Archive for David Fincher

Life after Mars

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , on July 27, 2019 by dcairns

Just finished Veronica Mars last night. Really dug it. Always liked that show.

Am going to avoid really specific spoilers but probably watch it with fresh eyes if you haven’t already.

It never had a really great visual style, and outside of the snazzy credits, it still doesn’t, though there’s one nice long Steadicam take reintroducing a great supporting character… but that fizzles out in a standard set of shot-countershot cuts. I’m always of the view that the longer a shot lasts, the more important its ending should be.

No, the appeal of the show was always, in no particular order, plotting, characters, dialogue, performances. I was in awe, during the first two seasons, of how Rob Thomas and his gang managed to cram into each episode one fully-developed mystery plot, one mystery subplot, and one development for the overarching series-long central mystery.

As with Nancy Drew, the key relationship was always between Mars (Kristen Bell) and her dad (Enrico Colantoni) and I hope that’s going to continue if the series continues (and it seems harder to destroy than its unstoppable, battered-about protag). The love-hate story with boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) was one for the ages.

These virtues survive intact into the new series, along with the political pessimism (the town of Neptune works even better as a microcosm for the US now — the show has the nerve to draw out plotlines about zoning laws). The eight episodes of season 4 explore one convoluted mystery which spirals off into sub-mysteries, all rounded off in satisfying finishes, but introducing characters perhaps susceptible to further investigation. The dialogue is as snappy, and saltier, than ever, since the original teen audience has grown up with the show. There were always old-timers like us watching, since we’re around the age of the series creators (and only a little younger than Keith Mars) so we felt in tune with a lot of the references.

So we really enjoyed it. Then we looked at the online reaction and Holy Shit. Rob Thomas, shrewdly, is avoiding Twitter. He fully expected an explosive reaction to the final episode’s tragic conclusion.

To me, this feels like the inevitable result of an audience reared on focus-grouped pap — you can’t feed them tragedy because they have no stomach for it. Every time a character they care about is killed, they get resurrected. Audience surveys ask “What was your least favo(u)rite scene?” and everyone cites the scene where something bad happened, and the market survey idiots don’t realize that that scene is where the audience FELT something — “pity, fear and catharsis.”

I could relate this to the audience response to the end of Game of Thrones, except we couldn’t take that show seriously and only watched one episode. Tolkein with tits. But it seems like a similar phenomenon. Social media gives fans the power to talk to creators and they feel ownership of the show. How dare the people who create the show do something that they don’t like? Does this also tie in with all the millennial-bashing stuff about how kids these days are hypersensitive and can’t handle touchy material? Well, that isn’t universally true — I find my students just as hardy, on the whole, as those I taught nearly thirty years ago when I first started — but to the extent that squeamishness and inability to deal with moral complexity or scenes of an adult nature may be on the rise, I would connect it to the feeding of market-tested pablum to the audience.

There are objections to Veronica Mars S.04′s ending that seem to make sense — “It wouldn’t happen, the police would have stopped it” — but are the same as the objections to the ending of SE7EN. The fact is, both endings WORKED in that they caused the audience to have a strong emotional reaction, one apparently intended by the creators. (David Fincher said that he persuaded the key producer to allow the bleak-as-hell ending by asking him to imagine some random TV viewer of the future catching the movie one night, and being forever unable to shake it off.) Quibble s are certainly possible but they don’t take away from the rightness of the overall concept.

I am disturbed at the idea that the media is evolving an audience that can’t bear strong emotion. That’s what you get if your diet is Marvel adaptations, I’m afraid.

I was reminded of this movie’s ending, the only really human moment in a Bond film, and one that would be inconceivable today.

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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.

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.