The Girl on the Train (2016)

★★★

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The Girl on the Train PosterDirector: Tate Taylor

Release Date: October 5th, 2016 (UK); October 7th, 2016 (US)

Genre: Mystery; Thriller

Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux

Despite author Paula Hawkins’ protestations, The Girl on the Train is in many ways similar to Gone Girl. Structurally, individually, thematically — Tate Taylor’s film adaption feels like it could be set in the same deceitful world and the same deceitful suburban neighbourhood. Those who enter having seen Gone Girl (also adapted from a popular novel) will likely struggle to keep David Fincher’s film wholly out of mind for the duration of this new domestic horror show, just as Taylor’s movie struggles to escape the spectre of its superior predecessor: the main character, a woman hampered by emotional scarring, mellowly narrates her own miserable life, perking up only during self-constructed imagination sequences within which false scenarios play out (a perfect relationship, crucially). There’s a familiar aesthetic slickness too, white, crisp text decorating a black background each time we skip from present to past.

But most significantly, The Girl on the Train revisits Gone Girl’s wistful tale of a woman who yearns for an idealistic life that is never forthcoming. She is Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic devoid of any sort of plan. It’s apt that she spends most of her time aboard a train, going places without ever really getting anywhere. These journeys are less journeys and more pockets of time within which Rachel can ogle at the apparently superior lives of others, notably that of Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), a couple she often sees from the train window in a state of embrace. Until one day that embrace doesn’t include Scott — or perhaps it does; Rachel’s perception isn’t exactly up to scratch — at which point perfect worlds crumble, and Megan goes missing.

“Are you alone?” “Yeah.” This first interaction tells us all we need to know about Rachel. (Or so we think.) Blunt wears her character’s alcoholism with raw fervour: lips cracked from sucking on a straw channelling vodka, shaky hands rendering her unable to properly apply lip balm, eyes watery, bloodshot, terminally lost in a daze. She is obsessed, her obsession with other people forming the basis for the film’s creeping milieu — the sense that something just feels off. Which is to say Rachel isn’t, or hasn’t, been particularly great company over the past few years. Pal and landlord Cathy (Laura Prepon) can attest to that. And still, we want to root for her because as humans our innate humanness calls upon us to empathise with those who are struggling, but also because Blunt affords Rachel a subdued sense of purpose and accountability. A speech at an AA meeting is quite devastating, hauntingly delivered by the actor.

Unfortunately Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson use alcoholism less as a character trait and more as a structural device. Which brings us to coherence, or the lack of it, an aspect which lets the film down. You can understand Taylor’s mindset; to view the world through his protagonist’s untrustworthy eyes, visualising a collection of blurry incidents rather than a natural arc. This is something that would likely work better with fewer key characters — there are at least six here, all interconnected in various ways. Keeping track of who knows whom from when and where is difficult enough, and that difficulty increases as the story hops from scene to scene without any palpable sense of time or space (we know which events are taking place in the past and in the present, but don’t get much of a feeling for timelines within each space).

Set in the midst of a winter of discontent, the outing draws upon classic Hitchcockian themes such as suspicion. The obvious comparison is Strangers on a Train, and indeed this focus on movement funds the suspicious mood. For people are constantly on the move. They might run as a form of exercise, or as way to temporarily exorcise any domestic demons. Others are seen figuratively running from the law, not that you would blame anyone for literally hightailing it from Allison Janney, superb as a police detective fully versed in the art of dressing-down. And there is the train itself, hanging on for dear life as gravity does its best to tear it from the tracks, loud and a bit unstable as all trains are. Echoing, in a sense, Rachel’s own daily existence.

This is the age of paranoia: Édgar Ramírez’s psychiatrist defiantly confirms his American citizenship when engaged in an otherwise innocuous conversation with a client. Given the film is set in New York, it is possible he has just heard Trump threaten to send non-Americans to the moon, thus we should cut him some slack. Rebecca Ferguson, as Anna, also succumbs to the neurotic atmosphere, frantically guessing laptop passwords in a bid to find out more about those around her. She is married to Tom (Justin Theroux) who used to be married to Rachel, and their nanny is Megan. It’s complicated. There does come a time, about halfway through, when you wonder if you care at all for anybody on-screen, at which point the piece loses momentum. Fortunately not for too long as some characters reignite, but you do have to survive a bunch of platonic conversations unable to maintain the paranoid air.

The Girl on the Train wants to be more uncomfortable than it is, and this becomes apparent when it plummets into unnecessarily nasty territory towards the end. Threads of emotional abuse and physical violence are explored only tentatively, perhaps because there are too many characters for the film to juggle and not enough time spent with each one (Rachel aside). But it is intriguing at worst, and there are signs in the minutiae of proceedings that the filmmakers know what they are doing. Look out for Rachel’s discreet reaction to a lipstick stain on a mug, and think about what said moment entails. It’s a terrific blink-and-you’ll-miss-it incident astutely pitched by Emily Blunt, who is worth the price of admission alone.

