"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
The following contains my thoughts on Gone Girl. There are spoilers present; the review is either meant for readers who have seen the film or those who have no intention of doing so.
I rarely see films in theatres anymore. Here in Australia, prices have climbed to $20 per ticket (it costs even more to see one’s choice on the complex’s bigger screen), plus the perils of driving there and the limited selection of recent commercial fare on display make it a rather undesirable option. The thought of misbehaving patrons and mishaps during the film’s projection, not to mention the endless commercials, kill the idea almost completely. Every few years or so, when I’m right nearby a beautifully appointed theatre that in the past provided a most solid and enjoyable presentation, one of those cinematic cathedrals beckons: Very few people are in attendance, the new film is garnering excellent notices and has an esteemed director.
Unfortunately, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, made my last experience disappointing.
There's a point of view shift about half way through that ends the effectively ominous mystery element, something Fincher excels at sustaining. The sudden change in focus not only wipes out our worry over victim Amy Dunne's demise, it replaces our concern over her accused husband Nick's fate with that of his wife's current trials and tribulations. In a lengthy voice-over monologue, Amy describes precisely how she set up Nick to take the fall for her staged murder. Still, it leaves us wondering if the guy we just spent all that time with, really deserves to be punished for committing a capital crime.
Like Psycho, the narrative starts anew, only unlike the master’s work, no one has died... so far. Amy’s activities and plans are rapidly losing sensibility. She goes to all that trouble, relying on the response of those investigating, to exact her peculiar revenge only to commit a planned suicide? This strong willed female is ripped off by a couple of lowly thugs and does nothing about it but later is willing to brutally kill her rich ex-boyfriend who's at her beck and call? Besides, doesn't she realise that her false explanation of abduction and self-defence would easily be discovered by watching the victim's camera tapes showing her entering his house willingly?
This shift in focus on Amy's increasingly inexplicable behaviour only succeeds in drastically altering the film’s realistic tone and dulling one’s interest in what happens next. When husband and wife are finally reunited, her character's shot credibility infects the others as well, i.e. the head police investigator who basically gives up, along with husband Nick, now lost and confused. Both succumb to Amy’s supposedly superior intellect until the story reaches an unsatisfying, open-ended conclusion.
Screenwriter Gillian Flynn adapting her novel goes to great lengths to flesh out this apparent femme-fatale by repeatedly identifying her as self-assured, liberated and independent. And yet, Amy is presented time and again as a wounded victim, of her parents' unrealistic expectations, her husband's inadequate financial responsibility and infidelity, the two rip-off artists at the motel, and finally the ex-boyfriend with some unwanted romantic ideas of his own. Is Amy Dunne a suicidal, mixed-up innocent trying to extract some justice, deserving of our sympathy, or a cunning and resourceful psycho-bitch who wants it all? Apparently both, but like four-day-old fish, I’m not buying.
The fact that Amy ultimately triumphs, after carrying out what others think is a foolproof master plan, represents an extraordinary conceit which brings to mind Kathleen Turner’s Matty Walker with her ruthless but intricately planned ruse in Body Heat. Turner’s self-determination was, however, consistent throughout. In Gone Girl, considering the nonsensical behaviour we’ve previously witnessed, Amy’s final winning posture seems there for its own sake, representing the pinnacle of self-congratulatory narrative absurdity. It also makes the audience feel like suckers for being so captivated by the initial romance of Amy and Nick, so engrossed in the mystery of Amy's violent disappearance and so intrigued about Nick’s involvement, only to have our attention hijacked by a complete crazy whose actions become so contradictory, her motives are unfathomable.
As its supporters have pointed out, this movie is full of recognisable genre tropes but that only increases its derivative artificiality. As Pauline Kael would say “It’s worth a miss.”
There are two recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month.
The first is Guys and Dolls, a highly energetic musical with so many top tier songs, you’ll be humming them for days afterward.
Then there's Michael Kidd's wildly stylised choreography. All of its marvellous characters are enchanting and endearing. That also goes for the film’s plot that centres around a bet wagered between two iconic gamblers, Frank Sinatra’s Nathan Detroit and Marlon Brando’s Sky Masterson over whether the latter can get a date to Havana with Jean Simmons’ missionary Sarah Brown. It’s a joyous romp, a little long perhaps, but more charming than a leprechaun. No, Marlon can’t sing too well but successfully acts through his fabulous numbers. All three leads seem overtly comfortable with their parts though Sinatra unsuccessfully campaigned for Brando’s role since it’s Masterson who sings the coveted ‘Luck Be a Lady’. Guys and Dolls are scheduled to show on TCM (updated) Friday, December 22 at 2:15pm PST.
The second recommendation is Citizen Kane.
This is one of our Top Ten films of all time. Any serious student of cinema cannot see this film enough. It contains an enormous wealth of profound thought on human relations, not to mention a dazzling display of innovative storytelling techniques without peer. Ultimately it’s that magical synchronicity of character and plot development that places it rightfully alongside art’s highest achievements. It is scheduled to show on TCM (updated) Thursday, March 22 at (late evening) 1am PST.
TCM’s current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on either of the above images.
The Soundtrack recommendation for this month contains two incredibly atmospheric scores by the master of musical conspiratorial suspense and paranoia, Michael Small. This must-have CD contains the hypnotic scores to The Parallax View and Marathon Man.
It was issued by Film Score Monthly in a limited edition and is currently available from Screen Archives Entertainment by clicking on the image.
The video recommendation for November is Anthony Mann’s Man of the West. It is reviewed as Top Ten Western #5 and is now available on Blu-ray from Kino-Lorber. It can be ordered from Amazon by clicking on the image.