Thursday, October 30, 2014

Movie Review: "Gone Girl"

I am aliiiiiiiiiiiiive, but desperately busy.  Still, I promised La Parisienne a review of Gone Girl, so here it is, very late and several weeks after I saw it, but finally posted!

The female of the species.

Director David Fincher's Gone Girl, the psychological thriller/crime drama, is based on the best-selling novel of the same name (a book that I have not read), and author Gillian Flynn also wrote the screenplay.  The result is a film that did something that no other film has managed to do for a while: keep me guessing about what was going on and what was going to happen next.  Gone Girl has its flaws (some of which are significant), but Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck (yes, La Parisienne, behold my actual, sincere praise for Affleck's acting!) will keep you riveted by their performances as Amy Dunne and her husband Nick, the two halves of a decaying marriage.  When on their fifth wedding anniversary Amy disappears from their home, suspicions of foul play soon swirl around Nick.

I can't give you much more detail of the plot because I would ruin the movie viewing.  As the storyline begins to unspool, you have to pay attention.  This is because of unreliable narrators, or at least biased accounts: both Amy and Nick soon emerge as deeply flawed people, their marriage a tale of the slow rot setting in after a passionate (almost too passionate) start.  We see Amy's perspective as a series of voiceovers: we soon realize she is reading aloud from her diary, the entries handwritten in curlicue letters with a feathery pink pen.  After a while, the swooping swirls of that almost too-girly pen start getting to you, or at least it did to me.  Hearing Pike's disembodied voice, slow, calm and sometimes verging on the creepily melodic, is like hearing the voice of a phantom.  

We see Nick's point of view from watching him in the aftermath of Amy's disappearance, and this is where casting Ben Affleck was a stroke of genius for this character.  Affleck somehow always seems a little shifty, a little (or a lot) insincere, a little untrustworthy no matter what character he's playing.  There's something off about that squint and that handsome, lopsided grin, and the movie plays this to utter advantage.  The rumple-haired, clearly nervous Nick Dunne soon begins to rub you the wrong way ... but (and this is crucial) is he actually capable of cold-blooded murder?

The movie then dives headlong into satire with its depiction of the ever-increasing, ever more insane media circus, right down to Missi Pyle as bleached blonde cable demagogue Ellen Abbott, an obvious caricature of shrill pseudo-news harpy Nancy Grace (wait, is it even possible to caricature someone who is already a caricature?).  She's counterbalanced by agelessly elegant Sela Ward as a more respected but still emotional string-pulling Barbara Walteresque interviewer. The media angle is even further abetted by the publicity efforts of Amy's overbearing parents.  The message is pointed about the role of the sensationalist media in both reporting a news story and then, with its obsessively ravening desire to dig up the dirt, transmogrifying an initial incident into the nearly unrecognizable howl of a mob.  

The entire apparatus comes across as being addicted to every sordid, disgusting detail it can find ... or insinuate without proof or simply make up.  The media becomes almost a living creature, a monstrous screeching vulture with an ever-widening gullet for gleefully gulping down indiscriminate filth and vomiting it back out over a larger and larger radius.  You can't help but feel that somewhere in all this Nick's actual story and any pretense at objective reporting are lost as Abbott and her ilk push their chosen narrative of sweet innocent vanished Amy and wicked dirtbag husband Nick.  The thing turns into a witch hunt.  There is a fascinating scene of celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry in an incredible turn) coaching Nick before an interview.  When a slimeball attorney who (famously!) specializes in getting guilty people off is the only sensible one in the room, you're pretty much screwed whether you're actually guilty or not.

Pay attention also to fine performances by Carrie Coon as Nick's harried twin sister Margo and Kim Dickens (recently of Sons of Anarchy) as the detective on the case.  Neil Patrick Harris also appears, though somehow that particular casting choice did not sit too well with me, however much I like Harris. Part of the action with him almost descended into camp, but that is not a complaint confined only to him but to the third act as a whole.  Still, with Fincher in the director's chair, it's very stylish, evocative camp that looks and feels better than its substance might actually deserve.

