Tag Archives: David Fincher

Panic Room (2002)

We’ve already gushed a bit over Mindhunter, which returned to Netflix for a second season a few weeks back, but the work of David Fincher and Co. on that series really can’t be undervalued. There are two scenes in the first three episodes of the new season — all directed by Fincher — that are particular standouts. The opening of the season is just masterful tension achieved with so little: a rope tied to a doorknob, a slight rattling of the door on the other side, a trembling hand reaching out to open it. Fincher holds this almost to the point of hilarity before letting it all break open. The second scene in question is set in a car, with Agent Tench interviewing a subject who’s had his face mutilated by the BTK Killer. Without giving away the device, the camera placements and shot choices make for an utterly gripping sequence that happens to take place in a parked car.

Both recalled Panic Room, Fincher’s most claustrophobic effort and possibly his most overlooked. It’s about as simple as a plot can be: Meg (Jodie Foster) and her daughter (Kristin Stewart) lock themselves in a well-equipped panic room when three burglars (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam) invade their new home. Coming off the comparatively bonkers Fight Club, Fincher still managed to turn this single-location shoot into a consistently twisty thriller.

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Face Off: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) and Mindhunter (2019)

Each Motion State Face Off pits two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.

The second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter is the best single season of television the streaming giant has ever produced. I’d entertain an argument for the best series overall being something else — Stranger Things, Narcos — though with a five-season plan Mindhunter might someday change that. And the show’s not without problems, of course. Still, pound-for-pound, on a season-by-season basis, the second chunk of the David Fincher-led serial killer show is the most finely-tuned and commanding character study you’re going to find. Fincher’s cold camera has never been more sinister than in the first three episodes of this season, and that mood is carried throughout. It’s almost a disappointment when a larger-than-life figure like Charles Manson, babbling and bombastic, intrudes on the otherwise grim and brooding proceedings.

Much of what makes the show so compelling, of course, is that the verifiable truth — some would call it “historical accuracy” — is often one and the same with the most disturbing shit ever undertaken by a multiple murderer in America. Mindhunter makes plenty of stuff up, with Holden Ford, Bill Tench and Wendy Carr serving as fictional versions of actual investigators; a huge subplot of the second season involving Tench’s son was (likely) pulled from an actual San Francisco case in 1971, but didn’t have anything to do with the real people on which the show is based. Yet the depictions of the killers and their crimes are horrifyingly accurate, and the sadistic evil you really wish was fabricated is often the tragic truth.

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Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

Among the many films that slipped through the cracks last year was Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the 2009 Argentinian Oscar-winner of the same name. Actually, the original is El secreto de sus ojos, which a sane person might translate as THE Secret in Their Eyes, but even inclusion of the the makes for a clunky title. See, it’s not that each eye has a secret or anything — that would be Secrets, plural, in Their Eyes. Obviously the title tells us that there is a single secret, okay, and it’s in multiple eyes. Or maybe just one eye per person. The major reason this film failed at the box office and slid under the radar of pretty much everyone is that the title fails to delineate exactly which eyes we’re dealing with here.

Maybe it’s a part of the long game, though, this being the start of a new shared-universe franchise or something. Next up is Secret in Their Left Eyes, follow by Right, followed of course by Left v. Right: Dawn of Secret. Each of those would be hard-pressed to be a bigger waste of time than this film, and the possibilities really are endless if your only criteria for titling a major motion picture starring three Hollywood A-listers is “must contain words”. As Louis C.K. said about parents being giving free reign to name their babies whatever the hell they want: shouldn’t there be at least a couple of rules? What’s that you say? The Elements of Style came out in 1920?

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The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Spending my junior year of college abroad in Ireland has given me the incredible opportunity to travel across Europe fairly cheaply. I recently visited Paris for 67 euro. While I was there, of course, I visited the Louvre, the most famous art museum in the world, home to some of history’s greatest masterpieces, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. This surreal experience inspired me to read Dan Brown’s own masterpiece, The Da Vinci Code, knowing that nearly the entire first act of the novel takes place in the Louvre and employs a massive conspiracy theory involving Da Vinci’s work as a vehicle to drive the narrative. Having been abandoned by my friends — who had early flights the morning of our last day in Paris — and approximately 14 hours of alone time before my own flight, I sat down in a Parisian café and read the first 400-odd pages.

