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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The Imitation Game is a near perfect biopic on Alan Turing, an unsung World War II hero and the father of modern computers., 18 December 2014

Not many people knew who Alan Turing was, other than the fact that he was the father of modern computing and related artificial intelligence. As a biopic centered on Turing's crucial years, The Imitation Game is a stirring film behind his genius and why he remained an unsung World War II hero until recently.

Set between 1939 and 1945, but flanked by plot arcs set in the early 1920s and 1950s, Norwegian director Morten Tyldum gives us a glimpse into three phases in Turing's life, where each phase reveals a little more about who he was, what he did, and how he helped end World War II by as early as four years. The central aspect has Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) working with British Intelligence as a code breaker in London's Bletchley Park, the UK's Government Code and Cypher School. His job is to break and decipher what the Allies referred to as the unbreakable Enigma Code – Germany's highly encrypted radio transmissions that allowed the Nazi war machine superior naval and aerial assault on vulnerable Allied positions. Assigned to a small group of code breakers including one female, Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley), Turing is initially an outcast due to his reclusive and eccentric nature. With time running out, Turing eventually finds favour in his MI6 supervising officer Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) whose connections with Prime Minister Winston Churchill lands him enough resources to build a machine that has half a chance at breaking the Enigma code.

That World War II ended in Allied victory is retrospective of the final push between the Allied forces and Hitler's Third Reich. While cinema history is studded with countless war and action films encompassing this era, The Imitation Game, on the other hand, is not a war film and not a single bullet is fired by any of the characters. It is still a period piece and one that had to be told for at least two important reasons. In adapting from mathematician Andre Hodges' 1983 book Alan Turing: The Enigma, Debut screenwriter Graham Moore saves these reasons for the final thirty minutes of the story, thus limiting the story to a mere countdown spy-thriller, albeit well told in the hands of the director. After saving as many as 14 million lives, why wasn't Alan Turing a decorated hero? What were the real reasons leading up to his eventual suicide in 1954? And why was his memory granted posthumous honour but only in 2013? The answers are there, some of them shocking, but a little too late in the film which itself is about a story that is told a little too late.

Understandably, Turing's work within the supposedly non-existent MI6 was classified until recently. The fact that this film was made after the declassification of his contribution makes sense. That being said, the final reveal feels restrained and panders towards social commentary rather than taking the time to venerate a war hero. But if you overlook flaws in the story, including a hokey 'Eureka' scene when they finally break the code, The Imitation Game is still a good film with several tense moments; one of which is the juncture the team arrives at when they break the code. It's a startling moment in the film literally illustrating the power of knowledge as godly.

Thematically similar to the Academy Award winning A Beautiful Mind, with as many glowing reviews and the possibility of a parallel Oscar run, I conquer that The Imitation Game is well made and very well acted for a period piece. Cumberbatch anchors his role with absolute virtuoso in portraying Turing as an unlikable and egotistical individual with superior intelligence, while ultimately exposing his vulnerability as a misunderstood introvert. Together with Knightley, they make formidable pairing depicting interpersonal relationships that are equally charming and tragic. It is indeed a tragic story considering what Turing could have achieved for humanity, only to be utterly disregarded by what is supposedly modern civilization.

Birdman (2014)
3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Birdman is a soulful satire that venerates cinema's artistic merits while simultaneously condemning it's contamination through commercialisation., 15 December 2014

If you've noticed during previous telecasts of the Academy Awards, there's always a short spoof movie they play at the beginning of the event. It's a parody of the year's top films where Hollywood lampoons itself. They just love to be at the center of the joke as long as the joke is told by them. Directed, produced and co-written by unconventional Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G Iñárritu, Birdman, sub-titled Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is one such wholesome parody – a pitch black satire where Hollywood makes roaring fun of Hollywood.

