DVD/Stream of the Week: GONE GIRL – 2014’s best Hollywood movie

Rosamund Pike in GONE GIRL

Rosamund Pike in GONE GIRL

In the marvelously entertaining Gone Girl, Ben Affleck plays Nick, a good-looking lug who can turn a phrase. At a party one night, he’s on his A game, and he snags the beautiful Amy (Rosamund Pike). She’s smarter, a good rung on the ladder more attractive than he is, has parents with some money and is a second-hand celebrity to boot. Not particularly gifted and certainly not a striver, he knows he’s the Lucky One. He has married above himself, but he doesn’t have a clue HOW MUCH above until she suddenly disappears.

Based on the enormously popular novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), Gone Girl is the mystery of what has happened to Amy and what is Nick’s role in the disappearance. Plot twists abound, but you won’t get any spoilers from The Movie Gourmet.

This is Rosamund Pike’s movie. Her appearance is so elegant – she looks like a crystal champagne flute with blonde hair – that pulling her out of Victorian period romances into this thriller is inspired. And Pike responds with the performance of her career. She’s just brilliant as she makes us realize that there’s something behind her eyes that we hadn’t anticipated, and then keeps us watching what she is thinking throughout the story.

Gone Girl is directed by the contemporary master David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Here, Fincher has successfully chosen to rely on Flynn’s page turner of a story and the compelling characters, so Gone Girl is the least flashy of his films, but one of the most accessible. I’ll say this for Fincher – I can’t remember a more perfectly cast movie.

Kim Dickens (Treme, Deadwood) is superb as the investigating detective – this time almost unrecognizable as a brunette. Tyler Perry is wonderfully fun as a crafty celebrity attorney. The unheralded Carrie Coon is excellent as Nick’s twin sister (I want to see more of her in the movies). Missi Pyle does such a good job as a despicable cable TV personality that I thought I was actually watching a despicable cable TV personality. And David Clennon and (especially) Lisa Banes positively gleam as Amy’s parents. (Carefully observe every behavior by the parents in this movie.)

Just like the thug in The Guard who forget whether he had been diagnosed in prison as a sociopath or a psychopath, I had the ask The Wife, who turned me on to this passage from Psychology Today. It’s useful to read this because, although you don’t realize it for forty-five minutes or so, Gone Girl is also a study of psychopathy.

Psychopaths … are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature.

When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail in advance and often have contingency plans in place. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, psychopathic criminals are cool, calm, and meticulous. Their crimes, whether violent or non-violent, will be highly organized and generally offer few clues for authorities to pursue. Intelligent psychopaths make excellent white-collar criminals and “con artists” due to their calm and charismatic natures.

Gillian Flynn changed the story’s ending for the movie. The Wife, who is a big fan of the novel, didn’t mind. Gone Girl is recommended for both those who have and have not read the book. I understand that there’s more humor in the movie, as we occasionally laugh at the extremity of the behavior of one of the characters.

It all adds up into a remarkably fun movie and one that I was still mulling it over days later. Gone Girl was the best big Hollywood studio movie of 2014 (not counting releases from the prestige distribution arms of the major studios). It’s now available on DVD from Netflix and streaming on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and Flixster.

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coming up on TV: rock concerts in their time

Otis Redding in MONTEREY POP

On September 21, Turner Classic Movies presents five movies with some of the most unforgettable rock concert footage:

  • Monterey Pop (1968):  This is one of the few DVDs that I still own, for the performances by Mamas and the Papas, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Canned Heat, Simon and Garfunkle, Jefferson Airplane, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Country Joe and the Fish and The Who.   It’s okay with me if you fast forward over Ravi Shankar.  Pete Townsend and Jimi Hendrix had a guitar-destroying competition, which Hendrix, aided by lighter fluid, undeniably won.
  • Woodstock (1970):  TCM is airing the director’s cut of the film chronicling the most iconic rock concert ever, also a pivotal social and cultural phenomenon.  Performers include: Joan Baez, Crosby Still & Nash, Arlo Guthrie, The Who, Sha Na Na, Richie Havens, Joe Cocker,  Country Joe and the Fish, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana and (wait for it…) Ten Years After.
  • Gimme Shelter (1970):  The anti-Woodstock – the ill-fated Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, showing what happened when someone tried to put on a major free concert without Bill Graham or any other adult supervision, depending on the (literally) murderous Hell’s Angels for security.   Includes some footage of that notorious publicity grabber,  attorney Melvin Belli in real-time negotiations.  What’s unforgettable, of course, is watching Mick Jagger dealing with a murder at the foot of his stage.
  • Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967):  The story of Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England, when he was transitioning from an acoustic to an electric artist.  This film opens with what must be the first music video, as Dylan holds up cards with the lyrics for Subterranean Homesick Blues.
    The pump don’t work
    ‘Cause the vandals took the handles
  • Jimi Hendrix (1973):  I haven’t seen this movie, which contains  1967-70 concert footage and interviews with his contemporaries.  Here’s a tip for Hendrix fans – the Hendrix display in his hometown’s Seattle Rock and Roll Museum (now Museum of Pop Culture) is superb.