The Girl on the Train - Emily Blunt

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures

Horns (2014)

★★

Horns PosterDirector: Alexandre Aja

Release Date: October 29th, 2014 (UK); October 31st, 2014 (US)

Genre: Drama; Fantasy; Thriller

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella

Based on author Joe Hill’s novel of the same, Horns represents another opportunity for Daniel Radcliffe to shed his boy-wizard skin. The actor ought to be commended for selecting varied post-Potter roles that, at least from the out looking in, continue to pose different challenges: in recent years, he has played an Edwardian-era lawyer, a Beat Generation poet, and now a horn-growing murder suspect. This might be his most interesting role on paper, but not even Radcliffe’s admirable effort can save Alexandre Aja’s inconsistent adaptation.

Labelled a killer by many in his community, Ig Perish (Radcliffe) wakes up one morning to discover a pair of bulging discs protruding from his forehead. The swollen abnormalities eventually evolve into manic-looking devil horns which, despite Ig’s best efforts, cannot be remove. Bereft of answers, he tries to get on with his life in as normal a manner as possible, and this mainly involves conferring with childhood mate and legal counsel Lee (Max Minghella). Only, those around Ig don’t quite follow suit.

The tone at the beginning is almost wholly comedic. Animal horns fully realised, whenever a mournful Ig finds himself in the company of others, people start acting horrendously: a mother vehemently denounces her young daughter’s fairly innocent behaviour; a receptionist spits vulgarities in the presence of a child; and a doctor yearns for drugs, only not the healthy kind. Yet it all feels forced. The aloof ambience doesn’t really have a foundation, spawning with no support. Why are people acting abominably? Why does Ig have horns? And if we must: who killed girlfriend Merrin (played by a seriously short-changed Juno Temple)?

The latter question is the one that instigates the film’s goings-on, but it isn’t necessarily the one that drives the piece. Horns doesn’t really have a central pivot point as far as the narrative goes. Instead, there a few floating plot strands, none of which are amply examined. Most time is spent disputing the reality of Ig’s jagged head attire; there is an ongoing debate surrounding whether the horns actually exist, or if they are simply a figurative manifestation of guilt. See, not everyone is privy to the mini antlers, and the presumption therefore is that they can only cast a spell on immoral folk: “Maybe the horns just don’t work on good people?”

It’s a premise that has potential, as evidenced by the book’s success, but director Aja struggles to maintain a settled tone, nonchalantly jumping around from dark comedy to revenge-thriller to grotesque horror. This hampers events on-screen and distracts us. You get the sense a straightforward crime-mystery would have been more palatable — the oddness, the tonal inconsistency, is too isolating. It also hurts Ig; he gets caught up in the film’s vacillating tonal underbelly, cracking jokes one minute and weighed down by despair the next. Radcliffe affords his character a degree of watchability, but it is tough to sympathise with a wimpy and agitated protagonist.

Aja is aiming, it seems, for a 21st century hipster-ish Twin Peaks. Heather Graham appears as a waitress wearing bubblegum-red lipstick and cream -pink overalls. If that is not enough, at one point the camera pulls away from a band playing in a club, the background aquarium-blue in colour and the atmosphere red-tinted. Though, by then you’ve probably already loaded up disc one of the Twin Peaks box set. Whereas David Lynch’s mesmeric concoction — both TV series and film — bore elements of genuine horror and hazy addiction (not to mention its band of universally compelling characters), this succumbs to a disorientating factor that it never shakes. Horns needs a Horne.

We get a Scream citation in the form of a doting detective, short hairdo and moustache combo invoked, but sadly it ain’t circa-1996 David Arquette. Even though there is always room for peer admiration, the film gets too caught up in saluting other, frankly better, horror instalments and inevitably misses its own creative train as a result. When Horns does try to chisel out original content it makes a host of unsubtle references to faith and Hell. A parade of snakes stalk Ig at one point, but on this occasion Parseltongue bites the dust.

In another underfed narrative thread, an explosive childhood flashback recalls The Butterfly Effect. Its intention, I guess, is to subsidise the edgy themes at large and suggest that violence once brought Ig and his cohorts together and now violence is in the process of tearing them apart. Had screenwriter Keith Bunin spent more time exploring how we, as a public, engage in tragedy-induced media frenzies, there might have been more for viewers to chew on. Gone Girl is a recent film that bitingly critiques how people reveal their true selves in dire moments, and it is overflowing with fascinating relevance. Admittedly, Gone Girl is also simply an all-round better film.

Horns is quite well-played in parts. A battle sequence performed to “Personal Jesus” makes very little sense yet garners a chuckle. The outing also has a laudable non-distinctive aesthetic; it could be set at any time in the last thirty years. The piece deposits its comedic purpose for something scarier later on, though it’s nothing truly frightening. It’s all just a bit grim really.

Horns - Daniel Radcliffe

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Dimension Films, RADiUS-TWC

Foxcatcher (2015)

★★★★★

Foxcatcher PosterDirector: Bennett Miller

Release Date: January 9th, 2015 (UK)

Genre: Biography; Drama; Sport

Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo

You could single out any number of attributes and relate them to Bennett Miller’s directorial portfolio, but depth wouldn’t be one. The New Yorker has created four films since 1998 and, at a rate of one film every four or five years, Miller obviously doesn’t take job choices lightly. After a seldom seen documentary feature called The Cruise (1998) and his critically acclaimed biographical drama Capote (2005), Miller tried his hand at exploring the inner workings of American sport on the big screen. Moneyball (2011) was polished and affecting, but never set out to irritate because it was never meant to be that kind of story, just as baseball isn’t that kind of sport.