And it's a ton of fun from the very first scene where we see Michael Keaton levitating in his underwear. Setting off a chain of parodies is Keaton playing Riggan Thompson, a washed-up middle aged actor whose last blockbuster saw him playing the titular superhero in the 1992 sequel, "Birdman 3". Now 20 years on, he is desperately grasping for former glory by trying to reinvent himself as a theatre artist. As the director and producer of a Broadway play, Riggan has a few problems to tackle, starting with his alter ego, the growling and grotesque voice of Birdman (also Keaton) who taunts Riggan into insecurity and regret. These are bizarre sequences and we are left guessing whether Riggan is mentally unstable or possess supernatural abilities no one else knows about. His second problem is the passive-aggressive nature of his lead actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Known for his brilliant method acting but also infamously impulsive and abrasive, Norton is another caricature of himself as Shiner, an actor whose outbursts leads to a series of disasters on the play's preview nights. With the big opening night just around the corner, Riggan is left to overcome his final obstacle – A New York Times theatre critic (Lindsay Duncun) who loathes Hollywood celebrities for commercialising and thus tainting what was once true art in theatre.

One of the main parodies of this multi-layered film is the fact that the current horde of superhero films from DC Entertainment and Marvel Studios didn't quite exist until Keaton kick-started the genre in 1989 by playing the titular superhero in Batman. It gets better. Keaton hasn't been in the limelight since his 1992 blockbuster sequel, Batman Returns, the same year Riggan peaked in his acting career. Coincidence? Not really. Such is the ingenuity of this film but Keaton and Norton aren't the only ones lampooned and we'll get to that later. Comprising of an ensemble cast, Iñárritu has plenty on offer and they all deliver in uniformity starting with Emma Stone as Riggan's feisty daughter and assistant, Zach Galfianakis as his best friend and manager, Naomi Watts as his lead actress on her first Broadway show, and Amy Ryan as his ex-wife and voice of reason.

Why Birdman will be an Academy Award magnet is obvious. Besides Keaton's comeback of the century and Norton's outstanding delivery, this film is theoretically a movie within a movie and thematically about an actor making a comeback. That's ample flattery to win over The Academy and precisely why The Artist went Oscar crazy in 2011. But irrespective of how this film fares at the 2015 Academy Awards, the real pull is how intensely immersive this film is in creativity, imagination, performance and technical excellence. After winning an Academy Award for last year's Gravity, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is back with more wizardry by shooting the entire film in one continuous take; Seamless digital binding, yes, but otherwise impossible to achieve conventionally. And bolstering the pace is some fantastic music from composer Antonio Sanchez who uses just percussion instruments with perfect timing.

That Iñárritu ends the film with ambiguity could be received with mixed reactions. Like Christopher Nolan before, Iñárritu leaves it open to interpretation and that's always a good thing when giving a film a long lasting impression. Thoroughly entertaining with endless hilarity, both slapstick and dark, Birdman plays on cinema's artistic merits while simultaneously condemning it's contamination through commercialisation. To this effect there's a mini action scene dedicated to the kind of profound stupidity found in a Michael Bay film. Another shot of a meteor plummeting to Earth speaks volumes about the death of stardom and the birth of insanity. If you look closely at the fire ball, you can almost see Bay's name on it.

Dolphins (2014)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
High on social commentary but low on characterization, Dolphins is a film that grows on you over time., 14 December 2014

In his first feature length film, Emirati director Walid Al Shehhi shows that his heart is in the right place with a film that looks to be ahead of its time. Using subtle and often poetic metaphors, Al Shehhi visualizes the social structure of the region through the moral dilemmas of its three main characters – Saud and his divorced parents Fadel and Kawthar.

Set in Ras Al Khaimah over a period of twenty-four hours, we follow Saud as he tries to get his parents back together. Saud stays with his mother Kawthar who is out most of the time. Having been married and divorced at a young age, Kawthar feels her youth was snatched away. As a single mother, she expects to get married again and is seen texting potential suitors and visiting wedding boutiques. Saud does not approve of this but can't find it in himself to confront his mother directly. When he approaches his estranged father to do something about it, he gets turned away. His father Fadel works as an ambulance driver and finds recourse in his work. There's sadness in Fadel's eyes but we aren't sure if this is due to the nature of his work or due to his own personal demons, part of which includes ignoring calls from his son. Struggling with rejection, Saud and his friend Hilal head out to the seaside where their juvenile banter leads them on an adventure to encounter dolphins.

