Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saw 3D

All the Saw movies start the same: with a person(s) desperately trying to free themselves from Jigsaw's elaborate torture-porn trap. In these prologues, the victims almost always die (which explains why the scene has nothing to do with the rest of the film), but the laughable skit that opens Saw 3D takes the cake.

Two guys wake up, handcuffed to giant electric saws, then a girl is revealed being hung from the ceiling. She's been boning both of them, Jigsaw explains, and the two men must decide who dies: one of them, or the girl.

The kicker is that they are encased in a giant, plexiglass box in the middle of a large city. As the countdown nears zero, a crowd steadily gathers in front of the box, taking pictures with their BlackBerry's, feebly attempting to break the glass, making half-assed calls to the cops, and so on.

During the scene, I kept thinking how implausible the whole ordeal was, like people would actually watch three teenagers get chopped in half. And then it hit me. I realized how, and I can't believe I'm saying this, ingenious the scene was.

People actually do enjoy watching teenagers get chopped in half, why the hell do you think every single Saw movie damn near doubles its budget in its opening weekend box office take?

So, in this scene, the filmmakers aren't only making fun of themselves (well, that might be giving them too much credit), they are making fun of their viewers, as if asking: "You like watching this shit on film, and we bet money you'd watch it in person, too."

It's a scary thought, but a far scarier one is that, despite its marketing tease that this is the final Saw film, next year, you can bet your ass that if it's Halloween, it must be Saw. D-

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hereafter

Much like Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood wastes no time churning out fresh cinema.  Since 1971, he’s made over 30 films.  Save a few rare exceptions (Unforgiven) his films didn’t coast into greatness until 2003, when he released the work of art that is Mystic River

In Hereafter, Eastwood gets his action out of the way early.  In an epic, horrific sequence, a tsunami wipes out an entire town, with Eastwood’s camera right in the thick of it.  Once the dust settles, we’re introduced to three different characters on three parts of the globe. 

Marie (Cecile De France), a popular journalist in Paris, is having trouble coping with her near-death experience in the tsunami.  Marcus (twins Frankie and George McLaren) is having trouble coping with a horrible accident in London, and George (Matt Damon) is having trouble coping with himself.

Despite its trailer, I didn’t find Hereafter as a film describing what happens to us after death.  I found it as a film describing how those of us affected by death deal with our loss.  Slow but never boring, Eastwood’s film is full of tender moments that, in lesser hands, might have come off as laughable.

Take an extended sequence that starts in a cooking class and ends at the bottom of a set of stairs.  In the scene, Damon and his cooking partner (played to innocent perfection by Bryce Dallas Howard) take turns blind-tasting foods.  Watch how their movements, unseen by the other actor, are countered in perfect rhythm. 

The scene leads the two back to Damon’s San Francisco apartment where things do not go where we think they are going.  The words they exchange force Howard to leave, but not before falling apart at the bottom of the stairs.  Now, watch her.  Really watch her.  As Howard (daughter of Ron) slides to the ground and begins to sob uncontrollably, we notice something that we aren’t used to.  We can’t see her face; it’s shielded by her long, amber hair.  For an actress to block her face during her “Oscar moment” takes some serious balls.  It is a test of courage that I can only assume Howard learned from her gifted auteur.

Most people won’t like Hereafter, simply because it doesn’t deliver at the same level of power we’ve been used to seeing in Eastwood’s film.  It has earned false comparison to Babel (it isn’t nearly as good or gut-wrenching).  What it is, however, is a subtle, meditative feature that takes its time, but, in the end, is ultimately worth the trip. B+

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Every single Woody Allen movie starts the exact same way.  Classical/jazz/muzak plays over the speakers.  Jump credits appear, always in the same font.  The cast is listed alphabetically.  Fade in on opening shot.  And, for better or worse, it is because of this routine that we find a certain comfort when sitting down to watch moving images of Woody’s World. 


Allen is one of the oddest filmmakers around.  In each of his many films (he’s made one a year since the 70s) he mixes together a great cast, witty screenplay and a fresh narrative.  When he succeeds (most recently with the fantastic Match Point) he totally nails it.  Why is it, then, that so many of his films falter?