Foxcatcher, on the other hand, is that kind of story. Whereas Moneyball told a consumable tale that reflected the everyday popularity of baseball, Miller’s latest piece bathes in the sweaty discomfort and disassociation of wrestling. It’s uncensored, but subtly so. It’s damn good too.

Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an amateur wrestler. We first meet him as he somewhat timidly relays semi-encouraging words to a less than half full hall of school children. Perhaps timidness is the wrong adjective. Mark isn’t necessarily a shy person, but his inability to open up is reflected in his distanced demeanour. All he knows is an everyday, basic existence. And amateur wrestling. Tatum excels as the hard-boiled grappler, his physicality more than matched by a powerhouse emotional range that develops alongside the story. He hobbles as you’d imagine a wrestler would, and wears sweatpants and an unforgiving exterior in and out of the gym, unlike the more outgoing Dave.

Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) is Mark’s older brother, the man Mark is filling in for during the opening scene. Dave is also an Olympic champion and, for one reason or another, the more popular brother. Ruffalo brings an awkward charm to the role; we’re instantly drawn to him as he graciously interacts with American wrestling officials, Ruffalo dragging his toes as he shakes hands as if to highlight an inert clumsiness. The siblings train shortly thereafter, and Foxcatcher unleashes its first taste of the brutish sport — as Dave gets the better of Mark the latter lashes out, emphasising Mark’s simmering displeasure towards his overshadowing older brother.

Both men receive the opportunity to head up an all-American wrestling team at Foxcatcher farm, funded by John du Pont (Steve Carell). “Du Pont, a dynasty of wealth and power”, are the words that echo from a History Channel-esque montage about the rich family. Mark accepts, aspiration outweighing alertness, whereas family man Dave rejects. Though the film breeds an air of morbidity from the outset, it really kicks into gear upon the arrival of a terrifying looking du Pont. The three primary actors deliver wholly, but it is Carell’s skin-crawling turn as the internally maniacal financier that’ll stick in the memory and continue to probe long after the final pinfall. Assisted by facial prosthetics more suited to the latest House of Wax horror instalment, Carell maintains false poise that’s ready to burst. He’s devilish and utterly detestable.

Miller’s film teases the inevitability of chaos bred from a relationship between the three men, but refrains from delivering on the fact until the final act. Much of the first hour and a half of Foxcatcher instead focuses on the relationship between du Pont and Mark, a partnership that is clearly on iffy terrain from go. Their first face to face meeting at the farm is one of a catalogue of tension filled moments; du Pont sells his wrestling project to Mark (the multimillionaire wants to foster a gold medal batch of grapplers) under the guise of honour and patriotism. Rob Simonsen and West Dylan Thordson’s score is noticeably absent here as we hang on du Pont’s every word in tandem with Mark.

Although the screenplay relays a number of striking lines — “Horses are stupid. Horses eat and shit, that’s all they do” is a particular stand-out that comes from the mouth of du Pont, breeder of amateur wrestlers — the piece doesn’t necessarily rely on words to succeed. Rather, it’s about tension and ambiguity and the toxic atmosphere burning the three men involved. The overarching moodiness serves a purpose, but it is also a necessity given the real life framework. Foxcatcher resembles David Fincher’s Gone Girl in many ways, though the Gillian Flynn-penned film alleviates tension via brief moments of humour, unlike Foxcatcher. This incessantly serious approach works given the context, and Miller’s tactful management of the potentially tricky sullenness is a true masterclass in pressure-building on screen.

Taking all of the above into consideration, it’s unsurprising that the camera refuses to shy away from raw moments — shots are dynamic when showing matches and totally still otherwise. Greig Fraser’s cinematography effectively positions the audience in amongst any wrestling and as such captures the fleshy warring in full flow. Both Tatum and Ruffalo ought to be commended on their very immersive abilities, and it’s also worth noting the most horrifying celebratory expression in recent memory from Carell after a victory.

The culmination is game of pawn playing, a deliberation of moral values, and of blind understanding. Three men are at the forefront, their rapport with each other and with amateur wrestling challenged. Foxcatcher might only be Bennett Miller’s fourth film in almost 20 years, but it is absolutely his most accomplished.

Foxcatcher - Carell & Tatum

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images credit (©): Sony Pictures Classics

Top 10 Films of 2014

Have you guys seen that new Star Wars trailer? Or the Jurassic Park one? How crazy was Arrow’s mid-season finale? Better than what Agents of SHIELD had to offer? Or The Flash’s showing? The Walking Dead killed more people! Dave Bautista and Léa Seydoux are in Bond 24, and it’s called Spectre – spooky! Idris Elba might be in Bond 25 – funny!

Disney and Warner Bros are releasing around seventy-one Marvel and DC films over the next decade! Unless Pete has another Middle-earth itch, The Hobbit saga finally finished! Jennifer Lawrence is the year’s highest grossing actor! And those damn North Koreans cancelled The Newsroom… at least I think that’s what happened.