Dolphins is high on social commentary and even dares to foretell of the changing social structure in the UAE. It's a writing on the wall, especially since the cultural norms of the region have long withstood foreign contamination. While the message is clear, characterization leaves more to be desired. The actors playing Saud's parents are so uninspiring that we aren't given a chance to fully connect with them. Supporting characters like Hilal have nothing much to add to the story and I found myself getting annoyed, (as did Saud) as his only purpose was to ask silly questions. In oversight of the acting, I suspect the director was focused more on what the film says rather than how it is said. Scenes where Saud rides an unregistered (and probably unlicensed) quad bike are mirrored by real life images of youth with disregard for authority. Another scene showing Saud rebelling against his mother leads us to believe that respect for elders are on the decline. At the same time, when confronted by his father, Saud's body language is a lot more submissive.

If perceived as an experimental film, Dolphins succeeds, and so does Al Shehhi and the message that he has to convey. My initial reactions weren't as receptive but the fact that the film ends in ambiguity suggests the need for further thought. At best, this is a film that once you watch it, it grows on you over time.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
In as much as it is serious, Force Majeure is equally funny, and always one step ahead as a devious satire on the age old gender clash., 13 December 2014

Distinguished and rare, Force Majeure (originally titled Turist) is in a league of its own. It's the type of film you watch without the faintest notion that you are watching it with a silly grin on your face. The last time I experienced something like this (and I did have a silly grin) was while watching The Grand Budapest Hotel. Conceptually, it's almost the same – a dark comedy disguised as deadpan drama.

With Force Majeure, the hotel here is an upscale ski resort in the French Alps. Cinematography is the first similarity and a huge tick mark in sheer visual splendour. Panoramic vistas of snow covered Alps are filled in several lingering frames. It's a picture perfect postcard and this is how Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund introduces us to a family of four that have just checked-in to the resort. They are photographed together in candid poses with smiles as bright as the scene behind them. This would also be the last time we see them smile. On the second day of their five day vacation, Östlund begins his satirical take on the literal as well as figurative meaning of the title. Using sonic explosions to induce artificial avalanches (to prevent snow piling to dangerous levels that could trigger a natural and catastrophic avalanche) the resort experiences a near-miss incident when one such 'controlled' avalanche occurs very close to where the family is having their lunch. It's a magnificent scene set at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the leeward side of a snow covered slope. We get a third-person perspective of nature's beauty, and simultaneously, her fury (in reference to the title's literal meaning). Acting on an impulse (the figurative meaning), the father saves himself, leaving his wife and kids in the path of the avalanche. The incident leaves everyone shaken but not as much as patriarch Tomas.

What follows is a complete disintegration of the psyche beginning with an escalating confrontation between Tomas and his wife Ebba and the umbilical disconnect it has on their children. With tensions rising between Tomas and Ebba, we dwell on their emotions, and one after the other, we get a peek into their inner most thoughts on duty, honesty, fidelity, and almost every other nuptial value from the bedroom to the kitchen sink. Meanwhile, Östlund stokes sparks into flames with more sonic detonations, a chance encounter with temptation and the arrival of another couple whose inclusion adds the icing to the fast freezing cake. Pun intended.

The humour in all this is hard to miss. But given the possibility that we might misinterpret what's transpiring between Tomas and Ebba, Östlund's already stunning cinematography has a secondary function as well, like Ebba's increasing frigidity depicted by more sonic booms, or Tomas' decreasing sense of freedom set against a random shot of bachelors going wild, and several other scenes of ostensible masterstrokes. Force Majeure is so well written, acted and filmed, that it's difficult to identify a high point and this is precisely why this film is so unpredictably challenging to watch. Even at the end of the film with the family returning home, Östlund begins the story again, this time in the opposite direction. Did I mention impulsive reactions can be unsettling?

Shelter (2014/I)
As Paul Bettany's directorial debut, Shelter misses the head but hits the heart thanks to the solid performance of real life spouse Jennifer Connelly., 12 December 2014

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of New York? A vibrant cityscape? Glitz and glam? Written, produced and directed by Paul Bettany, Shelter is a bleak reminder that even the greatest cities in the world can be extremely unforgiving if time and destiny dictates it.

So it is with Tahir (Anthony Mackie), a Nigerian Muslim with an expired visa, and Hannah (Jennifer Connelly), a suicidal heroin junkie. As an illegal immigrant, Tahir cannot seek communal shelter so makes do by scavenging through trash and busking on plastic buckets. When they meet and eventually fall in love, we learn that one is the victim of circumstance and the other by choice. They have different beliefs owing to different backgrounds but they find dependence and strength in each other. He will get her through her drug addiction and reconciled with her estranged family. She will become the only source of redemption for his violent past. Through drip-fed sympathy we feel their anguish, and just when we think it can't get any worse, Bettany settles for none less than a grim ending, but not before forcing Hannah and Tahir through increasingly stomach churning situations.