With films like Tall Dark Stranger, he seems to be attempting to replicate his great streak from the late 80s-early 90s (Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives).  But he needs to realize that his contemporary comedies aren’t working (really, did you see Scoop or Whatever Works?)

Tall Dark Stranger, like all of Allen’s films, centers around an interconnected group of people who all have it bad despite their evident wealth.  There’s the failing novelist (a shlabby Josh Brolin), his desperate-to-escape wife (Naomi Watts), and her overbearing mother (Gemma Jones) whose rich husband (Anthony Hopkins) has just dumped her for a whore (yes, literally).

They all sit around and bitch and moan and complain about how unfair life is, which, if done right, can be Woody Allen bliss.  But here, everyone just looks bored.  Maybe that’s because Allen let’s a God-awful narrator do most of the talking (as he did with Vicky Christina Barcelona).  Maybe it’s because we, like all of the actors, have seen and heard this story a dozen times (by Woody himself).

Tall Dark Stranger tries to redeem itself a few times: namely in a scene in which three characters have it out in a cramped apartment, going from one room to another, screaming and drinking scotch, all completed in one long unbroken shot.  It is masterfully done, a true work of bravado.  Sadly, the rest of the film is not.

Allen’s next movie is yet another romantic comedy, but it stars Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody and Marion Cotillard.  And, for better or worse, I’ll be right there, watching another Woody Allen movie begin the same way all over again. C

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

Movies don’t scare me.  The blood, the shrieking music, the jumping out from behind a door; it’s all so purposefully unrelenting.  So, the fact that Paranormal Activity scared the living shit out of me (almost, it seemed, quite literally) says a lot. 

A year ago, I spent 86 dreadful minutes in a movie theatre, watching a helpless couple be terrorized by an unseen demon.  That film, which still remains the most profitable movie ever made (it cost 10 grand, it banked 107 mil), is the Blair Witch Project of our time.  Its sequel, however, doesn’t quite reach its bar.

But, did you see Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2?  Exactly.  Paranormal Activity 2 isn’t better than the first, but it comes damn close.

You think the preview gives too much away?  It doesn’t, by a long shot.  In fact, it wouldn’t be fair for me to tell you even the most mundane details about the new family being terrorized.  So instead, I’ll focus on the film’s overall effect.

There is no noise.  In my review for the first film, I spent a great deal of time focusing on a subtle noise that came through the soundtrack everytime something bad was about to happen.  It was so restrained, we didn’t even recognize it the first few times.  But after a while, our spines were tingling the moment that sound began.  I believe I compared the experience to that of Pavlov’s dogs.

This film, sadly, doesn’t grip you like that.  It has great moments of shocking terror and holy-shit-cover-your-eyes panic, but it doesn’t envelop you in fear as well as last year.

When reviewing sequels (or remakes or prequels or trilogies) I try not to compare the movie to the first film.  But, in this case, it deserves to be done, simply because you cannot see Paranormal Activity 2 without seeing the first one.  There were a few very obvious people in my packed theatre who were two steps behind. 

After viewing part one, I had trouble sleeping for a few days (which, except for Deliverance, has never happened to me).  And while I know I’ll sleep well tonight, there’s a scene in the sequel that is easily the freakiest thing to take place in both films.  This movie is a necessary fun, but dear God, don’t ruin it with a third one.  B

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jackass 3D

Here’s where Jackass 3D lost me: we fade in on a miniature train set. As the train loops in and out between the small buildings of a town, the camera slowly pans back, showing as a green volcano.  Suddenly, explosive diarrhea shoots out of the top of the “volcano” which is, of course, some dude’s ass painted forest green.  Then more shit spews out.  Then some more. Then a last little bit.

All the surrounding Jackassers laugh uproariously before we see the exact same clip again, this time in slow motion.  Really?