In fact, Fincher's direction and the art direction elevate the movie to what will probably be award-winning levels, even if - if you get right down to it - the premise of vanished pretty wife and shifty husband-suspect in a whited sepulcher of a marriage is really a genre trope and a melodramatic one at that.  Still, Flynn and Fincher push the genre to the limits and - one could well argue - break it in the end.

Mad Minerva gives Gone Girl a grade of B+ . Points off for a messy, often excessive third act and for the fact that this is the kind of movie you watch once.  You can't ever recapture the thrill and suspense of wondering what will happen next. 

RottenTomatoes gives the movie the bona fide Fresh rating of 88%.

Gone Girl runs 149 minutes and is rated R for violence (there is one particularly graphic scene), pervasive language, nudity, and some sexual situations.

Here is the trailer:

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Quote of the Day: The Strategic Value of Threat Deflation

From a lengthy essay by a professor of national security comes this thought:
... the rhetoric about ISIL has given the group prestige it does not deserve. Washington may inadvertently help ISIL’s recruiting efforts by hyping its capacity for mayhem.   
... The group has already proven adept at propaganda; it does not need our help and we should not give it.  
What say you?

Holy Movie Review Pretending To Be Asinine Commentary, Batman!

Apparently Thomas Friedman is now quoting from The Dark Knight in an attempt to explain ISIS and Boko Haram.  An entire quarter of  his "analysis" is just lines from the movie. Dude, seriously?

Still, here's a retort worth repeating:

Just Another Day's Work For the US Coast Guard

Check out the photo!

Quirky Asia Files: Eating Autumn Leaves in Japan

Yeah, it's a thing.  Those fried leaves look good, though!  I wouldn't mind trying them.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Couch Potato Chronicles: "Walking Dead" Season 5 Premiere Oct.12

So of course I'm busy marathoning the show on Netflix as a way to get ready.  If you've never seen it and don't mind some occasionally gory (but not too gory) zombie action horror thrills, you might give it a try yourself. Maybe one has to be in the mood.  Some days I want Pride and Prejudice, some days I want Parks and Recreation, some days I want Star Trek, some days I want Justified, some days I want Copper, some days I want Doctor Who (but less and less these days because the current season's plotlines kind of suck), and some days I want The Walking Dead.  (Look, I have to have something to watch now that Breaking Bad is over.)

Oh, sure, I would probably last about 3 seconds in an actual zombie apocalypse, and I hate the undead (though Shaun of the Dead is a hilarious movie and World War Z a far better book than flick).  Still, there's a lot to love in a show that has a Korean American pizza delivery guy turned action hero (Steven Yeun), a taciturn African American woman (Danai Gurira) who wields a mean katana (!), and a crossbow-toting, squirrel-hunting redneck who manages to steal the show even though he doesn't get all that much screen time (fan favorite Norman Reedus as Daryl).  The ostensible lead, small-town cop Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), sometimes seems almost beside the point.

The Walking Dead also refreshingly set in a place other than New York and Los Angeles: the show starts off in Atlanta and takes off into other spots in Georgia where it's filmed on location.  So check it out if you're in the mood for a zombie apocalypse, and remember: you have to stab/shoot/bash the zombies IN THE HEAD or else they'll just keep coming.  Also remember: you can never have too much ammo during a zombie invasion, so stock up!

MM in the Kitchen: Apple Tart

It's apple-picking time, so here's one thing you can do when you get home: make a honeycrisp apple and browned-butter tart.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the NFL's Behavioral Issues

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Obama, ISIS, and the Bush Doctrine

What say you?

Totally Worth It

Never pass up a chance to hug your grandma, even if you get a yellow card for it.

Photographing the Flight From ISIS

Photojournalist John Stanmeyer brings images of some 66,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing from ISIS and flooding into Turkey yesterday.