As far as Ron Howard’s film is concerned, I would like to dedicate this review to explaining how it so stupidly and unnecessarily diverges from the novel that it actually pisses me off.  To better capture the tone of my rage, I will examine each moronic decision to veer away from the book as it pops into my mind, rather than going in chronological order according to the film.

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The Social Network (2010)

Though Charlie Wilson’s War marks the first time Aaron Sorkin mined a true story for dramatic purposes, it’s likely that we have The Social Network to thank for the shift to biopics becoming Sorkin’s modus operandi of late. Though Wilson did a more-than-passable job of telling a less-than-well-known story, Sorkin’s Network dips behind the scenes of something that pretty much everyone knows about. It’s more grand, more ambitious in that sense, despite the subject matter being a website as opposed to a global war, and it’s the same ambition that was found in Moneyball and hopefully will soon be found in the upcoming Steve Jobs.

Of course, the primary challenge with bringing biographical accounts to the big screen is accuracy — which, as we’ll return to in a moment, isn’t exactly the same thing as truth. It’s one thing if the subject of the film is still alive; it’s an entirely different thing if the subject of the film is still essentially “the same person”, with only a few measly years (and in this case a few measly millions of dollars) passed between the events of the film and the film itself. Think of Oliver Stone’s upcoming Snowden or last year’s woeful Julian Assange movie The Fifth Estate, both of which purport to reveal some kind of truth about a series of real-life occurrences that just so happen to still be occurring. Black Mass just opened in Boston to theaters full of people who are portrayed in the film. At this rate, we’re going to enter some weird Minority Report-type paradox where biopics start coming out before the people they’re about even accomplish anything worthy of a film.

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Film & TV News: June 15

News

  • The great Christopher Lee passed away earlier this week at 93. He’ll be remembered for countless roles, for Dracula, for Saruman in Lord of the Rings, for Count Dooku in Star Wars, and for his symphonic metal concept albums (yes).
  • Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight will be screened in 70mm, meaning theaters near you will either have to outfit their booths with new projectors or decide against screening a Tarantino flick. It’s a great power move by Tarantino, because once major theater chains have that capability alongside their digital projectors it opens the door for more films on actual film.
  • Videosyncrazy, David Fincher’s HBO series about the music video industry in the 1980s, has mysteriously halted production. No word on what the primary issue is, but as Fincher’s the perfect guy for a series like this we really hope the pieces get reassembled soon.
  • Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, having already completed all of the voice work, has now turned around and completely recast nearly every voice actor. Production on this one has always been rocky, but Pixar’s no stranger to that. As long as it’s not called Cars, we’re safe.

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Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (2015)

It’s actually borderline impressive how dull Kidnapping Mr. Heineken ends up being. The true story of the capture, ransom and eventual release of beer mogul Freddy Heineken is a harrowing one. Heineken was one of the richest men in the Netherlands when he was kidnapped. He was held for weeks in a brilliantly-constructed soundproof cell that probably inspired that twist from Denzel’s Inside Man. His ransom was the largest ever paid for an individual, and his captors evaded police for weeks following their release of Heineken. The media had an absolute field day with the entire affair, but the personal motives on the part of the captors are interesting as well.

As a film, though, pretty much all of that falls flat. Jim Sturgess plays the ringleader and de facto mastermind Cor Van Hout, flanked by Sam Worthington’s Willem and Ryan Kwanten’s Cat, and each actor does fine with the part allotted to them. Anthony Hopkins is the veteran and obvious draw in the part of Freddy Heineken. Finally, director Daniel Alfredson is an intriguing choice as well, having previously helmed the original Millennium Trilogy before David Fincher took over for the American version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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The Insider (1999)

A smash cut can be a beautiful thing. It can also be a broadly-defined thing, somewhat unfortunately, which means I have to reel you into a conversation about Michael Mann’s The Insider by providing a narrowed definition of smash cut. Excited yet? The added problem, of course, is that one of you damn dear readers will no doubt have the time to point out precisely where I’m mistaken in my definition, holding my hand and stating that, no, that’s not a smash cut, that’s a match cut, and that one over there is a jump cut, and over there is…my, oh my! Is that a Dutch angle shot in its natural habitat?

