Friday, October 31, 2014

Movie Review: John Wick

I can now officially forgive Keanu Reeves for starring in crap like 47 Ronin and The Day Earth Stood Still. Reeves' latest project, John Wick, is exactly the type of firecracker action film the much-maligned actor needed to get his career back on track.

Reeves plays the title character, who is a retired assassin trying to deal with the loss of his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan) to terminal cancer. As a final gift from Helen before she passed away, Wick receives a dog named Daisy to keep him company now that she's gone. Wick's quiet new life is quickly turned upside down after he refuses to sell his '69 Mustang to a low-level thug named Losef (Alfie Allen) during a heated encounter at a gas station. Later that night, Losef and his henchman go to Wick's house, steal his car, and kill Daisy. Enraged and heartbroken by the actions of Losef- who turns out to be the son of a Russian mobster (Michael Nyquist) Wick was once employed by-he is forced to re-enter a world thought he had escaped to seek revenge on Losef and kill anyone that tries to stop him from getting his retribution.

In a year where most B-grade action films have been huge disappointments (The Equalizer, The Expendables 3) John Wick is a godsend. The full-throttle action is constant, the story flows nicely and above all, the film is fun as all hell. First-time directing pair David Litch and Chad Stahleski use their prior experience as stuntmen to stage some of the most exhilarating action scenes to grace the screen in 2014. The two key action setpieces at Wick's house and a Russian-owned nightclub standout with their mix of hand-to-hand combat and gunplay, and great camera movement that is able to capture all of the rapid-pace action. The last couple of fight scenes get a bit bogged down with repetition, but it's not nearly enough to take away from the strength of a majority of the film's action sequences.

Whats sets John Wick apart from a lot of other films in the genre is the atmosphere it establishes. The world of assassins and organized crime John Wick portrays just oozes cool. I mean what's more badass than an assassin-friendly hotel with its own special currency? As you would except from a film with such a interesting backdrop, the film features a set of fascinating characters. The colorful supporting characters including Ian McShane as the owner of the assassin hotel, Lance Reddick as the hotel's front desk receptionist, and Nyquist as the film's most powerful villain pile on the charisma and make the dialog-loaded scenes just as fun as the action. Even with an excellent supporting cast, this is still very much Reeves' show. He delivers his most confident performance in ages here as Wick- a killing machine who shows minimal emotion. Reeves has never had the chops for serious dramatic work, but there are only a few actors working right now that are better equipped to handle the lead role in a pure action film. He just has that special eternally cool presence that's needed to anchor this type of film. John Wick is a smart, expertly-crafted B-movie that delivers the pulpy thrills action junkies have been craving all year long.


4/5 Stars

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Album Review: Run the Jewels-Run the Jewels 2

Veteran hip-hop artists Killer Mike and El-P first collaboration under the moniker Run the Jewels made serious waves in the summer of 2013. Their combination of energy, relentlessly intense production and clever lyrics made their self-titled debut the most celebrated hip-hop release of the year amongst critics and audiences alike. Approximately 16 months after the release of their lauded debut, Run the Jewels has returned with their second album and the fiery pair has once again struck hip-hop gold.

Run the Jewels 2 sees the duo taking a darker approach with the tone and production than on their previous effort. The more psychedelic, low-key production choices allow Killer Mike and El-P's skills on the mic to be at the forefront of the music. Their consistently fantastic lyrics were often buried under the in-your-face production on the first installment, so it's great to see their unheralded lyrical skills be more prominently featured on this record. "Jeopardy", "Lie, Cheat, Steal", "Crown" and "Angel Duster" feature the most impressive verses the duo has ever put out from a pure skill standpoint. These tracks prove exactly why Mike and El-P have become known as two of the top lyricists to emerge out of the underground hip-hop scene over the past two decades. They drop consistently witty lines on a variety of subject matters both serious and asinine and rap with a swagger that just can't be topped by a vast majority of MC's that are currently in the game. The production is still a standout element of Run the Jewels 2, it just doesn't completely overshadow the sheer brilliance of the rapping this time around.

