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

The Loved Ones (2012)

The Loved OnesRelease Date: June 1, 2012 (U.S.A.)Director: Sean ByrneStars: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria ThaineRuntime: 84 min.

“The Loved Ones” has a constant tense atmopshere, and it just proves that Australians know how to make films extremely well. It follows Brent (Xavier Samuel), a young man who has just turned down Lola Stone’s invitation to the prom. Lola (Robin McLeavy) enlists the help of her father (John Brumpton) to kidnap Brent, and force him to be her prom king – regardless of what he thinks about that. As Lola and Daddy concoct their game, Brent’s mother, girlfriend and the police sheriff launch a search party to find him.

I haven’t been felt this tense during a movie for a long while; and that just says this film does its job. It’s often darkly funny, but always disturbing – in a sort-of gleeful way that makes you want to look away, but honestly, you probably won’t be able to. It takes such a simple premise of kidnapping and makes something special with it, as it constantly goes in unpredictable directions one would never expect from a film. This is why indie films can be so awesome – you’d probably never see a mainstream flick take some of the edgy roads this does. This reminds me of “Carrie”, so it’s as if a Stephen King fan just went the extra mile with the story.

However, this doesn’t go without its flaws. There’s an occuring sub-plot that shows the real prom – with one of Brent’s buddies taking a slutty chick to the prom. It definitely looks more fun than the prom Brent is at, but the film could be just as good without this somewhat redundant sub-plot. Though, I sorta appreciate it because it gives two-minute breathers from the insanely violent scenes with Lola and Daddy. The other flaw is – as great as McLeavy’s performance is as the crazed Lola – she seems too pretty to have to be the one to do the asking for prom, not vice versa.

“The Loved Ones” is so much crazier, and smarter, than one’s everyday sort-of torture porn film. It’s very smart and it feels fresh. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to the main song called “Not Pretty Enough” without feeling tense ever again. It’s a messed-up film, but it’s unforgettable, has a gleefully insane performance by Robin McLeavy, and you’ll feel disturbed more than a few times throughout this flick. It teaches you that you probably shouldn’t decline someone’s invitation to the dance. There’s drills, hammers, needles, the whole nine yards – everything the tool set of a serial killer, quite frankly… This is a experience that shouldn’t be missed; so, watch it. It’s insanely awesome.

Score: 83/100

The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby

Release Date: May 10, 2013

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire

Runtime: 143 min

An astounding adaptation of a novel is rare. Some notable greats include The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, and recently, Life of Pi. There are bad ones, like every other Stephen King adaptation (that isn’t handled by acclaimed directors or starring great actors). The newest book-to-movie adaptation is of The Great Gatsby, where Baz Luhrmann decides to stay faithful to the source material, and this turns out to be a great adaptation of a highly-acclaimed book.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a Midwestern war veteran who moves to Long Island, and he soon becomes attracted to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Luhrmann takes a unique stylish approach to the source material, and there’s enough substance to keep movie-goers satisfied. The odd scene feels empty and rings dull. This is most notably the interaction at the barbershop between Wolfsheim, Gatsby and Carraway. The audience does the feel the emotions they’re supposed to feel, and they become invested in the few characters (Gatsby, Carraway) that are actually likeable.  The symbols of the Green Light and the Eyes of of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are significant enough to the story, that they begin to become characters in themselves; and they begin to feel more likeable than some of the characters. Luhrmann achieves his fantastic vision, while still keeping Fitzgerald’s classic themes – love, hope, dreams, the past, wealth, prosperity, the American dream – intact.

Simultaneously, he achieves the Fitzgerald-like vision, and I think F. Scott Fitzgerald would approve of this if he were alive. I like to think I comprehend the cultural significance of the source novel, even if it is a boring book. I’d rather re-visit this movie and not the book, and that might be because I think listening to big words is easier than reading them. The movie is just as slow as the book itself, but if it were any quicker, it would feel rushed. A rushed movie wouldn’t leave such a lasting impression. It’s a great adaptation because the viewer feels the same way as if they were actually reading the novel. The thought-provoking feature is handled so well and it is very well-made. It’s always intelligent and rarely boring. If one reads the novel, there’s no way they could imagine set pieces so lavish and magnificent as this. I think this is quite the great achievement.

The extravagant set pieces, production design and costume design truly capture the essence of the 1920’s. This movie will make you fall in love with the time period all over again. The contemporary music surprisingly fits the amazing parties that are thrown, as well as the movie’s style. The contrast between the rich lifestyle of Long Island and the slum-like lifestyle of the Valley of Ashes is fascinating.

The introduction of each character is refreshing, and each star captures the significance and mystery of each character. The cast is a great ensemble. Joel Edgerton brings some fine intensity and spot-on arrogance to the despicable Tom Buchanan. If there’s any role to make Edgerton a household name, it’s this one. Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher are the right choices to capture the poor, paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle of the 1920s, as George and Myrtle Wilson, respectively. Elizabeth Debicki rocks her big feature film debut as Jordan Baker. Carey Mulligan (who is almost always fantastic) is delicate and stunning as the irritating Daisy Buchanan, but she really embraces the foolishness of the character, and she performs superbly.

