The Films of David Fincher: SE7EN

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[With the upcoming release of his new film Gone Girl, I’m taking a look back at the work of director David Fincher.  These articles contain spoilers.]

Where as Alien3 has been forgotten thanks to ignominy, the shadow of the first two Alien movies, and its botched production, Se7en has persevered for almost twenty years if for no other reason than what’s in the fucking box.  Se7en is where David Fincher‘s filmography truly begins, and it’s fitting that a director who self-identifies as cynical should lead with a movie that abhors human nature, massacres the good in more ways than one, and even feels slight reverence towards its heinous killer.  There’s a beauty to the cruelty as the movie presents a stylized realism that taps into a rotting, fetid world but does so without establishing a particular locale, drenching the unnamed city in rain, and sinking the shots into darkness and low angles.

Se7en is where David Fincher finally got to come out and play.  Alien 3 was a trap that became a prison and eventually he just had to flee from the depressing hellhole of that production.  He returned to music videos thinking he would never make another movie again, and when Se7en came along, he went all in on a “meditation on evil and how evil gets on you and you can’t get it off.”   Fincher didn’t return with an open palm.  He came back with a clenched fist.

THE DOUBLE Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 7 hours ago

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While Richard Ayoade first came to prominence as a comedic actor on British TV series like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, and The IT Crowd, the guy is proving himself to be quite the formidable filmmaker.  He made his feature directorial debut with 2010’s delightfully funny and offbeat Submarine, and his follow-up film The Double marks yet a massive step forward for Ayodae as a filmmaker.  He really hones in on his aesthetic style with this darkly comic adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevski’s novella of the same name, and anchored by a terrific dual lead performance from Jesse Eisenberg, has crafted one of the more inventive films of the year.  Read my full The Double Blu-ray review after the jump.

Fall Pilot Review: FOREVER

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ABC’s Forever is essentially a patchwork of other successful television series.  In fact, Forever may be the most calculated of the fall premieres by following a simple formula for success (one that CBS is usually champion of).  There’s a procedural aspect, a little bit of the supernatural, romance, mystery, and all of it is tied together by the handsome Welsh face of Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four), a doctor with a little bit of a death wish. Sure we’ve seen it all before, but is there something about this one that’s different?  Hit the jump to find out if that alchemy works, and if Forever deserves a spot on your DV-R.

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU Review

by     Posted 4 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my This Is Where I Leave You review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens in theaters nationwide today.]

Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans, or so the saying goes.  There are some trite phrases that, while clichéd, kind of ring true, and in the case of This Is Where I Leave You, director Shawn Levy’s adaptation of the Jonathan Tropper novel of the same name, the Altman family has certainly seen better days.  The patriarch’s dying wish was to have his entire family sit shiva for seven days to mourn his death, and when the Altman clan reunites to fulfill his request, old wounds are opened, past relationships are rekindled, and all are reminded that this isn’t exactly how they envisioned their lives turning out.  Buoyed by a stellar ensemble and a standout performance from Adam Driver, Levy mostly succeeds in bringing Tropper’s novel to the screen with plenty of humor, heart, and sentiment.  While Levy goes overboard with the schmaltz here and there and a couple of the storylines are undercooked, the film’s mix of sincerity and biting humor is ultimately a swell combination.

THE ZERO THEOREM Review

by     Posted 4 days ago

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The Zero Theorem is director Terry Gilliam-squared.  The sci-fi film features all of his trademarks—unhinged characters, oppressive societies, canted angles and zooms, colorful settings—and then pushes them to a level that would border on self-parody if Gilliam wasn’t already a self-deprecating person.  There’s something fearless inside the Zero Theorem in that the movie tries to wear its brain on its sleeve, which is good because there’s more pontificating than genuine romance.  The movie will inevitably invite comparisons to Gilliam’s masterpiece Brazil, but The Zero Theorem struggles to solve its own problem, namely, turning all of its subtext into text.

TUSK Review

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For most of his career, Kevin Smith freely admitted that screenwriting—particularly dialogue—was his strong suit, but he wasn’t a tremendous director. In my review of Red State, I noted that visually, the movie was miles ahead of anything Smith had ever done, but it was hamstrung by a scattershot tone and shoddy screenwriting that was too reliant on juvenile humor. Although his follow-up, Tusk, keeps the same commendable visuals as Red State, Smith’s talent as a screenwriter has greatly declined as he descends into self-parody with conversations and monologues that go on endlessly but rarely advance the story or provide insight into the characters. Instead, his greatest passion is for his grotesque monster, a creature that looks more silly than disturbing.

THE MAZE RUNNER Review

by     Posted 5 days ago

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Every new YA movie that includes a supernatural or dystopian aspect now sits in the shadow of The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games has taken on an epic sci-fi approach weaving social commentary into its dystopian setting.  Divergent is content to be a Hunger Games imitator.  And now we have The Maze Runner, a film edging towards the mystery and sci-fi of The Hunger Games, but trying to find its own way by establishing a unique world that still plays with familiar coming-of-age themes.  Thankfully, director Wes Ball‘s confident feature debut creates a distinct, intriguing setting packed with thrilling action scenes.  Despite the lack of a strong lead performance, Ball has successfully translated a new young adult property to the big screen.