While this isn't quite as relentless as its predecessor, there is no shortage of the group's trademark bangers here. Previously released tracks "Blockbuster Night Part 1" and "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck")- which features a pretty solid guest verse from Rage Against the Machine frontman Zak De la Roacha- are filled with the same relentless intensity that made the first Run the Jewels album so memorable. While "Blockbuster Night Part 1" and "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)" are impressive, they pale in comparison to album standouts "Oh My Darling Don't Cry" and "All Due Respect". "Oh My Darling Don't Cry" makes use of an industrial beat that is strongly reminiscent of the best production on Death Grips' 2012 masterpiece The Money Store while "All Due Respect" boasts a level of raw aggression that makes most of Run the Jewels' other material sound downright cheery in comparison. Run the Jewels spend a good portion of their second LP showing off their versatility and dense lyrical skills, but there's no denying that they are most at home when they are churning out ferocious hardcore hip-hop that goes straight for the jugular.

Run the Jewels 2 is another grand success for these hip-hop heavyweights. They're able to explore new musical and lyrical territory this time around without sacrificing any of the fire or excellent production that made the first one such a fantastic release.The fact that Run the Jewels has released two of the best hip-hop records of the past decade in just over a year is completely absurd and speaks volumes of how skilled Killer Mike and El-P are as musicians. Run the Jewels has a stranglehold on the modern hip-hop scene and unless something heinous happens to them, I don't see that changing anytime in the near future.  
Standout Tracks
1.Lie, Cheat, Steal
2.Oh My Darling Don't Cry
3.All Due Respect

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Week 8 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers

Quarterback
MVP: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)
Remember when people said Ben Roethlisberger didn't have it anymore? Roethlisberger showed the world that he can still dominate with his video-game like 522-yard/6 touchdown performance against the Colts on Sunday afternoon. What makes Roethlisberger's performance that much more impressive is that it came against a Colts secondary that had only allowed 2 passing touchdowns in their previous 4 games. While its highly unlikely he'll repeat these numbers again, Roethlisberger has another solid matchup against the Ravens in Week 9.
Honorable Mentions: Tom Brady (Patriots), Andrew Luck (Colts), Aaron Rodgers (Packers)

LVP: Cam Newton (Panthers)
Cam Newton wasn't completely horrible on Sunday, its just that his presence in fantasy was pretty much invisible. Newton finished Sunday's home loss against the Seahawks with 171 yards through the air, 22 yards on the ground, 0 touchdowns and an interception. Newton has struggled a bit over the last couple of weeks, but with a soft schedule in the second half of the season and his health back to 100%, look for him to become a top-end QB1 in the coming weeks.
Dishonorable Mentions: Joe Flacco (Ravens), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Tony Romo (Cowboys

Running Back
MVP: Arian Foster (Texans)
Arian Foster is a beast. Foster once again carried the Texans offense with 173 total yards (151 rushing, 22 receiving) and 3 TD's (2 receiving, 1 rushing) in their victory over the Titans on Sunday. If it wasn't obvious already, Foster is a weekly must-start in fantasy.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Forte (Bears), Jammal Charles (Chiefs), Mark Ingram (Saints)

LVP: Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks)
After a strong start to the year, Marshawn Lynch has cooled down substantially over the past few weeks. Lynch had another subpar outing against the Panthers erratic defense on Sunday finishing the game with a mere 62 yards on the ground on 14 carries. Lynch's lack of volume is a bit distressing, but he's far too important to this offense to become a weekly non-factor. Lynch has a potentially huge bounceback game against the Raiders ghastly run D in Week 9.
Dishonorable Mentions: Joique Bell (Lions), Ben Tate (Browns), Shane Vereen (Patriots)

Wide Receiver
MVP: Jeremy Maclin (Eagles)
In a relatively off-day for the Eagles explosive offense, Jeremy Maclin still thrived. Maclin tormented the Cardinals defense with his 12 reception, 187-yard performance on Sunday afternoon. Maclin has looked great all year long coming off the torn ACL that sidelined him for all of 2013, and has nicely filled the top wideout role that DeSean Jackson had in this offense a year ago.
Honorable Mentions: Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos), Antonio Brown (Steelers), Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals)

LVP: Jordy Nelson (Packers)
For the first time all season, Jordy Nelson was silenced. Nelson was held to just 25 yards on 3 receptions in the Packers contest with the Saints on Sunday night. Nelson's lack of production is actually shocking given the fact that Aaron Rodgers threw for 418 yards in this game. Nelson faces the banged-up Bears secondary when the Packers return from bye in Week 10.
Dishonorable Mentions: Vincent Jackson (Buccaneers), Julian Edelman (Patriots), Brandon Marshall (Bears)

