Saturday, October 4, 2014

Three Movie Reviews - Two New, One Old

In the last seven days, I have seen three movies of note, and it is time to tell you about them.  As always, this post contains NO SPOILERS.

The first movie is probably the first Big Movie of the Fall, and one that will no doubt merit consideration come Academy Award time.  It is David Fincher's "Gone Girl".

This is thriller based upon the enormous best selling novel by Gillian Flynn.  Ms. Flynn wrote the screenplay so it adheres very closely to the novel.  It stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunn.  They are an attractive couple, but they have their problems.  The recession of 2008 has cost both of them their jobs, they were forced to move from New York City to Missouri to take care of Nick's dying mother, and strains have developed on their seemingly idyllic marriage.  Then, one morning, Amy disappears and it appears that foul play may be involved.  Did Nick have something to do with it, and just where exactly is Amy?

When I read the book last year, I found it to be a compelling read, but I was struck how unlikable the characters were.  This same feeling carries over into the movie, but the performances of both Affleck and Pike somehow ratchets down the "dislike-ability factor" of Nick and Amy.  Both actors carry off their roles, and, to me at least, they make Nick and Amy more three dimensional than they were in the book.  Ben Affleck is very good as Nick.  I know it's hip in some circles to trash Affleck, but I have pretty much liked him in everything in which I have seen him (and he does have two Oscars sitting on is mantle, by the way). However, it is the performance of Miss Pike that is most deserving of an Oscar nomination.  Just watch her eyes as she goes through this one.  Terrific performance.

Also, some outstanding performances by supporting actors: Carrie Coon and Nick's sister, Kim Dickens as a police detective, Tyler Perry as Nick's defense attorney, and Neil Patrick Harris as a creepy ex-boyfriend of Amy's.  And I love how the movie absolutely skewers the overblown and rush-to-judgement culture of cable television news.

Very good movie.  Four stars from me on this one.

I have been a reader over the years of a series of detective novels by Lawrence Block that feature a character named Matt Scudder.  Scudder is a recovering alcoholic ex-cop who now works as an unlicensed private detective.  Good books, and they finally got around to making a movie based upon one of the Scudder novels.

"A Walk Among the Tombstones" is a fairly dark and gritty story.  Liam Neeson stars as Scudder, and it continues the rather interesting movie trend of how in recent years, Neeson, now 62 years old, has reinvented himself as an action movie star.  He's quite good in it, too. The movie also stars Dan Stevens, who may be better known as Matthew Crawley of "Downton Abbey".   Fans of DA may not recognize him here.

The movie is violent and a bit grim, and it will never make anyone's Ten Best List, but if you like two hours of suspenseful action with a bad-ass central figure, you could do a lot worse than watching this one.  Also, if you were a fan of the Block novels, you won't be disappointed with what Hollywood has done to Matt Scudder.  I hope that they make more of them so that some of the other peripheral characters in the books can be portrayed.

Finally,  I watched, once again,  the classic 1944 Otto Preminger directed movie, "Laura" last Saturday night on TCM's "The Essentials" series.

This movie is always considered one of the classic  examples of film noir.  Host Robert Osborne said it is perhaps his all-time favorite movie mystery.  The movie begins with a narrator saying a most intriguing line, "I shall never forget the weekend that Laura died."  And it goes from there.

Gene Tierney played the title role, Dana Andrews is the hard boiled police detective who refers to women as "dolls" or "dames", Vincent Price, before he was a horror movie star, plays the handsome gigolo boyfriend of Laura, but the guy who steals the show is Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker, the effete yet influential New York newspaper columnist who has taken Laura under his wing and will do anything to protect her.

Essentials hosts Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore noted that Preminger fought to have Webb play this part.  He was a stage actor and this was his first major movie role.  He was terrific in it, and it propelled him into a solid movie career, although he essentially played "Clifton Webb" in every other movie he ever did, but I digress.

Based in part on the commentary of Osborne and Barrymore, I did a little research on "Laura".  Interestingly, the studio wanted different actors in just about every leading part before settling upon Tierney, Andrews, and Webb, and there were no great expectations for this movie.  It was pretty much felt that this was going to be a B-movie when it was released, yet it has gone on to be considered a classic.  Film buffs still point out its flaws, while at the same time praising it.  Classic example, I suppose, of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

And then there is the haunting musical score.  Even if you have never seen the movie, it's probably a good bet  that you know the "Theme form Laura" from this movie.

TCM rightly deems this movie an "Essential", and one every movie fan should see at least once.

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