Shelter could have been set in any city but Bettany's story is juxtaposed between New York's opulence and rock bottom poverty. In some ways it is dedicated to the couple who lived outside their Manhattan residence but in many ways it is an eye opening account of a worst case scenario that could befall anyone. It's a dark shade of New York (or any other first world city) we either don't see or choose not to, and that's all the more reason why this story had to be told. But in doing so, Bettany's approach is depressing, repulsive and even melodramatic. If such is the intended effect, Shelter has a lot of it and that's largely due to Connelly's solid performance in portraying the plight of a woman who has nothing left, and because she has nothing left, will do anything to survive. Connelly also looks the part, with bones and veins sticking out of what looks like a malnourished frame. On the other hand, Mackie is either miscast or isn't given much to work with. Besides his faltering Nigerian accent, I can't imagine how his character is so well built for a hungry hobo; unless of course, the physique he has in this film is a fundamental requirement that runs alongside his characters in Marvel superhero films.

While there are other questions that go unanswered, including debatable motives from certain characters, a lot of energy is focused on the pathetic situation of a homeless individual. There's no doubt that this is the real world and that poverty can be as devastating as cancer. But even while Bettany's subject matter is loud and clear, his application of Murphy's Law gives away towards a predictable ending with even more melodrama. Overall, you could call it a sophomore effort but there is also every reason to believe that this isn't a directorial attempt for the heck of it. As a first attempt for an actor-turned-director, Bettany gives us a powerful film that hits the heart despite aiming for the head. I sincerely hope there's more where this came from.

10 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
While Horrible Bosses 2 is not entirely horrible, it is still a carbon copy of the first film., 7 December 2014

You know something is not quite right when the original director and screenwriters are not involved in the making of a sequel. While some sequels have actually benefited from new scriptwriters and a different director, Horrible Bosses 2, if anything, stands testament to an age old maxim – 'don't fix it if it ain't broke'.

What made Horrible Bosses a laugh out riot was a funny yet believable story about three white collar stiffs locking horns with their evil bosses. More than just an outrageous comedy, it was a dark fantasy appealing to every Tom, Dick and Harriet cursed with an over demanding boss. At some point, that fantasy works with universal reference to almost anyone watching that film. What worked well in the first film also ended with that film because original director Seth Gordon ensured there weren't many loose ends. One of the main problems with this sequel is the fact that there isn't an actual boss. After the farce that left one boss dead (Colin Farrell) and another in prison (Kevin Spacey), Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day) return as potential entrepreneurs of a bathroom gizmo they call 'Shower Buddy'. But even before they sell their product, the trio is fleeced by real billionaire entrepreneur Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz). Now calling themselves Nickkurtdale Inc, (pronounced as one word, this is even used as a racial gag), they then retort to the dark side by contracting the services of their former no-good adviser – Dean "MF" Jones. Returning as Jones, Jamie Foxx has the best lines in the film and somehow stays above the rest with nothing but amusing screen presence. With a little poking and prodding from Jones, Nickkurtdale devices the perfect plan – kidnap Hanson's equally ruthless son Rex (Chris Pine) as revenge and ransom. Problem is, Rex hates his father too, thus setting up this sequel into a heist of sorts.

Gone is the chemistry between the three leads. Instead, they are written off as imbeciles. A major chunk of Horrible Bosses 2 is made up of whining and bickering from Nick and Kurt, and high pitched squealing from Dale, who turns out to be the team's dimwit with a retarded solution for every situation they encounter. If this is director Sean Anders and a trio of new scriptwriters' way of saying that office workers barely think outside their cubicle, they may be on to something by reiterating that a boss is only as horrible as an employee allowing said boss to remain so. That tick aside, everything else is mere copy-paste from the original including an almost ditto ending.

With the story remaining the same, albeit without any real boss, the only difference is watching actors play concentrated versions of their former characters. Fans of the first film can revel in two short scenes that bring back Spacey, now a criminal with even more wicked sarcasm, while those who fantasized having Jennifer Aniston as a man-eater boss is in for another steamy treat. On the other hand, new additions played by Pine and Waltz aren't penned with enough gusto, especially if like me, you go in expecting maniacal devotion from the latter. At best, Horrible Bosses 2 is a re-written version of the first film. At worst, it is unnecessarily re-written. But if you decide to watch this sequel, the best thing you can do is highly recommend it to your boss; just don't blame me if you get fired.

