Gone Girl

October 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry
Directed by: David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”)
Written by: Gillian Flynn (debut)

When a beautiful young woman disappears mysteriously in this country, leaving behind a too-calm husband who, in the 30 seconds of video the 24-hour cable news networks replay hour after hour, doesn’t appear to be concerned enough, the court of public opinion—and the shrieking harpies on said cable news networks—has the husband convicted of murder before the first commercial break.

“Gone Girl,” the latest film from director David Fincher, based on the smash-hit novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), feels ripped from the pages of Us Weekly and the programming of HLN. Laid-back, jock-ish Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home from his bar to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing, the house amiss with the signs of a struggle. A diligent detective (Kim Dickens) and her skeptical partner (Patrick Fugit) begin investigating, noticing the pieces of Nick’s story don’t add up, with expensive credit card splurges in his name and the damning testimony of a neighbor who claims Amy told her of Nick’s physical and verbal abuse.

Nick also comes across aloof and cold as the national media spotlight intensifies on him, committing huge PR gaffes like smiling at a press conference about his missing wife and posing for a selfie with an over-eager volunteer, the blood in the water attracting a Nancy Grace-like shark (Missi Pyle) who practically calls for Nick’s execution every night on national TV. But is Nick innocent or guilty? Was Amy the abused wife her diary describes, or the anti-social trust fund shut-in bitter about moving from New York City to Missouri? Where exactly does the truth lie?

While both Affleck and Fincher have referred to “Gone Girl” as a satire in interviews leading up to the film’s release, this description misses the mark. Sure, the depiction of the media in the movie is ridiculous, but nothing comes close to biting satire or even the hoisting-with-their-own-petard model that both “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight” traffic in. Sure, it’s stupid, but all Fincher and Flynn really did was change the names of the anchors. Toothless satire aside, “Gone Girl” is a fantastic face-value thriller, with enough twists and turns to remain completely unpredictable. Affleck and Pike are great in roles that call for both of them to be honest with each other while being dishonest to the world, and Tyler Perry—of all people–turns in a funny, assured performance as a high-profile celebrity lawyer with more nuance than 10 Madeas smashed together.

Maybe Fincher will be watching the reaction audiences at large have to the film, silently judging us all as philistines who fail to notice the scathing criticism he thinks he’s delivering to the already dead horse of the mainstream media’s credibility. Good thing the movie is extremely enjoyable anyway.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

December 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgård
Directed by: David Fincher (“The Social Network”)
Written by: Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”)

From the start of the opening credits two-time Academy Award-nominated director David Fincher (“The Social Network”) wants everyone to know the new adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” based on the first book of the widely-popular Stieg Larsson series, is a Fincher film. Borrowing from his music-video aesthetic, Fincher unleashes what can only be described as the melding of liquid metal and body parts. Trent Reznor and Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” pulsates behind the glossy and fleshly images. The stylish and head-trippy kick-start is perfect for those who were pleased with both the brutal nature of “Se7en” and the experienced craftsmanship of “Zodiac.” Call it the third and most mature movement of Fincher’s serial-killer symphony.

Never mind that Larsson’s entire “Millennium Trilogy” received the Swedish treatment in 2009 by director Niels Arden Oplev, who packed some incredibly suspenseful scenes in his version of “Tattoo.” The blood inside Fincher’s snow-white fantasy runs just a few degrees colder than its predecessor, which lends its unsympathetic Nordic setting to the English-language storyline. Fincher manages to match the seething temperament and sexuality of Swedish actress Noomi Rapace with an impressive Rooney Mara (“The Social Network”) as the anti-hero.

Said protagonist, Lisbeth Salander (Mara), an unsociable and troubled researcher and computer hacker, comes in a petite, punked-out package with short jet-black hair and pale features. She is directed to recently disgraced journalist-turned-investigator Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who has taken leave from his magazine after losing a libel case, to help him solve the disappearance of a young girl named Harriet 40 years prior. Blomkvist is commissioned by Harriet’s uncle and retired industrialist Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer) to revisit the cold case. With Salander on his side (and in his bed), Blomkvist begins to unearth clues that bring him closer to discovering the truth of Harriet’s whereabouts. Will secrets hidden by the enigmatic Vanger family lead to some type of closure for Vagner? Have Blomkvist and Salander found evidence that a serial killer is responsible for Harriet’s death?

Written for an American audience by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), the narrative linked to the new “Dragon Tattoo” is not much different from Oplev’s take. For the most part, all the pieces are present to hit the most important plot points. Also evident is the screenplay’s overall lack of sentiment, which complements the story’s cast of discomforting personalities. Getting too close to any of these emotional recluses wouldn’t bode well for anyone, especially Mara, who spends much of her screen time proving just how merciless and vengeful Salander really is. It’s a fearless turn for the actor, who pumps acid through Salander’s veins so she can maneuver her way through a lonely life behind a computer much like Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg in Fincher’s 2010 masterpiece “The Social Network.”

