Gerald’s Game (2017)

 

Gerald’s Game. Directed by: Mike Flanagan. Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas. Runtime: 1h, 43 min. Released: September 29, 2017.

Spoiler warning! If you want to know as little as possible about the movie, come read this after you watch it. You’ve been politely warned.

“Gerald’s Game” is one of the few Stephen King novels that I don’t love. Some chapters are just super slow so I’m not big on the pacing, but it has good moments.

Me not loving the novel is one reason it’s taken me two years to watch this adaptation. But the bigger reason is I just forgot to add this to my Netflix queue. While the novel is sometimes boring, there’s almost always something interesting going on in the film. Director Mike Flanagan manages to make an unfilmable novel into something great.

Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood) go to their summer lake house before the summer season for some kinky sex games in order to spice up their marriage. Gerald handcuffs both Jessie’s hands to the bed frame, pops a couple Viagra and attempts to fulfill an off-putting fantasy… And then he has a heart attack.

Her husband dying on top of her is bad enough, but she’s cuffed to the bed with no way out. These aren’t novelty, porn shop cuffs, either. “These are the real deal. The others can just break if you get going too hard,” informs Gerald.

The setup itself is a horrifying situation. No neighbours for miles and no immediate way out… It’s a claustrophobic feeling, though the bedroom is huge. There are external terrors, too. One’s a starving dog that finds his way into the bedroom. A main one is the Moonlight Man, who I won’t spoil much about other than the name and say his introduction from the shadows is masterful. Director Mike Flanagan does a great job with the imagery like this, like the Moonlight Man and the solid red scenes during the solar eclipse.

Writer Mike Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard use foreshadowing so well in the screenplay and Flanagan’s direction is nothing short of brilliant. It’s brilliant in the tension he creates, as well as smaller moments of setting things up. An example, and only a miniscule spoiler, is when Gerald guides Jessie back into the house before sexcapades after Jessie puts a steak out for the dog (a $200 Kobe rib-eye, from Kobe, Gerald tells us). The dog watches from the comfortable distance of the edge of the woods as they go inside, and Jessie looks back at the open front door for a moment before going into the other hallway. Moments like these are smart. Even smarter is that Flanagan directs it with such ease and any little thing that happens appears to serve a purpose in the film now or it’s set up for later.

I often find one-location survival stories, usually like this, boring because the characters just talk to themselves and work through it – with some flashbacks sprinkled through. The structure works, but it’s not always enthralling, or entertaining, for that matter. That’s why I’m not huge on the novel – it’s just Jessie occasionally talking to herself, cuffed to the bed frame, thinking through the spot she’s in. It’s very internal and not always interesting. It also doesn’t come across as cinematic in the novel.

In the film, however, Flanagan and Howard make it feel completely unique and it gives a new meaning to talking to yourself. Gerald stays in the film because Jessie creates an Imagined Gerald that talks to her throughout. It’s a clever way to keep the great Bruce Greenwood involved, too. It does wonders for the pacing and adds depth to the characters. We don’t know a lot about the couple before they step into the bedroom because that all happens a little before the heart attack and through the exchanges with Imagined Gerald.

It appears to be the dynamic of their marriage in these exchanges. His belittling is like the self-doubt in her mind. It’s a fascinating dynamic because of that and lends itself to the themes of secrets and your past in the film, and just not knowing who you’re marrying. And boy, oh boy, does the story have secrets. These are revealed in Jessie’s past during a solar eclipse, featuring a good performance by Chiara Aurelia as a young Jessie and a memorable turn by Henry Thomas (also featured in Flanagan’s Netflix show “The Haunting of Hill House.”) The flashback aspect of the film is really the only story device that’s part of the survival film formula.

When Jessie’s trying to survive, in the present, there’s also another dynamic with a second version of Jessie, a stronger display of herself that helps her stay on track. I don’t mean to chuck out accolades to Carla Gugino last, because she does such a great job of carrying the weight of the film. She does a great job in horror scenes and is just as good in the dramatic ones, and she just sells the character of Jessie Burlingame. Everything she does on-screen you feel, especially when she’s anxious at the start of the sex game because of the handcuffs and his actions.