D.A. Pennebaker directed both Monterey Pop and Don’t Look Back.  Pennebaker also excels in political documentaries; he was the cinematographer for Primary and the director of The War Room.

I would argue that the Janis Joplin and Otis Redding sets in Monterey Pop are the best live performances ever filmed. Watch for Mama Cass in the audience reacting to Janis with a “Wow”.

Great music and lots of stoned people.  Set that DVR.

D.A. Pennebaker invents the music video in BOB DYAN: DON’T LOOK BACK

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Movies to See Right Now

Jeremy Renner in WIND RIVER

We’re in the dog days of summer movies, waiting for the Prestige Movies starting in late October, and hoping that some gems sneak into theaters now. For the time being, just make sure that you’ve seen these three:

  • The contemporary Western thriller Wind River, which has mystery, explosive action, wild scenery and some great acting, especially by Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham.
  • The delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.
  • The historical thriller Dunkirk.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly timed to the beat of music.
  • I enjoyed Charlize Theron’s rock ’em, sock ’em, espionage thriller Atomic Blonde.

My DID/Stream of the Week is Stories We Tell from brilliant Canadian director Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz), a documentary in which she interviews members of her own family about her mother, who died when Sarah was 11. It doesn’t take long before Sarah uncovers a major surprise about her own life. And then she steps into an even bigger surprise about the first surprise.  You can rent Stories We Tell on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and stream it from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On September 17, Turner Classic Movies airs In a Lonely Place (1950). The most unsettlingly sexy film noiress Gloria Grahame falls for the troubled screenwriter Humphrey Bogart, a guy with a MAJOR anger management issue; once she’s hooked, she realizes that he might be a murderer after all…Nicholas Ray directs. In a Lonely Place justifiably made the BBC’s list of the 100 Greatest American Films. The Czar of Noir Eddie Muller has named it as his #1 noir.

Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart in IN A LONELY PLACE

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DVD/Stream of the Week: STORIES WE TELL – when life surprises…and how we explain it

Michael Polley in STORIES WE TELL

Stories We Tell is the third film from brilliant Canadian director Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz), a documentary in which she interviews members of her own family about her mother, who died when Sarah was 11. It doesn’t take long before Sarah uncovers a major surprise about her own life. And then she steps into an even bigger surprise about the first surprise. And then there’s a completely unexpected reaction by Polley’s father Michael.

There are surprises aplenty in the Polley family saga, but how folks react to the discoveries is just as interesting. It helps that everyone in the Polley family has a deliciously wicked sense of humor.

The family story is compelling enough, but Polley also explores story telling itself. Everyone who knew Polley’s mother tells her story from a different perspective. But we can weave together the often conflicting versions into what seems like a pretty complete portrait of a complicated person.

Polley adds more layers of meaning and ties the material together by filming herself recording her father reading his version of the story – his memoir serves as the unifying narration.

To take us back to the 1960s, Polley uses one-third actual home movies and two-thirds re-creations (with actors) shot on Super 8 film. Polley hired cinematographer Iris Ng after seeing Ng’s 5 minute Super 8 short. The most haunting clip is a real one, a video of the actress Mom’s audition for a 60s Canadian TV show.

Make sure that you watch all of the end credits – there’s one more surprise, and it’s hilarious.

You can rent Stories We Tell on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and stream it from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

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Movies to See Right Now

Graham Greene and Elizabeth Olsen in WIND RIVER

Do your self a favor and make sure that you see the best of this summer:

  • The contemporary Western thriller Wind River, which has mystery, explosive action, wild scenery and some great acting, especially by Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham.
  • The delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.
  • The historical thriller Dunkirk.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly timed to the beat of music.
  • I enjoyed Charlize Theron’s rock ’em, sock ’em, espionage thriller Atomic Blonde.
  • The Trip to Spain, another gourmet romp from Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan is funny for the first 90 minutes or so – just leave when the characters part company in Malaga.