Some of the stunts in the Jackass franchise (yes, it can be called a franchise, due to the shitload of money the films make) are actually quite funny.  Can I tell you what any of them are?  Of course not.  Why?  Because for every hilarious stunt, there is five supremely disgusting ones.

The Volcano Shitter is just the beginning.  There’s flying a remote-controlled helicopter that is tied to the end of a guy’s dick, drinking the sweat produced from an obese man’s workout, and strapping a mini video camera next to a guy’s balls as he proceeds to urinate on members of the film’s cast and crew.

This isn’t funny.  It’s fucking gross.  And that’s probably why the theatre I was in, filled almost entirely with 18-27 year old males and their girlfriends, didn’t laugh once during any of those skits.

Beyond the grossness of it all, here’s what I was thinking while watching this film:
  • Smart to put it in 3D, which undoubtedly helped propel it to a $50 million opening weekend
  • What kind of drugs are these guys on?
  • How much of this is real?  (Which stunts are completed using legit stuntman and/or visual effects?)
  • When will it be over?

The answer to my last question couldn’t come soon enough.  D-

Nowhere Boy

Nowhere Boy is an unnecessary film about a very necessary man.

It’s slow, often boring, and lazy in its rock ‘n’ roll performances.  Which is speaking poorly of a film that chronicles the teenage years of John Lennon.

Now for the good stuff.  The acting is flawless.  Which rests mostly on the shoulders of lead Aaron Johnson, the 20-year-old actor who is leaps and bounds away from his leading role in Kick-Ass earlier this year (was I the only one who didn’t know the kid was a Brit?)

Johnson embodies what we think a young John Lennon would look and act like.  He’s arrogant, pompous, bloody talented and horribly damaged.

His damage mostly lies in the fact that his mentally ill mother (an Oscar-worthy Anne-Marie Duff) left him to be raised by his strict aunt (Kristen Scott Thomas, again proving she’s one of the most talented actress working in film) when he was a child.

John is pissed about it.  And when he reconnects with his mother, their relationship is eccentric yet tender, fun yet troubled.  But, if a movie is described as being about John Lennon, you came for one thing, and that’s the music.

Despite the fact that, during the course of the film, John meets two fellas named Paul and George, don’t expect any Beatles tracks.  We’re too early for that.  Instead we’re privy to a few small shows where a Bud Holly/Elvis Presley-inspired John crones out slight tunes for the ladies.

I say slight because, for some reason, when John starts singing through the mic, it’s as if the sound in the film gets turned down.  I know what 43-year-old director Sam Taylor-Wood is doing here, I think. She’s making the music sound how it did back then.  The crude percussion, the mono tone; I get it.  But it takes away from the film as a whole, which is a subtle way of saying that it isn’t technically well done.

Die hard Lennon fans should enjoy Nowhere Boy.  By no means did I hate it, but it could’ve been more.  Much more. B-

Note: Why did I make a point to say how old the lead actor and director are?  Because they’re engaged, and she’s having their baby in the next few months.  Well played, young man.  Get it.

Red

I’ve been hearing a lot of comparisons between this over-the-top comic book action flick and The Expendables, another recent over-the-top action flick.  I don’t think the comparisons are with merit.  Why?  Because one of them is laughably enjoyable, while the other is just laughable.

If you’re going to make a movie that spoofs an entire genre, then make your spoofing more obvious.  We’re led to believe, I think, that Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman don’t want to be taken seriously as a slew of retired spies trying to clear their names.  But they sure as shit seem to be taking the whole ordeal very seriously.  Although, not as much as their director.

However, I must admit that it is immensely enjoyable to watch Dame Mirren standing behind a giant ass machine gun, straight-faced as she blasts bad guys halfway to hell. Yeah, that’s badass (and, ahem, kind of hot).  The rest of the film, however, is not.

Shit blows up, people give long speeches before they fail at killing someone, visual effects are used to achieve wild stunts; and it’s all so kid-friendly.  What’s with rating these balls-to-the-wall action flicks PG-13?  Lame.

Malkovich is getting damn good at perfecting neurotic, LSD-laced characters, and Freeman and Willis have enjoyed cashing out their last few flicks, but it’s all so damn tired.

