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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1995

As usual, this goes by release year as listed on IMDB.

Honorable mentions: The City of Lost Children, Copycat, Heat, Senior Trip, Welcome to the Dollhouse

10 – CLOCKERS (Spike Lee)

“Who the fuck is Rosa Parks?”

The plot of Clockers may be about a murder mystery, but it has a wider scope than that. Not surprisingly when it comes to Spike Lee, the film deals with black people in New York. There’s tension going on between them and the white cops, but also under the microscope here are the crimes the African-Americans inflict upon each other. It’s an intriguing film thematically, but it’s also some of Lee’s best story-telling that I’ve seen, and it all comes together through his trademark audiovisual style, with bright colors and an effective use of music. There’s also a pretty great Harvey Keitel performance in here. Clockers is not the director’s best movie, but it definitely deserves to be talked about more than it is.

9 – GET SHORTY (Barry Sonnenfeld)

“Rough business, this movie business. I’m gonna have to go back to loan-sharking just to take a rest.”

There’s a lot to like about Get Shorty. The numerous movie-related references and meta-jokes are sure to tickle the fancy of most cinephiles, but the humor is still broad enough to appeal to anyone. Having wonderfully constructed dialogue lifted straight from the Elmore Leonard novel helps too. Throw in a twisting plot of a loan-shark trying to get his foot – and more – into the doorway of Hollywood, and you have one hell of a fun ride. Has John Travolta ever been cooler than in this one?

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Posted by on 14 June, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Fifty Wishes

John LaRue over at TDYLF recently wrote a fun blog post called Fifty Wishes, which was just that: fifty things he wished for when it came to movies. I really like the idea, so I decided to steal swipe borrow it for a post of my own. Make sure to head over to John’s blog and read the original post as well, though; he’s a great writer.

There may be some mild spoilers for certain movies in this list, but I’ve done my best to limit it to things that are either fairly common knowledge or what can be reasonably expected. Still, if you don’t want to know how Rocky ends, proceed at own peril.

(I’d like to apologize preemptively for any grammar mistakes. I pride myself on having a good grasp of the English language for someone who doesn’t have it as his primary tongue. However, “wish” is a tricky thing grammatically, and while I have tried to look up what verb forms to use, I’ve probably messed up here and there anyway.)

1. I wish Shannyn Sossamon were a major star.

2. I wish David Fincher will find better use for his considerable talent than directing the sequels to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

3. I wish to someday get the chance to see the unreleased Glitterati.

4. I wish I had gotten interested in movies earlier.

5. I wish all films ever made were available through digital distribution all over the world.

6. I wish there were a wider range of theaters around where I live.

7. I wish the story in Nine were as good as some of the song numbers.

8. I wish more screenwriters had the level of imagination that Charlie Kaufman has.

9. I wish I “got” war movies and westerns.

10. I wish Julie Delpy‘s plans to stop acting don’t come into effect before there’s a sequel to Before Sunset.

11. I wish Amélie lives happily ever after.

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Posted by on 23 April, 2012 in Lists, Memes

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1997

Here we go with another list of my favorite films of a given year. This time we’re in 1997. The year when we found out that the Terminator movies weren’t accurate predictions of the future as Skynet didn’t take over on August 29. The year when “MMMBop” reigned supreme on the pop charts. The year when James Cameron released a little film that would go on to obliterate the cash registers at the box office. The year when Lady Di met an unfortunate end. And, of course, plenty of good movies.

As usual, this list only counts movies with a stated release year of 1997 according to IMDB.

Honorable mentions: Boogie Nights, The Fifth Element, Life is Beautiful, Suicide Kings, Titanic

10 – CUBE (Vincenzo Natali)

“No more talking. No more guessing. Don’t even think about nothing that’s not right in front of you. That’s the real challenge. You’ve got to save yourselves from yourselves.”

A group of people wake up in a maze consisting of cube-shaped rooms. Some of the rooms contain deadly traps. There. That’s an effective two-sentence summary of Cube’s premise. While there are scenes of gruesome deaths, the focus lies primarily on the characters and how they cope with each other as they try to figure out where they are, why they’re there, and how they can get out. With claustrophic tension to spare, this Canadian thriller is not one to miss.

9 – PERFECT BLUE (Satoshi Kon)

“You bad girl! You have to follow the script!”

