Sunday, October 26, 2014

BLACK FACE, WHITE PLACE: a review of "Dear White People"

Written, Produced and Directed by Justin Simien
***1/2 (three and a half stars) 

In a film that is packed to the brim with one pointed line of dialogue after another, thee was one that cut to the bone for me personally. If I am remembering it correctly, one White character asks Lionel Higgins, the Black, homosexual, bespectacled, massively afro wearing and undeclared college Sophomore whether it was easier (or was it "harder"?)  for him to be Black for Black people or to be Black for White people. Lionel pensively looks at his questioner and plaintively exclaims, "Neither," meaning it is Hell in both instances. And do I completely understand where he is coming from.

"Dear White People," the satire about racial identity set within a predominantly White college is the debut feature film from Writer/Director Justin Simien and in his hands we have a born filmmaker. It has been extremely rare for me to think about a first film that is so assured and confidant in its entire presentation as well as its concepts, intent and language. In fact, Simien beautifully and brilliantly establishes his entire cinematic universe within the film's very first minutes, firmly giving us a sense of time, place, and the rules and boundaries through which his story is being told, plus the barriers his film is defiantly determined to shatter.

In regards to how race relations are presented within the movies, "Dear White People" not only gave me an outlet for seeing and hearing the very things that I have confronted within my own life but are essentially never presented on film, it also serves as a vehement antidote to the likes of "The Help" (2011) and most definitely, "Me And My Pet Negro"...ooops, I meant "The Blind Side" (2009), movies in which Black people are sidelined by those well meaning White characters who exist in the film to make White audiences feel comfortable with seeing anything exploring racism. I hate to break it to some of you out there but racism, by its inherent nature, is not comfortable and we are definitely not living within a post-racial society. "Dear White People" speaks to those very issues so openly and boldly that it is a miracle the film even got made and released in the first place. While not nearly as incendiary or as game changing as quite a number of Spike Lee's films (more on that later), Justin Simien, without question, possesses the very sharp, satirical teeth that we need to offer some much needed color to our social/political cultural commentary. It is also one of the most provocative films of 2014 and a must see in our 21st century dialogue as well as for anyone who just wants to see a damn good movie.

"Dear White People" is set on the mythical Ivy League college campus of Winchester University over the course of an especially turbulent five days. After a gripping prologue during which news reports detail a clash of racial violence upon the campus, Simien rewinds the story to the surprising election of the ironically named Samantha "Sam" White (an excellent Tessa Thompson) as the head of the Armstrong Parker House, a traditionally Black campus dormitory, over the long standing leadership of Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), the son of university Dean Of Students (played by Dennis Haysbert). I describe Sam's surname as being "ironic" as she is the controversial campus radio DJ whose "Dear White People" satirical statements are a constant thorn in the sides of the administrative leaders as well as members of the student body. When one student calls in to her radio show and asks how she and other Black students would feel if there was a show called "Dear Black People," Sam pointedly responds, "There's no need for a 'Dear Black People.' Thanks to Fox News and reality television, we already know what White people think of us."

While Sam embarks upon a anarchistic crusade against the university as new housing rules threaten to demolish the existence of the Armstrong Parker House, and Troy is continuously being groomed by his Father for more political aspirations, the film also introduces us to the glitzy, weave and wig wearing Colandrea Conners, who rechristens herself as "Coco" (played sharply by Teyonah Parris) as well as the aforementioned Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), an aspiring writer/journalist, fan of Mumford And Sons as well as Robert Altman films and is also the campus outcast as he struggles to find a residence hall that will accept him.

All of these characters, their lives, relationships and respective world views all come to an explosive head at the annual Halloween party of the campus humor magazine Pastiche, a full out racist African--American themed event, as led by Kurt Fletcher (played by Kyle Gallner) the despicable, entitled son of the university President.

Justin Simien's "Dear White People" is by far one of the most ambitious films of the year as it not only tackles campus politics and the struggles of racial identity within four distinctly drawn characters but also eviscerates nearly every conceivable media driven image and perception about Black people no matter who has delivered the message, from those horrific "Real Housewives" to Tyler Perry and the "Big Momma's House" franchise to even Bill Cosby (Sam has a tendency to wake from Cosby nightmares that feature straight hair and large sweaters). Even further, the film focuses on our own roles with the continuation and perpetuation of those very same representations with swift and equal venom.

