Tag Archives: david fincher

“The Machinist” has promise but the ending leaves you wanting

“The Machinist” fits very succinctly into that genre of film that focuses on the lost and confused protagonist whose reality may not be as it seems and whose past, present and future may be in fact be interchangeable. David Fincher is an expert at this type of plot, where the audience keeps guessing about what is real and what is actually happening. It is the ending, or really the twist, that really define the film, answering all the questions the film has been building up to. “Fight Club” and “Gone Girl” have twists that surprise you and require repeat viewings to fully grasp the intricacies of the story. Not only that, but the twist elevates the themes of the story. Even though repeat viewings may lack the suspense of the viewer’s first time, the twist keep the film theme’s relevant. “The Machinist’s” twist and ending are unfortunately lacking in this regard. What was a clever mystery for 90 minutes reveals itself to be a rather mundane story about regret, a rather one-and-done type of viewing experience. It’s a shame, especially considering the transformative performance by Christian Bale.

Written by Scott Kosar and directed by Brad Anderson, the film follows Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale), an industrial worker who hasn’t slept in a year. His body is withering away. As he writes himself little notes and tries to find some solace, he forms a relationship with a prostitute, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and a single mother who works as a waitress in an airport, Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). As his paranoia ratchets up, events possible and impossible begin to work on his mind and his past and future catch up to him.

The film does a good job of building up the mystery, making little hints at what troubles Trevor’s psyche. The surrealism of the industrial plant, Trevor’s apartment and the carnival attraction ride are great cinematic sequences, creepy and unsettling. As the pressures on Trevor mount, the tension builds and the viewer becomes very invested in the story.

And then the ending ties everything together in a neat bow. It’s too simple, too on the nose for what the plot had been building. Instead of blowing us away, we are somewhat let down and for a film of this style, that is a disappointment.

Christian Bale demonstrates a remarkable commitment to the film and his role as Trevor really stands out, but that is what is most memorable about the movie. It should have been the story.

 

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“Gone Girl” a gripping mystery

David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014) tells the story of married couple Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). What starts off as a budding romance quickly transforms into a missing person and murder investigation, with Nick as the prime suspect.

Everyone has their own opinion about the case, but no one really knows for sure what is true. Did Nick murder his wife? Was Amy fearful for her life before her disappearance? What was her mental state and was someone else involved? Through the investigation, a story of deception, murder, paparazzi and secrets about how well you can truly know another human being emerge.

The material is perfect David Fincher. With enough moodiness, suspense, mystery and current national headline recognition, his style of filmmaking serves the story very well, and the film justly fits into his cannon of films, right alongside “Seven” (1995), “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), “Fight Club” (1999) and “Zodiac” (2007).

While “Gone Girl” has several dramatic twists and turns throughout, there are times when it tries to be smarter than it actually is. Ben Affleck, though not a bad choice for the role of Nick, could have been better cast. His shifting emotions and possible guilt may have been better suited to a different actor.

Rosamund Pike as Amy, on the other hand, steals the show. Whether the viewer is fearful of her, intrigued by her actions or horrified at the lengths she goes throughout the narrative, she carries the narrative, overshadowing the rest of the cast to the film’s betterment and detriment simultaneously.

All in all, this is an impressive edge-of-your-seat thriller. The action and intrigue are strong, as are Rosamund Pike and the direction of David Fincher.

The Best 25 Movies of the Last 25 Years Part 2

Link to Part One

17. The Social Network (2010)

The finely tuned tandem of director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin create a fascinating examination of the dawn of social media with “The Social Network.” Swirling testosterone mixed with betrayal and the potential of billions of dollars combines to alter the lives of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) in ways none of them can imagine as their project, Facebook, shoots off to become a phenomenon the world has never seen before.

16. No Country for Old Men (2007)

A masterpiece of cinematic craft, the Coen brothers create a folk tale from Cormac McCarthy’s source novel. When Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) discovers a bag full of money after a drug deal goes wrong, he runs off, initating a cat and mouse chase that features one of the greatest villains of the modern era in Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Tommy Lee Jones plays the cop chasing the whole situation and who realizes the depths of carnage in the world around him. It is a brilliant examination of violence and the harm it does not just to the perpetrators and victims, but the soul of every man in the community.

15. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Hollywood had never really made an honest look into the slave trade until Steve McQueen’s immersive “12 Years a Slave”, a film that brought home the horrors of slavery and the crushing weight of its history. Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man kidnapped by a couple of journeymen and sold into Southern slavery. His journey takes him across two plantations, one run by a semi-decent man (Benedict Cumberbatch) and one by a sadist (Michael Fassbender). A reminder of the pain and disgrace of slavery in United States history, the film examines how the act of slavery is not just a restriction of freedom, but a perversion of basic human decency.