Perfect Blue is a must-see for anyone who liked Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan as they deal with similar themes: uncertainty of what’s real, pressure to succeed, and the psychological effects of sex. Here we follow a young famous pop artist who decides to switch gears and become an actress, only to find herself stalked by an all-seeing obsessed fan who thinks her a traitor. At only 80 minutes, Perfect Blue is a very condensed psychological thriller that packs a heavy punch.

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Posted by on 19 April, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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9 director/actor team-ups that need to happen

The title for this blog post should be fairly self-explanatory, but to clarify, I’m talking specifically about directors and actors that (to the best of my knowledge) haven’t worked with one another before on film. I’m also limiting myself to pairings that could happen today, i.e. no dead or retired persons.

Woody Allen + Rosario Dawson

Considering the sheer volume of Allen’s cinematic output, it’s no surprise that he has crossed paths with tons of actors over the years. But not Rosario Dawson, which is a shame. Allen’s trademark humor would be a good fit for the actress. Remember Clerks II, another talky comedy? She was so great and charming in that one! Allen could get something even better out of her, I’m sure.

David Fincher + Viola Davis

I believe it was In Contention‘s Kristopher Tapley who mentioned in a podcast that he would love to see Viola Davis as the star of an action franchise. I can only agree. Fincher may lean closer to the thriller-side of things in general, but he has a good track record with female characters, from Alien 3 to Panic Room and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (not that I love all those films, but at least the protagonists are strong). This needs to happen sooner rather than later, as Davis’ star is currently brighter than ever.

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Posted by on 26 March, 2012 in Lists

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1999

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the 10 films on this list is the abundance of directing newcomers on it. 7 of the movies were made by people who made their feature film directorial debuts, and while not all of these film-makers would go on to lasting greatness, it still makes for an impressive class of 1999. The other three films are made by two well-established masters and one quickly rising star. There’s also, as usual, a lot of comedy on here. This shouldn’t surprise you with my lists any more.

So far in this series of blog posts, I have chosen to largely abstain from making honorable mentions. This has largely been due to a stubborn adherence to principles; if one sets out to make a list of 10 films, one should not name 20 films. I have now realized that this is counter-productive to the aim of these lists, which is to give people an idea of what movies I like.

With that in mind, here are some 1999 films I really like that didn’t quite make my list. Honorable mentions, if you will. In alphabetical order:

Arlington Road, Beyond the Mat, Bringing Out the Dead, Girl Interrupted, The Green Mile, In China They Eat Dogs, Magnolia, Office Space, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story 2

Now on to the list proper. As usual, I’m going by IMDB’s year of release.

10 – EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick)

“No dream is ever just a dream.”

Equal parts nightmare sightseeing tour through New York City and meditation on infidelity, Stanley Kubrick finished off his career in great fashion with Eyes Wide Shut. Impeccably designed and shot – as is to be expected from Kubrick – and with one of Tom Cruise‘s best performances in the lead, this film is also helped by having a strong story, one that might seem simple and straight-forward on paper but that reveals more layers with each watch.

9 – THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)

“I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.”

While this movie didn’t invent the found footage genre of film (Cannibal Holocaust from 1980 seems to be the agreed-upon originator), The Blair Witch Project popularised it, paving the way for films like REC, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and many others. When I first watched it at home alone one night as a teen, it had me rattled to the core. Even today, it remains a highly effective horror film by making us fear what we can’t see, rather than throwing a monster right in our faces. A picture might say more than a thousand words, but in horror, so does a sound that shouldn’t be there.

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Posted by on 5 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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When Worlds Collide: Why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is strange to this Swede

Note: You might want to check out my proper review for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before continuing reading this post.

In a filmed interview with David Fincher for Sweden’s leading newspaper Aftonbladet, the reporter made mention of the fact that the director’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the most expensive movie production to have ever taken place in Sweden. Fincher seemed genuinely surprised and expressed embarassment over this, as though the thought had never crossed his mind. For him, a film with a budget of $90 million didn’t seem like a big deal – although to be fair, he does go on to say that he hates how making a film has to be such a huge project. Regardless: In Sweden, numbers like $90 million are unheard of. This country I call myself a citizen of has never been a hotspot for foreign filmmakers, least of all those in Hollywood. When George Clooney came here a few years ago to shoot the 10 minute opening segment for Anton Corbijn‘s The American, it was enough to garner nation-wide news coverage. And that was for a short sequence in a comparatively small arthouse-y film.