Tight End
MVP: Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)
Rob Gronkowski was back in kill mode against the Bears on Sunday. Gronkowski took advantage of the Bears injuries at linebacker and safety, and finished the game with 149 yards and 3 TD's on 9 receptions. Gronkowski is 100% and barring one of his trademark late-season injuries, he could challenge Julius Thomas for the title of top fantasy tight end in 2014.
Honorable Mentions: Antonio Gates (Chargers), Heath Miller (Steelers), Martellus Bennett (Bears)

LVP: Greg Olsen (Panthers)
With Cam Newton struggling, Greg Olsen got almost completely shut out on the Sunday against the Seahawks. Olsen ended up with just a single catch for 16 yards in a game that was dominated by strong defensive play. Clunkers like this shouldn't come up too often from now until the end of the season. As Newton's safety belt, Olsen will arguably be the prime beneficiary from the Panthers soft schedule in the latter stage of the season.
Dishonorable Mentions: Julius Thomas (Broncos), Charles Clay (Dolphins), Jared Cook (Rams)

Defense
MVP: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins defense were the latest team to take advantage of the Jacksonville Jaguars horrendous, turnover-prone offense. The Dolphins picked up 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, a fumble recovery, blocked field goal and 2 touchdowns in their victory on Sunday. The Dolphins have shown a pretty strong pass rush and a decent ability to take the ball away, so they're a solid, unheralded fantasy option for owners looking for a defense.
Honorable Mentions: Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns

LVP: Detroit Lions
Week 8 was actually a pretty strong week for defenses as basically every defense that was supposed to put up big numbers ended up delivering. The sole exception to that was the Detroit Lions; who picked up a disappointing 2 sacks and 1 INT against a struggling Falcons offense. The Lions certainly weren't awful, but their output was still disappointing given the matchup and how well they've played this season.
Dishonorable Mentions: Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles

Friday, October 24, 2014

Album Review: Slipknot-.5: The Gray Chapter

The last half-decade has been incredibly difficult for Iowa metal juggernauts Slipknot. Since the release of their last record All Hope is Gone in 2008, bassist Paul Gray died of a drug overdose and they severed ties with founding drummer Joey Jordison. After Gray's death, there was a lot of speculation that Slipknot was going to disband. After their lengthy and tumultuous hiatus, Slipknot has returned with their fifth full-length album, .5: The Gray Chapter, which serves as the perfect remembrance of Gray.

.5: The Gray Chapter acts as kind of a retrospective of Slipknot's career so far. There are clear elements from all four of their previous records present here and it gives the record a consistently-shifting tone that none of Slipknot's previous work has had. .5: The Gray Chapter has everything from tender ballads ("Goodbye", "If Rain is What You Want") to borderline radio-friendly alternative rock ("The Devil in I", "The One That Kills the Least") to aggressive, angst-ridden anthems that make their classic songs like "Surfacing" and "My Plague" ("Custer", "Lech") sound modest in comparison wrapped up in a relatively tight 62-minute package. Covering so much diverse musical ground in the course of a single album sounds a bit messy on paper, but they are able to pull it off without it sounding too jarring or forced. Slipknot has never been a band that tries to go in a bunch of different directions with their music, so to see them do it here was quite refreshing 

It's evident that making this record triggered a lot of different emotions for the band and they put all of them- no matter ugly or dark they are -into this record. Losing someone you love under tragic circumstances brings up a wide-range of emotions, and Slipknot spends this album perfectly articulating that. Of course with this being Slipknot, those emotions are sometimes peppered with obscenity and juvenile lyrics, but they're genuine nonetheless. Even on the couple of tracks that don't work at all (the aforementioned "Lech" and "If Rain is What You Want"), you still have to admire their efforts because the heart of the music is so authentic.

.5: The Gray Chapter is at its best when simultaneously balancing the heavy and experimental elements. Album standout "Killpop" delights with its eerie, subdued verses and bursts of explosive heaviness throughout. "Killpop" also serves as Corey Taylor's best vocal performance on the entire record. Even at age 40, Taylor still displays one of the most impressive vocal ranges in the business. There are some higher notes that he can't hit anymore, but for the most part his voice hasn't dipped too much in quality in the 15 years since the release of their debut album. Tracks like "Sarcastrophe", "Nomadic" and "AOV" offer up similar dynamic pleasures with lengthy melodic guitar sections, punchy riffs, blast beats from their anonymous new drummer and Taylor conjuring up some screams that he hasn't pulled out since their 2001 LP Iowa. There are plenty of great pure heavy and melodic moments on this record, but .5: The Gray Chapter is only truly brilliant when it mixes the two together within the same song. 