14. Toy Story 2 (1999)

Perhaps no company has defined the past 25 years more than Pixar. Using ground-breaking CGI technology, the original “Toy Story” changed not only animation, but all filmmaking. The fact that it is a great film is an added bonus. But it is with “Toy Story 2” that Pixar officially became a cinematic powerhouse, with a film that added to the first film’s heart, humor and durability. When toy Woody (Tom Hanks) is stolen by a toy store owner who will sell him to a foreign collector, the rest of the gang (Buzz (Tim Allen), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Slinky Dog (Jim Varney)) will team together and venture out to save him. It is the story of Jessie (Joan Cusack) however that steals the heart of the viewer, a cowgirl toy abandoned by her owner and unsure if she can ever love again. A story about friendship and youth, all the “Toy Story” films are remembered by the child in each of us.

13. Groundhog Day (1993)

A modern day Frank Capra film, “Groundhog Day” takes a comedy premise (What if you lived the same day over and over again?) and imbues it with a deeper quest about life’s purpose and the value of love and community. Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a grumpy weatherman sent to Punxatawney to cover the annual Groundhog Day ceremony. Phil can’t leave however because he keeps living that same day over and over again. As he falls in love with his producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), Phil must cope with his seemingly hopeless situation as it drives him to near-insanity. Perhaps Bill Murray’s finest performance, he and director/writer Harold Ramis craft a film that simultaneously makes the viewer laugh, think and love all at the same time.

12. A Separation (2011)

Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” is a brilliant interpersonal drama about gender, marriage, responsibility and truth. Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and his wife, Simin (Leila Hatami) are trying to secure a divorce because he doesn’t want to leave the country due to his ailing father while she does. He hires a housekeeper, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), but when Nader’s father nearly dies when he is out, he blames her for negligence and attacks her. As events spiral out of control, the viewer can’t help but think of the state of the globe and the changing dynamics of old world versus new world in it.

11. Spirited Away (2001)

Hayao Miyazaki has been at the forefront of Japanese animation for the past quarter century and perhaps no film of his Studio Ghibli has been more admired than “Spirited Away.” Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi) and her parents are moving to their new home when her father takes a wrong turn while driving, and they enter a magical world. When her parents are turned into pigs, it’s up to Chihiro to navigate the mystical land and find the help she needs to save her family and return to the normal world. The film is among the most creatively inspired movies ever made with breathtaking images and a moving story seemingly taken out of mythology.

10. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

Perhaps the greatest trilogy ever made, Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” is a composition of everything we love about cinema: big, adventurous, thrilling and heartfelt. In the land of Middle-Earth, young hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood) is given the ring of power. He must destroy the ring before it falls into the hands of its master, Sauron, who will use it to enslave the world. With a fellowship to guide him, his journey takes him across the world as war breaks out among the kingdoms of the land. The trilogy brought writing, acting and special effects together in a way that may be unequaled, and it has become a beloved piece of cinema history.

9. The Dark Knight (2008)

Boldly asserting a new type of superhero film, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” incorporated many of the lingering feelings of the post-9/11 world into its narrative. Batman (Christian Bale) joins forces with Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) and new D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to bring down the mob plaguing Gotham city, but the Joker (Health Ledger) emerges from the darkness, threatening their hopes and pushing each of them to their limit. Heath Ledger’s defining performance as the Joker gives the film edginess and charisma, and the encompassing idea of heroism and what that means makes “The Dark Knight” the greatest superhero film ever made.

Part 3

The Best 25 Movies of the Last 25 Years Part 1

It was my brother’s 25th birthday last month and that got me thinking about the past quarter-century of moviemaking. When thinking about this list, I was surprised by an apparent lack of surefire classics comparative to other decades which may speak to Hollywood playing it far too safe recently, but I still had to make several painful cuts (sorry “Shawshank” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”). And there are still some very, very good movies here.  So without further ado, here are my top 25 films of the past 25 years (1992-2017).

25. Under the Skin (2014)

    A haunting look into the human experience, “Under the Skin” burrows into your psyche, making you wonder about the nature of existence. Jonathan Glazer’s film takes you into the mind of an alien (Scarlett Johansson) with no concept of human interaction and makes you experience life as if you were witnessing it for the first time, something not easy to do. It is truly surreal, beautiful and grotesque all at the same time.

24. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

    Any number of Charlie Kauffman’s scripted-films could be on this list (“Adaptation”, “Being John Malkovich”), but I’ve decided to go with the film that most remember him for. Focusing on a guy (Jim Carrey) and a girl (Kate Winslet) after a rough breakup, they each undergo an experimental procedure to remove their memories of each other, but each memory needs to be individually extracted, and we watch their history in reverse order, seeing their evolution. A deeper project that explores the nature of love and memory and all the pain and joy that it brings, “Eternal Sunshine” perfectly balances the weird, the sweet and the comical into one film.

