As an Entertainment Weekly writer and critic, Gillian Flynn had remarkable success publishing her first two thrillers — the 2006 ‘Sharp Objects’ and ‘Dark Places’ in 2009 – by writing at night and on weekends. The novels weren’t just ‘published’ — they were both well reviewed with film rights sold. Then ‘Gone Girl’ in 2012 changed everything. A No. 1 New York Times bestseller for eight weeks, it sold eight million copies here in the US in its first year. Then it became an acclaimed box-office hit directed by David Fincher — with Flynn doing the screenplay adaptation. It was a cultural marker, prompting conversations and essays about marital relations, a couple’s power dynamics, infidelity and justice.
Ben Affleck in “Gone Girl” (photo courtesy 20th Century Fox)Now Flynn has not only adapted a hit British series ‘Utopia’ from 2013, she is the Amazon eight-part miniseries’ showrunner and producer. She was first hired when Fincher planned to helm an HBO ‘Utopia’ only he left the project over reported financial issues. Flynn, 49, stayed on when Amazon came aboard. It opens Friday and it is a ‘ride,’ a black comedy, a paranoid conspiracy thriller, a satire and a romantic adventure with a dozen principal characters and so many twists, turns and murders that you can barely say anything about it without giving away spoilers. Here are excerpts from a recent Zoom roundtable with Flynn.
Q: What’s notable beyond the breakneck pacing, the continuing story revelations, the vividly present cast of so many characters, is the ‘Utopia’ violence which is unstinting and occasionally shocking. In Britain that was a major complaint. Here we have almost an indifference to violence, even with children. How is your violence different from the original series? How much gore did you want to show?
GILLIAN FLYNN: Oddly enough you would think I would be more torn over this. To me it wasn’t any sort of cumulative vibe. There also wasn’t any ‘I don’t want this kind of violence but I do like this kind of violence.’ It was more: What is necessary for each scene? Every once in a while a moment of violence is used to punctuate a moment of humor in certain episodes. But for the most part its violence as its own character almost. People talk about using the city as its own character, a play setting as its own character. To me in this show in particular, violence is its own character. And I guess previously I had never done that before. As dark as my stuff is, it’s not very violent. I had usually in my writing kind of cut away before any violence really happens and then come to the aftermath. And I remember when I was writing the ‘Gone Girl’ script for [David] Fincher, in the book when the ‘Bad Thing’ happens (I’m trying not to be too Spoilers in case) I cut away in the book and then jump in the aftermath. I remember Fincher being like [she assumes his voice], ‘Here’s what I want: I want lots of blood. I want it, you know, as horrible as possible.’ I was, I guess this is going to be an R-rated film. So I’m not someone who is necessarily anti-violence or pro-violence in art. I just think it should be used sensibly and not be used because you’re lazy and can’t figure out how to write a shock or how to write a turning of a character. Or how to write something that’s harder to write than ‘Just a bullet in the head.’
Sasha Lane as Jessica Hyde in ‘Utopia.’
Q: ‘Gone Girl’ was such a blockbuster, such a cultural event. When that happens to you, how is the aftermath? Are you depressed thinking ‘I’ll never be able to be that huge again. It will always be the first thing they write in my obituary.’ How do you get from there to ‘Utopia’?
GF: Well I think I was lucky. I wasn’t a kid when ‘Gone Girl’ came out – I was 40. I was 10 years into the making of an ‘overnight sensation.’ I had written my first two novels while I still had my day job as a journalist and would come home and write nights and weekends. So the first two were a slow buildup. Then ‘Gone Girl’ definitely did feel like being shot out of a cannon. But in a good way. I felt right then I’d been a working writer for 20 years almost. So it wasn’t like I was going to suddenly become this heady crazy. Or to sink into a depression. Because by then I had learned to be a real working writer. I had learned the Muse just doesn’t settle on; all writing is rewriting. Everyone’s going to hit weeks, months, where they feel like questioning whether they ever really knew how to write to begin with. And sometimes it’s just stubbornness and slogging through it. So I had a very pragmatic approach by then which I’m happy for. But it was completely a thrill when I got to start writing screenplays because my dad was a film professor. I’d always loved, loved movies. To get to try that out at age 40 was really cool. I get to challenge myself in that new way. So that was fun.
