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THE LEFTOVERS Season 2 Finale “I Live Here Now” Review

Was Meg’s (Liv Tyler) plan as spectacular as she probably imagines? The absence of a bomb wasn’t the aggressive release we were expecting … But was it effective? As much of a symbolic target as the bridge is, the action wouldn’t have been aligned with the Guilty Remnant’s ethos. Why destroy a symbol when you could destroy the entire belief system? The Guilty Remnants gained access, so the whole thing was staged as a diversion. Nihilism incarnate has infiltrated a gated spiritual enclave manifested by burning tires, a drunk chick in stocks quaffing cheap Mexican beer, and a lonely dude in the tower of Jarden overlooking the general anarchy. Not to mention, Meg and Evie snidely singing Miracle’s anthem in front of Kevin (Justin Theroux) and the bloody hole in his stomach. Symbolically, Megan has attained her intended martyrdom, and a new antithesis has moved in. Yet the finale fades out to promise. But what does Kevin’s reintegration with his family speak to what The Leftover’s is trying to say? Read More

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THE LEFTOVERS Season 2 Episode 7 “A Most Powerful Adversary” Review

The leftovers are departing. Laurie’s (Amy Brenneman) analysis of Kevin’s (Justin Theroux) Patti (Ann Dowd) manifestations summarizes the premise of the show. Everyone’s in Miracle, but all that’s really left is “us.” Scientific and religious theories compete for answers, but people prefer to believe in divine speculations versus more down to earth truths because it’s easier. Kevin chooses Virgil’s back door over Laurie’s more empirical advice to seek psychiatric help. Before he slugs the Patti antidote, he frames up Garvey Sr.’s advice to listen to the voices. But Garvey Sr. meant that the answers aren’t in what the voices instructed but rather that they initiated the journey to healing, permitting him to face himself. Overt symbolism aside, Kevin frees himself from the cuffs because Patti wasn’t in the way. Laurie, a woman of science, admits she chose a faith-based alternative, all of which have been commoditized like a resource in a boom town—or like a Comic Con for L. Ron Hubbard’s. Read More

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THE LEFTOVERS Season 2 Episode 6 “Lens” Review

The Leftover’s episodes are structured like a novel composed of chapters devoted to certain character’s POV. It’s a more intimate and thorough experience of perception, the only thing we have to understand but the only thing we need to experience the mystery of The Leftovers. In season one, the audience viewed from a distance, in the shadows, but in two, it’s being pulled closer to the whisper, as more analyses are offered and random acts are answered—none of which will ultimately and directly piece the grand departure together. If definitive answers are eventually offered, I don’t want to hear them. That’s the beauty of The Leftovers, a complex ecosystem of coping. Science and rationality are being stripped of its empirical confidence, and the only thing society is left with is the power and moreover, fortitude, of perception.   Read More

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THE LEFTOVERS Season 2 Episode 5 “No Room at the Inn”

Matt (Christopher Eccleston) is one of, if not the most, nuanced character in the series because he struggles more than any other character in holding onto a conviction, and in the context of The Leftover’s absurdist carnival, he has the most to lose. For this, I could watch the entire drama unfold from his perspective. Two of the most satisfying pieces of schadenfreude in the franchise have involved the doubting minister because he’s a whipping boy that hasn’t kneeled despite his moral assassinations at times. Read More

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THE LEFTOVERS Season 2 Episode 4 “Orange Sticker” Review

Are the leftovers looking for departure? Michael (Jovan Adepo) aggressively scrapes the “verified” sticker off his house because nothing is really verified in Miracle. Michael removes it like a formerly held belief system, but other homes still wear the label if only just to be verified of something. Miracle’s inhabitants are starting to catch up to the foreshadowing in earlier episodes. Read More

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THE LEFTOVERS Season 2 Episode 3 “Off Ramp” Review

Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman) tries to lead others off ramp when she’s still on the turnpike. She tries to wipe the residue off her current life through the drumming in her head. The drumming of improvised jazz layered over the opening scene is Laurie, presently in a state of ordered chaos coping with what’s leftover. In the third tableaux opening of this season, nobody has moved on. The departed never left. Read More