Phew. Now that we’ve caught up on all of the most important things to have happened in life over the last two months, let’s take a look at the year as a whole. In July, I posted my top ten films of 2014 up until then. (You can read that here). The final whistle is about to go on the second half of the year. What, if anything, will make the cut? Oh, drama!

I’ll be sticking to UK release dates – the likes of Birdman, Foxcatcher and Selma aren’t out over here yet. I also haven’t seen Boyhood, but I reckon that’s the only significant omission. Click on any film title to read my review.

EDIT: I have now seen Boyhood. If you read my review, you’ll probably be able to guess where it would end up on this list.

10. Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is the only film I’ve seen twice at the cinema this year. And for good reason; it’s an intelligent and engaging piece that could’ve easily gone awry. Director Doug Liman takes a chance by plucking Tom Cruise from the top of Hollywood’s good guy pile and dropping him face first on set as the slippery Major William Cage. Of course, Cruise resorts to his heroic norm soon enough, but not before the brilliant Emily Blunt gives him a few kickings.

Edge of Tomorrow - Cruise and Blunt 2

9. The Guest

Speaking of iffy characters, this year Dan Stevens’ soldier is the pick of the bunch. The Guest is Adam Wingard’s best film to date and that is in no small part down to Stevens’ magnificent work as a mysterious visitor who somewhat miraculously charms his way into the Peterson household without much in the way of credentials. Stevens and fellow star Maika Monroe are fairly new to the big screen, and on the evidence of this retro-thriller we’ll be seeing a lot more of them both.

The Guest = Stevens

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Steve Rodgers does his best James Bond impression in The Winter Soldier, the first Marvel film to truly break away from a standard that might’ve been becoming generic. Its influence can be traced back to films based around Cold War politics and the aforementioned espionage range, but that’s not to say The Winter Solider loses its superhero drive. In his third credited appearance Chris Evans nails it as the red, white and blue shield-tosser. (As in thrower of protective instrument and not, well… you know).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Chris Evans

7. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves’ sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes looks incredible, even by the lofty standards set in our technology age. But this is more than simply a visual wonderment, it’s also genuinely moving. Though Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar is unlikely to earn him a golden statuette – in truth, those early rumblings were probably unfairly devoid of much foundation – the actor cements his position as peerless when it comes to motion capture acting. He deserves recognition, as does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as one of the year’s best blockbusters.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Caesar

6. 12 Years a Slave

Critically-speaking, this is probably the most important film of 2014. Steve McQueen’s movie is an eternally tough watch because we are an eternally flawed species. You’ll do well to find any flaws throughout this offering though, for 12 Years a Slave is an unyielding masterstroke. It rightly won Best Picture back in March and, in truth, wouldn’t look out of place far higher on this list.

5. Gone Girl

We never really know where David Fincher is about to take us during Gone Girl, and as much as our minds are racing attempting to put those pieces together, we never really want to know either. It’s all just so creepy and insane. The director pulls no punches and lives up to his obsessive nature – everything looks pristine, adding to the unsettling aura. Rosamund Pike delivers the best performance of the year and Ben Affleck is quite exceptional too.

Gone Girl - Pike

4. Blue Ruin

I viewed Blue Ruin in a sparsely populated screening room, having entered carrying a brain filled less with critical expectation than a need for sleep. I didn’t sleep. Instead, I intently watched the tautest 90 minutes of the year play out, headlined by a manically normal Macon Blair. This revenge tale harkens back to Hitchcockian cinema; simple, frenetic and nail-biting.

Blue Ruin - Blair

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis placed third in my January-July top ten, behind Blue Ruin and 12 Years a Slave. Now that the last twelve months have collectively drawn to a close, and without the benefit of having re-watched any of the three, Inside Llewyn Davis has won out as the film that continues to reverberate in my mind with the most fondness. It must be down to Oscar Isaacs’ enchanting tones. Or the Coen brothers’ musky setting. This film is also the least bleak of the trio. Hurray for holiday spirit!

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

If The Winter Soldier bucked the generic Marvel trend, Guardians of the Galaxy entered another universe. James Gunn is given the most energetic and interactive cast of the year to work with, so he has them dancing in plant pots and making jokes about Kevin Bacon. Wouldn’t you? The film is packed full of witty gags, but is not without a touching underbelly. After only one outing, the Guardians might’ve even gained more favour than those Avengers. Thor needs to pray more.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Cast

1. Interstellar

Interstellar isn’t perfect. The piece wobbles under the weight of its scientific load occasionally, and champions an ending that might exceed the justifiably grounded expectations of some. But it’s pure cinema. It’s inspiring and uplifting. Heart-breaking and mesmerising. Christopher Nolan pits the plausibility of science against the will of humanity, incorporating an effective cast and a thrilling technical palette in the process, and he subsequently conceives the best film of 2014.

Interstellar - MM

I hope you’re all having a tip-top holiday!

