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"Gone Girl" Review

Gillian Flynn's bestseller Gone Girl gets the typically icy and shiny treatment by David Fincher and it's almost impossible to properly review the movie without spoiling the movie. In fact, even mentioning this pretty much gives away the one big twist, but since most viewers will probably surmise what the main one is, let's see how far we can get before needing to stop.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are Nick and Amy Dunne. They met in New York City where they were magazine writers, though she also was the basis for her parents' passive-aggressive series of children's books called Amazing Amy. They met cute, fell in love, got married, lost their jobs in the recession and eventually moved back to his Missouri hometown to care for Nick's dying mother. After her passing, they're stuck in a McMansion with no spark in their marriage. Nick runs a bar - meta-named The Bar - with his twin sister Go (short for Margo, played tartly by Carrie Coon) while Amy, who is so NYC that she probably thinks of anything west of the Hudson as "Indian country", is clearly bored to death.

On the day of their 5th anniversary, Nick returns from his usual morning check-in with Go at The Bar to find the front door open, signs of a struggle and a smashed glass coffee table and Amy gone. He calls the cops and as time goes on he finds himself to be the prime suspect because the husband always does it, right? He stumbles into a couple of situations which make him look like a bounder and this doesn't even count the ex-student mistress ("Blurred Lines" video hottie/Victoria's Secret model Emily Ratajkowski) no one initially knows about. Eventually, despite the lack of a body, he is charged with Amy's murder. Except...


She ain't exactly dead. But you probably suspected that, didn't you? (We did, voicing our suspicion about 30 seconds before it's revealed.)


Since the back half of the movie is off-limits for recapping, it's to play What Works/What Doesn't. Rosamund Pike got an Oscar nomination for her performance (I'm writing this several weeks after viewing) and I don't think it's that exceptional. Sharon Stone was better in a similar Hitchcockian murder blonde role (hint, hint) and I didn't get much of an Oscar-worthy vibe off her.

Affleck is OK, but I kept thinking about what makes his performance work is what made the normally laughable Denise Richards so effective in Wild Things (beyond her big champagne-drenched boobs) - she was playing a dumb girl who thought she was smart and thus it seemed spot on, though more by fortunate accident than deliberate portrayal. Affleck gets bad-rapped for his acting a bit much (he was quite good as the doomed Superman George Reeves in the middling Hollywoodland), but I never felt he was being deliberate as Nick.

The rest of the cast is uniformly solid with, as you may've heard, Tyler Perry(?!?!?) totally killing it as a superstar defense attorney hired to flack for Nick. Seriously, he rules and it's time for him to hang up his Madea dress. Scoot McNairy and Neil Patrick Harris as a pair of Amy's exes, Kim Dickens as the lead detective, Patrick Fugit (the kid from Almost Famous all growed up!) as her "he's guilty" sidekick and Missy Pyle as Nancy Grace in all but name round out the cast.

I wasn't crazy about Fincher's too-dim compositions which leave faces in near shadow as they're primarily backlit and I don't think Flynn's script (adapting her own novel, which I started, but didn't get far into) nails the media circus and marital commentary angles they seemed to be going for. There are several big logic gaps and a scene towards the end begs us to scream, "Why haven't they bathed all the blood off?!?!?" The Honest Movie Trailer (posted below) describes it as a big Lifetime movie, but Fincher never gets the pot boiling enough. Trashy material needs some tawdry heat and Gone Girl never escapes the chilly waters of the Mississippi which flows by.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

If you've seen the movie (or don't care about tons of spoilers), watch this; it's a hoot:

"The Lego Movie" Blu-ray Review

When The Lego Movie rolled around a year ago, I dismissed it as just a cheap toy commercial for the kiddies. Then I started seeing reviews that said, no, it's not that but rather a sharp intelligent animated movie. My Culture Vultures co-host, Otto the Autopilot, said it was surprisingly good, so when it was a Black Friday deal for $4 on Blu-ray(!!) I figured I'd take a peek at what's happening in the brick yard. It turns out, the hype was right.

Chris Pratt voices Emmet Brickowski, an average Joe with no real creative impulses who accidentally becomes "The Special" by discovering the Piece of Resistance which can thwart the evil Lord Business' (Will Ferrell) scheme to use a super weapon called the "Kragle" (the reveal of what this is is a hoot) to freeze Legoland in place forever. Along with Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who Emmet is smitten by only to learn she's dating Batman (Will Arnett), and Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), they cross the various Lego realms on their quest with Emmet naturally screwing things up most of the way.

What makes The Lego Movie click is the frequently brainy and meta visual and verbal gags it slings. Executed with computer animation that deliberately mimics the limitations of the figures (if they had endless time, money and manpower, it could've been stop-motion animated) and little details like the fingerprints on the figures (hint, hint), it's a visual joy. But it's the occasionally randomish bits and cameos that blast buy (which I shant spoil lest I deprive you of the fun) that keep things kicking. Pay attention to the credits to see who Superman and Green Lantern are. Heh.

There's a reveal foreshadowed which I didn't expect to manifest and take so much time at the end, but it made me think of Toy Story 3 and the irony of an elaborately-made computer-animated movie which ultimately argues that the most fun you can have is to take physical toys - not video simulacrums - and imagine your own adventures with them beyond what the instructions direct.