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THE LEFTOVERS Season 2 Episode 2 “A Matter of Geography” Review

Kevin Sr. (Scott Glenn) and Patti (Ann Dowd) return, in a sense, from a departure—Kevin Sr. from the psych ward, and Patti, though retrospectively, from the dead. Does this suggest that the departed will someday return? Did they even really leave to begin with? As Season 2 begins to explore the reason of the departure, we know at this point that Jarden isn’t a miracle after all. Perhaps this alludes to the thought that miracles don’t really exist, at least in the way we conceive of their divination. I’m enjoying the game The Leftovers is playing, and maybe I’m onto something. Read More

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THE LEFTOVERS Season 2 Episode 1 Review “Axis Mundi”

The Leftovers isn’t afraid to be cerebral. The show doesn’t cater to the no audience member left behind formula—you either like or you don’t; if you don’t, there are plenty of ways to turn your brain into an egg with the telicopia of shows out there. The Leftovers plays a unique brain scrambler with the audience. Instead of creating a mystery with mystery, it creates mystery with drama. Of course, we want to know what caused the departure, but the show looks at how everybody deals with it in the multitude of ways they rationalize absurdity and process grief. The show doesn’t ask how, it asks why. Read More

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Out in Theaters: GONE GIRL

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I knew a guy in college who was accused of rape. He was a few years older than me and confided the tale over a joint and some cheap whiskey. The case didn’t go to court nor did he see the inside of a jail cell but the accusation alone stood as a scarlet letter. He became a bit of a pariah; an un-dateable. His side of the story admittedly painted a dubious picture – both of them were drinking, they fooled around, two weeks later it was reported as a rape – but I nonetheless felt uncomfortable swilling from the same bottle of Seagram’s 7 as him.

Like he had unintentionally Inceptioned me, the inkling of suspicion was planted, the possibility that this guy had physically and emotionally scarred a woman swarmed my mind and grew into an unpleasant garden of doubt. It almost didn’t matter who was guilty. The blood was in the water. So what if he were innocent? The idea had still taken hold. So what if all it took to break a man down to the studs was one simple, four-letter word? Tawana Brawley set a judicial precedent with her 1988 court case of such a nature, Crystal Mangum and the Duke Lacrosse Team proved such an occurrence was no novelty. You better believe that acquitted or no, none of those chums are going to be the next contestant on The Bachelor. And then what if we dial that up to murder? How many Grand Trial Juries see a case in which a wife is murdered and immediately assume the husband’s involvement? Gone Girl harnesses that destructive power of accusation, plants us in the eye of the storm and dares its audience to keep up with each and every turn, no matter how subtle or seemingly easy to dismiss. Brace for impact, it’s a hell of a ride.

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Adapted from Gillian Flynn‘s Best Seller of the same name, Gone Girl is a movie I knew I was going to love from the opening credits, which is no short surprise for movie maestro David Fincher. The names of associated talent blip in bright white words to fade unnaturally quickly from focus. They supernova. In the background, staccato shots of perfectly framed suburban residences attack the audience, underscored by Trent Reznor‘s pulsing, foggy soundtrack. Mimicking the volcanic rumble of a natural disaster or, worse yet, demons trying to escape from hell, his gothic, almost science fiction-like soundscape rolls over all like a fiery wave. As if on a timer, the blue house with white trim jolts to a four-bedroom with a red door. A low synth note sustains. Suburbia never looked so menacing.

Day one, morning of. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) enters a bar; his bar; The Bar. It’s only 11 but he fixes a whiskey, neat. Sister Margo, played with gusto by Carrie Coon, joins him. It’s his fifth anniversary. The “wood” year. Appropriate seeing that’s what his marriage now resembles. Margo makes disparaging remarks. Nick grants them. His wife’s a bitch. “Amazing Amy” is a farce.