I liked The Expendables, for the same reason I enjoyed Piranha 3D: they don’t take themselves seriously.  Red is more than a throwaway action movie, it’s a throwaway action movie that wants to be treated as a decent action movie. Sorry.  D

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Secretariat

There's a perfect word to describe a movie like Secretariat: Capracorn.

Frank Capra was known for making happy-go-lucky, all's well that ends well, tales that, late in his career, began to be deemed "corny" by critics.

Capracorn. A movie that, while not notably impressive, will be suitable for the whole family, and leave you with a feel-good mentality.

That's Secretariat, through and through. The movie, a true story that chronicles the great horse's victory of the Triple Crown, and the struggles of his owner Penny (Diane Lane) to get him there, is a wondrous family film that will have you cheering at the screen and brimming with joy.

Problem is, you have to be into that sort of thing.

There are a few genres of film that I choose not to critique. For the most part, I get nothing out of animated films. Sure there may be one standout a year, but I can usually predict, to the minute, what will happen in a cartoon movie. Same goes for chick flicks and horror films. And the same, as is the case here, goes for live-action family films.

Most movies released under these genres make a decent amount of money. Why? Because most movie goers want what they've already seen 50 times. And that's fine. You are the ones that feed the Hollywood system and make it a success. And without that money-grubbing system, there would be no way to independently finance smaller films. So, thanks.

Anyway. If you're moved by it's trailer, you're going to like Secretariat. No question. You'll enjoy (or not even notice) the cheesy, I-feel-another-speech-coming-on dialogue. The battlefield music the reveals how a scene will end as it's just beginning. The period costumes that look oddly dated.  In short, you'll love the sentimentality of it all.

Diane Lane has proven that she's a talented actress. But her performance, much like the rest of the film, doesn't make the slightest attempt to challenge her. Everything is done by-the-book with formulaic generality. Think Seabiscuit meets The Blind Side. (Which, for my money, isn't saying much.)

I don't have children and I'm not a grandparent, but I can imagine it is nice to be able to go to a movie theatre with your entire family and all be able to enjoy (some more than others) a film together.

There's nothing inherently wrong with Secretariat. Just like there's nothing wrong with Life As We Know It, or I Spit On Your Grave. But, you know, you have to be into that sort of thing.

Which I'm not. What can I say? I'm not here to agree with you. D+

Monday, October 11, 2010

Waiting for "Superman"

These kids are Waiting for "Superman"

Too. Much. Information. That's how this new, highly buzzed about documentary plays out. Much like director Davis Guggenheim's last film, An Inconvenient Truth, topical problems are discussed in a fresh, stylized way. But there is too much going on. Several times while watching Al Gore's presentation, I kept thinking, "Jesus, I didn't know I had to take notes." Waiting for "Superman" is just like that. Informative, yes. But to a fault.

America's public education system is flawed nearly to the point of no return. Dropout rates are higher than ever. Our worldwide rank in math and science scores keeps dropping at an alarmingly (embarrassingly) hasty rate. Teachers are criticized worse than ever on their merit. And on and on.

Thanks much in part to this film, all of these issues are currently in the forefront of national attention.

So what can be done about it?

After watching Waiting for "Superman", I have no idea. You know why? Because this is a movie that talks, and presents, a great game, but offers little to no insight on how to fix such a damaged system.

To be fair, that isn't entirely true. Problems are offered seemingly feasible resolutions from important-looking people that, because their dressed in a power suit, we should be listening to. But the solutions, much like the problems, aren't discussed in depth. At all.

For five minutes, Guggenheim's film focuses on the ease of reaching tenure as a public school teacher, and how hard it is to fire lousy educators. Then... the film moves on. Google says they can't find enough qualified Americans to hire, so they look elsewhere. Then... the film moves on. The education and teacher's unions are stunting the need for change. Then... the film moves on.

You get it.