.5: The Gray Chapter is a very satisfying output from these masked metal veterans. It's not anything groundbreaking and there are spots where it's way too over-the-top with angst even by Slipknot standards, but it more than makes up for its flaws with its overwhelmingly genuine emotional core and consistently diverse musical offerings. Given all the member changeover, behind-the scenes-drama and long gap between albums, it's very impressive that Slipknot was able to make an album that is this ambitious and features so much great material. Wherever Paul Gray is right now, there's no doubt in my mind that he's elated with how the album that was made in his honor turned out. .5: The Gray Chapter isn't even close to the best album Slipknot has ever produced , but it's certainly the most impassioned. If nothing else, it proves that this band is showing no signs of slowing down as they approach the 20th anniversary of their formation.

4/5 Stars
Standout Tracks
1.Killpop
2.Nomadic
3.AOV  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014 Week 7 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers

Quarterback
MVP: Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
About the only thing that went right for the Seahawks' performance on Sunday against the Rams was the play of Russell Wilson. Wilson once again dominated through the air and ground as became the first quarterback to ever throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game. The Seahawks are not playing nearly as well as they were a year ago, but Wilson is a much better fantasy option in 2014 than he was last year. Wilson has another promising matchup against the erratic Panthers defense on the docket in Week 8.
Honorable Mentions: Peyton Manning (Broncos), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins)

LVP: Jay Cutler (Bears)
Oh the plight of Jay Cutler.... A week after destroying the Falcons, Cutler had his worst outing of the season at home against a middling Dolphins team in Week 7. Cutler threw for a measly 190 yards and a touchdown while picking up 2 turnovers in one of the most miserable outings the Bears offense has had in years. Cutler will forever be the most unpredictable and inconsistent quarterback in the league. You're taking a risk every time you start him and that risk is even higher than usual this week as the Bears travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the red-hot Patriots.
Dishonorable Mentions: Matt Ryan (Falcons), Phillip Rivers (Chargers), Colin Kaepernick (49ers)

Running Back
MVP: Shane Vereen (Patriots)
With Steven Ridley out for the season, Shane Vereen now has a stranglehold on the running back position in New England. Vereen showcased his dominance over the backfield with a stellar performance against the Jets on Thursday. In typical Vereen fashion, he did most of his damage in the receiving game picking up 5 receptions for 71 yards and 2 TD's. It should be noted that 49 of his 71 yards came on a deep strike on the first drive of the game, so the numbers are certainly a bit deceiving. That being said, Vereen is easily the most gifted running back the Patriots currently have their disposal, so expect him to operate as a high-end RB2 (especially in PPR leagues) with a couple of stinkers moving forward.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Forte (Bears), Ronnie Hillman (Broncos), Le'Veon Bell (Steelers)

LVP: Giovani Bernard (Bengals)
It was rough day to be a member of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday as the team got shut out by the Colts. Despite it being a rough day for the entire offense, no one suffered more than Giovani Bernard. The second-year dual-threat back got held to 16 total yards (17 rushing, -1 receiving) on 9 touches. Bernard should get ample touches this week, but unfortunately it's against a stiff Ravens front that hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 2.
Dishonorable Mentions: Ben Tate (Browns),Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks), Reggie Bush (Lions)

Wide Receiver
MVP: Demaryius Thomas (Broncos)
Demaryius Thomas became part of history this week as he caught the touchdown that put Peyton Manning ahead of Brett Favre for the all-time passing touchdown record. In addition to catching the record-setting TD, Thomas massacred the 49ers secondary all game long. Thomas finished the evening with 171 yards and 2 TD's on 8 receptions. Thomas has been on fire since the Broncos returned from their Week 4 bye and I don't believe that will change this week when he faces a banged-up Chargers secondary on Thursday night.
Honorable Mentions: Sammy Watkins (Bills), Golden Tate (Lions), Randall Cobb (Packers)

LVP: Alshon Jeffrey (Bears)
Odds are if you were a member of the Chicago Bears not named Matt Forte, you had a terrible game against the Dolphins on Sunday. Alshon Jeffrey was the biggest victim of their poor offensive performance, finishing with just 9 yards on the day. While I don't expect Jeffrey to repeat his 9-yard performance, he certainly has his hands full as he is going up against a tough Patriots secondary in Week 8.
Dishonorable Mentions: Brandon Marshall (Bears), Julio Jones (Falcons), Julian Edelman (Patriots)

