Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)

Gone Girl
I’ve not read the book, and scrupulously avoided spoilers, and enjoyed this, I think, much more for doing so, and so will try to avoid giving spoilers myself. This is a twisty, intelligent and darkly comic thriller that went into directions I never expected.

As the film begins, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) goes to the bar he runs with his sister, to bitch a little about the fifth wedding anniversary he is going to have to face with his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), with whom he is no longer so happily married. While there, he gets a phone call from a neighbour to advise that he should come home. He arrives to find the door ajar, and some minor damage that might indicate a struggle. Not, at this point, overly concerned he calls the police.

Finding out that Amy was the model for her mother’s range of popular “Amazing Amy” children’s books, and is therefore a kind of celebrity who has previously reported stalking incidents, the police take the disappearance seriously from the outset. It soon appears that the disappearance is more worrying than originally thought but we also see that neither Nick nor Amy (whose voice we hear from readings from her diary) are quite what they seem. As the film progresses, Nick’s public persona goes from victim to villain to stoic victim, back to villain and onwards.

There is enough sex and violence to justify the ’18’ rating (UK) but it is an adult film in more than just its certificate. Some of the plot twists are far-fetched and, at one point, I thought ‘that’s enough now’ though, when it twisted again, I was impressed with both the audacity and the √©lan with which it was done – and carried on doing, even after that. And it is scabrously funny about the role of the television media in shaping public reaction to tragedy. Well worth a watch.


Festen (Thomas Vinterberg, 1998)

Well, I put “Thomas Vinterberg” in the title, giving him credit, but just look at number 10, below.

1. Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in. If a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found.
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. Music must not be used unless it occurs within the scene being filmed, i.e., diegetic.
3. The camera must be a hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. The film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where the action takes place.
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable (if there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6. The film must not contain superficial action (murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden (that is to say that the film takes place here and now).
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
10. The director must not be credited.

This is the Dogme 95 manifesto, as listed on Wikipedia.

Set on the day, and following night, of the 60th birthday celebration (the title means “party”) for a patriarchal owner of a hotel, Helge (Henning Moritzen) welcoming back his remaining children after the funeral of one of his daughters , Festen appears to obey the rules as far as I can see. In places, this is a little distracting, as some of the low-light footage looks very grainy, to a degree that looks like puritanism at the expense of the perceived ‘reality’ of the experience, surely not the intention of this film, but overall delivers a compact and compelling drama.

We join the film’s main protagonist, now Paris-based restaurateur Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) walking along an open and empty road through sunny fields, making his way from the station when he is overtaken by a car. In the car is his younger brother, Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) with his family. Unceremoniously kicking out his wife and three children in order to give Christian a lift back to the house and leaving his family to walk, we swiftly see that Michael is a nasty, thuggish brute, a view that is by no means improved on further viewing, even if we get given some reasons to sympathise with him. The youngest of the family, Michael has lived most of his life away from the family home from the time he was sent to boarding school, and is also in the shadow of the more successful Christian, and out of favour for misbehaving badly the previous year.

Also on the way is their elder sister Helene (Paprika Steen), a bit of a mess in her own way, who rushes her taxi dangerously to get home in time to carry out her duties of welcoming the other guests – this is a very large, formal affair – and is horrified to discover she has been given the room of the dead sister, Linda, though she immediately sees signs that Linda has left a message…

There are twists and turns, with some extra characters introduced and some detail added to the backstory but everything stays in the realms of the plausible – even the appearance of Linda as a ghost is done in such a manner as to be equally interpretable as a dream – and all the action comes out of the behaviour of the characters, who are fleshed out and recognisable people by good script and acting, rather than by cinematic tropes and cliches. Dealing with some serious issues of abuse and responsibility, this could have been either worthy or sensationalist but ends up being neither, managing to craft a watchable, gripping, and frequently very funny drama from beginning to end, with a couple of absolutely mesmerising scenes of revelation that were simply stunning.

If Dogme 95 achieved nothing else, it was worth it for Festen, one of the best films I’ve yet seen.

The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)

I can’t believe there is anybody left who doesn’t already know the ‘twist’ to this movie but, I won’t give it out anyway. It’s difficult to see, watching the film for the first time already knowing what the twist is, that anybody watching it wouldn’t get it – it’s signposted throughout – but, if they did, then fairplay to the director and actors for selling it so well. I understand that Shyamalan has gathered a reputation for making absurdly bad movies but this one is nicely played, even if its premise is rather silly and some of the storytelling is of the blatently telling-not-showing variety.

We start with Bruce Willis’ character, Michael, a respected child psychologist (this is one of the clumsy exposition points), at home with his wife when an intruder breaks into the house. This intruder is one of Michael’s past patients, Vincent (Donnie Wahlberg) come to punish him for not having properly cured his problems. After a violent, traumatic episode, Michael then gets to work with another young patient, Cole (Haley Joel Osment), who has problems reminiscent of Vincent’s. Cole’s problems manifest like Vincent’s but Cole’s explanation, it transpires, is that he can “see dead people”. The film gets around half an hour in before Cole reveals this to Michael but this hardly counts as a spoiler since this was the film’s premise and its advertising tagline. Dead people constantly appear to Cole, frightening him and apparently hurting him, but everyone assumes Cole is simply morbid, disturbed and self-harming. Michael becomes obsessed with helping Cole, even if he can’t believe Cole’s story, and gives a sympathetic ear while he tries to get to the root of his problems, hoping that he can make up for his previous, spectacular, failure with Vincent but the pressure seems to be driving a wedge between him and his wife and they no longer talk.

Since we see the ghosts as Cole sees them, there is little (though not no) doubt that this is a supernatural thriller; There are numerous nice touches and there is a nicely creepy feel to the film, although with few real chills, but there are also numerous points where the plot seems laboured in order to push the ‘trick’. I wonder, if I’d seen this at the time of release, and with no knowledge of its central twist whether I’d have fallen for it and, if so, whether I’d have enjoyed it more. As it stands, I can see plausible reasons why Shyamalan’s subsequent films were less successful. Without the terrific performances from Willis and Osment, along with strong backing from Olivia Williams (always good value) and Toni Collette, this film would have collapsed under the weight of its own silliness.

The Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In

The second film i’ve seen in two days that had an “oh dear, this won’t end well” feel to it, this is a modern take on ‘Frankenstein Created Woman‘ with Antonio Banderas taking the role of the deranged Doctor falling in love with his own creation, in this case a prisoner, Vera (the gorgeous Elena Anaya), plastic surgically altered to resemble his dead wife.

Beyond those basic facts, it’s difficult to describe because there are several plot twists and the fewer you know in advance, the more you’d enjoy the film. Being an Almodovar film, it has some strong female roles but the main focus is equally on Vera and Banderas’ Robert.

There are a couple of pretty nasty scenes, not gratuitously, I think and I was engrossed ’til the end. One of the better films I’ve seen this year.