Tobey Maguire is adequate as Nick Carraway. He’s the character that has to keep everyone’s secrets. Maguire’s range of emotions isn’t wide. There’s some obvious emotions of regret, contempt and anxiety when he’s writing about Gatsby; and he always seems intrigued and in awe in Gatsby’s presence. He’s a better presence when he is narrating. The pairing of Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio reminds me of the Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman pair of The Shawshank Redemption. Everyone will praise the latter, and the former will get the shorter end of the stick. Every person who walks out of the theatre will be discussing the latter performer first.

DiCaprio truly captures the essence of Gatsby, a man of hope, of mystery, and delicacy, a man who rose from ashes to be, like Jack Dawson of Titanic, “king of the world”. He is an intriguing character, it just feels right to hear DiCaprio say “old sport” so much in one movie. After watching this great man portray Gatsby, it’s hard to imagine anyone other actor in the role. He gives one hell of a performance, and he is one of the best things about the film. He draws the viewers into the picture more; and the movie truly takes flight right when the essential introduction of the mystery host comes about. It’s really a refreshing introduction to an intriguing character.

Luhrmann surprisingly stays faithful to the novel. He maintains the intelligent themes, takes some really boring material out, and throws some fresh material in. The movie is long and it feels that way, but everything unfolds in a visually compelling way. It’s rarely boring, and Luhrmann truly makes classic literature feel sexy. The utilization of 3D makes the sets even cooler, and it feels like it adds a whole new layer. This is a very good adaptation of a novel hailed as one of literature’s greatest books and tragedies; but sadly, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t translate into one of cinema’s greatest films.

82/100

The Mist (2007)

The Mist

Stephen King’s The Mist

Release Date: November 21, 2007

Director: Frank Darabont

Stars: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden

Runtime: 125 min

A small town in Maine has just been struck by a large lightning storm, and many of the townspeople are going to the local grocery store to stock up. Among these people are Mr. David Drayton (Thomas Jane), a small-time celebrity, and his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble). A mysterious mist falls over the town and local man Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) comes running in yelling “There’s something in the mist!” and that the mist took a local man. There is something lurking in the mist, but what is it? Extraterrestrial creatures? All the townsfolk know is that they’re incredibly dangerous, and if they make one wrong move, it could mean their life. The only key to survival is the occupants of the store coming together and fighting, but will human nature allow it?

The Mist is based on Stephen King’s novella of the same name, written for the screen and directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile). It’s a well-crafted creature feature that brings in brilliant elements of the power of human nature. This situation calls for the people of the store to come together to survive, and not launch at each other’s throats and get bad cases of cabin fever. This is a little hard with a crazy local loon, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden).

Carmody is that crazy person you might see on a street corner saying “Oh Jesus loves ya! He will judge you on this day! Praise Jesus and what not!” You get the picture. I’m not saying that religion is bad, but this woman takes it to a whole new level interpreting the Bible too eerily, and apotheosizing with her imaginary crystal ball. She has read one too many religious books. Even when she may make you want to throw a can of peas at her, she’s an amazing and memorable character. Crazy, yes, but so necessary for the feature, and she is at times an equal threat to the people of the market than whatever’s in that mist. She’s at their throats in the day, and those things come at night. She is also superbly portrayed by Marcia Gay Harden.

The rest of the cast is pretty good. She is the real notable performer, both Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn are good in their roles, but the only other besides Harden worth mentioning is the great Toby Jones, who brings a lot of backbone to an assistant store manager, Ollie. At first glance you might think Ollie is a coward, but give him a gun and put him in this situation, the result is comparable to that of Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs. Though, Hoffman was only fighting against psychopaths, these guys are up against an extreme fundamentalist and monsters of all kinds.
The Mist is a good creature feature that is both taut and clever, slowly paced during the day, but fast-paced when whatever’s out there comes out to play. The characters are top-notch and you can really care for most of them, and the bravery of a select few is extremely admirable. The novella is a little better (as expected) because the reader uses their imagination for what may lie in the mist, and it is much scarier. Though, the creature effects are impressive. One reason it is worse than the novella is the ending that will divide audiences and critics alike.

Darabont takes a much darker route with his ending than King did with his own. Yes, it’s an admirable risk. Yes, it’s what makes the film stand out a little more. But, it just throws it off and messes up the general film. It makes the long film based on a 134-page novella unrewarding. It makes me hesitate to recommend this whole-heartedly, as if one ending could ruin an entire experience, it is this one. It is arguably the most talked about aspect of the feature, but it is no means the best. I still love Darabont with a lot of my might as he directed and wrote for the screen my favourite film, The Green Mile, and he did the same for the amazing The Shawshank Redemption. Darabont took a risk with this new, dark ending, and it did not pay off nearly as well as – say – Stanley Kubrick’s re-imagining of King’s The Shining. That might not be fair to compare the two, but it’s the best analogy that comes to mind.

The ending will divide audiences, some will hate it and some will like it for Darabont’s backbone to be different. I, myself, am unfortunately on the side of hating the ending that did greatly affect my general idea of the mostly solid creature feature. It’s a good film, yes, but it is a big part of what stops it from being great for me. It is also the reason why I hesitate to whole-heartedly recommend this. So, because of that I say: Watch it if you want, but if you like to read, just stick with King’s original 134-page novella.

68/100