It is a crime against the film world to label David Fincher’s newest, ‘Gone Girl,’ with only one word or phrase. There are elements of “thriller” here, an essence of “police procedural.” There’s a teaspoon of “black comedy”, a dash of “recession-related social relevance” and a heaping helping of “media satire”
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, Gone Girl’s literal translation and loyal adaptation acts as the film’s best friend and worst enemy. Some of the best parts of the novel work great on screen, while others are hard to portray. Since the majority of the audience is fully aware of what’s going on, widespread alterations are inevitably taken with caution, no matter how big or small. If too much of the storyline is given away too hastily, the appeal is lost before its midpoint. Unfortunately for director David Fincher, what’s left is a campy shell of a plot extracted from any remnants of wit and mystery.
Fincher is an expert chemist when it comes to concocting the nastiest tales of cynicism and darkness. Gone Girl may not be the culmination of his efforts to date, but it’s undoubtedly a sinister piece of work. There’s an oppressive air within the film, from its meticulously created soundscape and score (from Fincher alums Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) to its plasticized aesthetic. The cynical attitude is evident from the first frame, as the camera looks at the top of Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) head and Nick (Ben Affleck) says he’d like to “crack [his] wife’s head” to reveal the secrets lying in her labyrinthine brain. From that kickoff, we understand this is not a happy marriage. Maybe Fincher feels no marriages are happy.
Frank follows a post-internet age Billy Liar and asks, “What if he did follow his dream through, but his idol was a lunatic?” Jon (Domnhall Gleeson), a young middling English songwriter, gets invited to play keyboard for the aforementioned Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank wears a giant fake head made of papier-mâché and refuses to take it off. Soon, Jon is invited to spend a year in Ireland with the band as they record their painstakingly overblown album, all the while secretly filming it and posting clips to YouTube.
Halt and Catch Fire’s final episode probably aired last night, unless AMC has more faith in the show than its meager audience would suggest and renews it for a second season. I can’t say I’m heartbroken. The finale has all the frustrating aspects of a typical Halt and Catch Fire episode: overwritten speeches, inconsistent characters, disappearing stakes. And yet, as it has several times over the past ten weeks, the show shuffles the deck and sets itself up promisingly for the future. So, though I doubt we’ll get to see how Gordon handles being CEO of Cardiff, or how Cameron and Donna work together running their internet gaming startup, or if Joe reconnects with his absent mother who’s living in the woods (that’s what’s happening, right?), I would watch it. A second season would probably be just as much of a mess as the first season was, but maybe they’d pull it together once the Giant hits the shelves.
On this episode of Halt and Catch Fire we get the return of Susan Fairchild, Donna’s kick-ass alter ego. Not only can Susan recover (allegedly) lost programming code, her talents include some professional level piano playing and a glorious misread of flirty signals from her boss. Susan is fun, spontaneous, and intelligent without taking herself too seriously. She isn’t afraid to make mistakes or too proud to learn from them. At its very best, Halt and Catch Fire is a little like Ms. Fairchild. It tells a story about computer programmers and software engineers swiftly and confidently, adding humor, some melodrama, and more than a little weirdness to a potentially dry subject. This good version of Halt and Catch Fire, the Susan version, has only been seen sporadically over the past seven weeks. Too often the show is bogged down by misplaced ambitions, trying to manufacture meaning and depth that just isn’t there. But slowly, tentatively, the ratio of Susan to Donna seems to be on the upswing.
Joe MacMillan has lots of secrets. Last week it was revealed that he disappeared after quitting IBM and wasn’t seen for over a year. This week scars are revealed, literal scars all over his torso, which are uncovered after Gordon tears off his shirt in the middle of a fistfight. While this revelation primarily calls into question Gordon’s unorthodox fighting technique, it also prompts Joe to improvise a story about how, as a nine-year-old, he was mercilessly bullied for being way too excited about Sputnik and was pushed/fell off a roof. Which gave him these scars. And made him miss the greatest football game of all time.
Last fall, AMC tried to launch a new show in the hour after Breaking Bad, hoping that the millions of viewers watching and tweeting about Walter White would keep tuning in. But Low Winter Sun was a bonafide flop, a critical and ratings fiasco, and the name itself became a sort of punchline to certain snotty TV viewers. Rather than helping launch the new show, its proximity to Breaking Bad only magnified Low Winter Sun’s shortcomings. It became the poster child for poor quality “quality” television, the skeleton of a dark cable drama with none of the skill or soul needed to sustain itself. The network is taking a different tactic with its new drama, Halt and Catch Fire. By debuting in Mad Men’s timeslot after the veteran show wraps up its truncated demi-season, the newbie can live or die on its own merits rather than forced comparisons to one of the greatest shows of all time. That being said, the fact that this is a period piece and a workplace drama is no accident, and I think Halt and Catch Fire’s superficial similarities to Mad Men might entice viewers hungry for more Don Draper but resigned to the fact that they won’t get him for another year.