Simien's humor reminded me quite pointedly of his contemporaries like political comedian W. Kamau Bell. "Boondocks" creator Aaron McGruder, and one of my favorite authors, Paul Beatty, whose feverish novel The White Boy Shuffle remains one of the most comedically and politically explosive books I have ever read. Additionally, Simien's voice as a writer is one that forces the audience to stay alert and properly focused in order to not miss any of the nuances as well as the velocity at which the hyper stylized dialogue is presented, a quality that firmly places him in the neighborhood of someone like Aaron Sorkin. Yes, Justin Simien is that good and I applaud him for having the sheer talent and artistic audacity in this day and age to present a collective of intelligent, attractive, highly verbose, complicated Black characters, not only at the forefront of his film but to place them within a college setting at all...a setting in which I cannot think characters of color have possessed a significant presence since the days of Bill Cosby and Debbie Allen's television sitcom "A Different World" and Spike Lee's "School Daze" (1988), and definitely not within a predominantly White collegiate setting. Frankly, it is the film that John Singleton's flat out terrible "Higher Learning" (1995) is still dreaming that it could be.

As ambitious as "Dear White People" happens to be, I would argue lightly that it is perhaps a tad too ambitious or maybe a bit over-stuffed as Simien seemingly wanted to get every single thought he had about his subject matter into one film. I do applaud him for the taking on such a challenge, especially as the film contains a large cast of characters and hey, who knows if he would ever have this chance again anyway? Simien has indeed packed his film to the gills but with a running time of under two hours, some scenes do tend to meander a bit and some of the savage energy is dulled a taste in some of the film's later sections. Simply stated, Justin Simien is not quite the filmmaker that Spike Lee is and while the film undoubtedly reaches for greatness, it doesn't quite get there. Even so, Simien's debut feature is a stronger feature than Lee's debut, the groundbreaking "She's Gotta Have It" (1986) was, and therefore the brass ring is clearly in sight. If Simien gets to make a second film, I would not be surprised at all if he grabs it tightly.

Now the comparison between Justin Simien's "Dear White People" and the work of Spike Lee may seem to be inevitable or perhaps even too easy or even lazy to some of you but indeed, this is a worthy comparisons in my view as this film often took me back to the very emotions I had when I saw "School Daze" for the first time while seated in a Hyde Park movie theater on the South side of Chicago. With that film, Spike Lee unapologetically exposed and unearthed so much of the inner workings and battles of self-perception and identity within the Black community with such a ferocious cinematic voice that I could not even believe that he was actually getting away with airing our "dirty laundry" publicly. While he was indeed taken to task by some in the Black community for speaking about our historically ingrained issues with skin color amongst ourselves, the film importantly began a dialogue. I embraced Spike Lee during those two hours so tightly not just because of his innate filmmaking skills and talents but also because of his fearlessness.

With "Dear White People," first of all, Justin Simien's cinematic voice, like Lee's, is an equally fearless one that never caters to the imaginary White audience in the theater seats, forcing his characters to never exist as approximations of real people but as prefabricated filters for White audiences to better understand Black culture. Simien's characters live and breathe as vibrantly and as vividly as anyone in the real world, as anyone who may have experienced the very same issues our quartet of characters are confronting for themselves.

With Sam, Troy, Coco and Lionel, Justin Simien has given us four people who are all forced to present one face to the world at large while hiding a variety of aspects about themselves so as not to upset any perceptions both Whites and Blacks have about them. "Dear White People" shows precisely and poignantly how those very struggles ingrain themselves within the characters' individual senses of self-perception, as well as self acceptance or rejection, all of which leads to existential crises that are constant and unending within a predominantly White world, and for that matter a highly judgmental Black world.

For what would Sam's peers within the Black Student Union think if they all knew that she was secretly dating a White Teaching Assistant and had Taylor Swift music covertly hidden within her i-pod? What would people think if they knew about the clean-cut, upstanding Troy's secret drug habits? While those are just two instances contained within the film, and Simien is highly sympathetic to them, he is also highly critical of his characters. None of the characters get off easy under Simien's observations and very wisely, he leaves more questions than any pat and unrealistic answers. Yet, it is through Simien's understanding of the compromises his characters make in order to just navigate the world in which they all co-exist, and all of them just wanting to discover a true sense of self.