Every Swede recognizes this.

So a big-time American production like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being made entirely in Sweden is rare. I can honestly say that watching the film was a unique experience for me, although not necessarily in a good way. Here we have Mr. James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, watching a news report on the Swedish channel TV4 with its classic logo on screen. Now he’s in his office, with the traditional Swedish Christmas candelabras in the windows. Oh look, now he’s bording a train with the national railways company SJ’s logo on it. At times, the framing of certain shots seemed to be deliberately emphasizing these things so iconic to us Swedes. Maybe that’s just my imagination playing tricks on me, but the end result was a mild sense of distraction. Why do all this? As easter eggs to the Swedish viewers? As I noted in my review of the film, all these details make for a very accurate depiction of Sweden, but it’s weird having them side by side with a big foreign star like Craig.

More annoying were the inconsistencies with regards to written text. Throughout the film, you see plenty of books lying around. These have Swedish titles clearly printed on the front. Fine. But then there are plenty of newspaper clippings where everything is written in English. I get that the articles and headlines are more important to the story than some random books that are essentially just set decoration, and that it’s crucial to convey their message to the audience, but it quickly became another source of distraction. There are other things as well that suffer the same fate, such a news report on TV towards the end of the film where a large sum of money is mentioned. The money is measured in euro, again to give foreign viewers some idea of the quantities being discusses. Nevermind that Sweden hasn’t adopted the euro as currency and that we still use our old krona, which is the currency money is measured in in real news reports. This is admittedly a minor quibble, though.

And then we have the spoken language, which is always problematic in English-language films set in non-English-speaking countries. I have never been a fan of the “English with an accent” approach that’s often utilized. All too often, the character gets lost in the dialect to the point where the dialect becomes the character and everyone sounds exactly the same. One example of many is The Illusionist (2006), set in Austria around year 1900 where everyone speaks English with (I assume) Austrian-sounding accents. Yes, I get why the English language is used: because Americans hate reading subtitles. But filtering English through accents adds no sense of immersion for me, because I’m still fully aware that the characters wouldn’t be speaking the language at all. I would be much happier if the actors would just use their normal voices instead, as that way they’d be able to provide more nuances to their characters. I suppose that’s why I have never been bothered by Kevin Costner‘s performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves like so many others have. He hardly ever bothers to use a British accent in that film, instead speaking in a voice more comfortable to him which allows him to exhibit a bit more range.

So The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes place in Sweden with Swedish characters who speak English. I’ll concede that this film uses the method better than most do. The Swedish supporting actors all do a fine job with this. The oldies speak English the way old Swedish people tend to speak English – with a particularly jagged accent referred to by some younger Swedes as “politician English”, after a long line of Swedish ministers who have learned the language in school but never spoken it much until they find themselves at international conferences and such. Then you have some characters in the film who speak it a bit more smoothly, such as Martin Vanger (played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård). This I can buy, as that character struck me as the type who might have more international connections than others and is thus more well-versed in English. Daniel Craig doesn’t bother with a whole lot of accent either, which again I’m fine with; his character Mikael is a journalist who has presumably spent a lot of time researching and interviewing people from foreign countries. This isn’t explicitly stated, but I can believe that. But then we have Rooney Mara in the central role of Lisbeth Salander, who is definitely heavily accented but in a “wrong” way. Hers is either a massively failed attempt at sounding Swedish, or a subtle hint at future developments in the planned trilogy. I know that nobody in this film makes any mention of her odd way of speech, though.

Another confusing language issue: nobody ever says “cheers” or “toast” when drinking in the film. They all say “skål”, the Swedish equivalent. Only to then revert immediately back to English. Puzzling. Another small thing like that is a particular greeting Lisbeth uses as she enters her and Mikael’s base of operations a few times: “hej hej” she says, which is certainly a Swedish greeting but one that A: doesn’t quite fit the character, and B: is another out-of-place Swedish expression used amid all the English.