Tight End
MVP: Antonio Gates (Chargers)
In an incredibly poor week for tight ends on the whole, the ageless wonder Antonio Gates was one of the few exceptions. Gates made the most of his 3 catches-picking up 61 yards and a touchdown in an otherwise quiet day for the Chargers offense against the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. Gates remains one of the very few TE's you can rely on to put up solid numbers every week.
Honorable Mentions: Charles Clay (Dolphins), Owen Daniels (Ravens), Dwayne Allen (Colts)

LVP: Jordan Cameron (Browns)
A week after showing signs of life, Jordan Cameron reverted back to sucking it up against the Jaguars in Week 7. Cameron was held to just a single catch for 5 yards against a Jaguars defense that has been practically giving away fantasy points to TE's this season. Cameron is a low-end TE1 who will deliver a stellar performance from time-to-time, but can't be trusted in the slightest as a full-time starter.
Dishonorable Mentions: Julius Thomas (Broncos), Larry Donnell (Giants), Delanie Walker (Titans)

Defense
MVP: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts defense have quietly become one of the more reliable fantasy defenses to own in 2014. The Colts further their solidified their stock on Sunday as they shut out the Bengals. Their numbers could've been higher as they only got 4 sacks and failed to get a takeaway, but in a week where most defenses only put up average fantasy numbers, that was more than enough to make the best overall fantasy play.
Honorable Mentions: Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams

LVP: Seattle Seahawks
This is just getting ridiculous. The Seahawks defense has been one of the biggest fantasy disappointments of 2014 so far and that disappointment only grew stronger this week as they failed miserably against the lowly St. Louis Rams. The Rams had been allowing the most fantasy points to defenses coming into Week 7, but the Seahawks failed to capitalize on that juicy matchup as allowed 28 points and once again, got zero sacks and takeaways. I can't believe I'm saying this but if you can afford to drop the Seahawks D in your league right now, do it right away. Their lack of pass rush and inability to cause turnovers makes them pretty much useless in fantasy at the moment.
Dishonorable Mentions: New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Carolina Panthers

Monday, October 20, 2014

Movie Review: Fury

War is hell. It's one of the most tired cliches of all-time, but it's also painfully accurate. Most people will never know what its like to experience the atrocities of war firsthand, which makes its difficult to try and realistically recreate for a Hollywood movie. Like all affective war films, Fury articulates the horrors of war in the most authentic way possible for a fictionalized piece of work.

Writer/director David Ayer doesn't hold anything back as he paints an extremely grim picture of World War II, and brutality of life on the battlefield. The extended battle sequences are brilliantly choreographed and sufficiently gruesome. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov is the film's secret weapon for capturing the film's tense tank battles. The frequent changes from inside shots of tank to the carnage outside of it could've been disorienting, but Vasayanov has great control of the camera and seamless editing from Jay Cassidy and Dody Dorn makes the shots flow together organically. The unflinching depiction of wartime combat in Fury is without question one of the strongest I've ever seen in a film.

However whenever the gunfire ceases, Fury stumbles. Each member of the titular tank crew are painfully underwritten and come off more as caricatures than actual human beings. Logan Lerman plays the young kid who is scared shitless of war, Shia LaBeouf is a religious man that serves as the group's moral compass, Michael Pena is a drunk, Jon Bernthal is an ignorant redneck and Brad Pitt is the fearless leader who also acts as the glue that holds this ragtag group together. These archetypes sound familiar?  The performances from all five lead actors are competent, but their efforts are pretty much for naught  given how hollow their characters are. I know that this lack of character depth won't bother some people, I just it incredibly different to enjoy a film like this when the characters are so lifeless. There's some serious flaws in the writing when one of the lead characters dies, and you feel absolutely nothing as a viewer.  

Ayer's script becomes even more inept as it tries to manipulate the audience into showing empathy for these empty characters. Films that try to artificially generate emotion to resonate deeply with the audience really piss me off, and Fury is one of the harshest offenders of this in recent film history. An elongated scene in the middle of the film exists only so Lerman's character has a reason to overcome his fear of combat for the final standoff with the Nazis. The entire sequence is painfully contrived, and sets completely disingenuous final act of the film in motion. The hokey, insincere aura of the latter half of the film reaches its peak at the tail end of the climatic battle with a horde of Nazi forces. The final few minutes are so god damn ridiculous and unbelievable that I almost screamed obscenities out loud in the theater. How Ayer thought this a reasonable conclusion to the film entirely defies comprehension.   