With Sam, who is so brazenly confrontational and inflammatory, and in many cases rightfully so, Simien does present her as being self-righteous to the point of being nearly irresponsible. And then, let's add on the reality of her mixed heritage and how the world's views of her clashes against how she is continuously trying to figure out how she sees herself. The character of Coco is essentially the opposite side of Sam's coin, as Coco is embroiled in a state of re-invention to the point where she will completely reject her Hyde Park (!) upbringing and refuse to date Black men in order to attain a certain social status, especially as she is attempting to get herself cast in a new reality series. And then, what of poor Lionel who so desperately wants to move himself forward as a writer but finds himself co-opted by the campus White newspaper (where his secret crush is the Editor) to, of course, be marginalized to write about Black culture, a subject he knows little about. All of the conundrums these characters find themselves trapped inside of are all tested, challenged and transformed by film's end and to my perceptions, I am not terribly certain if any of them are truly for the better or not, regardless of their positions. Such is life for Blacks in America.

Dear readers, please allow me to give you a bit of background about myself. At the outset of this review, I mentioned that I completely understood Lionel's inner turmoil. I was born and raised on the Southwest side of Chicago in a predominately Black neighborhood. While my parents were employed within the Chicago Public School system, they enrolled me in a predominantly White private school setting on the campus of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. That experience gave me a profound juggling act to accomplish as I had to figure out my standing among my White peers, plus my Black peers within the same school setting, as well as endure the taunts of my neighborhood peers for being "White" based upon my use of correct English as well as my study habits. And even then, my Black peers in my neighborhood were themselves more accepting of me than my Black peers at church, where I buried everything that I was able, the things that would mark me as being "less than Black" to their perceptions.

While my personal passions for literature, the arts, film, rock music and my overall status as an Anglophile were not even questioned by my White friends at school, I hid them all from the Black kids in my neighborhood for fear of being outcast even further than I already was. By the time of my college years, I actually rejected my admittance to the Black university of Florida A&M solely due to one statement uttered by my Father one day. "You know you can't listen to Led Zeppelin if you go to that school," he said and that was all it took for me to decline any thoughts of Florida because I refused to be forced into yet another box of expectations created by people other than myself.

So, I decided to attend my first choice, my Mother's alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, large, expansive, and predominantly White. Those four years were a constant process of figuring out my own sense of self-perception as I endured the cycle of embracing, rejecting, hiding and mistakenly thinking that I could actually transcend race itself and then returned to embracing my heritage all over again. I had no interest in joining the Black Students Union as I rejected all labels but I also experienced my own sense of solidarity, rage and a bit of fear when a fraternity did stage a mock slave auction during one of their parties in my Freshman year. Overall, my college years in Madison were beautiful and I wouldn't trade them for the world. In so many ways, I was very lucky as I just surrounded myself with people with whom I was always able to just be myself but even so, I was never naive enough to be unaware that I was indeed the fly in the buttermilk.

My adult life in Madison, however, has proven itself to be much more difficult as my Black face in a series of White places, in this case, a collection of private preschools is more than evident, especially as I have been in close contact with some people who may never have ever been near Black people in their entire lives. And again, I am confounding and confronting perceptions, from parents to professional peers and employers, based upon my interests and the way I speak to my skills, talents and professionalism to even wondering just why oh why am I even doing this particular job as a preschool teacher in the first place, even though the sight of a Black man in early childhood education is considered "golden" for schools.

While my own inner crisis has been considerably dulled with age and I am more comfortable within my own skin, I am faced with a world that will never be comfortable with me no matter who I am or my interests and abilities. To the Whites that will always hate me, especially moreso during President Obama's terms in office and prone to enacting now legally acceptable forms of violence against me based upon how I look, there is nothing that I can do. To the Blacks who feel that I am still "not Black enough," what you think matters nothing when the police will pull me over just as quickly as you and see "Black" in both instances. Being unable to simply exist as myself is at times so exhausting when I really think about it heavily and for White people who still do not understand the reality of "White privilege," just ask yourself if you ever have to go through one day of your life wondering how the world will view you simply because of your skin color. If you have never experienced a day like that, then that is indeed a form of White privilege.

I have shared all of this with you because all of those emotions and experiences flooded through me as I watched "Dear White People" and regarded the lives of Sam, Troy, Coco and Lionel unfold on screen and mused about what their lives will undoubtedly become as they age, graduate and enter their adult lives.  It is extremely rare for a film to again cut so deeply and for that, Justin Simien should be heralded for devising such a provocative experience for which we can again begin a dialogue towards understanding each other a little better as well as being enormously entertained by a new filmmaker who clearly has the goods.