My Stream of the Week is the surprisingly engaging documentary about New York Times obituaries Obit, a superb study writing – we sit on the writers’ shoulders and observe their process in real-time.  Obit is now available to stream on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On September 9, Turner Classic Movies airs Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of voyeurism, Rear Window.   Here we have James Stewart playing a guy frustrated because he is trapped at home by a disability. When he observes some activity by neighbors that he interprets as a possible murder, he becomes more and more obsessed and voyeuristic. When it looks like he has been correct instead of paranoid, that business about being trapped by a disability takes on a whole new meaning.  With the cool beauty Grace Kelly and the glowering and menacing Raymond Burr.

REAR WINDOW

REAR WINDOW

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coming up on TV: NIGHT ON EARTH

NIGHT ON EARTH in Rome

Coming up on Turner Classic Movies on September 8 is Night on Earth, with one of the very funniest scenes and one of the very saddest scenes in the same movie.  Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Night on Earth is comprised of five vignettes each in a taxi and each in a different city: Los Angeles, New York, Paris Rome and, of all places, Helsinki.

Moving west to east across the time zones, Night on Earth opens with the contrast between a working class driver (Wynona Ryder) and a striver executive (Gena Rowlands) and how they connect – or don’t.

Then we move to New York where a totally disoriented East German immigrant (Armin Mueller-Stahl) gets a job driving a hack (on his first or second day in the US) and picks up potty-mouthed passengers (Giancarlo Esposito and Rosie Perez).

The LA and NYC scenes are good, but Night on Earth really accelerates in Paris when an African immigrant driver (Isaach De Bankolé) picks up a blind woman (the gap-toothed beauty Béatrice Dall). They are both a bit touchy and immediately get underneath each others skins. The prickly conversation that follows teaches each a little about the other.

Now we get to perhaps the funniest episode in the movies (yes, I mean in the history of cinema).   A manic, motormouth Roman cabbie (Roberto Benigni) picks up an ailing Catholic cleric and regales him with an unwanted stream of consciousness confession, highlighting his own ever more inappropriate sexual partners, including a pumpkin and a sheep. It’s a rapid fire comedic assault sure to convulse any audience.

Finally, in Helsinki, two guys toss their passed-out buddy into a cab, and explain that he’s had the worst day ever – he has lost his job just when he has a wife looking for a divorce and a pregnant daughter. But the driver (Matti Pellonpää) tells them a story that tops it. Profound sadness.

The cult director and indie favorite Jarmusch made Night on Earth in 1991 after he first made a splash with Mystery Train.  He followed it with Dead Man, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Coffee and Cigarettes, Broken Flowers and last year’s PatersonNight on Earth is one of the few movies that I own on DVD, and it’s now available from the Criterion Collection.  But you can see it Friday on TCM. Go for it.

NIGHT ON EARTH in Paris

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Stream of the Week: OBIT – it’s really not about death

OBIT

The one absolutely essential requisite for a fine documentary film is a fascinating subject, and Obit proves that an insightful filmmaker can find the fascination in the most unlikely place.  It’s about the writing of New York Times obituaries.  Director Vanessa Gould chose the subject when the NYT published the obit of an acquaintance whom she feared would become overlooked;  the story in her own words is here (scroll down).

The writers in Obit explain something counter-intuitive – good obituaries are very little about a person’s death.  Sure, they are published upon a death, but the key to an obit is to explain the person’s life.  It helps that the NYT obits eschew the old-fashioned and hypocritical canonization of the dead, instead pseudo-resurrecting them by finding what was most interesting about their lives.

Obit is a superb study on writing. We sit on the writers’ shoulders and observe their process in real-time.  Obit lives up to its tagline: Life on a Deadline.

Obit was released briefly earlier this year and is now available to stream on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

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Movies to See Right Now

Gil Birmingham in WIND RIVER

With the contemporary Western thriller Wind River, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has delivered another masterpiece, this time in his first effort as director. It’s got mystery, explosive action, wild scenery and some great acting, especially by Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham.

Other movies that are among the best of the year are the historical thriller Dunkirk and the delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly timed to the beat of music.
  • I enjoyed Charlize Theron’s rock ’em, sock ’em, espionage thriller Atomic Blonde.
  • The Trip to Spain, another gourmet romp from Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan is funny for the first 90 minutes or so – just leave when the characters part company in Malaga.

Given that Netflix will release Top of the Lake: China Girl in September, my DVD/Stream of the Week is the original Top of the Lake from 2013. It’s the perfect choice to binge watch on Labor Day weekend.