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A side story breaks in without warning. In swooping penmanship, Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) diary takes us back in time. In flashback, life looks promising. A storybook. Reznor’s tracks get playful, as if they’re played on a kiddy xylophone. Nick and Amy spar verbally, the flirtation of the intelligentsia, before kissing in a sugar storm. Their meeting is an Ivy League daydream. As a girl, Amy’s life had been massaged and melded into a popular kid’s series penned by her mother, “Amazing Amy”. Amy’s amazing counterpart always made the varsity team. She was a shoe-in for valedictorian. She had a dog because it made her relatable. Amazing Amy was a tough act to follow. But in the potpourri of a sugar storm, the crusty side of life is easy enough to forget.

Day one, afternoon. Nick returns home to find a bouquet of smashed glass and no Amy. After finding a trace of blood splatter, Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) is quick to rule this a missing persons case. The hunt for Amazing Amy begins. As the vigil lights spark, the curtain comes up on Amy’s ill-standing in the community. Even before her disappearance, she was a ghost. A New Yorker with her nose too high in the air to notice the Missouri (she pronounces the word startlingly like “misery”) locals around her. Nick registers as unfazed to the social community at large with TV personalities and town’s people alike taking turns to knock his untimely playboy grins and unbefitting calm.

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By Day Seven, the incident has unraveled into a full scale media circus and Fincher’s direction chases the rabbit down the hole. Nick’s wrapped up in a chess game played with power sex and won by carnal obliteration. Staring into the furtive abyss of the death sentence, Nick associates with a high status defense lawyer, played by a surprisingly great Tyler Perry, as he tries to mount a case that goes beyond just proving he didn’t kill his wife. In the age of social networking, you also have to win Twitter. The murderer becomes a Bachelor contestant. Womankind nationwide have to get their jollies if he stands a chance at an acquittal. Nick’s a pawn, moved unwittingly across the board by a mastermind the likes of Bobby Fisher and Fincher knows exactly when, where and how much to show. Just watching is stressful. Alleviating yourself by sucking down Coca-Cola or smacking popcorn is self-defeating. You don’t even dare to take a bathroom break.   

In large part thanks to the massively enticing performances, Gone Girl threatens to slack your jaw so low it could fall off. Though unlikely to see much award fanfare, the oft underrated Ben Affleck is perfectly on mark. He’s not the hero you want but he’s the one Fincher’s picture deserves. Above him, below him and all around him, Rosamund Pike is an explosion. She’s breathtaking. She’s the remnants of a shattered China Doll, self-repairing into a new, frightening form. Like Chucky. She’s brilliant. She’s my current front runner for Best Actress. If not at the Oscars, in my own awards. A scene in which Amy undergoes a fluid-soaked transformation is as startling as it is perfect. The phoenix rises from the ashes. The devil is in the details. Fincher’s camera eats it up like pudding. Like everything else in her life, Amy owns her scenes.

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Let’s break down one bit in particular. Ex-boyfriend Neil Patrick Harris fantasizes about octopus and scrabble on the Greece coastline. Like Amy, the octopus feeds through a hidden maw. A cavernous web of teeth. Impossible to predict, its arms are a slippery tangle of deception. Before you even see the octopus coming, you disappear in their cloud of ink. They’re inconspicuous predators. Similarly, the best Scrabble players can find meaning in a mess. In that cloud of ink, they thrive. They whip things to their advantage, trading up for better letters. For better standing. For a better Amy. Octopus and scrabble. His fantasy is his undoing. He feeds right into Amy’s manipulative maw.

Gone Girl deals in accusations and historical gender circumstance. It’s a 21st century battle of the sexes; a tennis match played with grenades. Amy and Nick’s affair depends entirely upon existing gender roles. It festers because of the wobbly stature between mankind and womankind. It’s not feminist. It’s emasculating. It’s not progressive. It’s the end of times. It’s a pedagogical treatise on the anatomy of a broken marriage. Or maybe all marriage. Who can tell? And I guess that’s the point. It’s always going, going, gone (girl). David Fincher absolutely hits it out of the park. It’s one of the best, and darkest, visions he’s ever dished up. Always one step before the action, Fincher demands we race to catch up. Each shot ends just marginally too quickly. His vision is frantic by design. Things get lost in the dark that are never recovered. You just have to pretend along with it. Case in point, I never got to the bottom of that college guy’s story. And in the end, his reputation never really hinged on the truth at all. Just what people thought.

A+

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