THEY CAME TOGETHER Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 5 days ago

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When Wet Hot American Summer came out in 2001, it was released by USA Films – a company that eventually morphed into Focus Features, but at the time had no real footing theatrically.  That may explain why the film was barely released, but eventually found a cult audience.  Considering it was written by Michael Showalter and David Wain (the latter of whom directed the film), and featured many members of The State there was almost a guarantee it would be funny, but the fledging USA Films didn’t know how to sell it.  Originally Showalter and Wain wanted to follow that film with They Came Together, which they were unable to make until recently, and it was also given a small theatrical release (but was also put on VOD).  But now that it’s on home video, it seems likely it too will become a cult favorite.  Starring Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, Chris Meloni and many familiar faces, it is equally hilarious, and my They Came Together Blu-ray review follows after the jump.

Fall Pilot Review: RED BAND SOCIETY

by     Posted 6 days ago

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It’s been a long time since Fox invested in a teen-oriented drama.  The last major success was arguably The O.C.‘s launch in 2003.  Since then, networks like ABC Family and The CW have mostly taken the reins on younger-skewing series that incorporate both drama and comedy (and some of the most attractive teenagers — or adults playing teenagers — on the planet).  Red Band Society is no different, except its hook is that its teenagers live together on the pediatric ward of a hospital, fighting to survive cancer, cystic fibrosis, heart failure and eating disorders.  Hit the jump for whether Red Band Society deserves a place in your Fall viewing schedule.

THE GUEST Review

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  The Guest opens today in limited release.]

From 1974 to 1988, director John Carpenter was pretty much unstoppable. His films were scary, funny, strange, and thrilling. Adam Wingard’s The Guest feels like a lost Carpenter film from the director’s golden age. The picture effortlessly moves between a nerve-wracking mystery to a gleefully dark comedy, and at its best it even mixes the two together. While Wingard carries the Carpenter-esque tone by making excellent use of Robby Baumgartner’s cinematography and Stephen Moore’s score, his greatest asset is Dan Stevens’ tremendous lead performance. And even when the picture starts to get away from Wingard, it never ceases to be an entertaining ride.

THE TRIBE Review | TIFF 2014

by     Posted 9 days ago

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After an award-winning premiere at Cannes, The Tribe arrived at this year’s TIFF with a great deal of expectation.  Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s debut feature sports the attention-grabbing premise of being an entirely silent film (aside from ambient noise) played out exclusively by deaf and mute non-actors.  It’s unlike any film you’ve ever seen because it’s unlike any movie that’s ever been made.  Yet, Slaboshpytskiy wisely mixes in enough familiar elements to make his story easy to follow, while piling on genuinely disturbing images on the way to an unforgettably harsh climax.  The Tribe is a difficult film, there’s not denying that.  However, there’s also no denying that it’s a brilliant one as well.  Hit the jump for the details.

TIME OUT OF MIND Review | TIFF 2014

by     Posted 11 days ago

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Homeless people are cursed with invisibility.  We see them but don’t see them.  We know their behavior, but refuse to acknowledge these people for a variety of personal reasons.  Perhaps we ignore the homeless because they’re a direct look at human suffering on our streets, and we feel helpless to do anything substantial to change their circumstances.  Oren Moverman’s Time out of Mind is well intentioned in its desire to depict the daily life of a homeless person, but the director can’t develop this depiction as anything more than a distant, almost cold observation.  Additionally, Richard Gere is horribly miscast in the lead role, which further pushes us away from an issue we’d prefer to ignore in the first place.

BIG GAME Review | TIFF 2014

by     Posted 11 days ago

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A good thirty minutes into Jalmari Helander’s Big Game, a thought arises that never ceases to fade: “Shouldn’t I be having more fun considering the goofy premise?”  It’s a kid in the wilderness who’s forced to protect the President of the United States.  Then you cast Samuel L. Jackson—a man whose ubiquity and longevity in spite of some seriously questionable choice in projects is a testament to his enduring popularity—as the President. Unfortunately, while Helander and co-writer Petri Jokiranta have a promising set-up, they’re never certain if they should let the comedy come from playing it straight or if they should go broad and silly, so the film ends up falling into bland ambivalence.

ADULT BEGINNERS Review | TIFF 2014

by     Posted 11 days ago

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Though the duo have nothing to do with the film beyond an executive producer credit, Adult Beginners definitely feels as though it falls within the brand of Mark and Jay Duplass.  It’s a humble little comedy about awkward adults struggling with that whole, “living in the world” thing that leaps from comedy to drama so frequently and smoothly that they start to feel like the same thing.  Ambitions aren’t particularly high.  It’s not a movie trying to change the world.  However, it is a warm, charming, and insightful little comedy with some wonderful central performances that’ll slap a smile on your face without insulting your intelligence.  That might not sound like much, but it’s also a surprisingly rare treat, so the movie is very much worthwhile. 

THE SKELETON TWINS Review

by     Posted 11 days ago

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[Note: This is a re-post of my The Skeleton Twins review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  The movie opens in limited release this weekend.]

Comedic actors moving into dramatic territory is not a new concept.  Many make the transition with ease, while some have trouble crossing over or getting audiences to buy into them doing “serious” things.  SNL veterans Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig make a striking move to drama with excellent results in The Skeleton Twins, a darkly comic drama from director Craig Johnson.  This isn’t a “look how serious I can be” performance from Hader or Wiig; the film does have some very funny moments, but the two bring a formidable amount of weight to the characters, with Hader in particular turning in a stellar performance as one half of the troubled sibling pair.

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