Boyhood (2014/I)
6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Boyhood is not just the best film of the year, it is an outstanding narration on the passage of time., 6 November 2014

Epic and exceptional are words that don't even begin to describe Boyhood – easily one of the best films of modern cinema and writer/director Richard Linklater's masterpiece. In terms of craftsmanship alone, this film is simply incomparable to anything Hollywood has produced in the last decade or perhaps even more. That's because this film is beyond the realms of make-believe or anything remotely close to Hollywood flamboyance.

As an independent production there can be no better depiction of art imitating life. In its entirety this film is a beautiful but huge canvas about milestones in life including phases of inevitable ugliness, aspirations for the future, mistakes of the past, uncertainty of the present and much more. All this is derived from the film's core component and that is the devastating as well as healing properties of time. It is time that dictates everything, starting with the 12-year period it took to shoot and produce this film, while using the same actors. Linklater began filming in 2002, by painstakingly assembling a larger than life portrait of a boy destined to become a man. The opening scene is angled down on a patch of grass as six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) gazes up at the sky. We don't know what he's thinking but it's clear his mind is abuzz with the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We soon learn Mason and his sister Samantha (Linklater's daughter Lorelei in a breakout role) are products of a broken marriage. Mom (Patricia Arquette) has custody of the kids but is in and out of bad relationships. She struggles to find some sort of balance between being a single mother and her job as a college professor while frequently moving house. Dad (Ethan Hawke) is a loner who often has to drive long distances to see his kids. He is pretty much a man who is still a boy. There are moments when Dad and Mom interact, giving Mason a sliver of hope that his parents eventually reconcile their differences. Then the years go by, and over time we watch Mason and his sister literally grow up on screen.

At times Boyhood resembles a sitcom without the comedy. But have you ever seen characters morph and age naturally in one sitting? Filming in sequential intervals, Linklater documents the highs and lows of growing up as we follow Mason all the way till he's 17-years-old and ready to leave the nest. We hear his voice crack, we see him sprout facial hair, we feel his warm fuzziness as he finds himself attracted to girls, and then his pain when he is heartbroken. While this is happening, we are put in Mason's perspective as his sister, mother and father go through several phases in life. There is so much happening around Mason that the film could have been titled 'Life', and it would have still worked the way it does. As such, everything that happens just feels genuine and that's largely due to Linklater's improvised and intuitive script. And even though the story is scripted, you still feel like you are watching real people go about their day-to-day lives. While you won't find timestamps to indicate years going by, the story is embedded with subtle cues like period music, the end of the Bush Administration and various other world events.

Every character is developed over time and the actors portraying them are so sensational, you think you have known them your whole life. Coltrane especially is an instant standout. There are several frames of Mason just staring into space. He's a dreamer but with a stern eye for detail. When he eventually decides to become a photographer, a teacher tells him there's no scope in art. Boy is he wrong! By just watching Boyhood you become a part of cinematic history. Something like this has never been done before simply because modern art suffers from hyperbolic commercialisation often referred to as 'entertainment'. While it is still very entertaining, it is not the type of film where the makers expect to triple each dollar spent to produce it. In fact, all they spent was $4 million, that too, over a period of 11 years. It just goes to say that some of the greatest things in life are virtually free, if we only know where to look for it.

2014 is already a good year for films. Boyhood just made it phenomenal by a long shot as one of the most overwhelming films ever made. Once you watch it, it stays with you, latched on somewhere deep inside. And speaking of time, its 165 minutes running time flashes in the blink of an eye – just like life.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Beauty and the Beast flourishes with visual pizazz but flips, flops, and fails on every other level., 6 November 2014

Some 70 years before German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm created fairy-tale characters Rapunzel, Snow White and the rest, French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve wrote and published Belle et la Bête – the original fairy-tale we know as Beauty and the Beast. As a Franco-German production dubbed and retitled in English, that's about the only thing original about this 2014 remake Beauty and the Beast.

