Archive for David Fincher

SUDDEN BIG FONT

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2017 by dcairns

The only really alarming thing for us in Mindhunter, David Fincher’s new FBI/serial killer series, were the SUDDEN BIG FONT moments where the show would abruptly scream at you about where the current sequence was set. Given that the show is otherwise so cool and clinical, this hysteria seemed slightly misplaced, though I guess it did help stamp a visual identity on a show that was otherwise pretty simple and understated in its visual approach. (We don’t see murders, or even fresh crime scenes — just crime scene pics, and lots and lots of unpleasant graphic talk — and I contest the show would have been even more effective without the photos, whose nasty content is always described anyway.) And I guess it’s good they didn’t repeat the typewriter font from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS that got transposed directly into The X-Files. But if everything remains calm and collected as a hulking murderer discusses how to have sex with a severed head, why should we be so excited to learn that the next bit of procedural is going to occur in, say, Denton, Ohio?

THE REPTILE, curiously enough, a Hammer film from John Gilling played on the same sets as his PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, begins with a pre-credits teaser and then a giant yellow title is suddenly slapped into our astonished faces by a direct cut. Again, this was the only scary bit in the film. A bit like GK Cheserton’s demi-god/new messiah in his short story How I Found the Superman, the monster is killed at the end when somebody lets a draught in. Considering the house is on fire at the time, such a slight breeze proving fatal suggests a monster of unusually delicate constitution.

Still, good to see Michael Ripper get such a prominent role and even get to deliver the death-blow/window opening. And very nice physical work from Jacqueline Pearce, who should have become a massive star, as the scaly lady.

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You Go Girl

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on October 15, 2014 by dcairns

gone-girl-poster

Kind of impossible to write anything about GONE GIRL without spoilers. I can try not to be gratuitous with it but if you haven’t seen or read it, you should stop right here. And go see it, it’s entertaining! David Ehrenstein has compared it to a certain forties melodrama and he’s right, but even naming it would give too much away if you like to experience plotlines with newborn innocence.

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Gone-Girl-Trailer

David Fincher used to make two kinds of films — interesting ones like SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB and not-so-interesting ones like PANIC ROOM, but they were all stylistically indulgent and visually enjoyable. Then he made BORING BASTARD BUTTON which was kept afloat entirely by technological and stylistic excess, and then he kind of stopped being flamboyant and started doing television. Though ZODIAC had some extravagant visuals, it also ushered in what has become more typically the Fincher look — cool, snappy, dark, bluish, classical — traditional enough in framing and movement that he could use it to set up House of Cards and then pass it over to other directors who were mainly able to continue the style seamlessly.

So for GONE GIRL, Fincher marshalls the performances and Jeff Cronenweth lights things in his attractively chill manner and no excesses obtrude. Ben “low affect” Affleck has the right blend of everyman and doofus, is blank enough to potentially harbour dark secrets, and his puppyish aspects contrast nicely with Rosamund Pike’s more feline quality. When the movie needs more energy, Tyler Perry brings it as a celebrity lawyer. All the supporting cast are strong, and there’s a particularly pleasing mix of women — Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens deserve special mention.

The film GONE GIRL owes most to is (as acknowledged by author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn) 1945’s LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, in which (last chance spoiler alert) Gene Tierney commits suicide and frames her husband for her murder. But instead of coming as conclusion, in GONE GIRL, this is the whole set-up, revealed as a mid-film turning point — since the suicide itself is deferred, the rest of the film can play out the consequences and complications, which are legion. Like a 40s women’s picture, the movie evokes a pleasurable response of condemnation mixed with admiration. The woman is bad, and we should want to see her punished, but she’s also very impressive, and we find ourselves rooting for her. At a certain point in the story, we are rooting for both man and wife — maybe this is what Fincher means by calling it a perfect date movie.

The idea that the film is in some way anti-woman strikes me as dumb, since it contains several other female characters besides the wicked (yet quasi-justified) wife. Affleck’s sister and the detective investigating the case seem to me wholly or largely admirable people, just imperfect enough to be human and interesting. There is another female monster, the representative of tabloid television, who is just this side of caricature — but really, tabloid TV is by now impossible to treat unjustly — it’s a monster about which anything you say is likely to be true.

I may have to make an exception for Emily Ratzkywatzky Ratajkowski as Young Woman With Large Breasts, who fulfills the job description but doesn’t add much to it. The character, amusingly called Andie Hardy,  is a lust figure for males (in the audience and behind the camera and onscreen) and is regarded with contempt by the women in the film, and obviously their assessment that she’s not super-bright has some basis, but if played by an actor rather than a model (and not in the Bressonian sense) the part could possibly have been more, ahem, fleshed out. “The other woman” character is often a problematic one, but she’s still a human being.

