Any fans of deep southern gothic potboilers with shamelessly lurid trappings, hectic, labyrinthine mysteries spanning decades acted wonderfully by a massive cast of character versions both old and young should greatly appreciate Dark Places as much as I did. It’s based on a book by Gillian Flynn who also penned the source material for David Fincher’s Gone Girl but for me this was a much, much stronger and more rewarding film. Fincher approached the material with his custom clinical, cynical tunnel vision detachment and meticulously calibrated style while director Gilles Paquet-Brenn adopts a much more sprawling, scattered, rough around the edges vernacular that is more narratively oblong and hazy yet no less compelling and even throws in the faintest glimmer of humanity. Charlize Theron is excellent as ever as Libby, the lone survivor of a farmhouse massacre that left her entire family dead when she was a kid, the killer never found and her left wandering as a broken adult trying to cope. The film intersperses dense, overlapping flashbacks to her difficult childhood life, a troubled brother (Tye Sheridan and Corey Stoll in present day scenes) who was ultimately blamed for the crimes, a desperate mother (Christina Hendricks) and aggressive deadbeat father (Sean Bridgers) who all may have had some hand in the events, although nothing is made clear until you are well beyond neck deep in this tragic, increasingly bizarre small town family saga. Chloe Grace Moretz gives a terrifically creepy performance as her brother’s unstable, untrustworthy teen girlfriend and there’s lots of solid supporting work from great folks like Glenn Moreshower, Andrea Roth, Jeff Chase, Laura Cayouette and Drea de Matteo as a shady stripper with ties to Libby’s past. You know this is a film for true crime fans (even if the story itself is fictitious) when a subplot literally features a club of true crime aficionados led by a twitchy Nicholas Hoult who reach out to Libby in attempts to help her bring the case to a close. There is a *lot* going on in this film, and while not all of it gels into an ultimately cohesive tapestry, the resulting patchwork quilt is beautifully scrappy, full of jagged loose threads and is just an awesome, inky black, deliberately overcooked, chokingly sleazy pit of depravity, hidden half truths, deplorable human beings and even some very well buried pathos that sneaks up out of the slime to surprise you in the back end of the final act. Theron anchors it with her haunted, pensive aura as a fiercely guarded woman who is likely a lot more vulnerable and damaged than she’d care to admit, and the messy, bloody trajectory she must descend down to solve an infamous murder she was unwittingly at the centre of. Absolutely great film.
Do you ever find yourself feeling drawn to or nostalgic for another time period? Like somehow even though you’ve never been, you feel like you miss being there? Owen Wilson has a case of this in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, a charming, brilliant piece that comes across as a ‘small’ film but has some big and deep ideas to discuss with you, the viewer. Wilson is Gil, a hapless wannabe screenwriter who looks up to the literary giants of yesteryear as he meanders around present day Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her family. He keeps going on about “Paris in the 1920’s in the rain” and how lovely it would be to see, hear and feel that for real. Her head is nowhere close to the clouds as his though, she subtly resents his whimsical daydreaming and yearns for suburban sprawl once they tie the knot. Now it’s impossible to really review this film without spoiling the enchanting central premise, so here goes: as he takes dreamy walks around Paris, he discovers that every night at precisely midnight he’s able to quite literally time travel back to the 1920’s. This puts him in close contact with aforementioned writers he considers titans and soon realizes are people just like him. I don’t know much about the figures portrayed here or whether the actors embody them truthfully, but they sure do a grand job of bringing their scenes alive. Kathy Bates is a robust Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll dryly intones Ernest Hemingway, Adrien Brody is great very briefly as Salvador Dali, Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald and so it goes. This could have easily been a high concept, Owen Wilson In King Arthur’s Court style time travel film where the lessons learned are never all that striking or below the surface, but Allen wants to dig deeper. What is it about nostalgia that holds so much power over us? Would it be healthy or productive to live out those fantasies for real, and how would one come out of it? Gil finds a modicum of answer to these questions when he meets restless Adriana (Marion Cotillard, wonderful as always), but there’s a certain portion of theme here that lies in mystery, especially when her side off this phenomena comes into play, a thought provoking venture that I won’t go into here. The production team has wrought such a well lit, meticulously costumed Paris of the 20’s that you almost feel like they somehow tagged along with Gil each night and just filmed the thing there, it’s that good. The story rises up to meet it, and honestly as I type I can’t think of one single thing I disliked about this film. It’s engaging, never too simplistic nor too impenetrable, the actors are all clearly having the time of their lives (check out scene stealers Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy as McAdams’s kvetchy parents) and there’s just this charm over the whole thing that’s irresistible.
In a world of gargantuan Marvel Movie phenomena, it’s nice to see the little guy get some love amidst titans, superheroes and demigods, and by little guy I mean Ant Man, who I recently heard referred to as the underdog of Marvel movie protagonists, and that he is, given adorable slacker charm by Paul Rudd, who couldn’t have been cast better. From InnerSpace to Antibody (first rounds on me if anyone’s heard of that one), the concept of people shrinking down to minuscule size has been a staple of cinema since before The Borrowers said they were doing it before it was cool, and this one, although stubbornly an MCU entry, functions better as a loving throwback to the kind of old school Sci-Fi bliss you’d find someone like Dennis Quaid, Jeff Bridges or Michael Douglas headlining in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Speaking of Douglas, he’s in this, as Dr. Hank Pym, a fancy scientist who should star in his own spinoff/crossover called Honey I Shrunk Paul Rudd, because that’s more or less what happens. Rudd is petty thief Scott Lang, a middle aged dude who acts like he’s twelve until a little fatherly guidance from Pym and a *lot* of snazzy metaphysical science turns him into a microscopic hero. Of course the technology is coveted by a sinister rival scientist, played by Corey Stoll and set set up for this summers sequel as the super villain The Wasp. What I loved so much about this is it knows how to have fun and utilize the potential of it’s premise so effectively. All the scenes involving shrinking have a thoughtful innovation, absurd sense of humour (the toy train crash jump cut killed me) and warped, trippy style. The third act sees a scary malfunction in which he literally can’t stop shrinking and starts to lose himself in molecular infinity, which is probably the coolest or at least most original Sci-fi set piece of any Marvel flick. Joining Rudd and Douglas is whip smart scientist Evangeline Lily (Kate from LOST), and the cast is thick with excellent talent including the lovely Judy Greer as Rudd’s exasperated wife, Bobby Cannavle as her new cop boyfriend, Michael Pena, TI and David Dastmalchian as Rudd’s merry band of thieves, with work from John Slattery and Hayley Atwell to remind us we’re in the Marvel Universe, and a cameo from oddball entertainer Greg Turkington (Baskin Robbins always knows) to remind us this is also a departure for the MCU into something a little more delightfully bizarre. A rockin good time.