Prince Charming is a beast, we already know that. But does he have to be boring too? Apparently, co-writer and director Christophe Gans seems to think so. Before deviating from the 1740 incarnation of the titular fairy tale, Gans' begins his story on familiar ground. A wealthy merchant (André Dussollier) has lost his ships at sea and moves his three daughters and three sons to a cottage they all hate but one that I can only dream of owning. The first deviation is the three sons, a subplot that gives rise to generous CGI meant for the action finale. But before that we learn that five of them are spoilt brats that would tell peasants to eat cake when they can't afford bread. Belle (Léa Seydoux), the youngest, is the only one with a heart of gold. While her siblings miss their former wealth (and cake), Belle is content with feeding them vegetables from her pumpkin patch. So when daddy goes into town, Belle only asks for a rose, while the rest asks for the moon (and cake). Of course, daddy ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and then plucks the best rose. We know what happens here on. The rose belongs to a wretched beast who spares daddy's life only to hold Belle ransom until she gives in to his manly demands. And to think this story is being told for generations to children before they go to bed!

It takes a few yawns and couple more winks before we actually see the beast, a CGI spectacle that's bound to knock Andy Serkis into uncontrollable spasms of laughter. Vincent Cassel plays a sheep in beast's clothing with as much tenacity as a wolf stalking a snail. Conversely, the only times he seems threatening are during flashbacks where we see him in human form as a spirited but arrogant prince. These flashbacks are shown as Belle's visions. She's bored (like us) and wanders around the desolate castle until she finds a huge mirror that never comments on her beauty (which is fine because the talking mirror belongs in a Grimm's fairy tale). Instead, she sees the man behind the beast and secretly feels the hots for him. Well, not really, because Gans deviates again, and instead of the originally themed romance, we get a mangled face-off between the aforementioned brothers and a bunch of villainous thieves. Owing to which, Seydoux and Cassell have little screen time together and never enough reason to emote. It's almost as if Gans has forgotten where the story must ultimately converge with the original and central theme of never judging a book by its cover. By this time Gans has also arm-twisted the story to reveal the mysterious spell that turned the Prince into a reclusive creature. It's a twist revelation but one that feels snatched out of a tragic Greek love story.

If ever there's a dire need to watch this film, it would be for Christophe Beaucarne's stunning cinematography - a technical feat that somehow works in tandem with the heavy use of visual effects. Some of the backdrops are almost as impressive as those created in The Hobbit films and that's saying a lot. The other reason is watching Belle's transformation into a bodacious babe. Like my running 'cake' gag, Belle has her own - an array of bejewelled gowns she must wear each day at the dinner table to please her lord and beast. Forget about true love and all that jazz, the sight of bodice meeting bosom can transform any man into a beast!

John Wick (2014)
2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Oozing style and blistering momentum, John Wick is an unrelenting but thoroughly gratifying action film., 29 October 2014

When was the last time you saw a good old fashioned action film? I'm talking about the type of balls-out carnage that existed much before the likes of Michael Bay's dependency on faux-pas image generation. Packed with style, energy, and blistering momentum, John Wick is not just a frame by frame restoration of old-school mayhem, its unrelenting audacity kicks the growing trend for watered down action in the groin. If it is action you want, action you get – no holds barred and thoroughly gratifying.

Helming the film is David Leitich as producer and Chad Stahelski as first time director, both expert fight chorographers and stunt doubles from over two decades of action thrillers. The latter was also responsible for those genre defining action scenes in The Matrix trilogy, besides standing in as Keanu Reeves' stunt double in other films. Speaking of which, Reeves hasn't been in anything memorable since the aforementioned trilogy but returns to form as the titular mob assassin whose very mention irks jittery nerves from New York City cops to the Russian mafia and everyone in between. Mourning the untimely loss of his wife, Wick is brought out of retirement after crossing paths with his former mob employers. Not only do they steal his 1969 Mustang, they also kill his adorable puppy – a posthumous gift from his wife to ease her passing. Now what do they say about taunting a man with a short fuse and nothing to lose? With an arsenal of firearms at his disposal, Wick unleashes a bullet barrage and won't stop until mob boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) and his overindulged son Iosef (Alfie Allen) join the ascending body count.