This might all seem like nit-picking. It probably is. None of it is likely to have much effect on the enjoyment of the film for non-Swedes, and Swedes are but a small percentage of the total audience for this film. As I’ve said repeatedly throughout this post, I understand why most of these things are in the movie. That’s why I didn’t make any mentions of them in my review. I don’t know how much these distractions influenced my fairly negative opinion of the film. I’d like to think that I was able to look past them. I certainly had issues with the film that weren’t related to the minor details.

Should I care about these things at all when I’m often willing to look past them in movies set in other countries? Amélie is one of my favorite films, yet French people have criticized it for its lack of colored characters when it’s set in Montmartre, a highly multicultural part of Paris. I find Amélie to be a wonderful film regardless. I’ve never been to France. There is nothing in the film that conflicts with the world as I have experienced it myself. Can I justify Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s decision to not have any character in Amélie have dark skin? No. But I can easily ignore it.

Ignoring things does not make them go away, though. The difference between inaccuracies in Amélie and ones in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that I’m acutely aware of the ones in the latter due to personal experience, whereas those in the former I only learned about from external sources. As I said earlier in this post, foreign movies being set and filmed in Sweden is extremely rare. I’ve never had a reaction to a film before like I did with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is why I chose to write this blog post.

Maybe this isn’t something that interests you, but it interests me. I like finding out others’ views on films set near where they live. I would love to know what Iraqis thought of Three Kings. What Jordanians thought of Body of Lies. What Spaniards thought of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. By learning about other people’s opinions, I can see the world in different lights.

Even if it is just over small details in a film.

A closing note: Many reviews of Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo compare it to the Swedish film from 2009. I chose not to do that in my review, saying that since Fincher’s is a readaptation rather than a remake, it deserves to be judged on its own merits. It does. I will say here that I liked the Swedish movie much better, although this later film has made me question whether the first one really was as good as I first thought, seeing as some of the flaws appear in both of them. I will also say that Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth, while its own character, is far less intriguing than the one played by Noomi Rapace. The American movie doesn’t do enough things different from the Swedish one to really warrant its existance. I hope Fincher doesn’t sign on for the sequels. There are better things he could use his talent on. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo felt like a big enough waste of time as it is.

 
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Posted by on 26 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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Review – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher has in the past shown that he is a master of the modern thriller, and his films have often been soaked with tangible atmosphere. Seven was so filthy and grim that I felt as though I would never be clean again. The same goes for Fight Club, where further ambience was added by it being viewed by a protagonist whose mind was frayed by insomnia. The Game played the paranoia card, putting me right in there with Michael Douglas‘ character, having me wonder where the danger is and whether it was real or just, in fact, part of the game. The more subdued Zodiac concerned itself more with the mystery of the murders, constantly egging me on and telling me there was more beneath the surface, a lurking darkness threatening to destroy the lives of the people investigating it from both the outside and from within. Even Fincher’s comparatively weaker thrillers like Panic Room and the disowned Alien 3 had tension to spare.

So what the hell happened?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is cold and unwelcoming, yes. This is fine. These can be useful qualities for the genre. What is lacking is a sense of danger, an air of uncertainty, and a driving force to push the story along and me along with it. There are scenes with bite, but for the most part this is a toothless thriller from a man who used to be all fangs.

Set in Sweden, the story of the film revolves around a mystery: Who killed Harriet? The daughter of wealthy Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), she disappeared 40 years ago. Henrik is convinced that someone in his family murdered her. This doesn’t seem far-fetched; the Vangers are essentially a bunch of loners and Nazis, says Henrik. The killer keeps sending him a gift every year on Harriet’s birthday: a simple flower painting. Someone is toying with him.

To figure out the mystery, he enlists journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). Mikael, recently convicted of libel againt a corrupt businessman, is reluctant to accept the job but realizes that he needs the money now that his career is in jeopardy. More importantly, the well-connected Henrik promises him information that would prove his innocence. Mikael isn’t the sole protagonist, though. A young hacker by the name of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) also figures into the story. It takes a while before she encounters Mikael proper in the movie, but she eventually helps him with the investigation. Keeping the two leads apart like this for almost the entire first hour is a smart move, as it allows us to get to know their characters and understand what’s at stake for them as individuals, rather than as a unit.

