10 Reasons why the critics have got it so wrong about Gone Girl

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Last night, to dust off the writing cobwebs formed after a long summer of football, festivals, house moves and holidays, the Framerates team went to the cinema to see the highly-anticipated, critically-acclaimed, David Fincher directed, adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel Gone Girl. With the screenplay also by Flynn, and a top cast that included Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, our hopes were high. Could Fincher channel his immense talent to create a chilling, intelligent thriller that echoed the intensity of Se7en and Zodiac?

In a word: no.

To our surprise, though, Gone Girl is seemingly a hit with many critics. Here are ten reasons why we feel that this critical reception is a case of mass “drinking the Fincher Kool Aid”.

This article contains spoilers.

1) A faithful, unfaithful adaptation

Despite a screenplay from Flynn herself, the tense, psychological, emotionally engaging tone that is captured in the book fails to fully translate onto the screen. Flynn has faithfully stuck to the narrative laid out in the novel however without the continuous stream of thought from the characters the movie feels shallow and the characters motivations and emotional arcs unclear. This is no more apparent than in the final act of the movie where we see Amy heartlessly slaughter Desi Collings. This played on screen like the calculated acts of a horror movie psychopath whereas in the novel, despite Amy’s deplorable moral compass, the reader understands that she is left with little choice.

2) Tone issues

Perhaps Fincher added flecks of humour throughout Gone Girl to provide comic relief, and to heighten the darkest moments of the movie. However, when characters are making the stupidest decisions left, right and centre, unfortunately, the humour intended as light relief was actually just a series of snorts at the movie’s ridiculousness. An absurd movie this was; “an absurdist thriller” this was not.

3) Pacing. Pacing. Pacing.

I felt I was watching three episodes of a TV programme that were cut together by an amateur YouTube editor. I do believe that the movie got caught somewhere between police procedural and Stepford Wives thriller, and there was such a blatant division between the three acts of the film, which resulted in an extremely jarring watch.

4) Direction

Was Fincher deliberately telling his cast to act on the same level throughout the film? Everything was so flat, it felt like the director was intentionally channeling Frank Underwood and the entire feel of House of Cards, but with a mixture of Prisoners thrown in for good measure. It was very disappointing that this didn’t feel like a Fincher movie, but maybe that will act in his favour when people finally remove their tongues from his arsehole.

5) Acting

A flat tone, jarring pacing and seemingly misguided direction in Gone Girl all results in some rather underwhelming performances from the leads. Pike as Amy does a good job as coming across as cold, sharp and intelligent but fails to fully round Amy as a character- arguably this is in large part down to the lack of distinction between the opposing Amy’s (see point 7 for more). Affleck has always been a firm favourite over here at Framerates.net as an actor, as well as a director, however the stoic nature of the character of Nick required a nuanced performance that depicted an internal dialogue, instead Affleck at times felt vacant and the emotional weight was lacking.

6) Team Amy vs Team Nick

Fincher himself has said that people will leave in either a “Team Amy” or “Team Nick” camp. If the director has acknowledged that fact, there are clearly flaws in the way his characters are represented. One can claim “misogyny” towards Amy, or “men’s rights” at Nick, until they’re blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is that all of the above factors have contributed to a film that leads us beautifully into Point 7.

7) Failing to define the character roles.

The single most important element of the movie to get right was the clear and apparent differences between the two Amys. ‘Cool girl’ Amy, the Amy created for Nick, and the real Amy. Fincher makes no distinction between the two opposing personalities. Without this we don’t understand Nick for falling in love with Amy and equally we don’t empathise with Amy and the façade she is forced to display. Instead of creating a compelling insight into two flawed characters, who we both empathise with and despise, or making a coherent point about gender roles and feminism, the movie leaves us with two people who we neither understand very much and who represent very little.

8) It looks beautiful, but what is below the surface?

When you look at a movie like Zodiac, you can literally peel back the nuanced layers within the frame, the acting, the cinematography and plot. In Gone Girl, because the characters were so unrelatable, it was hard to get fully immersed into the world that Fincher is normally so great at building. Gone Girl left me with a similar feeling as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which is a movie referenced in another 10 things post from last year.