Q: There’s one prominent in-joke in ‘Utopia’ where we’re in Chicago [where it was shot] and we see a marquee for ‘Gone Girl The Musical.’
GF: That was literally at the last minute when we had a logged [nearly finished] picture. The amount of time I spent writing a fake show to put on that marquee when they passed! I could not get the rights. Every title it seemed the rights were taken and I couldn’t get one. I finally said, ‘I know who you can get the rights from. It’s me.’ And it IS my secret wish to have ‘Gone Girl’ be a musical.
TIME SENSITIVE LEGENDS The superheroes of ‘DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Fifth Season’ (Blu-Ray + Digital, 4 discs, 15 1-hour episodes, WB, Not Rated) continue to sing (yes! Sing out they do), talk and fight their way to protect the timeline from aberrations, anomalies and whatever else that’s meant to mess with history.
Falk Hentschel and Ciara Renee, above from left, use their skills to save humanity in ‘DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.’Now huge celebrities thanks to their saving the world through song– in the previous season’s finale — we see who handles this change and who struggles as a documentary film crew captures them behind the scenes. Somehow Rasputin and Marie Antoinette’s reanimated souls enter the fray. (Seeing is believing!) Among the Special Features: Deleted scenes, gag reel and post-production featurette. Fans who buy the Blu-ray receive a limited-edition bonus disc with all 5 DC Crossover Event ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ episodes!
Caitriona Balfe, left, and Sam Heughan arrive at the Los Angeles Premiere of “Outlander” Season 5 at the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP Images)THEY CAME FROM SCOTLAND The time-traveling romantic adventure series ‘Outlander: Season Five’ (Blu-ray, Sony, Not Rated) continues to satisfy Diana Gabaldon’s many fans with its faithful adaptation depiction of the continuing, often life-threatening struggles, now in colonial America, of Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan).
Among the many bonus features: four all-new ‘Outlander Untold’ scenes, a blooper reel and two featurettes. There’s even a glimpse of life at home with Adso, the Frasers’ cat.
Boris the Cat, who plays Adso, attends the Los Angeles Premiere of “Outlander” Season 5 at the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP Images)The Blu-ray boasts an additional 16 deleted scenes, writer and producer commentaries and two new behind-the-scenes featurettes. The Collector’s Edition Blu-ray also includes a CD of the Season 5 soundtrack, 28-page digibook and an excerpt from Gabaldon’s upcoming 9th ‘Outlander’ novel, ‘Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone.’
FAN FAVE ODDBALL DUO For fans of ‘Rick and Morty: Season 4’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code, 10 Episodes, WB, Not Rated but Uncensored) there’s little debate who exactly is America’s favorite crazy scientist & grandson. The Adult Swim series blasts away this season with an intergalactic journey that crosses the multi-verse. Yes, this is the very show that’s spawned video games, comic books, merchandise, music videos. Special features are uncensored and not recommended for anyone under 17: ‘Directing Rick and Morty,’ ‘Animation Challenges,’ ‘’Samurai & Shogun,’ ‘Creating Snake Jazz’ and ‘A Day at Rick and Morty: Inside Season 4’ and ‘Inside the Episode for Every Episode.’
Dan Harmon, left, and Justin Roiland, right, creators of the cult TV series “Rick and Morty” at their studio in Burbank, CA July 6, 2017. (Francine Orr/ Los Angeles Times/TNS)
STILL IN THE FIGHT Change is constant in the legal and professional battles of ‘The Good Fight: Season Four’ (DVD, 7 episodes, 2 discs, CBS, Not Rated) whose first episode is entirely dedicated to Diane Lockhart’s ‘It’s all a dream’ where she lives in a country run by President Hillary Clinton and sees some mighty unintended consequences.
Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart. Photo Cr: Patrick Harbron/CBS Ì?å©2016 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights ReservedFor the rest, it’s a new world as the law firm becomes part of a conglomerate with corporate overlords – and lots of dogs running in packs throughout the offices. Maybe the most amusing take in the courtroom series this season is looking at the consequences of those who dare defy a Federal subpoena by simply pretending it doesn’t exist. Michael J. Fox returns with his hilariously disabled defense lawyer — a shameless hustler who loves nothing more than to seek judicial sympathy with his affliction.