 

gone-girl-trailer

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I can’t say for sure if the plot twist would have worked differently if I hadn’t had a tip-off. (This is why “serious” criticism may need spoiler alerts too — how to assess the impact of a plot if you know what’s coming? Some movies don’t care if you know — Orson Welles had a fondness for beginning at the end — but some very much do. GONE GIRL is somewhere in between.) It seemed to me that Rosamund Pike’s narration was less than gripping in the first half — the romance stuff was fine but the slow deterioration of the marriage felt under-imagined, which I gather is not the case in the book. In part 2, the urgency of her flight and Affleck’s plight are intimately entwined and reinforce each other, but in the first half her soap opera can’t compete with his thriller.

But when the twist is revealed, the movie moves into high gear — we now have no idea how it’s going to fill its running time, but there is certainly a dangerous situation in play and we’re going to have to find out. Here is where a spoiler could be really annoying. The movie’s solution involves more melodramatic elements, some possible plot holes (video evidence that may contradict Pike’s account) and a really interesting suspended anxiety ending, which is the movie’s boldest stroke.

It’s the kind of film which seems exceptional in the modern movie culture, but could conceivably be the norm if only movies enjoyed the same conditions as quality TV. In other words, it’s a good, edgy thriller. Liberate the filmmakers and this kind of thing could be the median level for Hollywood.

 

 

Still More Things That Aren’t Films, Again

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2014 by dcairns

house-of-cards-trailer

Enjoyed the first season of House of Cards — a box set Christmas gift from our pal Alison. David Fincher is turning into a classicist — he no longer feels compelled to fly his camera through kettle handles, at any rate. Struck by how it is, basically, Richard III done over (already done over for the books and UK TV series), and by how camp Kevin Spacey plays it in his asides to camera. NOT an accident — two-thirds of the way through the series there’s a hint of a male-on-male love affair in his character’s past, so I guess the fey glances have all been plating clues — Francis can be himself when he’s talking to US.

Read the four Grofield novels by Richard Stark, who was Donald Westlake (among others). Grofield is a sometime accomplice to Stark’s main protag anti-hero Parker. The books are The Damsel, The Dame, The Blackbird and Lemons Never Lie. Where Parker is a ruthless professional always motivated by the next score, Grofield is a part-time actor with his own summer stock company who only robs on the side to keep him in production, and he’s more whimsical. In the books he stars in, Stark/Westlake presses him into service as a secret agent, has him turn detective to solve a mystery (a genre Westlake/Stark rarely dabbled in at all), embroils him in a cross-country chase/gauntlet thing, and cobbles together one narrative out of a series of seemingly disconnected elements that keep threatening to come apart altogether, but eventually resolve into a revenge story.

Though quite capable of Parker-like ruthlessness when pressed, Grofield is more whimsical (he’s an actor after all) and prone to a quip. And they’re good quips.

marlirenfro

Marli Renfro, The Girl.

All this amorality had me in the mood for something with a moral compass. The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower may not quite fit, but it does balance fairly extreme psychopathic evil with the ordinary Hollywood business-as-usual kind, detailing true crime stories that intersect with the life of Janet Leigh’s body double from PSYCHO, Playboy model Marli Renfro. It wraps this blog post up nicely too, since it’s written by Robert Graysmith, played by Robert Downey Jnr in David Fincher’s film ZODIAC. “Who wouldn’t want to read a book written by a guy played by Robert Downey Jnr?” I thought, snatching the paperback up in a charity shop.*

Actually, Graysmith’s prose lacks the gozo suavity you’d want from a RD character, being mostly flat journalese with plunges into school essay plain bad and occasional bobs up into wit. He’s also unreliable on film, cobbling together his PSYCHO making-of stuff from a variety of contradictory sources and blithely declaring that most of the shower scene contains seventy-eight pieces of film, seventy takes of two and three seconds and over ninety splices for a sequence that runs only forty-five seconds.” Do the math. Or arithmetic, anyway. “The was no auto-focus in late 1959,” he explains, later, as if auto-focus was a tool commonly used today on professional shoots. That’s why the streets are full of former camera assistants with cardboard signs reading “Will pull focus for food.”

But the damn thing has me snared. I am a true crime sucker.

*In fact, he’s played by Jake Gyllenhaal.