No, "Dear White People" is not the cinematic Molotov cocktail that I was perhaps hoping that it would be. But it is indeed a brutally funny, deeply perceptive and sadly sobering slow burn of a film that unrelentingly takes a harsh at our racial state of affairs. For any film that is designed to make you think and then feel a desire to find other people to talk about it, then that film in question is a success as far as I am concerned.

"Dear White People" is one 2014's boldest successes.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A FOUR STAR TRIBUTE TO A FOUR STAR LIFE: a review of "Life Itself"

Based upon the memoir written by Roger Ebert
Directed by Steve James
**** (four stars)

My hero. What else can I say after seeing a tribute this loving? My hero. How I so dearly miss my hero.

Many words on this site have been written in tribute to several figures who have shaped me and in someways or another, have given me the tools in order to write and even realize Savage Cinema in the first place. From Harold Ramis, to Robin Williams and most certainly to John Hughes, who receives annual tributes in this specialized part of the internet, I often feel so compelled to share with you just how important these people, all of whom I have never met in real life, seismically influenced me, my worldview and I just cannot stress enough, every single word that I write.

In the case of Roger Ebert, the tributes carry an even greater weight, as he (alongside the late Gene Siskel), completely opened the universe of the cinema up to me during a time when the movies themselves seemed to introduce themselves to me. It was the perfect meeting at the perfect time, and without the writings, teachings and lifelong guidance of Roger Ebert, I doubt that this particular path would have been one that I would have undertaken at all. That is how important Roger Ebert is to me and how important he will forever remain.

It is more than difficult for me to accept and even believe that I now live in a world where Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel no longer exist. In fact those were the first words I said to myself when I finally began to screen "Life Itself," Director Steve James' lovingly rendered cinematic tribute to the life and legacy of Roger Ebert. The film opens after Ebert's passing with Chicagoans and presumably tourists walk by the luminous Chicago Theater bearing the brightly lit marquee that carries the following words:


And involuntarily, a few tears began to emerge in my eyes because I just cannot believe that he is gone.

Yet, what Steve James has performed and accomplished so richly and triumphantly throughout this two hour documentary is to weave a full portrait of a life in the way that I would imagine Ebert himself would be pleased by if he were able to review this film for himself. It is a film that works without maudlin or easy sentiments and complies much footage and collective of viewpoints from the likes of collaborators, friends, filmmakers of the stature of Martin Scorsese and Werner Herzog, and most crucially, his wife Chaz to convey a deeply complex figure, who just happened to be a world famous celebrity and brilliant writer, who was embarking upon the exact same life journey that we are all undertaking. As Ebert himself states, also at the beginning of this film:

"We are all born with a certain package. We are who we are. Where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We're kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth, is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us." 

So, taking that quotation to heart and the purity of its intent, Director Steve James has not only crafted "Life itself" as a supremely fitting tribute to Roger Ebert, it is also a film of surprising openness and candor, a film of the very style of truth and honest depictions of life as it is lived as Ebert himself championed in his favorite films. As we learn and understand more about Roger Ebert, his upbringing and the life he lived, we are in turn seeing a film that is about all of us. Simply perfect as Roger Ebert's populist style always invited us into the conversation and even after his passing, we are able to still have that conversation through this wonderful film.

Wisely, what Steve James has devised is a chronicle of Ebert's life through a series of movements--much like a jazz suite that flies off on virtuoso diversions and returns to the main themes--instead of a standard birth to death narrative. In some ways, I actually found this approach to feel quite representative of how we naturally exist through life as the past always informs the present while we all ponder our respective futures. Time converges upon itself constantly as that is indeed what we do experience throughout "Life Itself," a film that finds Roger Ebert nearing the conclusion of his life with repeated hospital stays, treatments, operations and procedures all the while with Chaz firmly at his side and Ebert himself forging ahead with his writings and becoming even more expressive with his craft in the process. These sequences arrive as initially visually jarring moments not solely due to Ebert's physical appearance, which was permanently transformed due to the removal of his jaw, but also due to his physical frailty from his lengthy battles with cancer compared with the vibrant urgency with which he seemed to face life for better or for worse.