Quote of the Day: Campus Speech Codes

Here's a piece of it:
The increased calls for sensitivity-based censorship represent the dark side of what are otherwise several positive developments for human civilization. ... I believe that we are not passing through some temporary phase in which an out-of-touch and hypersensitive elite attempts — and often fails — to impose its speech-restrictive norms on society. It’s worse than that: people all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right. This is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended. Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.
Campus speech codes are unconstitutional.  You don't give up your First Amendment rights once you step onto a campus, and you have no right to never be offended.

Oh, related link here.  Apparently it's just as bad  on the other side of the pond.

Nerd News: School Lunches From Around the World

Lunch time!  OK, not to cater to national stereotypes, but I gotta call it as I see it: that British lunch looks completely disgusting.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quote of the Day: Returning Ghosts

Via Samizdata:
But when we look around in Europe today, we see that not only is Europe not whole and free, we see the ghosts from the painful 20th century returning to our midst. Ghosts that we thought we’d never see again, that we had buried deep in history’s trashbin.

Today, when we look around us, we see it all again. The annexation of territory, the violation of borders, religious conservativism pairing with political authoritarianism and imperialist bravado. 80% of Russians support annexation through military aggression in Crimea, where the Anschluss – and I use that term most seriously here – the Anschluss of territory was justified by the presence of co-ethnics. Moreover, there is widespread support for an anti-liberal attack against decadent Western “permissiveness,” be it in freedom of speech or choice of life-partners. Indeed, we see that liberal democracy has not only failed to win the battle of ideas against authoritarianism, it has failed even to prevent the resurrection of that once vanquished demon, fascism. The nationalist fervor east of us is expressed in arts in a way that makes Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will look like a liberal programme – I suggest you look at the video of the so-called “biker show” staged on August 8 this year in Sevastopol. It is on You Tube. It is a genuine Gesamtkunstwerk. Everything is there – music, art, ballet, motorcycle gangs, it’s all there.

- Estonian President Toomas Hendrik (link to speech transcript)

LOL: Remy vs. ISIS (and NFL)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

LOL: Tweets of the Scottish Independence Vote

By the way, the polls have closed in the Scottish referendum, and you can follow the vote-counting live here

"Should I stay or should I go?" - Scotland

UPDATE: Not going anywhere (which is the smart pragmatic move, frankly).

LOL: P.J. O'Rourke and Iowahawk vs. Scottish Independence Vote

The vote on Scottish independence is today, and P.J. O'Rourke casts a characteristically sardonic and hilarious look at the prospect. This is how it starts:
We Irish don’t hate the Scots per se. They’re too much like us Irish, who all hate each other. So we’re just looking for a fine entertainment from across the Irish Sea as Highland Scots have a donnybrook with Lowland Scots, Glaswegians dust up with Edinburghians, and Clan Dewers unsheathes its claymores for battle with Clan Johnny Walker.
Iowahawk, on the hand, doesn't need to bother with writing an actual piece when he can just tweet stuff like this:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nerd News: Militarizing Campus Cops

We need mortarboards, not mortars.

Food Fight!

Edible things as racial metaphor. 

Nerd News: A Brit-Bashing Portuguese Professor

Dude's got a position at Imperial College, London, so I personally think it's just a little rich that he's turned right round and published a Brit-bashing book back in Portugal.  For extra entertainment, check out this take by a Frenchwoman:
Brit-bashing is a French pursuit, thank you very much – a national sport that we enjoy safe in the knowledge that whatever we throw at Les Rosbifs, they are more than capable of lobbing back at us Frogs. From Joan of Arc to Waterloo and Mers-el-K├ębir, we have long known where our most beloved enemy stands: 20 miles and a world away from Calais (never to be surrendered again), in lockstep with us in a love-hate dance . Not for nothing is Wellington’s bust at the British Embassy in Paris displayed next to that of Napoleon . Not for nothing is the inscription on your coat of arms in French; or the fact that we celebrate 1066 (and all that) at Bayeux with the finest and oldest of all tapestries.

So who’s this upstart, insinuating himself right at the heart of our family quarrels?