If you've seen the film's trailer, you think you're in for a documentary that focuses on a few inner-city kids who are being damaged by the underwhelming abilities of the public school system. They each enter lotteries in hopes of being accepted to charter or private schools.

This is in the film, but only for the final 20 minutes. And once Guggenheim settles down from all the facts and bar graphs and pie charts and lame cartoon graphics, he touches on some seriously compelling stuff. What these kids are going through, and the fact that their fate is decided by the drop of a lottery ball, or the random scroll of a computer, is easily the highlight of the film.

During the film's final moments, I kept thinking about Hoop Dreams, the fantastic 1994 documentary that chronicles the struggles of two inner city youths, who have both been prematurely deemed as the next Michael Jordan. That film, which Roger Ebert called the best of the '90s, says nothing about the hardships of daily life in the inner city, but at the same time, it says everything about the hardships of daily life in the inner city.

Waiting for "Superman" touches on that point, but by then, it's far too late. Don't get me wrong, this film presents several valid, note worthy points; all of which need to be scrutinized and investigated. But it presents far too many of them. A five-part miniseries on HBO (or PBS, for that matter) would've suited Guggenheim's material far better.

I care about the kids. How they feel, how they act. I could care less what Bill Gates thinks about America's lack of education. Why? Because all of the money he has donated towards the cause has had little to no impact.

Had Waiting of "Superman" picked one, or two, or even three, issues to discuss (and offer sound resolutions for), it could've been great. But, sadly, the final imagine of this movie, arguably the most moving scene of any film so far this year, is wasted among the statistics. B-

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Let Me In

Lina Leandersson in Let the Right One In/ Chloe Moretz in Let Me In

Two years ago, a small Swedish film redefined the vampire genre by stripping down everything we’d seen recently regarding the fanged beasts.  Let the Right One In was, simply put, the anti-Twilight.

A 12-year-old bullied boy meets a very old female vampire who’s stuck in a 12-year-old body.  The two form an unlikely friendship, but not without a little blood being shed.  Sound silly?  Far from it.

A few things director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has going for him in this revamp: his casting and subtle action shifts.  Abby, as played by Kick-Ass’s Chloe Moretz, fits perfectly into this lonely vampire’s world.  While The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee uses his saddened innocence to lead his character’s fear.

You have to give Reeves credit for not dumbing down his remake, as so many American films do.  Instead, he keeps the Swedish version’s slow deliberate pacing, but not without adding in a few welcome shifts.

In Reeves’ film, Abby is fast and agile in her vicious attacks, an eerie gesture that deviates from the original.  Also, there’s an extended, unbroken POV shot of a car crash that will make your head spin.

However, I can still picture the original Swedish girl’s tortured face, and the original boy, with his long, Aryan hair, appears creepier, thereby a better fit for his little vamp. 

Also, the original ending, one of the very best, most badass endings to a horror film I’ve ever seen, is untouchable.  Why?  Well, like most American horror films, they think something has to be dark to be scary.  Watch the original film to prove that notion wrong.

Maybe I’m being a little too hard on Let Me In.  But what do you expect?  When you remake a perfectly good horror film just two years after its release, you’re going to be harshly judged. 

Let the Right One In made no money in American theatres but has since reached cult status on DVD.  While Let Me In isn’t better, it does a damn fine job trying to be.  I’m just not entirely sure it is necessary.  B

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Social Network

Would you watch a movie about Tom Anderson creating MySpace?  How about a flick that chronicles the founders of Google netting their first zillion?  Neither would I.  So, why make a movie about Facebook?  I mean, seriously, who gives a shit?

People who love, like or simply enjoy movies, that’s who.  Here’s why.

Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire ever, created Facebook in 2003 when he was a sophomore at Harvard.  After the site gained gargantuan success, he ended up getting sued by two different parties who felt Zuckerberg had suckered them out of billions of dollars.

Simple, right?  But, for what it’s worth, that’s what David Fincher’s damn-near flawless film, The Social Network, is about.  But, like all great films, the plot isn’t nearly as interesting as the execution.