Of course, James spends copious screen time to the fame aspect of Ebert's life and career as a film critic for the Chicago Sun Times and his ongoing rivalry and eventual brotherhood with Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel during their landmark film criticism television programs and those clips brought a rush of vivid memories back to me as I remember watching them all for the first time. 

But, James also gives us insight into Ebert's ferociously competitive spirit and more than healthy ego, which made him a titanic figure during his college years as editor of The Daily Illini, a Pulitzer Prize winner, screenwriter of Russ Meyers "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" (1970), his uncanny ability to befriend actors and filmmakers while maintaining his journalistic integrity when reviewing films as well as existing as a combative figure with Siskel (just watch the honest, seething rage that arises during their television show outtakes) and at his lowest points, an alcoholic, an aspect James covers with sensitivity and unflinching honesty.

Other aspect that I was surprised to witness on screen were portions of Ebert's hospital care, including some punishing physical therapy sessions as well as very close-up shots of the cleaning of his prosthetic jaw, two sequences that found Ebert wincing painfully. His temper is also displayed during once sequence where he is blatantly ignoring Chaz's wishes and words, just so he can have whatever working space he is able to have at the ready for himself in the hospital because godammit, if he can't have his music and his computer when and how he wants it, then how else is he able to function? By including passages that showcase Ebert's so-called flaws, we are thus given a greater insight into his life experience, a tactic that ensures the film exists beyond hero worship and presents a warts and all portrait, an approach I would think that Ebert himself would have insisted upon because if you're going to make this film, then make this film! 

As with so many great films there is usually a great love story at the core and "Life Itself" houses a beautiful one in Roger and Chaz, and what an engaging and supremely warm presence Chaz Ebert happens to be on screen. Like the best leading ladies, you will undoubtedly fall in love with Chaz just as Roger Ebert did due to her steadfast nature, positively hopeful spirit, sharp sense of  humor and overall determination. While we are able to see images of Roger Ebert's life as a family man complete with grandchildren, Steve James somehow finds the right angles and experiences to elicit a love story that is reflected in just how Roger and Chaz look at each other as well as how they treat each other since standard communication has been so severely compromised.  

"Life Itself," is a film about writing, fame, a life at the movies, building a life in Chicago, exploring various aspects of communication through words all the way to the internet, struggling with isolation, the triumph of the spirit when the flesh begins to fail as well as also existing as a beautiful eulogy for Gene Siskel. It is also a film that reminded me powerfully that Roger Ebert was a writer until the very end of his life ensuring that whatever voice he had been given, he was determined to never silence it until he had not one more word to say. Because of that, "Life Itself" functions as a stirring tribute to our own individual voices and the places that we take and share within the world together. James explores how we influence each other, nurture and care for each other and how one act of kindness can be the precise fuel one needs to simply continue on their own life path.

It only seems fitting to me that Steve James, the man who helmed the legendary three hour basketball driven Chicago documentary "Hoop Dreams" (1994), a film that would have gone largely unseen if not for the full, vibrant endorsements by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, would be the figure to bring the documentary of Roger Ebert's life and legacy to the screen. Additionally, it is was moving to see how Martin Scorsese, one of this documentary's Executive Producers, became visibly emotional when describing a professional and personal low period and how the actions of Ebert and Siskel revitalized his sense of purpose.

In some ways, this film reminded me of Cameron Crowe's documentary "The Union" (2011), which featured Elton John paying tribute to Leon Russell, the musician who was possibly John's greatest influence, as that was an experience that spoke to how if we ever finds ourselves with the ability to reach out and thank those who have influenced us in any conceivable way, then that is an act that should be celebrated. In turn, those very acts that are indeed on display throughout "Life Itself" are precisely what makes this film so celebratory and filled with anecdotes, remembrances and sections that will indeed make you laugh out loud heartedly and smile broadly.

Yes, I did tear up a few times during the film and the film's conclusion certainly left me with a deep melancholy. But those feelings are not indicative of the film as a whole experience as Steve James has delivered a film that is as much about what it means to be alive just like Richard Linklater's masterpiece "Boyhood."

"Life Itself" is indeed that entertaining as well as being that soulful because despite the fact that Roger Ebert's life was played out on the world's stage, his path mirrors our own. Themes of our beginnings, where we come from and how we begin to emerge into our full beings and the lifelong process of existing as those beings, as augmented by our relationships, experiences, successes, failures, aging and bouts with mortality are all shared within this human experience and with "Life Itself," Steve James gave us the life of Roger Ebert to empathize with, to compare and contrast with, and to understand to a greater degree, especially how to possibly confront and process our own eventual final years. Thank you to Steve James and Roger Ebert for sharing this wondrous life with all of us.