Images credit: Collider

Images copyright (©): Warner Bros, Picturehouse, Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, CBS Films

Gone Girl (2014)

★★★★★

Gone Girl PosterDirector: David Fincher

Release Date: October 2nd, 2014 (UK); October 3rd, 2014 (US)

Genre: Drama; Mystery; Thriller

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike

Somebody encourage Rosamund Pike to clear her schedule for early next year. By many accounts — relative superficiality considered — the awards rounds that take place in January and February can manifest as quite the gruelling undertaking, particularly for those nominated without much hope. I bet the endeavour is worth it though, all the glamming up and invariably rigorous speech preparation, when your name bellows around LA’s Dolby Theatre and that egregious Academy countdown begins.

Should she get there (and she should) Miss Pike will be an Oscar newbie come February 22nd. It’s early, granted, but the performance(s) she delivers in Gone Girl will take some beating. Gillian Flynn’s spotless adaptation of her own novel to screen might also take some beating. Heck, David Fincher may well find himself in another directorial gong joust. Gone Girl is not fun and games, just games. It’s downbeat and harsh and at times painfully glum. It’s intelligent and gripping and oddly satirical. It’s very, very good.

On his fifth wedding anniversary Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find a toppled table and smashed glass all over the floor, but not his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). Upon subsequently reporting her missing, the bar owner plummets into a media frenzy fuelled by accusation, exoneration and consequence. Exactly what has happened to Amazing Amy?

Fincher refers to his back catalogue for inspiration, a method ultimately met with total vindication. Gone Girl refuses to settle on one genre platform and instead deftly mingles around a number of areas from which the director has previously thrived. The taut tension felt in Panic Room returns with a vengeance in tandem alongside Zodiac’s murky mystery. Much of what unfolds during the two and a half hour runtime does so in a mellow-ish manner; solemn, yet clawing away underneath the surface. We don’t really know what to believe or who to trust and Fincher works hard to emphasise that point. Historical diary entries penned by Amy are interspersed between the present, where husband Nick is battling the elements. Revelations come unstuck and we become part of the evolving saga, our minds constantly mobilising.

The director does this brilliantly, teasing us with character faults that we simply cannot ignore and that resultantly challenge our moral head space when nastiness arises. A coating of mystique, irrespective of its level, remains throughout all three acts — each of which vary in agency. What begins as a simmering thriller re-emerges as a social commentary on cultural norms, before climaxing in a fit of peculiarity and deceit. (Fincher himself has used the term “absurdist” to describe part of the story, and he is obviously spot on).

A lack of narrative jarring ought to be admired too, as each element works cohesively with the one before ensuring that there is no lull in proceedings. Don’t bring a watch, you won’t need to check the time. Perhaps the most interesting train of thought is the film’s exploration of a self-created image; this idea that we generate an idyllic version of ourselves to parade in front of others, when we’re in public. What happens, then, after five years of marriage? Script writer Gillian Flynn has an answer, and you get the sense that her adaptation to the big screen has come at an optimal time — the novel was only released in 2012, therefore the themes remain wholly tangible.

Another of those themes is one that seems to go hand in hand with personal façade: an exploration into the role of media. Specifically, media grossness. We watch the aftermath of Nick’s press conference where he outlines the brief details behind his wife’s disappearance, and the fallout is quite cruel. People become puppets via talk show hosts and public photographs and, to an extent, the film becomes less about finding Amy than it does Nick attempting to revitalise his own tarnished image. Ben Affleck paints Nick as a flounderer to a degree, but still as someone you’d fancy getting along with. The engulfing news storm is a usurping force of nature that strives to internalise the character’s prerogative, so much so that we doubt him relentlessly.

Navigating Rosamund Pike’s role as the eponymous gone girl is akin to traversing a recently laid mine field, and that is to the credit of Fincher and company. The actress is truly marvellous, a sentiment echoed in passing by Tyler Perry’s charismatic fixer Tanner Bolt: “Aww, she is good.” She is. Perry himself is one part of a diverse cast sustained by precision and efficiency, but it is the interaction between Affleck and Pike that engages most. Conversations between the pair relived through Amy’s diary entries are somewhat disoriented by a peculiar, haunting ambience. It is a haze struck up masterfully by the combined efforts of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and music men Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, all three well versed in Fincher lore. Cronenweth’s visual sheen resembles the pristine surface and texture of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and, backed up by a disquieting score, relays a melancholic haze.

It’s worth pointing out the satirical infusion brought forth by the film’s final act, at a time when proceedings really begin to marshal around the absurd. Though we spend moments throughout the film tickled by characters’ comical reactions (an early police interrogation, for example) as proceedings start to unravel what might have seemed amusing an hour ago morphs into a manifestation of discomfort. Events on screen are obtusely elevated, of course, but at a base level there lurks a degree of potential reality.

Brought to fruition by a supremely talented cast also including the likes of Neil Patrick Harris and Carrie Coon, and guided magnificently by a director whose work has finally struck an impenetrable balance, is a film not afraid to break the mould; one that defiantly stands beside the courage of its own convictions.

Evidence hardly ever amounts to clarity during Gone Girl, but Gone Girl most certainly is evidence that David Fincher is on the top of his game.

Gone Girl - Affleck

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): 20th Century Fox

Preview: The 2014 Cinematic Landscape

Who invited January over?