What's most shocking about The Lego Movie is how it was totally snubbed for the Best Animated Feature category* despite being a smash hit and the relentless earworm anthem, "Everything Is Awesome," garnering a Best Song nom. Come on, Oscar!

The Blu-ray looks and sounds fine and the extras delve somewhat into the production aspects showing the filmmakers visiting Lego headquarters in Denmark and how every piece in the movie is based on a real-world equivalent; you could pretty much build anything that's shown onscreen.

Score: 8/10. Rent it.

* Review written 1/20/2015, after the Oscar nominations have been announced.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" Blu-ray Review

Back when Rise of the Planet of the Apes (or as I called it, Rise o' da World o' da Monkees) came out in 2011, I thought it was a better-than-expected reboot of the franchise powered by the performance captured performances of Andy Serkis and company driving Weta's realistic CGI monkeys which managed to gloss over the somewhat trite story and poor human casting. (Whomever thought James Franco would make a plausible scientist needs to go sit on the Group W bench with the person who though Liv Tyler would be a plausible doctor in The Incredible Hulk.)

Flaws aside, it made money so Hollywood did what Hollywood does when it sees the opportunity to milk a cash cow, it unsurprisingly made a sequel, San Francisco Monkey Planet, er, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but the real surprise is how the story makes as big a leap forward as the visual effects do. In a year where Transformers: Marky Mark Goes To China Edition managed to dumb-down the already brain dead fighting robot series, it was refreshing to see what could easily have been a one-sided "Apes GOOD! Humans BAD!" movie attempt complexity and subtlety while still delivering the money shot of a monkey on horseback dual-wielding machine guns.

It's 10 years after the events of Rise and as the pre-title montage explains, the human race has pretty much been killed off by the "simian flu" - aka the chemical that gave Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his pals advanced intelligence. The apes are living in the forests north of San Francisco and have built a community where they're teaching language and minding their own business. Of course, a damn dirty human (Kirk Acevedo) manages to screw things up when he encounters a couple of young chimps and shoots and wounds one of them.

Seems the humans, led by Jason Clark (the interrogator from Zero Dark Thirty, soon to be the next John Connor in Terminator Genisys), were in the neighborhood looking to start up a hydroelectric dam to get power flowing back the the human survivors encamped in the city. They've been using generators to keep the lights on, but fuel is running out and within a couple of weeks, they'll literally be back in the dark ages. Caesar orders the humans out of his woods, never to return, and then scram. Concerned that they may not take the hint, he saddles up the horses and leads a large group down into the city to make it clear to Clark that he means business and to stay away or it could lead to war.

The community's leader (Gary Oldman) is worried about the electricity running out and is prepared to arm up and go kill the apes, but allows Clark a few days to go back up and see if he can reason with Caesar to allow them to get the dam running, which he reluctantly agrees to. The humans and apes appear able to coexist, but naturally stupid human manages to botch things up badly and it all goes to hell.

What is unexpected, though, is that while there is some provocative action on the human side, there is some heavy palace intrigue happening in Apeville as Caesar's trusted lieutenant, Koba (Toby Kebbell, who is the new Doctor Doom in the Fantastic Four reboot), who was abused by medical testing in the lab, feels Caesar is too sympathetic to the humans because he was raised by one and wants to take a more aggressive tack with dealing with the human threat. (Read: Kill 'em all.) More monkeyshines ensue.

What Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does that's so unexpected is to provide shaded motivations for both sides of the man-ape divide. While there are a few obvious tropey moments of human dumbassery (mostly Acevedo's one-note jerk), it doesn't go for the lazy, cheap Dances With Wolves stance that white people, er, humans ruin everything in nature. Here, the apes can be just as intolerant a-holes as the humans typically are. Both sides just want to survive and Dawn is sympathetic to the humans' needs in a way Avatar couldn't be bothered to. Just as Magneto wasn't totally unjustified in his perspective, Koba's malice is understandable even as his methods cross the line.

While Dawn's human cast and story is superior to Rise's thin tale and caricatures, the real stars again are Serkis and Weta's stunningly realized apes. It's hard to believe the same ones and zeroes that made the hard, flat polygonal images of Tron were used to make a living, breathing army of monkeys who are rained on, muddy, bloody, scarred and weathered. Every so often a shot will look a little shiny, but 99% of the time you won't believe you're looking at a totally fake animal. The expressiveness of the performance capture is translated seamlessly; you feel what they feel.

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) takes over the director's chair and delivers the goods with clearly shot action sequences and good character beats. The production design is also a standout as the overgrown post-human world is richly rendered. Of course, Weta delivers the goods on the VFX side.

Technically, the Blu-ray looks wonderful with a rich, colorful, clear image and good sound reproduction. On the extras side, I haven't listened to the commentary track from Reeves, but the featurettes are pretty good with a good look at the technical details and challenges of obtaining performance capture in the woods of Vancouver in the rain with 3D cameras to turning a parking lot into the apes home and downtown New Orleans into San Francisco. (It could've been nerdier, but I'm always wanting more techy stuff.)

One quibble: Shouldn't the first movie have been Dawn with the second being Rise? Just makes more sense that way, amirite?

Score: 9/10. Buy it.

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