Fury's well-crafted action setpieces are just enough to warrant a mild recommendation, but they're not nearly enough to get over how much of a wasted opportunity this film is. With this gifted cast, typically great director and unique premise for a war film, this very well could've been one of the all-time great entries in the genre. Instead, we're left with a film that has all the grit and none of the heart or brains that make great war films tick. If you want to see an Ayer-directed film about brotherhood and sacrifice with a strong, authentic emotional backbone, stay home and watch End of Watch on Netflix streaming.

3/5 Stars 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Movie Review: Gone Girl

2014 has been a solid enough year for film, but the first nine months have lacked any films that have serious weight. David Fincher's latest, Gone Girl, gives us the first true masterpiece of the year and sets the bar high for rest of the awards-contenders set for release over the last few months of 2014.

Gone Girl focuses on the strained marriage between Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears without a trace. The blood splatter found at their home and his general indifference in public appearances following Amy's disappearance makes Nick the prime suspect for her murder. As the evidence mounts, the case heads in directions that neither Nick or anyone else could've ever saw coming.

Gone Girl is one of those rare films that you just can't shake after watching. Once the credits started rolling, the sheer weight of the film hit me all at once and rendered me speechless. The driving force behind Gone Girl's grand success is the phenomenal screenplay from Gillian Flynn. Flynn-who adapted the screenplay from her own novel- crafts a dense narrative that piles on the twists and delivers commentary on modern marriage and the media's flare for sensationalist journalism with blunt-force trauma. The story of Gone Girl is a bit over-the-top at times, but the messages Flynn conveys here are painfully true and relevant. While I'm not married myself, I've seen marriages unravel for the same reasons as the Dunne's and, it's shocking to see how realistic her portrayal of troubled marriages is here. Flynn's commentary on the media is equally sharp and accurate as she rips on television reporters who mindlessly character assassinate people involved in scandals before all the facts have been presented.

Flynn didn't just write a film that serves as a scathing criticism of major social problems in modern society, she also writes one of the most enthralling thrillers of all-time. Every detail in the mystery of Amy's disappearance is fascinating and the story consistently heads in unexpected directions. Every time you think you've figured out the motives of the characters and the truth behind Amy's disappearance, Flynn throws the audience for a loop. If Flynn doesn't win Best Adapted Screenplay at this year's Academy Awards, there's no justice in the world.

Flynn's flawless writing is brought to life by perfect casting choices across the board. Affleck's work as Nick is his best performance since at least The Town, if not Good Will Hunting. Affleck's reputation as a smug, emotionless prick pays dividends here as he nails the role of a man who shows a disturbing lack of empathy during a time where he should be an emotional wreck. Affleck gets a lot of flack for his ability (or lack thereof) as an actor, but no one could've possibly played this role better than him. The supporting players including Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris-who sound extremely miscast on paper-are also excellent here. Perry shows legitimate acting ability for the first time in his career as Tanner Bolt- the high-priced, sleazy defense lawyer that Nick hires after he comes to his defense on national television. Perry demonstrates a charisma and gift for dark comedy that has been completely buried in his other roles. Patrick Harris is a completely different story; as he successfully goes out of his comfort zone for the umpteenth time (seriously, is there anything this guy can't do?) as an obsessive ex-boyfriend of Amy's who ends up playing a pivotal role in the proceedings of the film. Both of these casting choices were bold and unconventional, but they end up working out perfectly.

While the entire cast delivers, the real revelation in the film is Pike. It's hard to address the intricacies of Pike's performance without disclosing major spoilers, let's just say that her tortured performance is the centerpiece of the entire film. While I've seen a lot of Pike's work in the past, this is the first time where the sheer power of her acting bowled me over. Pike's work here is the type of powerhouse performance that commands immediate consideration from the year-end award shows. Gone Girl is a haunting and startlingly truthful work that gets under your skin in a way that only truly masterful films can. Even in a filmography that's as loaded with outstanding work as Fincher's is, it manages to stand out from the pack. There's a lot of potential gems on the horizon for the rest of 2014, but it's going to be hard for anything to top the tour-de-force that is Gone Girl.

4.5/5 Stars