9) No one shags in a library after 3 years of a relationship

After 1095 days together, you’re lucky if you get your genitals get but a fleeting glance when you’re out with your other half, let alone being balls deep in a dark corner of a public library. I will suspend my disbelief for many things, but this is not one of them.

10) It’s just really not as good as people are claiming

All-in-all, the film was over two and a half hours long and after half an hour I was feeling frustrated and bored. The word flat has been used many times in this article to describe elements of this film and that’s exactly what the overall experience left me feeling. There was no excitement, intrigue or desire for any of the characters to succeed in anyway. Unlike Se7en, Zodiac or Fight Club, which are intense, thrilling and heaped with personality, Gone Girl is as grey as the colour palette it displays.

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140 words: Side Effects

Side-Effects-Final-UKQuad1A young, depressed woman has her life collapse around her when the drugs she was prescribed by her psychiatrist have some extremely unwanted side effects.

Soderbergh’s self-proclaimed ‘last movie’, Side Effects owes a large debt to the classic thrillers of the 1950s, and almost glorifies itself as being Hitchcockian in style and tone. A winding narrative that initially delivers some intriguing twists and turns, unfortunately ends up in contrived places.

Performances were solid from Law and Mara, as psychiatrist and patient, however Tatum was redundant and Zeta Jones, Law’s psychiatrist friend, overacted her way throughout. Fortunately the cinematography and score kept the movie compelling, regardless of its flaws.

Side Effects was a decent enough watch, especially for free on a transatlantic flight, however it won’t blow any minds. You’re honestly better off searching out some Hollywood Era Hitchcock.

PSA, end of word count: Apologies for dropoff of content, Lauren is on holiday and I have moved to San Francisco for 2 months. We promise to get back on top of things ASAP!

Ernie’s 10 overlooked genre picks

Lauren is away enjoying her honeymoon (wooo), which means I’m holding fort for the week! So, without further ado…

10 overlooked films. 10 genres. None of these movies are mentioned in previous lists (but two I have reviewed: cheating, right?)!

1) Action: Tropa de Elite

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City of God is often lauded as the greatest Brazilian film of recent years, and deservedly so. That said, Tropa de Elite pushes it a close second, in my opinion. The sweaty, vibrant Rio is once again under the spotlight, but this time the focus is a team of expert urban police named the BOPE: Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais. It’s violent, funny, poignant and just fucking great. The sequel is as good as the original, and the final film in the trilogy is rumoured to be in production! Excelente!

2) Animation: Sword in the Stone

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As a child, there were few things as exciting and magical as watching the song Higitus Figitus (all the shrinking household objects!) in Sword in the Stone. Merlin was my favourite Disney character after Genie from Aladdin, and if you haven’t seen this 1963 classic then where have you been?

3) Comedy: Kenny

The proper use of sanitation equipment, as explained by Kenny (Shane Jacobson).
“There’s a smell in there that will out-last religion.”

A charming, sincere and heartwarming mockumentary about an Australian shit-shoveller called Kenny. The writing, although being very culturally-specific to Australia, delivers a universally-relevant protagonist; Kenny has a slight speech impediment but a huge heart. Much like Homer Simpson, Kenny is one of those characters you wish was a real person. It’s an utter success as a comedy, too, with some laugh-out-loud scenes milestoning the few touching moments throughout the narrative. You must see this movie; it doesn’t have 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for nothing.

4) Documentary: Restrepo

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We love documentaries here on Frame Rates (Blackfish, McCullin, The Summit, Searching for Sugar Man, The Cove), and Restrepo is no exception to this rule. Focused on a platoon of US soldiers, Restrepo is a visceral study on the effects of modern warfare; losing friends, winning battles and leaving loved ones are elements put under the microscope here. It’s harrowing, hard to watch but also exhilarating (if a bit “‘Murica, baby”, and is one of the more honest documents about the War on Terror.