Yep, the most miserable month of year has reared its ugly head again. However for film fans (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?) the arrival of the dreaded January means two things: One, it’s awards season, so watch out for the heavy hitters making their way around cinemas, and two, it’s time to look forward to another calendar year choc-a-bloc with films ready to burst loose and onto our screens.

I guess we should start looking then…

(All release dates are subject to change, so don’t be booking your holidays around them. Because I know people do that. What? Just me?)

 

January

The Wolf of Wall Street – Director: Martin Scorsese, Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio

That’s right, having spent the best part of a decade working together, Scorsese and DiCaprio are remaining true to form and battering out another collaboration. This time Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who got rich overnight in the late 1980s. The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story and by all accounts, it’s a pretty hectic tale. Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey are part of this brash comedy that apparently didn’t go down too well with a few elderly Academy members, as reports suggest Scorsese and the cast were severely heckled after a screening. Sounds like a lot of fun then! Out January 17th in the UK.

Inside Llewyn Davis – Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen, Starring: Oscar Isaac

From the outrageous to the harmonious, Joel and Ethan Coen have rustled up another helping of their highly sought-after Kool-Aid. Set around the wintry Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961, the film depicts a week in the life of Llewyn Davis, an aspiring musician out of luck. This has earned rave reviews on the festival circuit, and could springboard Oscar Isaac into Hollywood stardom. The Coen Brothers are often meticulous in their film-making – details matter as much as one-liners – and with T-Bone Burnett orchestrating the music production, Inside Llewyn Davis may well cause one or two Academy Award-shaped upsets come March. Out January 24th in the UK.

 

February

Dallas Buyers Club – Director: Jean-Marc Vallée, Starring: Matthew McConaughey

It’s only February and here we are looking at Matthew McConaughey’s second film on the list (and it won’t be his last)! The true renaissance man of cinema has knocked role after role out of the park in recent years, be it as a gritty lawyer in The Lincoln Lawyer, an eccentric stripper in Magic Mike or a pact-making fugitive in Mud, and this is shaping up to be another home run. After being diagnosed with AIDS, hustler Ron Woodroof sees life in a new light, shining brightly on giving back to those in need. Dallas Buyers Club has an air of Milk about it, which can only be a good thing. Also watch out for a supporting performance from Jared Leto that is generating quite a helping of Oscar buzz. Not bad for a singer. Out February 7th in the UK.

The Monuments Men – Director: George Clooney, Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon

Argo meets Inglorious Basterds. Now that doesn’t sound half-bad, does it? Only, replace stranded United States embassy staff with some art masterpieces, and Diane Kruger with Cate Blanchett, and you’ve got yourself George Clooney’s next directorial venture. It’s quite a change from running for president in The Ides of March, although some political elements look set to remain. Clooney and company are going to have to do exceedingly well to usurp Quentin Tarantino’s take on World War II, however with a cast including Bill Murray anything’s possible. Out February 21st in the UK.

 

March

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Director Wes Anderson, Starring: Just about everyone

Wes Anderson and that distinctive directorial style returns with a story about a heralded concierge, a young lobby boy and a stolen painting set in a hotel between World Wars. Anderson must have a phone book brimming with Hollywood stars, each of whom is in his debt. Or maybe he just makes interesting films (yep, probably this one). Bill Murray – hooray again – is joined by Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and a whole host of other people you’d want to have round for dinner. There’s no doubt this’ll have laughs, but without the naive innocence on show in Moonrise Kingdom, will those laughs be enough to win over audiences? Maybe Anderson has another trick up his sleeve. Or in his hair. Out March 7th in the UK.

The Zero Theorem – Director: Terry Gilliam, Starring: Christophe Waltz

The man behind Monty Python has turned his head to existential science-fiction in this odd-sounding fantasy-drama. About a computer hacker’s search to uncover why and how human beings exist (he should check out The Meaning of Life, by the way), The Zero Theorem even tends towards comedy by the sounds of it. The hacker’s bosses, succinctly named the ‘Management’, strive to distract him by sending a lusty love interest to his place of work. This ‘Management’ lot obviously don’t understand the first rule of um, management – getting results. Surely Christophe Waltz (who plays our lead) won’t deliver results with his attention diverted elsewhere?! This could throw up anything really. Out March 14th in the UK.

 

April

The Double – Director: Richard Ayoade, Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jesse Eisenberg

After his coming-of-age debut Submarine was well received by audiences and critics alike, the stone-faced Richard Ayoade has decided for his second film, to direct Jesse Eisenberg… twice. This peculiar outing about a man stalked by his doppelgänger won over viewers when it premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival, and then carried much momentum onto The Culture Show with Mark Kermode during its life at the BFI London Film Festival. Mia Wasikowska is included in the Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Olsen future of cinema party, and if that’s not enough to clinch your attention, Eisenberg versus Eisenberg in a wit-off is something you have to see in 2014. Out April 4th in the UK.

Transcendence – Director: Wally Pfister, Starring: Johnny Depp

He’s the reason most Christopher Nolan films look as wholesome as they do, but now someone else has to do the same for Wally Pfister (good luck Jess Hall!). Transcendence is his first venture into the directorial chair, and therefore could go either way. Given the extraordinary standards set by his previous work though, don’t expect anything to be left to chance. This story of death, life, and uncompromising power has morality at its heart and a string of Nolan’s acting repertoire to provide the beat. Johnny Depp meets Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall and Cillian Murphy in what is quite simply a exceptional line-up. Out April 25 in the UK.