AH! NEW YORK UNDERGROUND FEMINISM ‘Variety’ (Blu-ray, Kino Classics, Not Rated) Bette Gordon’s 1983 feminist film, an underground classic now in a new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, is notable as much for those who made it as for its provocative storytelling. John Lurie did the music, Tom DiCillo, a future filmmaker (Brad Pitt as ‘Johnny Suede,’ ‘Living in Oblivion’), is the cinematographer, a veteran of Jim Jarmusch films.
The cast, led by lovely Sandy McLeod, includes Will Patton, Luis Guzman and the celebrated photographer Nan Goldin whose production stills are among the Bonus features. ‘Variety’ refers to the film’s central location, the Variety porn theater in Manhattan’s East Village that was prominently featured in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ where Jodie Foster’s underage hooker could often be found. It’s long been demolished.
Porn shops and peep shows are seen in the Times Square section of New York, Oct. 4, 1984. (AP Photo/Mario Cabrera)So this ranks as a portrait of a milieu, the sex sleazy Times Square and environs of early Eighties Manhattan, forever lost. Bonus: Bette Gordon’s 1981 short film ‘Anybody’s Woman,’ Gordon’s audio commentary, an essay by film critic Amy Taubin and a Location Scouting still gallery.
WHO NAMES THEIR SON — Do the recent revelations from Germany about the rise of neo-Nazi right-wing squads in their police force make ‘How About Adolf?’ (Blu-ray, Menemsha Films, Not Rated) less funny? This German comedy is set at a dinner where a pregnant couple reveal their plan to name their baby Adolf which transforms a predictable dining experience into a farcically crazy one. A smash at the German box-office, ‘How About Adolf?’ was praised for its satirical take on German guilt. In German with optional English subtitles.
SO SWEET THIS SERENADE A gorgeous musical antique! ‘Love Me Tonight’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) is a 1932 pre-Code treasure that paired France’s debonair Maurice Chevalier (see him in his 60s in ‘Fanny’ or the Oscar-winning ‘Gigi’) and Jeannette MacDonald, the queen of Thirties operettas, working under the innovative director Rouben Mamoulian, a pioneer of early sound pictures. You can watch it for the Rodgers & Hart classics like ‘Lover’ and ‘Isn’t It Romantic?’ or for Mamoulian’s breezy blend of song, music and gliding camera work.
French film actor Maurice Chevalier returns to Hollywood, Ca. on Oct. 6, 1931. Chevalier is resuming work at Paramount Studios. (AP Photo)The story is very much a knowing fairy tale as Chevalier’s tailor, pretending to be an aristocrat, falls madly for MacDonald’s princess. The Special Features are quite special: An audio commentary by the great Miles Kreuger, the founder of Institute of the American Musical, songs by Chevalier and MacDonald, production documents and censorship records – because it may be backlot Paris but it’s still quite French.
SAVE THESE HOSTAGES! What to do when a Central American rebel death squad captures CalTech collegiates on vacation? Hope that a retired US Marine (Jason Miller, forever known as the Jesuit priest in ‘The Exorcist’) will assemble their friends and train them to be a merciless rescue squad! That’s the intriguing premise for the little-known 1984 action picture ‘Toy Soldiers’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R). The cast includes Cleavon Little who was already famous for Mel Brooks’ ‘Blazing Saddles’ and Tim Robbins who would soon be famous for ‘Bull Durham’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’
FAITH CONQUERS A classic revenge drama, albeit with a Christian faith emphasis on repentance and salvation, ‘Beckman’ (DVD, Universal Home Entertainment, Not Rated) is Aaron Beckman (David A. R. White) who abandons his work as a hired gun and is accepted into a congregation by Jeff Fahey’s pastor. Only fate (or is it God?) intervenes as his adopted daughter is kidnapped by a crazy cult leader (are there any other kind?). As Beckman goes on a rampage of rescue the issue remains: Can this killer save his soul?