You’ll fall in love with this movie during its first scene.  The scene, staged in a crowded bar, involves Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) bantering back and forth about the troubles of youth.  This is screenwriting as an art form.  Writer Aaron Sorkin, who’s made a career out of making his dialogue snap crackle and pop in works like The West Wing and A Few Good Men, delivers his best work in years, having his characters speak a mile a minute in Harvard-appropriate discourse.

But the words are only the beginning.  Eisenberg, who I’ve found increasingly annoying save two good performances in Roger Dodger and The Squid in the Whale, is a revelation here.  In one of the most challenging films roles so far this year, Eisenberg takes it in stride.  He nails Sorkin’s asshole, genius, superior, isolated version of Zuckerberg, while filling Fincher’s frame seamlessly.

Speaking of assholes, let’s discuss the film’s best role, thereby producing its best performance.  After losing all of his money due to hundreds of lawsuits, Napster founder Sean Parker set his sights on Zuckerberg, coaching him on the practicalities of his site (step one, lose the “The” in TheFacebook.com). 

In what could be a simple, throwaway role, Justin Timberlake turns it into a scene-stealing work of bravado.  Timberlake, arguably the most recognizable face in the world right now, takes egotistical arrogance to a completely new level.  He plays Parker as a smart, know-it-all God for the Gen-Y crowd. 

Watch, in the film’s best scene, when Zuckerberg’s best friend and business partner Eduardo (a New York-perfect Andrew Garfield) loses his shit in the Facebook corporate office.  Their argument may attract your attention, but watch Timberlake in the background, snootily sipping his coffee, obnoxiously chiming in at the best times.  Say what you will about Timberlake’s music career, but this is one hell of a talented actor.

As is evident in Fincher’s best work (Se7en, Zodiac), the man has a keen eye for the craft of cinema.  The narrative in which in chooses The Social Network to unfold, which will initially trick you, is ingenious.  Also, like all great auteurs, he constantly gives us something we’ve never seen before. 

No novice towards the use of digital effects, Fincher pulls off two feats in The Social Network that I’ve never seen on film.

First, he casts identical twins in roles of the ultra WASPy Winklevoss brothers, who are suing Zuckerberg.  The kicker is, the actors playing the twins aren’t related by blood. Fincher used one of their voices to dub both of the actors’ dialogue, and put one of their faces on both bodies.  It’s a far more impressive feat than anything Fincher pulled off in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I can’t even describe the second moment, except to say that with some new use of digital photography, Fincher makes a simple rowing competition look like a visual poem.  I have no idea how he he did it, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

The Social Network is the unlikeliest of great films.  It isn’t an epic, it doesn’t have a firm resolution, and it doesn’t make its case as 100 percent fact (Fincher says he made a fiction film, Sorkin says he wrote a nonfiction film.)  It will make you laugh, it won’t make you cry, but damn if it doesn’t stick in your head.  That is, in part, what makes it so good: it’s a little film about a topic more than 500 million people are aware of, that creeps up on you and stays.  You hear that?  That’s the starter’s pistol signaling the beginning of this year’s Oscar race.  A

Saturday, October 2, 2010

the Directors: David Fincher

In 18 years and eight films, David Fincher has made a name for himself that most non-film enthusiasts would recognize.  He’s best known for conveying the familiarity of crime using unconventional, seedy methods.  Notorious for making his actors slog through dozens of takes, Fincher is nothing short of a down-to-the-tiniest-detail auteur. 

His latest, the Facebook flick The Social Network, is due this Friday.  It’s a deviation from form, but if David Fincher’s name is in the credits, I’m there.

Alien3 (1992)
Well, everybody has to start somewhere.  At least Fincher admits that this is garbage.  He so hated the Big Brother control that the studio had over the film, he walk out before editing even began.  Wise choice. D+

Interesting Fact: Before Fincher came on as director, Vincent Ward (What Dreams May Come), Walter Hill (48 Hrs.), Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2), among others, were scheduled to direct. 