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

A big draw of the story – which has been told before in Stieg Larsson‘s novel and in Niels Arden Oplev‘s Swedish film from 2009 – has always been the character of Lisbeth. Dressed in black with multiple piercings and tattoos, constantly on guard against the world, and with a troubled past. Strong-willed but slight in stature, keeping a lid on her words until she needs to make a point. By having a lesser-known actress like Rooney Mara play the role, it’s easy for us to accept her as a proper person. Regardless, I am not fully wowed by her performance. She plays the bottled-up aspects well enough, managing to be oddly intriguing despite her pricklinees. It’s the scenes where she has to show strength and wrath that I don’t fully buy into. Meanwhile, her co-star Daniel Craig has problems of his own. The character Mikael is a more conventional one, almost an every-man albeit with a sharp and honed intellect. Craig is a fine actor, but one who rarely manages to fully disappear into a role. There are times when he comes off as too strong. Too stoic. Too James Bond. I never get the sense that he’s in danger. If this sounds overly harsh, it’s not by intention. Both performances are overall serviceable.

There are bigger issues I have with the film. One is that the solving of the mystery isn’t handled very coherently. We’re introduced to suspects at a rapid pace. Clues are discovered and delved into rapidly. Mikael and Lisbeth interview old witnesses and police officers, examine newspaper clippings and study bible quotes. Often presented in speedy montages, I found it hard to keep track of the connections, the whos and the whats. When they arrive at a likely culprit, I was wondering how they got there. More importantly, I was questioning whether they knew how they got there. For a film where solving the case is the central focus of the story, this is a serious flaw.

The climax of the film is handled well. However, the film sputters along for a good 20-30 minutes after that. Tying up loose ends of the case is fully acceptable, yes, but there is a lot of stuff going on there that seemingly has more to do with the overarching plot of the trilogy rather than the story of this first film. It’s likely that these parts will feel more warranted as the two sequels arrive, but for now, it makes for an odd sense of pacing towards the end. I was ready for the end credits to roll a good 15 minutes before they did.

Again, I fear this review has come off as too negative-sounding. There are things I like about the film. Most of the supporing performances are good, with Plummer as the stand-out. Here’s Henrik, an old man who recognizes the importance of being hospitable even when under personal stress, who has had a successful career and knows how to get things done. And yet there’s a slight glimmer in his eyes that makes me think he knows more than he lets on, no matter how jovial and open he seems. It’s a strong showing from the veteran actor, making me all the more eager to check out his awards-toted performance in Beginners. Another one who impresses is Yorick van Wageningen, who plays Lisbeth’s newly appointed guardian Per Bjurman. His character is not one of nuances but a complete monster, and it’s imperative that we hate him. The script does half the job for him, but there is no denying the sleaziness he brings to the part. You might say a one-note character requires less effort to play, but that one note needs to be played to its fullest possible effect. van Wageningen holds nothing back.

While I didn’t feel much tension in the film, I can’t fault the score for it. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have crafted a solid soundtrack here, one which at times becomes quite palpable and provides a raw texture to the movie. I’m one of the seemingly few who never noticed their acclaimed work on The Social Network while I watched that film. This certainly didn’t happen here. Another thing I need to give serious props for is the way Fincher and company have captured Sweden. Every design choice, every item in every frame is spot-on, from the candelabras in the windows to the news presentations on TV. Everything looks just as it should, so a bravo is in order.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a terrible movie by any means, but it is a lukewarm one. Had this come from a less accomplished director, it would be understandable. But this is David Fincher, a director who has proved himself to be in possession of great talent and a keen eye. Considering this, the film becomes almost baffling. What was he going for here? Why did he choose such a cold and distant tone for a story wrought with intense violence and evil? Why is the investigation process such a mess when he did it so well and intriguingly in Seven and Zodiac? Why why why indeed.

Score: 2/5

There. That’s my formal review of the movie, where I of course have offered my subjective opinion of it but while doing my best to view it from a fair and unbiased point of view. I have refrained from comparing it to the Swedish movie, because there’s no reason to. This is a readaptation of a book I haven’t read, not a remake of a film I have seen, so it deserves to be judged on it own merits. There is a lot more I have to say, however. It doesn’t suit the tone I want in my reviews, but expect another blog post on it either later today or tomorrow.

UPDATE:  Here it is.

 
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Posted by on 26 January, 2012 in Reviews

 

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