The horror itself is often creepy. It doesn’t rely on jump scares, which is refreshing, but often comes naturally from tense build-ups. It’s masterful and the expectation and things the film makes you imagine is very, very good. There’s also one scene that makes me insanely uncomfortable, and the film does its job because horror is good when it’s uncomfortable. Even besides the scares, some scenes are disturbing because of the subject matter.

Back to the character dynamic with herself for a second. The dynamic of Jessie, Second Jessie and Imagined Gerald is electric to watch on-screen. It honestly sounds like the set-up for a dumb joke, but a tableau of Jessie sleeping on the bed, Second Jessie and Imagined Gerald on either side of the bed, and the literally dead Gerald at the foot of the bed is one of my favourite shots in recent memory. It’s simple and makes the craziness of the situation settle in. It’s pictured below (from a screenshot I took on Netflix) and how cool is that?

Score: 80/100

 

 

Gerald's Game tableau

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek

Release Date: May 8, 2009

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy

Runtime: 127 min

Throughout elementary school, my dad would turn on the TV at 5 P.M. to channel 50; the Space channel. That’s the time Star Trek: The Next Generation (or whichever Star Trek TV show it was) would play. I’d make a face and say, “Do we have to watch this?” My dad would reply, “Yes.” Suffice to say, I loathed the show. I comprehend why it has such a fan-base, but man, did it bore me to tears!

If a future me told me that, one day, I’d like, let alone love, a movie that had Star Trek in the title, I would call myself crazy. It looks like I should be calling every mental institution in town; because this Star Trek is freaking awesome!

The brash James T. Kirk tries to live up to his father’s legacy with Mr. Spock keeping him in check as a vengeful, time-traveling Romulan creates black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time.

Star Trek is built to introduce a great franchise to a younger generation, and I’m really glad that it’s so great. The viewer doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to understand what’s going on or even enjoy the hell out of it, for that matter. It’s fairly easy to follow, for a movie that has a lot of time-traveling. Even people with little brains who don’t understand science fiction so well would be able to follow this. To me, that’s very cool. Someone doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy what’s going on, mostly because it’s actually an amazing action movie.

There’s explosions, flying bullets, cool creatures, et cetera. All in space. Sweet! J.J. Abrams is able to bring excellent direction to the feature and some humour to the feature. This makes me want to re-watch all that I’ve seen of Abrams’ work, and re-assess my opinions of some of his movies (Cloverfield, Super 8). He truly brings everything to the table, here; and the movie has some great cinematography and visual effects, as well.

Whilst the film has an excellent pace, I don’t think the story is incredibly impressive. The story is very good for what it is, but it is limited and it doesn’t have much room to elevate itself above a mere revenge story. It has a lot of time travel, but I think the story is only slightly above average. There’s lots of action and some nice drama, and the witticism of it all is very awesome. I think the movie’s strongest aspect are its characters and its ensemble cast.

Chris Pine portrays James T. Kirk this time around, and he’s the great face of the franchise for a new generation. The character becomes suffocated by the shadow of his late father, because he wants to live up to everyone’s expectations. This doesn’t stop him from being very confident and having a good time while performing his duties on the U.S.S. Enterprise. The relationship between he and Spock is a fascinating one. Spock is the main target of the villain Nero (Eric Bana). The Romulan villain is out for vengeance of something Spock did or possibly didn’t do, and that’s what thirsts his anger. Bana is intimidating at the time, but truly forgettable.

Anyway, about Spock. Spock is faced with much emotional turmoil throughout the feature, and it hardly helps that he doesn’t know how to effectively portray – or put into words – what he’s feeling. He’s played awesomely by Zachary Quinto, and I think he and Pine are great to lead the Enterprise. It’s great to watch Quinto, because he reminds me why I spent my time watching every episode of TV’s Heroes (I did that task for Hayden Panettiere, too, though). The rest of the cast (Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, among many others) helps make the fantastic ensemble. They’re an ideal cast to lead the Enterprise. Simon Pegg is also part of the crew, and his role of Scotty reminds me why I enjoy watching him perform so damn much. He’s perfect for this role, and he brings the most wit to the feature. After he shows up, it becomes that much more entertaining and hilarious.

Star Trek isn’t able to elevate itself above a solid revenge story, but there’s hardly anything wrong with that. This enjoyable film will still appeal to both Trekkies and newbies to the franchise. This is immensely entertaining, a great space adventure, and an excellent action film.

