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Gone Girl (2014)
Lifetime movie with a big budget
Gone Girl is a mixed bag of good and bad. It features some fine performances and a mildly interesting plot but has some weak casting and clichéd character archetypes. It is definitely entertaining, but ultimately unconvincing in its plot. The acting is generally good but hardly perfect, and the movie is longer than it needs to be. This meandering movie features a frustratingly ambiguous ending that feels like a cop out.
In terms of acting, Ben Affleck and his sister are both very good, as is the lead detective. Various supporting actors cast as members of the sleazy mass media and Tyler Perry as Affleck's attorney are also fine. However, Amy, the "gone girl" is far less convincing, and I found Neil Patrick Harris' character Desi to be artlessly stilted. The worst casting was the white trash couple who relieved Amy of her travelling funds; conceptually they came off as a low-rent rip-off of Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis' characters from Kalifornia-utterly unoriginal. Amy's parents were annoying, in part by design no doubt, and again the casting felt lazy and obvious.
The plot holes were massive in this movie, far too much suspension of belief was required of the audience. Whether it was the faux rape in Amy's past, the faux pregnancy and its supposed legitimacy on the basis of a contrived urine test or all that time Amy spent at Desi's lake house that would have shown her to be moving about of her free will and completely contradicted her one staged scene she got on camera where she was supposedly injured by Desi, I wasn't buying any of it. I am not sure if this was handled more adeptly in the book or not (haven't read it and not likely given the author wrote the screenplay I doubt it) but I sure hope so or the reading public that made this book a hit has some explaining to do.
Overall, there was a Lifetime movie with a big budget feel and unrealized artistic aspirations to Gone Girl. The movie's attempts at being philosophical (people in a marriage being someone they're not and all that) rang hollow and phony, again I hope these were better handled in the book. Having written this review, I am trying to reflect what was good about it, and apart from a few strong performances and decent production values I am having some trouble. I give it 4/10 stars on the basis of some solid acting and its fair share of semi-mindless entertainment value, but there are far too many negatives to consider this fine cinema or a must-see movie.
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
One of the best movies of its genre of all time, To Live and Die in LA has more style, and is more memorable, than the vast majority of movies from its era. The film, making masterful use of gritty LA backdrops and Wang Chung soundtrack, drips with the atmosphere of cheesy 80s LA in a way that no other film quite matches.
To Live and Die in LA is one of the very few films in my experience that transcends its source book, as the characters really come alive vs. the book. Willem Dafoe gives his best ever performance as the creepy Rick Masters; I find the movie to be a paragon of pure entertainment and nearly 30 years later if I happen on it playing on TV I can't turn it off.
American Hustle (2013)
This movie, while containing decent acting performances for the most part, was difficult and just not very enjoyable to watch. It felt as though it was in love with itself and its whole depiction of 70s east coast disco Guido "culture" when in fact it was just an empty, pointless piece of bombast not half as clever as it thought it was. It felt fake, contrived and half-baked from the first scene to the last, and as others have noted you just didn't care one bit about anyone on screen.
The performances were decent except for the lead FBI guy (sorry but neither his screen nor real name is worth looking up) who tended to overact. But ultimately the poor plotting & pacing and the cliché ridden visuals made this one I wish I would have missed; if there was ever a movie that proves how useless so-called professional critics are, this is it.
Cheezy and far too Hollywood
Without getting into details and therefore, spoilers, I will just say that this is the kind of movie that gives that self-enamored and not so bright place called Hollywood its deservedly bad name. This is not cinema, this is product. Sure the acting is mostly credible but the storyline, the ridiculous actions of the characters and the plot's reliance on improbable events are just too much to take. The cinematography was forgettable as was the soundtrack. The most interesting things in the whole film were the Hopkins character's home and the cool old BMW owned by the Gosling character. Skip this cheezy waste of time.
Ultimately pointless indulgence
I felt this movie was trying, but failed, in making any sort of profound point about the interconnectedness of humanity and the importance and role of communication, or anything else for that matter. And it desperately needed to make some sort of profound point, given its obvious ambition and intentions in that regard. It was nothing more than a "slice of life" movie on a grand, international scale, and felt severely indulgent on the part of the director and all involved. Coming from someone who loved Amores Perros and liked 21 Grams quite a bit, I have to say this was a disappointing movie.
The acting was mixed, with Brad Pitt wooden and one-dimensional and Cate Blanchett annoying and quite unsympathetic. The Japanese scenes felt a tad contrived and left some unanswered questions although I felt the acting was fairly credible. The non-linear timeline and inter-cutting events from three different story lines was not used to great effect and had a tired feeling this time around. Even if it was technically a competently made movie, this one is barely worth a rent and I am glad I didn't spend ten bucks in the theater on it.
Buffalo Soldiers (2001)
Disappointing and flat
This was an OK movie, at best, outside the context of the book. But having read and enjoyed the book quite a bit it was a real disappointment in comparison. I don't recall ever seeing a movie that took so many liberties, large and small, with the book that inspired it. For example, the Hawaii "happy" ending at the conclusion was absurd and a bit of Hollywood in the worst sense. And the portrayal of Stoney was a complete joke relative to the badass he was in the book.
The book was so much deeper, nuanced and philosophical (even beyond the usual book/movie dichotomy), you got a much better feel for, and understanding of, the time and place depicted in the movie. In comparison the movie was flat and felt phoned in. The cast was OK, some decent actors but nobody doing their best work. If you want to have any hope of enjoying the movie, DO NOT read the book first.