Although lacking a meaty story, Derek Kolstad's script might seem like yet another revenge film that glorifies characters with a 'particular set of skills'. Needless to say, characters with this skillset are on the rise and just recently we saw Denzel Washington open a can of whoop-ass in The Equalizer. Where John Wick differs is in its unapologetic approach as a violent revenge film with no room for dramatic twists and turns. This is also what makes the film fun to watch because all you have to do is take in the thickening layers of brutality following each wave of fluidly filmed fight scenes.

With intense shootouts (a hefty dollop of which are gritty head shots) and close quarter brute force, the action rarely slows. If it does, it's during moments of straight-faced humour and Kolstad's strategic placement of supporting characters. Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki play fellow assassins. One aids Wick while the other is contracted to kill him. In the neutral zone is Ian McShane who plays the owner of an upscale hotel that serves as a safe house for all assassins. It's a clever touch that says a little more about their profession and the unwritten code of ethics that goes with it. As an only perceivable downside, there isn't much emotion from anyone except Daisy the ill-fated dog. Then again, it's a snug fit for Reeves and the payoff is watching him live up to Wick's reputation of a stone cold killing machine. One scene even has Viggo reciting a verse that fables Wick as the bogyman himself. I'm thinking more along the lines of Keyser Söze in the flesh. Wick-ed indeed.

Gone Girl (2014)
3 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Gone Girl is a dark and cynical thriller that throws a wicked spin into the bells and whistles of modern-day marriage., 20 October 2014

Deliciously dark and wickedly funny, Gone Girl is a multi-layered potboiler that is every bit entertaining and compelling as it is disturbing and shocking. As both a crime drama and psychological thriller, nothing can prepare you for the whiplashing twists and turns that propels the story towards a rewarding and explosive finale, followed by ebbing shockwaves that will leave you in afterthought even after the end credits.

While there are several avenues of praise for this well-made crime caper, top credit goes to director David Fincher for what has to be his finest hour in the art of macabre storytelling. Adapted for the screen by Gillian Flynn's novel of the same name, a large part of that art stems from the systematic crafting of a story that is intended to deceive the audience into thinking exactly what the narrator wants you to think. Perception, derived from illusion, forms the backbone of this story, including how we first relate to lead characters Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his beautiful wife Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike). They live in Missouri after losing their jobs as writers in recession hit New York City. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick returns home from a bar he co-owns with twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) only to find a shattered coffee table and his wife missing. First on the scene is Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) who doesn't find Nick's answers very convincing. In fact, the more Nick is scrutinized the more he appears to be hiding something and within hours the media and Amy's friends and relatives are out for his blood. With Amy's disappearance becoming headline news, speculation rises and Nick becomes the prime suspect. Making matters worse, Nick doesn't appear to be worried about his wife's disappearance either.

Readers of the book will be happy to note that Flynn has also scripted the screenplay. In the wrong hands this film could have turned out pointless and vague – an undesirable yet unforeseeable byproduct of author-director mismatch. With Gone Girl, it's hard to poke fun or fault when the screenplay is adapted by the same person who wrote the source material. If anything, the script is fine tuned for the screen and matched only by the skill of the director, who just happens to be master twister Fincher himself. It's a perfect writer-director union as Fincher is not new to manipulating the audience into believing what they are seeing. That being said, the key words here are 'union' and 'manipulation', which turns out to be the flesh and blood of the story. On the outer layer this film might seem like a whodunit murder mystery, but at the core it is a comically dark social commentary about love and hate and the thin line in between. Before bringing that pot to a boil, Fincher employs a linear narration by allowing the mystery to unravel in real time alongside flashbacks that show how perfect Nick and Amy are when they first meet, to just how incompatible they become before the latter goes missing. Then there's the manipulation. It's not just about the Dunnes or spouse versus spouse or the disintegration of marriage as a spiritual institution. By the time we get into the thick of it, Flynn's commentary manifests into a trudging dark horse tethered to the manipulation of truth and justice, before galloping towards a pound-for-pound revenge finale.

Despite clocking at just under 150 minutes, this is a film not to be missed. Even with an absorbing story and the director's skill in telling that story, Gone Girl wouldn't have turned out half as good as it is without the stellar performances of all involved, including supporting roles from Tyler Perry as Nick's defense lawyer and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy's creepy ex-boyfriend. But come awards season 2015, Gone Girl could be in the spotlight for no other reason than Pike's sensational role that illustrates the idiom 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'. That alone should have a majority of viewers echoing the sentiment – W.T.F!

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