Turner Classic Movies spotlights the director Werner Herzog on September 7 with Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, Stroszek, Aguirre the Wrath of God and Cobra Libre and the Les Blank documentaries Burden of Dreams (about the making of Fitzcarraldo) and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

On September 4, TCM brings us an evening of boxing films, including Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Harder They Fall, Somebody Up There Likes Me and The Golden Boy.  I am recommending the 1972 Fat City from the great director John Huston. Huston shot the film in Stockton, and Fat City is a time capsule for the Central Valley in the early 70s. Stacy Keach plays a boxer on the slide, his skills unraveled by his alcoholism. He inspires a kid (a very young Jeff Bridges), who becomes a boxer on the rise.

Keach and Susan Tyrrell give dead-on performances as pathetic sad sack barflies. Tyrrell was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. In this wonderful 2000 profile in LA Weekly, Tyrrell said, “The last thing my mother said to me was, ‘SuSu, your life is a celebration of everything that is cheap and tawdry.’ I’ve always liked that, and I’ve always tried to live up to it.”

Susan Tyrrell in FAT CITY

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DVD/Stream of the Week: the original TOP OF THE LAKE

Elisabeth Moss in TOP OF THE LAKE

Netflix will release the episodic drama Top of the Lake: China Girl in September.  It premiered at this May’s Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews.  The Wife and I are looking forward to binging through it when it’s available.  So NOW is a good time to catch up on the FIRST season of Top of the Lake from 2013 – you can binge it on Labor Day Weekend.

In the original Top of the Lake, Moss plays an Australian detective who returns to her rural New Zealand hometown only to get entangled in the case of a missing pregnant 12-year-old. Moss’ cop begins unraveling the community’s secrets, and it turns out that she has a past herself. It’s easy to find oddballs and seekers in a mountain community, along with the usual crop of redneck louts, and this New Zealand backwater has more than its share of both. There’s a dodgy police commander, a slimy real estate broker, a bunch of edgy teenagers – and the protagonist’s old prom date is now living in a tent.

But that’s nothing compared to one of the most twisted characters of recent years, the sadistic local drug lord played by Peter Mullan (the Red Riding series, Tyrannosaur, The Claim).

And then there’s a colony of women living in shipping containers while they heal from life’s traumas and seek enlightenment. Their sometimes catatonic and always harsh guru is played by Holly Hunter.

Throw all these characters together into a cleverly constructed plot, and you’ve got one highly entertaining series.

Peter Mullan in TOP OF THE LAKE

Top of the Lake was created by New Zealand’s own Oscar-winning director Jane Campion.  Each of the episodes is only 48-50 minutes long, so watching all seven episodes goes pretty briskly.

In Top of the Lake: Chine Girl, the Elisabeth Moss character is back in Sydney, Australia,  and Nicole Kidman will join the cast.

Holly Hunter in TOP OF THE LAKE

You can catch Top of the Lake episodes on the Sundance Channel or watch all seven episodes on  DVD from Netflix or streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu, YouTube and Google Play.

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Movies to See Right Now

Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham in WIND RIVER

With the contemporary Western thriller Wind River, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has delivered another masterpiece, this time in his first effort as director. It’s got mystery, explosive action, wild scenery and some great acting, especially by Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham.

Other movies that are among the best of the year are the historical thriller Dunkirk and the delightful romantic comedy The Big Sick.

The best of the rest:

  • Baby Driver is just an action movie, but the walking, running and driving are brilliantly timed to the beat of music.
  • I enjoyed Charlize Theron’s rock ’em, sock ’em, espionage thriller Atomic Blonde.
  • The Trip to Spain, another gourmet romp from Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan is funny for the first 90 minutes or so – just leave when the characters part company in Malaga.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is an Oscar-winner that you haven’t seen: the Feel Good documentary Undefeated. You can find it on DVD and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

On August 30, Turner Classic Movies presents the second and the funniest of Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther movies, 1964’s A Shot in the Dark, in which Peter Sellers really comes into his own as Inspector Clouseau. A Shot in the Dark also introduces Herbert Lom, the king ofte slow burn, as Clouseau’s perpetually infuriated boss.

On September 1, TCM airs the 1933 submarine movie Hell Below. It’s a pretty contrived Robert Montgomery vehicle, but there are some elements worth fast-forwarding to. The comic relief is provided by Jimmy Durante, who plays the cook Ptomaine; Baby Boomers tend to remember Durante for his shtick on variety shows of the 1950s and 1960s – here’s the unadulterated Durante. Durante even boxes with a kangeroo! Hell Below also features Walter Huston, who was a major star at the time and who I think would be very successful today.

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in A SHOT IN THE DARK

Herbert Lom in A SHOT IN THE DARK

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