 

May

Frank – Director: Lenny Abrahamson, Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender

Frank hasn’t been released anywhere yet, therefore we don’t know an awful lot about it. Abrahamson’s last film, What Richard Did, garnered positive reviews from critics, but doesn’t seem to share many similar characteristics with his upcoming piece. About a young musician looking for a break and finding solace in a mysterious, enigmatic band leader who invites him to join, Frank is described as a comedy, a drama and a mystery on IMDb (which is fitting really, because its content certainly is unknown for the most part). Domhnall Gleeson charmed 2013 and Michael Fassbender has developed a reputation greater than most, so we’re in good hands here. It’s also nice to see Scoot McNairy involved, who excelled in Gareth Edwards much talked about debut Monsters. Out May 9th in the UK.

Godzilla – Director: Gareth Edwards, Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen

Speaking of Gareth Edwards, his triumphant 2010 debut has landed him at the helm of the most anticipated blockbuster of the coming summer. Roland Emmerich butchered more than just the Japanese monster in his take on Godzilla fifteen years ago, he also tarnished the immediate legacy of the giant mutant lizard. It looks like Edwards is delving back into the franchise’s original backbone – the trials and tribulations of human nature and greed – which is a good idea in an era where blockbusters have to be intelligent, or its bust. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a solid lead and Elizabeth Olsen has done a whole lot of right so far in her young career. It must be wary of high expectations, however those expectations are only lofty on the back of Edwards’ previous successes. Out May 16th in the UK.

 

June

22 Jump Street – Directors: Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

After the surprising critical and commercial success of the first film, it’s time for Jump Street: The College Years. Undercover cops Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are set to return and after their prior personal triumphs, the pair find themselves surrounded by fraternities and hipster clubs in college. Joint directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have two highly marketable films out in 2014 – the first being The Lego Movie – but both have difficult obstacles to overcome. For 22 Jump Street it’s all about bettering the predecessor, and that will be a big ask. Out June 6th in the UK.

A Million Ways to Die in the West – Director: Seth MacFarlane, Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron

Ted worked out well for Seth MacFarlane, so why not turn his head towards the west? After losing the love of his life to cowardliness, a man finds bravery in the form a gunslinger’s wife, only now the gunslinger wants his wife back. This one sounds like referential humour in abundance. Expect many a cowboy gag and acoustic twang. MacFarlane does blunt comedy very well in animated form, and his cross-over into live action was a successful one. Only time will tell if he can strike an even better balance second time around. Out June 6th in the UK.

 

July

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Director: Matt Reeves, Starring: Gary Oldman

Cloverfield director Matt Reeves tries his hand at an Apes sequel, and will do well to live up to standards set by the first. There’s no James Franco (he’s too busy doing weird indie stuff), nor does Freida Pinto return. However, Gary Oldman has been lined up to take the reins and there can be absolutely quarrels with that appointment. Set eight years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, human survivors of the virus unleashed at the end of the first film bond together in a movement against Caesar’s growing forces. The Picasso of motion-capture acting, Andy Serkis, is back as Caesar in an outing that pertains to being far more action-packed than the first. Out July 17th in the UK.

Jupiter Ascending – Directors: Andy and Lana Wachowski, Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum

In what appears to be 2014’s Cloud Atlas (and hopefully not 2014’s After Earth) Jupiter Ascending will be strung together by mythology, scintillating visual landscapes and probably some croaky language not-of-this-earth. The human species has fallen mightily, and exists near foot of the evolutionary pyramid, where Mila Kunis cleans toilets for a living. Her unfulfilled existence is about to change however, as she is targeted for assassination by the threatened Queen of the Universe in an attempt to ensure her own longevity. You’ve got to hand it to the Wachowski’s: they’re not afraid to dream and do big. In the same vein as their previous films, this’ll likely split opinion. Out July 25th in the UK.

 

August

Guardians of the Galaxy – Director: James Gunn, Starring: Lee Pace, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana

The Avengers’ cousin, this will be Marvel Cinematic Universe’s second offering of the year after Captain America: The Winter Solider, and the first in its own particular superhero story strand. A group of misfits including a warrior, a tree-human hybrid and a squirrel are recruited by a stranded pilot in space as he attempts to fend off a number of cosmic threats and ensure the galaxy’s survival. Guardians received an electric reception

Guardians received an electric reception at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con and there’s a large degree of buzz surrounding the film. With very little exposure in the run up to its release – unlike The Avengers which was preceded by feature-length films for each character – it may not make as big an impact as expected. Out August 1st in the UK.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars – Director: Brett Ratner, Starring: Dwayne Johnson

Much like the battle of White House destruction supremacy that played out in 2013, this year will have its own inter-Herculean duel as two re-imaginings of the Greek demigod come to fruition. The second and more anticipated of the two will be directed by Brett Ratner and will star the franchise re-energiser himself, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, alongside film veterans John Hurt and Ian McShane. Can The Rock layeth the Smacketh-down on both a monstrous warlord and a February release of the same name? Out August 8th in the UK.