Despite the film’s many parallels to its foreign counterpart, Fincher’s fingerprints are all over this one. As a visual artist and director, not many can attain the muted look and distressing tone he serves up. A tangible threat is felt constantly throughout the film and Fincher is extremely conscious of the details he needs to exhibit to keep each isolated moment at a highly concentrated level, even when those moments aren’t meant to be seen. Fincher makes it all feel effortless. With “Dragon Tattoo,” he has set a standard for filmmakers who want to improve on projects that have already set their own lofty bar.

The Social Network

October 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jesse Einsberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Directed by: David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)
Written by: Aaron Sorkin (“Charlie Wilson’s War”)

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Einsberg) is the smartest guy in the room. If you weren’t aware, don’t worry. He would’ve let you known sooner or later.
 
So is the personality of the genius Facebook founder as it is portrayed in director David Fincher’s internet epic “The Social Network,” an incisively-written and impressively-controlled biopic where fascinating legal drama meets new media ambition. Adapted by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“Charlie Wilson’s War”) from the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, “The Social Network” is an occasionally one-sided yet nearly-perfect narrative centered on the most prevalent online phenomenon of the past decade.

With a story this substantial, there was bound to be a villain – or at least an anti-hero – somewhere in the mix. “The Social Network” doesn’t waste time in introducing audiences to Mark. Einsberg plays him as arrogant and aloof as any character in recent memory. It doesn’t necessarily push the actor’s range compared to some of his past films, but from this bigger-than-life persona Einsberg exudes a scary confidence and insensitivity that draws us as close to him as it pushes others away.
 
From the opening scene, Mark has our attention as he sits across from his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) in a Harvard pub and manages to say just about every wrong thing imaginable. The difference between Mark and a guy that simply puts his foot in his mouth (as all guys do) is that Mark is well aware of his offensive nature but wants to see where the breaking point lies.
 
“This is exhausting,” Erica tells Mark as he rambles on about how getting into a Finals Club (a sort of glorified fraternity at Harvard) will lead to a better life. “Dating you is like dating Stairmaster.”
 
Mark’s ability to destroy friendships is what layers his character so well. His defense mechanisms are what keep him from truly finding a connection with friends. In “The Social Network,” Mark is able to demonstrate how he uses his intelligence to prove his worth. He starts by ransacking the campus blogosphere before proceeding to steal what would later become Facebook, a multi-billion-dollar media corporation.
 
Standing beside Mark to help build his empire is best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who provided the start-up cash to fund Facebook in its early stages and attempted to monetize the website. In the film, Eduardo, who is the main source for “The Accidental Billionaires,” is suing Mark for $600 million. Garfield’s depiction of a loyal friend is heartfelt until it becomes heartbreaking. As Napster founder Sean Parker, singer/actor Justin Timberlake plays to his strengths and embodies Parker as a smart and wily entrepreneur looking for the next big money-making idea.
 
“The Social Network” isn’t so much a movie about Facebook as it’s a story of greed, envy, and the ruthless means one young man would take to rise to power no matter who he crushes along the way. It’s “There Will Be Blood” for the tech generation.

Through wonderfully-constructed scenes, director Fincher and screenwriter Sorkin have created an exhilarating drama that achieves the finest that filmmaking has to offer today. “The Social Network” is a relentless character study and just might be the best film of the year.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

December 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson
Directed by: David Fincher (“Fight Club”)
Written by: Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”)

David Fincher’s new fantasy drama “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” doesn’t exactly mirror 1994’s “Forrest Gump” word for word, but screenwriter Eric Roth, who penned both scripts, uses so many elements from the story that won him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, don’t be caught off guard if during “Button” you start seeing images of Bubba flashing on screen.

The similarities between the two, however, aren’t Fincher’s biggest problem. “Benjamin Button” is a story about death, and a beautiful one to behold from a technical point of view. But with a topic so poignant, Fincher fails to expand on the inner workings of his characters. In a story dealing with so much loss, there is very little life.

“Benjamin Button” begins with Daisy (Cate Blanchett), an old woman dying in a hospital bed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina who asks her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) to read to her the diary she has secretly kept her entire life. (Think “Big Fish” but without the tall tales and less enchanting moments).

As the story gradually unfolds, we learn of a baby born on the night WWI ended, who’s father abandons it on the porch of a stranger’s house after its mother dies during childbirth. The baby, of course, is Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a peculiar child who seems to be aging backwards. He stars as an elderly infant and slowly becomes younger as his body develops stronger and then younger itself. He’s adopted by Queeny (Taraji P. Henson), the caretaker of a senior’s home who can’t have children of her own and raises Benjamin as her son.

Soon, we see how Benjamin and our storyteller, Daisy, meet each other and form an unusual friendship. Daisy is a seven-year-old little girl while Benjamin is a little boy who looks 67 but has the complexity of a child her age. It gets less creepy as Daisy gets older and Benjamin gets younger and the two go their separate ways. Still, they never really never let go of their special bond.

But characters come in and out of each others lives and Daisy’s flashbacks continue in an uninteresting catalog reminiscent of “This is Your Life” glints. It’s not nearly as memorable or entertaining as Gump’s brush with history and celebrity. “Benjamin Button” may have done some wildly inventive things in the graphics department (molding Pitt’s head on a small body looks amazing especially when compared to things like “Little Man”), but there’s nothing here that makes the film as deeply moving as it should have been.