Se7en (1995)
Here’s a bold statement to get you going: Se7en is the best serial killer/police procedural movie ever made.  Period.  Think about it.  How many serial killers movies never show the killer actually offing someone?  I can think of one. And it is called Se7en.  Aside from its beyond-skillful recreations of gruesome crime scenes, this movie is full of humor (“It would be great if we didn’t start off… kicking each other in the balls,”) and enough didn’t-see-that-coming moments to fill 10 movies.  Dozens of filmmakers have borrowed (stolen) from this film, which Fincher should take as a compliment, for Se7en is his masterpiece.  A+

Interesting Fact: Fincher lobbied hard to have the final lines of the movie removed (Freeman’s Hemingway quote), but ultimately lost out.

The Game (1997)
“What do you give the man who has everything?”  That’s the question that fuels this groovy psychological thriller.  Why do I always forget about this movie?  It’s clever as all hell, convincingly acted, and still manages to trip me up everytime I go back to it.  Michael Douglas fits effortlessly into Fincher’s warped take on how the rich live.  Some viewers may get frustrated by the film’s never-ending twists, but if it’s your first viewing, don’t worry, you’ll love it next time. A-

Interesting Fact: Jodie Foster was originally set to play that role that Sean Penn ended up taking over.  In a reversal of fortune, Sean Penn was supposed to be the lead in Flightplan, which Jodie Foster ended up starring in.

Fight Club (1999)
I’ll probably catch shit for this one.  Sorry, but Fight Club is not THE BEST FILM EVER OH MY GOD.  People swear by it, I know, but it’s not even Fincher’s second, or third best film.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining as hell and, like all of Fincher’s great films, it opens our eyes to a world we once knew nothing about.  But, it’s overrated.  It’s over long and seriously loses steam once the Project Mayhem segment begins.  Both Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are fantastic.  Like I said, it’s good, yes, but not great.  B

Interesting Fact: Despite its now cult status, Fight Club received mostly mediocre reviews upon its initial release and netted a measly $37 million at the box, nearly half of what it cost to make.

Panic Room (2002)
Like The GamePanic Room is often forgotten as being a Fincher film.  Fincher has admitted that he used this film as a testing zone for the ground breaking CGI techniques that he used briefly in Fight Club.  Here, we get long, silent tracking shots of a gorgeously expansive Manhattan home.  The gimmick looks good, but it’s also the best part of the movie.  Jodie Foster flexes her skills rather well, but the run-of-the-mill ending is not at all like Fincher.  B-

Interesting Fact: The film's opening credits, arguably the aspect of the movie people remember the most, took over a year to complete.

Zodiac (2007)
Thank God Fincher took five years off, the result of which was this stirring film of utter excellence.  Chronicling one of America’s most notorious, and never official apprehended, serial killers is no easy feat, and at damn near three hours long, Fincher does it in stride.  Zodiac is so detailed, so expertly choreographed, that it rivals Se7en as a top-tier film in the crime genre.  There isn’t one flaw in any aspect of this movie.  To view it is to view two decades of American culture.  A great film. A

Interesting Fact: While it's no secret that Fincher is a glutton for multiple takes, Zodiac was where he got most Kubrick-esque.  Fincher would require 60 plus takes for some long shots, but up to 30 for the most mundane shots (like Jake Gyllenhaal throwing a folder in the passenger seat of his car).

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Simply put: this movie doesn’t do it for me.  It’s overly sentimental, corny and to… damn… long.  I don’t mind the gimmick of someone aging backwards, nor do I think Pitt’s performance has flaws, but I have a great deal of trouble becoming emotionally invested in the film or its characters.  It has its great moments, but could’ve easily been an hour shorter.  C+

Interesting Fact: Along with being Fincher's first PG-13 rated movie, Benjamin Button is by all accounts Fincher's most successful film, earning $127.5 million, 13 Oscar nominations, and three Oscar awards.