"Life Itself" is one of the best films of 2014.

So where and how can you see "Life Itself"? Well, as I have detailed for moth son this site, I had been hoping to see it at my local Sundance theater but sadly, it never arrived due to distribution issues. So, I buckled down and viewed it through my cable provider's "ON DEMAND" feature, which yes, certainly helps with the convenience of not having to leave the house but somehow felt strange as I firmly believe that a film about Roger Ebert demands to be first seen in a movie theater.

But these are the times we live in now as movies are finding a more difficult road in being made and released if they have nothing to do with a toy, a comic book, a sequel or reboot or something with a built in audience. Something I seriously believe that Roger Ebert himself would have much to write about, if he were here to do it. Perhaps it is all up to us now...

Sunday, October 5, 2014

WHO ARE YOU?: a review of "Gone Girl"

Screenplay Written by Gillian Flynn, based upon her novel
Directed by David Fincher
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

I honestly do not quite know how to review this movie without accidentally providing spoilers but I will perform this challenge to the very best of my abilities.

Dear readers, I would be hard pressed to think of a current, A list filmmaker who is able to convey an ocean of building dread quite like David Fincher. Beginning with his breakthrough second film, the serial killer nightmare of "Se7en" (1995), Fincher has created a deeply disturbing and beautifully realized oeuvre of tales depicting events of grotesque murder and dizzying mind benders which only continues with "Gone Girl," his enveloping adaptation of author Gillian Flynn's blockbuster novel.

Now, I have to inform you that I have not read the novel and walking into the theater, I really only had scant knowledge of the plot. Upon exiting the theater, I was truly upended by all of the twists and turns of the story, and most importantly the film's leading characters. I have a strong feeling that if you have read the book and plan on seeing this film, you will be more than satisfied with the results, especially since Flynn adapted her own material for the screenplay. But for those of you who have not read the book strap yourselves in, for nothing is as it seems to be and them some and I would not be surprised at all if Fincher's latest psychological drama plays with your head just enough to make everything normal within your life appear to be skewed.

As far as any plot description that I may provide for you, I think that it is best if I just give you what you are already able to discern from the film's trailers. "Gone Girl" stars Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, a failed writer and current creative writing instructor and bar owner who arrives home on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary to Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) to find her missing, possibly the result of foul play. The ensuing investigation begins to create a media circus thus placing the spotlight of suspicion upon Nick himself. And, that's about all that I feel comfortable sharing with you!

This is what I am able to share. David Fincher has once again crafted an engaging and tremendously meticulous film. Aided and abetted by his chief co-conspirators Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who decorates the film with a terrific 21st century film noir visual palate and Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose ominous film score assists greatly to keep the proceedings appropriately unbalanced, "Gone Girl" is an experience that feels as if it the latest gripping chapter in David Fincher's ongoing cinematic novel. And like the very best novelists, Fincher is a creative force who simply does not rest until he has probed his subject matter as deeply as possibly making for films that transcend their respective genres.

Let's take a film like Fincher's "The Social Network" (2010), which in some respects is a film that isn't really about Facebook at all but it is a film abut hubris, entitlement, greed and how all of those elements sit at the core of our eroding sense of humanity in the 21st century. Or how about his masterpiece "Fight Club" (1999), which could be seen as a satire about pre-millennium white, male rage or a film that is a free fall descent into madness itself. Or how about his spectacular three-hour 1970's crime procedural epic "Zodiac" (2007), which also takes what could have been nothing more a big screen "Law And Order" episode but was ultimately abut how our obsessions have the great potential to consume and undo even the very best of us and especially so, given the very best of intentions, in this case catching and incarcerating a serial killer.

Face it, "Gone Girl" could have easily existed as nothing more than a big budget Lifetime movie but David Fincher has again taken lurid material that can exist upon its own terms and has extended its conceptual reach to exist as cultural commentary. "Gone Girl" is indeed a film about perceptions, secrets, obsessions and the varying perspectives of reality itself and how all of those qualities alter themselves depending upon who is providing you with the information at hand, information which may not entirely be the complete truth to begin with.

