Monday, October 13, 2014

'The Judge': Why Critics and Movie Audiences Gave It Very Different Verdicts

I had been looking forward to the opening of The Judge for a while since I try to see every movie in which Billy Bob Thornton appears.

Bobby Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr. aren't exactly chopped liver either.

Billy Bob Thornton has a relatively minor role in The Judge,
which revolves around the estranged father and son
played by Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr.
So I was surprised when the consensus of critics on Rotten Tomatoes was a dismissive 47% green splat, whereas real movie goers dished out a whopping 82% favorable rating (4.1 out of a possible 5 stars). Why the disparity?

After seeing the movie last night, I think I get it.

***SPOILER ALERT -- Stop reading if you have not yet seen The Judge***

The Judge is about as formulaic and feel good a movie as you can get in this post modern age. Instead of having one of those artsy ambiguous endings where you leave the theater thinking "WTF just happened?" you are bludgeoned with hints that the Prodigal Son, the girl he left behind and his precious daughter will all live happily ever after.

Hank Palmer no longer has to run away from his home town or himself since he knows his daddy loves and approves of him. Even his bitter brother, whose budding baseball career he ruined in a car wreck, forgives him. And instead of defending reprehensible criminals, he will now dispense justice in a Disneyfied small Indiana town that was actually a melange of more picturesque bergs in Massachusetts.

Having recently seen This Is Where I Leave You, I couldn't help but have a bad case of deja vu when Hank Palmer discovers his old high school sweetie is still hanging around town, and the flame between them is rekindled. What's up with these male-fantasy women who wait in the wings until their knight comes riding back into town on his limping horse?

The main reason the critics disliked The Judge is that it's too Hollywood. Unlike more nuanced indie films, the characters in the movie are black and white, like Duvall's cold-hearted dad who turns out to be as sentimental as a Hallmark card and Downey's big city lawyer with a hard candy shell and soft center.

I am not above enjoying a feel good movie about an estranged father and son who repair their relationship, especially when it has some courtroom scenes and a pretty lake in the background. Sure The Judge relies on every cliche known to movie makers, but sometimes we just want the comfort of a really good meat loaf.

Oh, and did I mention Billy Bob Thornton is in it?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

'Gone Girl' Movie Ending: What Should Have Happened Instead

***SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you have not yet seen the Gone Girl movie or do not want to know the ending.

Rumor had it that the ending of the movie version of Gone Girl was going to be different than the book's, but it's not. Though I did not read Gillian Flynn's best selling novel, I read on the Internet that both the book and movie have the same ending; so it must be true. And, yes, I am just kidding (about the Internet = true part).

The problem is, the ending of the movie left me and many of my movie theater mates feeling meh. Why did we just sit through two and a half hours of drama only to be left with this monstrous woman and her snaky husband deciding to stay married?

Maybe it's because life, like bitches, is complicated, and justice mostly happens in fairy tales. Not to change the subject, but have you seen one Wall Street investment banker convicted for his role in the 2008 financial melt down?

So, would we have felt better if Amy Dunne had been outed and punished for her multiple frame-ups of men?
The Gone Girl ending is one of the most controversial aspects
of the movie, second to its alleged misogyny

Probably half the people in the audience would have based on Gallup polls of people who read the book (okay, maybe not Gallup polls, but somehow this random statistic is floating around cyberspace).

These are the same people who read novels and watch the news to see the bad guy (or gal) get theirs. They are justice seekers who, like my husband, stopped watching House of Cards at the beginning of the second season (***Warning: House of Cards SPOILER ALERT ***) after Frank killed Zoe because there were no more good guys to root for and Frank was literally getting away with murders.

(My husband also thinks I am crazy for watching Dateline, 48 Hours and the like because he does not understand my fascination with sociopaths and probably measures the anti-freeze in the garage... just in case.)

The movie "Gone Girl" was as much
a mockery of Nancy Grace
as marriage
Though the ending of Gone Girl is more palatable for people who can hang in the gray zone and do not expect good guys to prevail, novelist turned screenwriter Flynn and the film's director David Fincher could have provided a few more threads to tighten the weave. In the book, Nick's sour relationship with his father played a larger role; so it makes more sense Nick would remain in the marriage after Amy announces she is pregnant so his child would not be turned against him.

Regardless, no ending to the movie would be nearly as satisfying as someone framing the Nancy Grace character for a crime she did not commit and trying her on prime time TV. Who wouldn't go see that movie?