23. Fight Club (1999)

    “Fight Club” may be the signature anarchist film. Infused with creativity, the film, even twenty years after its release, is still a jaw-dropping experience of sheer ingenuity. It tells the story of the Narrator (Edward Norton) who meets a strange man selling soap named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Stuck at a dead-end job and working for corporate America, the Narrator needs to break out and with Tyler, they create Fight Club, a group that revels in simply beating each other night after night. But the club grows and grows, becoming something else entirely and something very wrong begins to affect the Narrator. Creating an avalanche of pop culture references and helping give rise to 1990s counterculture, the film is glossy and fun with an edge that burns in just the right way.

22. Three Colors Trilogy (1993-94)

Perhaps the most “classical” of any of the films on this list, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s three films (Blue, White and Red) illuminate the different themes of French nationalism: liberty, equality and fraternity. Whether it is the story of a wife who must come to grips with the death of her husband and daughter in a car accident, a man who is divorced because he can not consummate his marriage or the relationship between two people who have nothing in common, the threads of connection between all three stories elevates them to a richer meaner. They are a moving canvass of life.

21. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Despite being nearly non-stop action, “Mad Max: Fury Road” manages to imbue themes of environmentalism, loyalty, purpose and feminism into its narrative. With the world having fallen apart, Max (Tom Hardy) is alone, but finds himself abducted by a clan of biker gang thugs who take him a sprawling community dependent on a tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). When Joe’s concubines are abducted by one of his subordinates, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Max finds himself entangled in a predicament that appeals to his sense of honor.  “Fury Road” is one of the greatest action movies ever made, a sprawling, thrilling chase through hell and perhaps a telling cautionary tale of our future.

20. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

A harrowing story of dedication, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” tells the story of two college roommates, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu), in Romania who arrange to have an illegal abortion. Directed by Cristian Mungiu, the film is told in near real-time and in gripping detail. It is a treasure of suspense brimming with real-world issues.

19. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

The foremost signature event of the 21st century are the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Not far behind that is the death of the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Told in gripping detail through the eyes of fictional CIA operative, Maya (Jessica Chastain) and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film is a timecapsule of the post-9/11 mentality and all the history involved with that period. The range and scope of the film is breathtaking and the conclusion told in real-time brings the history straight to us.

18. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

The last film of the great Stanley Kubrick, “Eyes Wide Shut” is an eerie look into raw sexuality and the bonds of marriage. Even so-so Kubrick towers above the work of many other filmmakers, and the director’s swan song film is still a treasure that leaves open so many interpretations. Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman) are sexually enticed by different people at a party in New York City. The episode leads to an admission by Alice that women are not as faithful to men as Bill would believe and the situation escalates as Bill is drawn into a world of sexual conquest, uninhibited desires and danger. It finds a way to dig under your skin in a way that is so purely Kubrick.

Part 2

Part 3

Gone Girl Review

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David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) tells the story of married couple Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). What starts off as a budding romance quickly transforms into a missings person and murder investigation, with Nick as the prime suspect. Everyone has their own opinion about the case, but no one really knows for sure what is true. Did Nick murder his wife? Was Amy fearful for her life before her disappearance? What was her mental state and was someone else involved? Through the investigation, a story of deception, media murder-worship and secrets about how well you can truly know another human being emerge.

The material is perfect David Fincher. With enough moodiness, suspense, mystery and current national headline recognition, his style of filmmaking serves the story very well, and the film justly fits into his cannon of similar films, right alongside Seven (1995), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Fight Club (1999) and Zodiac (2007). While this is classic Fincher, it would be nice to see him branch out a little bit in future projects, some of his directorial styles and nuances becoming a bit been-there, seen-that. Even Alfred Hitchcock dabbled in the occasional comedic film while staying true to his style, and it would be nice if Fincher, will all of his talents, did the same at some point.

While Gone Girl has several dramatic twists and turns throughout, nothing is entirely unpredictable. I always had some inkling of what was going to happen next, and I got the sense that it was trying to be smarter than it actually was. Ben Affleck, though not a bad choice for the role of Nick, could have been better cast. His shifting emotions and dodging ability for the viewer to latch on to his character may have been better suited to a different actor.

Rosamund Pike as Amy, on the other hand, steals the show. Whether the viewer is fearful for her, intrigued by her actions or horrified at the lengths she goes throughout the narrative, she is relatable and believable, overshadowing the rest of the cast to the film’s betterment or detriment.

Nitpicking, without going  into the surprises throughout, the narrative changes from mystery to suspense to domestic drama, and it is hard to pin down exactly how to read the film with so many genre changes. And clocking in at over two hours, the length feels for the viewer. Also holding the film back however is a sensational ending that makes the film less believable and more melodramatic.

All in all, I was on the edge of my seat for most of the story even as I suspected the various plot points. The action and intrigue are strong, as are Rosamund Pike and the direction of David Fincher. The film is a just a good film though, instead of a great film, so if the viewer keeps this in mind, they will likely not be disappointed.