5) Drama: The Hunt

The Hunt (Jagten) film still
Click for full thoughts

6) Horror: Excision

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Click for full thoughts

7) Sci-Fi: Westworld

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Click click click click click. That is the sound of the killer cowboy hunting you. This is not a case of mistaken identity, but rather a case of machines going wrong. Westworld is a dystopian take on future theme parks, in which you can take vacations in bygone day; drinking in saloon bars, shagging disease-ridden hookers and gallivanting around the Wild West. That is until the wiring in one of the machines goes wrong and you are left fighting for your life! 1970s sci-fi at its depressing, paranoid best.

8) Thriller: Leon

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I don’t think this is that overlooked, however it is one of my all-time genre favourites. What starts life as a lone wolf thriller quickly falls into buddy territory, however the buddies are a middle-aged Jean Reno and a young Natalie Portman. Luc Besson’s best movie, alongside The Fifth Element, is a joy to watch, has some laughs juxtaposed with some epic violence and a turn from Gary Oldman that will require you make change of underwear upon finishing the movie.

9) War: Brotherhood

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It’s not cool to cry at movies, right? Well, regardless of the fact I don’t think that’s true at all, fifteen year old me was extremely shocked when salty stuff started coming out of his eye sockets after watching Brotherhood. A story about two brothers that find themselves on opposite sides of the Korean conflict, Taegukgi is hearthbreaking. I haven’t actually seen this in years, but I remember being absolutely astounded by the movie, and this is a reminder to myself to hunt this down and have a second viewing.

10) Western: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

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Gotta be honest; I haven’t seen too many Westerns. Rango, 3:10 to Yuma, The Searchers, TGTBATU and True Grit come to mind, however what Andrew Dominik has achieved in Jessie James is nothing short of phenomenal. It’s like watching a series of perfectly-framed photographs, and the script is alright as well! Sam Rockwell, Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are brilliant, and even the often monotone Jeremy Renner pulls out all the stocks for this movie! It’s very slow and requires your undivided attention, but if you are in the right mood this will wash over you wonderfully.

Les diaboliques

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It’s the Hitchcock movie that never was.

Les diaboliques tells a tale of love, lust, oppression, revenge and loyalty. Set in a boys boarding school in post-war France, the story centres around the wife of an oppresive headmaster, the headmaster’s mistress, and a conspiracy to commit murder. No longer willing to receive the physical and mental abuse from her husband, Christina enlists the help of old friend, Nicole, in a plot to kill her husband, Michel, and make it look like suicide. After the dastardly act has been committed, things almost instantly take a turn for the worse for Christina, and her life quickly spirals into a living nightmare.

Crash, bang, wallop.

When a film moves this fast it’s easy to understand why keeping track of all the individual story elements becomes so difficult. This may sound like a derision, however it’s quite the opposite; Les diaboliques may be one of the most complete cinematic experiences in the history of the medium. It has everything you could want from a murder thriller; suspense, twists, fantastically-drawn characters and with realistic motivations, an exciting final act and some decent allegory/subtext. It’s common knowledge that Hitchcock, the “Master of Suspense”, actually tried to purchase the rights to the movie but was pipped at the final hurdle by the French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, and it is testament to the French director’s vision that the film is a resounding success.

The sinew that tightly binds this story together is the triangular relationship between Christina, Nicole (Papa?) and Michel. There is an odd, mutual respect between the married couple, however she hates him regardless. He’s the ultimate patriarch and seems to represent archaic, sexist attitudes towards women. The disregard he shows to the females in the movie ultimately results in the heinous plot to end his life. He also strikes me as the allegorical representation of Nazi regime France, with his attitudes and dialogue; “What is this Bolshevism?” he barks at the children as he orders them around. He rules that school with an iron fist.

All of the scenes of murderous preparation pay off in some way as we gallivant deeper into the plot. Characters are introduced, some with fantastic cynicism and humour, which juxtaposes the horrific imagery and almost supernatural narrative nuances in the third act. It becomes easy to emotionally invest in the characters, even the lesser ones, and the way the story is constructed means we are always guessing where it will end up; the audience is one step behind and it feels damn good to be there because you can play detective.