The Social Network (2010)
Another Fincher work of art.  It's only October, but this film is already being hailed as the best movie of 2010.  It's a for-our-time movie that defines a decade.  How do you pull off a flick about Facebook?  Have Aaron Sorkin pen a scorcher of a script and cast more-than-capable actors to make the dialouge soar.  Then, put Fincher in the director's chair and let his impeccable eye for cinema take over.  The result?  A one of a kind film that resonates long after you leave the theatre.  A



Interesting Fact: Fincher cast identical twins in roles of the ultra WASPy Winklevoss brothers.  However,  the actors playing the twins aren’t related by blood. Fincher used one of their voices to dub both of the actors’ dialogue, and put one of their faces on both bodies

Easy A

Easy A is clearly trying to do for "The Scarlett Letter" what Clueless did for "Emma" and 10 Things I Hate About You did for "The Taming of the Shrew."  However, there’s just one slight difference between Easy A and those other films: it actually has a brain.

Don’t get me wrong, Clueless had an indelible impact on American society in the mid-‘90s (what that says about American society is another story) and I don’t like to rag on any film starring the late Mr. Ledger, but Easy A is smart, witty, at-times hysterical and is anchored in earnest truth.

The film is extremely fortunate to have Emma Stone in the lead role.  Stone, who we’ve all seen in Superbad and Zombieland, oozes with geeky sexuality while blurting out intelligent, not-so-PG-13-friendly dialogue in a role that is certain to make her a star.

Stone plays Olive, a carefree high school senior who, after attempting to do right by a friend, is quickly turned into the school slut.  Problem is, Olive’s a virgin, hell she’s never even kissed a guy.  But her high school peers perceive her as a tramp, and we all know what the high school thought process tells us: they think, therefore I am.

After Olive’s “whoring” antics quickly spin out of control (due much in part to her playing it up), she confesses her falsified sins via a webcast, which, of course, everyone in the school watches.

Look, is it all a little too cutesy and convenient?  God yes.  But, unlike most of its chick flick counterparts, Easy A has a well-working intellect.  Credit need first be placed on Stone but then on Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, who play Stone’s breezy, happy-go-lucky, California liberal parents.

I’ve since read that Tucci and Clarkson only spent three days on set, and all the better, because their scenes, and almost every line of their dialogue, had me chuckling.  A few lines, Tucci’s in particular, had me laughing at loud.
I can’t remember the last time a high school-set comedy made me do that.  B-

Devil

This week has been abnormally cold.  Ten days ago I was wearing short sleeves, now I’m in a jacket.  Remember when we had all that snow last year, how many times did you say, “Christ I can’t wait ‘til it’s warm out.”  Or this summer, one of the hottest in recorded history for our region, you probably prayed for cold.

So, why don’t I mind that the weather has so suddenly shifted?  Because without these cold days, I wouldn’t appreciate the hot, and visa versa.

Horrible films, namely horrible horror films, are just like that.  To see a movie like Devil is to appreciate nearly every other film in the genre.  A movie like Devil serves no purpose; not only does it teach or show us nothing new, but by watching it, we may actually become dumber.

Remember M. Night Shyamalan’s disaster of a film, The Happening.  No?  You’re better off.  But there’s a scene about halfway through, when some whacked out botanist blankly predicts why people are killing themselves all across the country.  The man’s reasoning is lame (plants are doing it) and we aren’t meant to believe it.  However, as the movie nears its end, we realize that is EXACTLY why people are killing themselves.  Plants?  Really?  Dude, didn’t you make The Sixth Sense?

Devil is the exact same way. Although Shyamalan isn’t the director (he’s credited with producing and coming up with the film’s story) it’s got his washed-up name all over it.  Oh and how original: five people get stuck in an elevator and everytime the lights go out, someone dies!  Yikes!  And it’s PG-13!  How scary!

About halfway into the film’s excruciating 80 minutes, a Hispanic security guard explains to a police officer what may be going on in the elevator.  God-fearing or not, it is ridiculous.  And, of course, it all turns out to be true.

Did you see the trailer for this movie?  It was actually pretty good, until Shyamalan’s name appeared.  Then you knew you were in for shit.  Sorry, Night, you’re not a viable marketing ploy.  However, you do make me appreciate other horror films.  So... thanks?  D-