88/100

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines

Release Date: March 29, 2013

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes

Runtime: 140 min

When one thinks of an epic, they might think Titanic, Braveheart or maybe Avatar. Even though this doesn’t have huge sinking boats, large wars or stunning visual effects; this truly deserves to be called an epic.

Derek Cianfrance (of Blue Valentine fame) brings us an small-town epic called The Place Beyond the Pines; a thought-provoking and realistic tale of generational feuds, fathers and sons, and corruption. It’s set in the small town of Schenectady, New York, that follows two families over a period of fifteen years. It’s essentially a trilogy of tales, going from chapter to chapter.

Glanton is a stunt motorcycle rider who, after finding out he has a son named Jason, begins to rob banks as a way to provide for his son and his lover, Romina (Eva Mendes). He does with the assistance of his employer, an auto repair shop owner Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), and his superior motorcycle riding skills. His motivation for this is easy to understand as he wants to provide his son and he sees this as the best way fit. He’s a guy who has his priorities in order, even if it implies reckless behaviour and breaking the law time and time again.

Cross’s motivations are harder to comprehend. He’s an ambitious young cop who wants to make his way up in the police force in as little time as possible, as he’s following in his father’s footsteps. The corruption of the police force itself poses enticing decisions for the young rookie.

The strong third act is difficult to discuss without giving too much away, but there are a few things that can be said. It’s admirably carried by young, up and coming stars Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. Cohen plays a character that is an irritating kind-of Eminem-esque wannabe  but he is portrayed adequately and his character is essential to the film.

The third tale explores the idea of legacies and how one split-second decision can send incidental shockwaves through generations. It also explores fatherly influences in a beautiful way; which is a theme that is also highlighted with Glanton and Cross, where Cross has a father figure, and Glanton is the opposite. Corruption and personal gain is best explored in the middle act involving Bradley Cooper’s haunted character. Finally, the bond between fathers and sons and the lengths they’d go to in order to protect their young is very well explored. One of the most prominent themes is, though, is there are (usually) consequences for your actions, admirably said in the movie’s most memorable quote, “If you ride like lightning; you’re gonna crash like thunder.”

The epic crime drama shifts focus a lot, and since it is a trilogy of intertwining stories, it really feels like it could end at any point. In this way, it might work better as a book – but the narrative feels fresh. It’s still one of the lengthy film’s main faults, that the film feels like it’s just coming around the bend to its climax. Thankfully, the ambiguous and hopeful ending at the place beyond the pines is more than pleasing. Some of the characters’ motivations can be also hard to comprehend, but despite the movie’s faults, it’s engaging and it packs a mighty, emotional one-two punch.

The large and talented cast carries the movie extremely well. Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Dane DeHaan (Am I the only one who thinks he’ll, at least, be an Oscar nominee someday?), Bruce Greenwood and Emory Cohen are among the cast, and they help carry the film and they make one heck of an ensemble. The tatted-up Gosling is by far the best of them all. The movie’s at its most booming and usually the most intense when he’s on-screen. He is most deserving of an Oscar nomination, and his powerful performance will remain one of the year’s most memorable. His character is as great and as mysterious as The Driver in Drive, and his performance is as good, if not better; he better not be overlooked by the Academy this time around. Even when he isn’t on-screen, his impact and legacy is felt. Other than Cooper and Gosling, DeHaan and Mendelsohn are the most notable. The score is also very memorable; with Mike Patton’s “The Snow Angel” playing in the background of some of the movie’s strongest and most emotionally sweeping scenes. Who woulda thunk one tune could be so haunting, but filled with such poignancy?

Gosling’s tale is by the far the strongest act of the three, Cooper’s sandwiched between in terms of quality, and DeHaan’s is the weakest, but saved by a fantastic ending. With an epic and beautiful drama like this, “weak” is used lightly – because it is by no means a bad act. They all just happen to pale in comparison to the act where Glanton is the focus. The intense crime drama is riddled with great performances, impressive writing, amazing emotional moments; and no matter how much the film may shift focus from story to story, all in a very lengthy flick, it all intertwines admirably in the end and Cianfrance never loses sight of his stunning and beautiful vision.

88/100