-Ben-Affleck

To be honest, the only reason I think Gone Girl isn’t being more thoroughly raked over the coals for its obvious (and frankly sick) biases is because Flynn is a woman herself, but that’s no excuse — I don’t recall anyone giving anti-female crusaders like, say, Phylis Schlafly a free pass just because her gender matches the same one she’s trying her damndest to oppress, and by the time Flynn ends her story on a “maybe the two of them deserve (or deserved — again, don’t want to give anything too crucial away here) each other” note, the damage has been done. Women — particularly educated, self-actualized, strong-willed women like Amy — are dangerous. They exist only to slowly wear men  down and those magical days of early courtship? Guys, don’t buy it — she’s just buttering you up for the ultimate defeat that is domesticated family life.

In the world according to David Fincher and Gillian Flynn, anything a guy has to do in order to escape that is perfectly acceptable. It doesn’t even matter whether Nick Dunne killed his wife or not — she had been killing him for years, and  hey,if he did what everyone thinks he did, then he was just fighting back.  After all, men gotta do what men gotta do, right?

Hollywood's Best Offering Of 2009?

Hollywood's Best Offering Of 2009?

Here at TFG your humble host doesn’t venture into contemporary mainstream Hollywood studio fare too often, but once in awhile they manage to get something so right that one can’t help but take notice. Such is the case with “State Of Play,” the new film from director Kevin (“The Last King Of Scotland”) MacDonald based on Paul Abbott’s highly-regarded BBC miniseries of the same name.

As a fan of the original, I regarded this new “Americanized” version with the requisite amount of trepidation one would expect, but walked away from the film not only pleasantly surprised, but downright enthusiastic. While it’s true that the only thing British about this version is Helen Mirren, the film nonetheless retains the essential character of its source material and shows that an adaptation can remain faithful to its roots without becoming a soulless husk of overly-literal fealty a la Zack Synder’s “Watchmen.”

Russell Crowe stars as Cal McAffrey, a grizzled veteran reporter for the fictional Washington Globe newspaper who has literally seen and heard it all before a thousand times over, yet conveys the sense that, while certainly a cynic, he’s just too damn busy —and devoted to his craft—to become as bitter as he’s perhaps got reason to be. Crowe gets to the meat of what makes this guy tick from the word go and delivers a finely nuanced and refreshingly understated performance. Ben Affleck is his old college roommate who’s gone and gotten himself elected to Congress after a stint in the army during the first Gulf War and retains some sense, so it seems, of honor and duty to country, but when a young staffer with whom he’s been having an affair either commits suicide or is murdered, his squeaky-clean image comes crashing down and his struggle to spin events to his ultimate advantage is one of the cornerstones of the film. Affleck doesn’t do much beyond play a cardboard cut-out in a suit, but then that’s all he’s ever done, and in this film that’s really all that’s required of him.

Cal must walk a tightrope between covering the story and remaining true to his friend, and the underlying tension between doing what’s right as a journalist and what’s right as a human being is his central character dilemma—it also doesn’t help matters much that Cal is in love with his buddy’s wife (played by Robin Wright Penn), has an old-school hardnosed editor breathing down his neck(the aforementioned Mirren) while simultaneously putting hers on the line for him with the paper’s unseen new Murdoch-esque owners, and is saddled with shepherding along a young assistant working on the story who comes from the blogosphere and represents the new wave of instantaneous, poorly-researched “journalism” that’s fast taking over from Cal’s paper-and-ink dinosaur.

As the story plays out, we come to see that Affleck’s congressman is the pointman in a series of Capitol Hill investigations into a Blackwater-type private paramilitary corporation, and that all may not be what it seems with his deceased young paramour. It’s a heady mix of intrigue, scandal, and greed that  your viewer really can’t say too much more about without spilling the beans, suffice to say that just when you think you’ve got the thing figured out, new twists arise to leave you freshly bewildered all over again, and even devotees of the original, who know how it’s all going to end, will find themselves enraptured by the terse, economic way in which director MacDonald contracts six hours of material down to just over two without missing a beat and without selling short the richly-textured layers of plots and subplots that gained Abbott’s TV version such near-universal accolades. Besides, with some new issues brought into the fold such as the examination of the role of private mercenaries—err, “contractors”—in America’s military operations and the rise of emerging media at the expense of the old, there are plenty of intricacies here for audiences both old and new to consider.

The end result is a classic jourmalistic thriller in the style of “All The President’s Men,” one where even if you know the outcome already—and in fairness most of the audience won’t—getting there is such a such an enjoyable experience that you won’t want to miss the ride.