 

September

Posh – Director: Lone Scherfig, Starring: Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer

At the time of writing, September is looking pretty starved in the film front. It’s sandwiched amongst that awkward post-summer blockbuster, pre-awards season gap, when many people are heading back to work, school or uni. However Danish director Lone Scherfig has this upper-class thriller lined up to hopefully quench our end-of-holiday blues. Sam Claflin and Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer will star as new members of the Riot Club at Oxford University. With very little known about Posh, let’s place it somewhere between National Lampoon’s Animal House and Pathology for now. Out September 19th in the UK.

 

October

Gone Girl – Director: David Fincher, Starring: Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck

David Fincher has accumulated quite the portfolio of films throughout his career, along with a fair few fans too, so it’ll be interesting to see how this seemingly more straight-forward narrative will go down. Based on a novel of the same name, Gone Girl sees conundrums take precedence as a woman disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary. Fincher doesn’t often disappoint his supporters, and the mystery-thriller element here should be enough for him to juggle with and embroider his own spin. Heck, he’s got Batman as his lead for goodness sake. Out October 3rd in the UK.

 

November

Interstellar – Director: Christopher Nolan, Starring: Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey

In his first film since neatly wrapping up the trials and tribulations of Batman for a while (oh… right) Chris Nolan is taking to space for his next voyage. Hey look, Matthew McConaughey is back again! And this time Double-M is joined by Nolan archivees Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, plus Jessica Chastain, in a sci-fi tale about discovering the bounds of life and surpassing the un-surpass-able. Ahem. Expect wormholes aplenty and probably even some dimension-hopping, time-travelly stuff too. Nolan hasn’t made a bad film in, well, ever, so Interstellar will open with very high expectations. Will it be stellar? Out November 7th in the UK.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – Director: Francis Lawrence, Starring: Jennifer Lawrence

It’s becoming a late-November outing to be thankful for, but with two excellent predecessors, the less-well-regarded Mockingjay (Part 1, to ruffle even more feathers) has hype, expectations and box office records to live up to. Jennifer Lawrence will reclaim the bow for a third time as she helms the rebellion against President Snow and his viscous Capitol. Francis Lawrence infused Catching Fire with more politically current themes, and created an altogether bleaker but better film than first time around – and first time around was pretty damn good. Going by the material in the third book, Francis Lawrence has an even bigger task on his hands here. Part 1 is out November 21st in the UK, with Part 2 to follow a year later.

 

December

Dumb and Dumber To – Directors: Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Starring: Jim Carey, Jeff Daniels

Anchorman 2 by association, and we’re not off to a great start with the title. Much like the return of the Burgundy-brigade after nine years in December 2013, the dimwits are set to return in December 2014 after twenty years doing absolutely nothing. Not really, both Carey and Daniels are far bigger stars these days, raising the question: will it be harder for audiences to acclimatise to their characters’ now Hollywood stupidity? Fortunately, the Farrelly brothers are once again fronting up the sequel which does actually sound quite funny: the duo are on the hunt for a new kidney, so now is probably a good time to find that long-lost child. Out December 19th in the UK.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again – Director: Peter Jackson, Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen

And finally, we once again end the year at the end of the Hobbity adventure. Peter Jackson’s extended extension of J. R. R Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ has improved with age, but will probably never please the hardcore Tolkienati. We’ve been there twice and it’s time to go back again as the world finds out the fate of Bilbo, Gandalf and their company of dwarfs, in their joust with Smaug. The amount of book pages remaining is wearing thin, so it’ll be interesting to see how Jackson expands this final instalment across almost three hours (which he’ll surely do). The Hobbit films haven’t really been a patch on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I’ll certainly miss Jackson’s endeavours into Middle Earth when the franchise finally nestles up. Out December 19th in the UK.

 

 

Some more potential hit or misses:

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Kenneth Branagh): This year’s Jack Reacher, only Tom Cruise is younger and cooler. Out January.

Non-Stop (Jaume Collet-Serra): Taken on a Plane. Out February.

Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier): Wherever von Trier goes controversy follows, and this has controversy smothered all over it. Along with a lot of other… stuff. Part I out February, Part II out March.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 (Marc Webb): Three and Four are already confirmed, and although the first regeneration was a success, counting chickens is a dangerous game. Out April.

Chef (Jon Favreau): Favreau’s Iron Man set a yet-to-be-reached bar for the franchise, and he’s back with RDJ in this tasty comedy. Out May.

The Fault in our Stars (Josh Boone): It’s probably time for a summer weep-fest. Out June.

Transformers 4 (Michael Bay): Let’s not even kid ourselves. Unfortunately, out July.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez): The next chapter in this graphic novel-driven saga. Out August.

Search Party (Scott Armstrong): Matthew Abbadon from LOST is in it. Out September.

The Maze Runner (Wes Ball): Brimming with youthful potential, will this be the next Hunger Games? Out October.

Horrible Bosses 2 (Sean Anders): The first was pretty average, but Christophe Waltz has been snapped up for this one. Out November.

Exodus (Ridley Scott): Scott’s movie-making binge continues with this account of Moses, played by Christian Bale. Out December.

 

What are you looking forward to seeing in 2014? Comment below!