While the core of the story and these themes lie at the heart of Nick and Amy's marriage, Fincher goes further by turning his cameras upon us in the audience as he forces us to think about our roles in creating media frenzies when we have considerably little concrete information and only our perceptions to go on. Additionally, Fincher is forcing us to ponder our societal addictions to tabloid television and witch hunt cable "news" programs as well as our roles within the internet culture as our increasing habit with becoming less than five minute experts on a world of subject and controversies that we really know nothing about. We speak so passionately and with such tremendous authority over subjects with which we possess so little information and even less understanding and intelligent comprehension. And how we and the media exploit each other in turn is the vicious cycle that Nick and Amy finds themselves at the epicenter of as well as attempting to manipulate and being manipulated by for everyone's possible victories. Yet, I think that  David Fincher is arguing that in cases like these, we are all losers.

As with each and every David Fincher film, the performances are all exceedingly first rate from top to bottom. Aside from a media lightning rod like Tom Cruise perhaps, I felt that Ben Affleck was perfectly cast as Nick Dunne, not solely because of his strong performance, but because of our knowledge of the media scrutiny and vitriol that has been launched in his direction during portions of his film career and entirely based not upon facts but our perceptions of who we think he is as a person or even as a persona.

I also give much credit to Tyler Perry for his terrific performance as Nick's media hog attorney Tanner Bolt, and Missi Pyle for her blistering satiric work as a Nancy Grace styled cable news host. Kim Dickens (from HBO's "Treme") was also a high point as the intrepid detective Rhonda Boney and what a pleasure it was to see Patrick Fugit from Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" (2000) as Boney's slyly sardonic partner. Carrie Coon, who portrays Nick's twin sister Margo Dunne and is essentially the film's moral conscious practically steals every scene that she is in. And Neil Patrick'll just have to see for yourself.

As for Rosamund Pike, all I can really say about her is that this is indeed her star making performance which grows in complexity and deepens its layers the longer the film unspools. She is sensational and unforgettable and out of this uniformly great cast, I do  hope that she is remembered during awards season for her mesmerizing performance.

I think I can successfully say that I have completed this review without divulging anything essential that would damage your experience with this film. But do prepare yourselves, for this one will knock you sideways leaving you deliciously disturbed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


October looks to be an especially busy cinematic month and all going well, I will be able to see them all and believe me, I do want to see them ALL!!!

First things first. I am certain that for those of yo who happen to e regular followers of this site, you are probably surprised that I have not seen Director Steve James' critically acclaimed "Life Itself," his documentary about the life, writings and eternal influence of the late, great film critic Roger Ebert. Trust me, I am surprised even moreso than you!

You see, I had been hoping and waiting for it to arrive in my city to play at the Sundance theater and for quite a spell it looked as if it would be making its way to that theater as they did have a poster in the lobby and were also running the film's trailer. But, it is now looking as if that film, for whatever reasons involving distribution, is highly unlikely to arrive. Oddly enough, it did play in my city for just one showing on one day at one of the student Unions on the college campus and no, I did not go.because at that time, it seemed likely the film was just this close to appearing at Sundance.

While it would have meant everything in the world to me to have been able to see the documentary in a MOVIE THEATER, it seems as if it is not to be and I have to go the route of...Video On Demand, a format that I refuse to accept as being the means to watch first run films for the first time. it goes...

My plan is to try and scratch out some time to see that film plus Terry Gilliam's "The Zero Theorem" at home. And as for the actual movie theater?

1. Director David Fincher's latest literary adaption, this time, "Gone Girl," based upon the smash novel by Gillian Flynn, opens this very weekend and I 'm going to try my best to get myself a theater seat.

2. I am also hoping to catch the indie comedy "St. Vincent" starring my main man, Mr. Bill Murray!

3. One of the most intriguing films that I have been anxious to see this year is "Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)" from Writer/Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and starring Michael Keaton. Now that the film has begun to receive rave reviews from the film festival circuit, my excitement has only grown.

4. OK Sundance, you didn't get "Life Itself" but PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE,PLEASE Get the new college campus set race relations satire "Dear White People" from Writer/Director Justin Simien!!!!!!

5. And to that end, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE get the indie film festival smash, the drumming drama "Whiplash" while you're at it.

That is much more than enough to keep me busy before the onslaught of holiday film releases so as always, wish me luck...

...and I'll see you when the house lights go down!