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A Good Marriage should not be disjointed

Tonight turned into a viewing party for a messy Stephen King film adaptation… so 1990s. I feel like it has been many years since a King film appeared in the mainstream. With this film, A Good Marriage, it has arrived at the local Cinema Detroit and through iTunes/VOD, so I chose the latter option.

It’s very disappointing to see noted actors Joan Allen (whom I once met in person) and Anthony LaPaglia slumming it here. Allen, who has been seen too infrequently onscreen in recent years, stars as Darcy, a New England housewife who suddenly suspects her husband (LaPaglia) has a demonic streak. The film keeps the story very simple, as Darcy faces several demonic visions suggesting to her that something is amiss, before eventually making a big decision related to those visions following a family event.

There’s little character development and the film doesn’t rise above a TV movie feel to the whole production, with a focus on tight interiors and clumsy storytelling as scenes move awkwardly from one to the next with little clarity. Allen is paired with character actor Stephen Lang (Avatar and numerous other features) for a sequence late in the game, and the sudden intensity in their scenes suggests a different movie entirely.

I was recently reminded of LaPaglia’s sterling work in Lantana, one of my favorite films of the early 2000s, which shares some thematic similarity with the current Gone Girl, but the actor doesn’t register much here aside from a few intense glances and suggestions of offscreen activities. Allen capably carries the film, but is so one-note with her activities and character agenda, consisting of many different variations of screaming and anxiety, that it’s a huge letdown from her established work in earlier films such as The Ice Storm, The Crucible, The Contender and two of the Bourne films.

Allen recently returned to her theatrical roots at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In spite of mixed reviews, I would have liked to have seen that.

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Gone Girl hits a Home Run

I was very impressed with the new release Gone Girl, which I caught today at Royal Oak’s Emagine complex alongside a nearly sold out crowd.

It is difficult to construct a review around films that rely on plot surprises, and this one includes multiple twists and turns. So I will try to single out a few notable elements from the movie as a whole.

Ben Affleck shows he’s fully back in business from his comeback with a commanding, persuasive performance. The actor doesn’t shy from testing the viewer’s allegiances at multiple junctures in the story, and carries the film on his shoulders with a new maturity and complexity. He benefits from multiple scene partners and story angles throughout the movie, not only with lead co-star Rosamund Pike but also actresses Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens, who I was not familiar with.

Rosamund Pike has seemingly flown under the US radar for quite awhile; I remember seeing her featured in the James Bond film Die Another Day way back in 2002. Here she gets to show everything her acting skills are made of, in a multifaceted role that requires sex appeal, stature, cunning and dexterity in multiple ways. Pike passes the test and also shifts the viewer’s allegiances throughout the story, creating an intense and highly memorable 360 degree character portrait.

The entire supporting cast seemed to be carefully chosen to bring something unique to the screen and how the story is told. The aforementioned Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens do excellent work, with Coon and Affleck getting multiple scenes to play an intriguing sibling dynamic. Popular filmmaker Tyler Perry appears in a serious role, and seems to be having fun with the experience, bringing a sharp mix of focus and brevity to his scenes. Neil Patrick Harris makes a rare screen appearance and also gets to flex his dramatic muscles.

Director David Fincher continues his mastery of film with this release. He also offers small nods to several of his previous projects (IMO) or a clear evidence of evolving cinematic vision. Fincher again invited Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to compose the film’s score, but this time, I felt that the two composers were not as on the ball as their Academy Award winning work in The Social Network. Their score is distractingly under tracked for multiple two person scenes which might have played more effectively without accompaniment. It still bears their unique industrial sound, and there are segments that stand out.

I detected a possible satirical element to some segments of the film, and found it unusual that as the story went along, it became a commentary on 2014 media obsessions. Not sure if that was a directorial or writer intention.

Author Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel here, and where she purposefully constructed the film version in a different way than how the story unfolds in the novel, it makes me intrigued to read it. Her dialogue moves the film along at a brisk pace, though Fincher might bring a more kinetic orientation than another filmmaker. However, Flynn shows her expertise in stacking and switching the narrative, which (I speak from experience) requires careful planning and sharp focus.

Whether or not to embrace the “Life of Crime”

I returned to Birmingham 8 again this evening to catch Life of Crime, in a deliberate choice to see the new Elmore Leonard adaptation right in the author’s own backyard. It’s a shame Leonard did not live to see this film through to its release, though he receives an “executive producer” credit, as the film was finished shortly before his death last year. The film is set right here in Oakland and Wayne counties in Michigan, but was filmed in Connecticut. I could tell the difference, but also noticed a few Michigan – local touches placed onscreen at random moments, such as a sign for Interstate 696.

The filmmakers ought to have licensed my friend Zach’s same-titled song for use at some point during the movie. Instead they rely on a series of tunes from the 70’s, when the film is set, and an appropriately vintage tinged music score by the Newton Brothers.

life of crime posterThe film serves as an origin story for three characters also seen in Rum Punch/Jackie Brown (another Leonard story), previously played by Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro and Bridget Fonda, and portrayed here by Mos Def, John Hawkes and Isla Fisher. This story doesn’t make an overt attempt to tie the characters together, or match the portrayal to the previous actor, but I found it fun to know how “they aged” and are seen later on “in their lives”, since Jackie Brown (which I saw again in the theatre earlier this year) takes place 20 years after these events. And I’m sure that if the viewer looked closer at this portrayal, there may indeed be some links to tie it to the later story.

As it is, the main story of this film follows Mickey, a suburban housewife somewhere in Oakland County who is at wits end with her older husband, played by Tim Robbins. Circumstances leave Mickey at home one day, where she is kidnapped (not a spoiler) by Def and Hawkes over to a nearby house and essentially held for ransom. Meanwhile, her husband has flown down to the Bahamas to meet up with “friend” Melanie (Fisher) and other dubious associates. The characters find themselves in an increasingly complicated web where actions are not what they seem and there are several switchbacks leading towards a winking finale.

I found the film to be redeemed by its third act. Prior to the story setting up its conclusion, things with Mickey and her captors pitted against her husband and associates seemed to be going in an increasingly predictable and slightly unpleasant line. However, Melanie introduces a series of complications — as she also does, later, in Jackie Brown — that take the story to an unpredictable and wacky edge. This last third is also where Aniston is given her best opportunity to shine, as the earlier part of the story finds her seeming dour and confused.

An unrecognizable Will Forte isn’t given much chance to show his comedy roots in a mostly serious supporting role as “a family friend” who has eyes for Aniston. Robbins, looking much older, carries effective presence in his scenes, but seems to drift in and out of the story. Another reviewer pointed out that the role directly contradicts Robbins’ well – known sociopolitical views, but that is what we do for our art… Getting back to the earlier point, I feel that the trio of Hawkes, Def and Fisher fare the best throughout the film, especially in their last few scenes when they can relax in the roles and be in on the joke.

On the whole the film only seems to settle in that last third. If the filmmakers had set up this tone earlier, and let the pieces fall into place in more of a coy manner, along the lines of Get Shorty, they would have done themselves a favor. I think the film is still worth seeing in a “wait for the video” type of way and with an awareness of the unevenness. And if Def, Hawkes and Fisher want to team up with Jackson, DeNiro and Fonda, they’d really have some fun.