Another thing that works so well in Les diaboliques is how the characters are blocked on set. Classic movies have a richer repertoire of camera movements, yet a much quieter way of editing shots together. This feels much more compelling because we aren’t made aware of the filmic techniques as easily; it’s the best Fourth Wall and helps enrich the story and characters.

The words timeless and classic are often bestowed on movies that still divide critical and popular opinion; here is the only rotten review on RT…written by ‘Variety staff’ aka King of the Plebs. Les diaboliques, despite being nearly 60 years old and subtitled in French (which is a problem for some people), is definitely a proud owner of the phrase “timeless classic”. It’s flawless storytelling, looks fantastic and has some twists and turns that have been emulated many a time yet not half as well. I would gladly watch this again today, and I strongly recommend any fan of film to get hold of this movie. If we did ratings here it would get the highest possible. SEE IT!

The Purge

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The Purge has an interesting, if a bit really ridiculous, premise. Set in 2022, on one night a year, America’s New Founding Fathers have granted its citizens 12 hours to ‘purge their sins’. They can enact their most depraved and twisted desires, such as murder (politicians and certain weapons are out of bounds), without feeling the weight of the law on their shoulders; it’s good for the national psyche don’t you know? Police, ambulance and fire services lock their doors, as do the residents of the upper echelons of the American elite; they shut out the horrific events occurring outside, yet watch with glee from their 50″ TVs. The poor become the most vulnerable, as gangs of affluent ‘hunters’ grab their semi-automatics and wage bloody carnage on the most defenceless members of society. It’s 12 hours of dystopia I tell you!

As good as this all sounds for the expectant horror fans among us, The Purge absolutely fails to deliver any tension, resolution or continuity within the story, or a set of sympathetic, intelligent characters. Ethan Hawke, his wife, their slutty daughter and geeky son live in an intentional parody of Middle Class America; their house might as well be on the set of Desperate Housewives or Cougar Town. And in spite of some really great character development at the beginning, when the alarm sounds for Purge hour, this film loses all hope and actually lost the entire audience in my screening.

The Purge has an allegory that suggests the 1% mentality, the closed-gate, rich communities and the gulf between the have-all and the have-none are inexplicably linked with America’s violent future, while mirroring the present. Nevertheless, this is completely rammed in your face, replete with overt, problematic race and class politics (why does the one homeless guy have to be black?) and any allegory eventually becomes secondary to the unadventurous gore and mindless acts of brutality. There is one stand-out scene which was grimace-inducing, but that was the only time the movie garnered any reaction from anyone in my screening.

Movies like The Strangers, Straw Dogs and Funny Games, although they all have their problems, at least make you feel violated as their plots get more intense and depraved, even if the endings are…abrupt. The Purge gets scared of its own premise and becomes an average action film and loses its way; I didn’t feel emotionally invested in the weak horror elements or thrilled by the action. There are huge inconsistencies in plot, character motivations (can everyone just stick together please?) and the direction and message just became a sloppy mess. When the ‘crazy’ group of 1% youth turn up at the family’s house – “We don’t want to hurt our own” they proclaim – they clearly aren’t normal human beings; the main guy, Rhys Wakefield, is a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Frankie Howard. It’s a terrible, clichéd characterisation and one that doesn’t make sense with the entire premise of the movie; the idea is that on one night of the year, the normal citizens of the States can go on killing sprees. It would have been way more effective if these normal people didn’t then turn into faux-possessed weirdos that looked straight out of The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

As the film hits fifth gear, it becomes even more frustrating. There are two half-arsed twists that are painfully obvious and the ending is just non-existent. Maybe the movie falls victim to its premise, because, in the direction it went, it became impossible to have a decent resolution to the plot, however that is not an excuse. It says a lot about a movie when cinema-goers all huff, puff and tell your movie to fuck off as they leave. I didn’t hear a good word about it from anyone and the screening was packed.

I revel in a decent exploitation action flick – Law Abiding Citizen. And I find a horror movie that delivers twisted, brutal imagery that makes you feel violated quite exhilarating – Martyrs. What I don’t love is a smorgasbord of plot holes; confused, boring second acts; stupid, unsympathetic characters; predictable linearity; and films that don’t have an ending – The Purge.

Hell

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Hell, which means ‘bright’ in German, is a German-Swiss co-production, produced by Roland Emmerich, that tells a tale of near future Earth where humans have to fight for survival after an epic rise in global temperature. Hell‘s dusty, arid climate is traversed by a group of young survivors, whose ultimate aim is to get to the higher ground of the Swiss Alps. On the way they have to overcome various obstacles provided by nature, the terrain or by something more familiar.

Don’t you just love it when you make the right choice on Netflix? It’s one of life’s little victories. I had no idea this movie even existed, which may go some stretch in explaining why I enjoyed it so much. My expectations were non-existent, but that’s definitely not the only reason why it was a hit for me.

Hell has some of the most beautiful cinematography I can think of in recent memory. This low budget fare looks stunning, and every shot and scene appears to be produced within an inch of its life, but it doesn’t look contrived. The production design works in synergy with the cinematography, and the post-apocalypse countryside, as well the heat of the sun, become a character themselves within the movie. These elements all added to the believability of the scenario, which really enabled me to get on board with the characters and their plight. The movie was also nominated for best sound design and won best score at The German Film Awards, and it is easy to understand why.

The first two acts of this movie are gripping. We see new characters brought into the protagonists’ stories, as well as little scenes of character development and tone setting. They have really built up this hot world and thought how to survive in it; water is obviously a life-giver, and they present some clever ways of sourcing it. It’s extremely bleak throughout, but there are some brilliant little moments of humour. The Alps become secondary once we hit the third act, as it becomes a tale of survival against increasingly lowering odds, and while it could be argued Hell is very similar to another European horror film of the last 5 years (if you’ve seen it, you will know), it’s not overly gory and is far more tense and believable. Hell seems to have all the dressings of torture porn, but it plays with audience expectations by avoiding anything overtly gory, and uses smarts to grip the audience rather than blood. The ending is left open to interpretation, but if anyone has seen it we can delve into spoilers on Twitter!

Hell is a brooding, dark and tense survival thriller. It features some awe-inspiring cinematography, fantastic acting and regardless of the plot being very similar to another recent movie, Hell is still its own beast. It’s also Thomas Fehlbaum’s debut, which is a really depressing fact for any aspiring film-makers.

The Grey

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‘Look around, this is Fucked City: population 5 and dwindling.’

The Grey, a movie that, if I recall correctly, was marketed in the UK as ‘Taken with wolves’, delivered a strikingly different cinematic experience to the one I was expecting. A tale of survival that I thought was going to be balls-out action from first to last, ended up in territory that was unforeseen and rather moving.

The star of the show in The Grey is Liam Neeson as Ottoway, an emotionally-scarred, yet extremely skilled oil worker. In a freak accident, a plane carrying Neeson and a team of drunken, rag-tag oil workers, crashes in the remote Alaskan snow during a heavy storm. Stranded, and with little by way of supplies, the survivors pit their wits against nature and the elements, and their outlook for survival becomes ever-increasingly bleak.

Firstly, thank you filmmakers for having Neeson as an Irish man. His American accent is terrible and a barrier for an emotional connection between the audience and his character. He really gets enveloped in Ottoway’s story and the subject matter is contextually relevant if you know his personal life; it’s very moving in that respect. Neeson’s chemistry with the rest of the cast is fantastic, and despite the movie having stereotypical, cardboard cutout characters, their respective arcs are mainly all defined and satisfying.

The cinematographer, Masanobu Takayanagi (Silver Linings Playbook, Warrior), has succeeded in making their plight look an impossible task to survive. It’s a very cold movie and the colour palettes of pastel blues, whites, greys and greens made the temperature jump out of the screen. There is also a grainy, noisy quality to the footage and had a definite ‘shot on film stock’ aesthetic which was interesting to look at. If this was shot digitally it would not have looked half as good. It is also edited together compellingly with an excellent execution of flashbacks and bumps back into reality. There are a number of set pieces that really worked and were handled exceptionally, especially a few of the deaths, one being particularly heartbreaking.

There is something about this story that really affected me, which maybe why I feel the way I do about the film. Last week I lost a family member, and The Grey asks some very existential questions about what it means to have the will to survive, the acceptance of death but also what is beyond our time on this planet; ‘Does it wash over you, death?’ is one of the lines in a script that, for the most part, delivers some great ideas to take away from the movie. You have to engage your brain as well as your heart during this film, which was completely unexpected. There is also the consideration of what it means to be ‘manly’ running throughout the narrative, with one particular character arc a direct correlation of this theme.

It’s not, however, without its ropiness; the script was a somewhat cliched at points, and it does dawdle into action movie territory in the second and third acts, but this was not for a prolonged period. The CGI wolves were hit-and-miss, but again, it didn’t detract from the story or make the emotional connection with the characters any less powerful.

The Grey asks many different questions of its audience and is a movie that will stay with you beyond its runtime. It was an entirely different experience to the one I was expecting, and I am annoyed I turned my nose up at it when it was in theatres because it would have looked stunning.

Trance

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Danny Boyle is rightfully mentioned in the same breath as legendary British directors David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock and Ken Loach. After winning an Oscar in 2008 with Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle took on two projects at the same time; the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony and his newest feature film release, Trance.

PSA: This is a no spoilers review, because that would be unfair for you all!

Trance is a crime thriller in which James McAvoy finds himself at the mercy of a group of criminals after a bungled painting theft. The movie has a marshmallow-like structure, insofar as it deals with time, memory and dream states but in a very sticky, challenging-to-navigate manner.

If you were to make a breakfast milkshake of the best parts of all Boyle’s movies – camerawork, cinematography and colour of Slumdog, music of The Beach, screenplay and character dynamics of Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, and shocking, visceral elements of 28 Days Later – you would have the thirst-quenching wonderfulness that is Trance. Firstly, this movie has the best opening twenty minutes of any film this decade. It has to be seen to be believed but it is electrically-paced. If David Lynch can be considered an auteur of sound, then Boyle is an auteur of music; he knows exactly the right tracks to use at the right time and is bang on trend. We get McAvoy’s character set up, the criminals introduced and the disequilibrium for the protagonist started, all set to a pounding soundtrack that has become so synonymous with Boyle. All of this prologues the rest of the movie in a wonderful way and goosebumps were even sprouted on one occasion!

Once our hypnotist (Rosarios Dawson) is introduced (which you will see in the trailer), it does get a little expositiony, and there was a small period in which it felt like the plot had to be described because we were falling down the rabbit hole. This was only a short occurrence, and the tone of the film, its humour, shocks and spirit shone throughout the runtime. That’s another wonderful thing about Trance. Despite all of the shocks (of which there are many), there was a thread of humour woven into the narrative and the character arcs for McAvoy and Cassel were extremely detailed and worked in harmony perfectly. It shouldn’t be dwelt on but Rosario Dawson delivers more than one can imagine in her role as the hypnotist.

The movie is shot in London and seems to carry on a trend of making England’s capital look beautiful. We think Creevy (Welcome to the Punch) would have begged, borrowed and stolen to make a film as rich in narrative content while being a pleasure to watch. The only true thing that one could take exception to in Trance is when McAvoy uses an iPhone app in an iPad, which NO ONE should do, ever.

*end tongue-in-cheek geek rant*

Overall, Trance was such a pleasure to watch at the cinema. The colour palette, camera angles and cinematography, music, and filmic spirit need to be seen/heard on a big screen and were all contributors to the audience leaving with massive smiles on their faces. That’s not to say that the third act doesn’t reach some dark places, but Boyle is the perfect person at the helm to guide you on the ride. Avoid all spoilers and go into it fresh. If someone starts telling you details of the film, put your fingers in your ears and run away. You do not want to ruin this movie for yourself.