Anyway, the thing I’m thinking of might not even qualify as a smash cut, but for now that descriptor will have to suffice. Mann loves an extreme close-up, especially in his earlier works like Heat (I’m thinking of that early bouncing shot of Val Kilmer), and in his follow-up The Insider we probably get closer to the facial pores of Russell Crowe and Al Pacino than we’ve ever been before. But there are a few close-ups not of faces but of objects, inserted for a second or a half-second right smack in the middle of a scene, and those cuts are what I’m talking about. They smash to the forefront when you’d least expect them, these otherwise uninteresting objects. Why does Mann shove these in so boldly, and how does he get it to work so damn well?

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Netflix Picks #2

Kevin:  Gregg Araki’s mesmerizing White Bird in a Blizzard has all the initial trappings of a typical coming-of-age drama. Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) longs to leave her idyllic hometown life, while her mother, Eva (Eva Green), feels overburdened by her role as a doting housewife. When Eva mysteriously disappears, Kat is haunted by persistent dreams of her, and reassesses their tumultuous relationship through therapy and an affair with a cop assigned to her missing person’s case. The premise is familiar, but the film draws upon the melodramas of Douglas Sirk to convey how Eva feels shackled by the hardships of marriage and motherhood. Aided by cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen and composer Robin Guthrie, Araki abstains from the histrionic tendencies of his earlier work, opting for an understated color scheme and score that firmly establishes the themes of alienation in 1980s suburban life. Following her widely praised turn in The Spectacular Now, Woodley demonstrates assertiveness in the lead role, but it’s Eva Green who leaves the greatest impression. Green’s steely flourishes invite comparisons to Joan Crawford, but feel closer to Barbara Stanwyck in their unrelenting swagger. Other notable performances include those of Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato, whose lively exchanges with Woodley provide a needed respite from the drama, and Shiloh Fernandez, who complements his character’s fetching looks with a charming half-witted persona as Kat’s boyfriend Phil. In a standout sequence that takes place in a local underground club, Kat and Phil seductively dance to Depeche Mode’s 1987 classic “Behind The Wheel”. Through a breathlessly shot and edited montage, Araki injects this scene with infectious spontaneity and groove. White Bird in a Blizzard is Gregg Araki’s most restrained directorial effort since Mysterious Skin, but is punctuated with many spirited moments that reaffirm his reputation as a genre-defying, risk-taking filmmaker.

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Birdman (2014): Riggan the Supernova

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our original review of Birdman.

There’s a story about these guys, Jack and Murray, who head out to the countryside to visit The Most Photographed Barn in America. They follow the signs and arrive at the barn site, finding a visitor center, an observation deck, droves of people with cameras, the actual barn up on a little rise. “No one sees the barn,” Murray notes. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.” Jack says nothing as more tourists arrive, snap pictures, buy postcards. Murray continues. “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one,” he says. “Every photograph reinforces the aura.”

That story is from White Noise by Don DeLillo, an author who largely concerns himself with the same exploration of modern celebrity at the heart of Iñárritu’s Best Picture-winning Birdman. And that aura, so built up around the little red barn that the mass awareness begins to eclipse the individual identity, is not at all unlike the celebrity in which Michael Keaton’s actor Riggan Thomson finds himself trapped. The “public Riggan” — an image maintained in tabloids and represented by the superhuman Birdman — is so overwhelming that it obscures the real Riggan, the artist beneath the public persona, threatening to further that obscurity by tempting Riggan with Birdman 4. Plenty of films address Hollywood and modern celebrity in this way, and we’ll mention a few more from this past year in a moment. It’s Riggan, though, who most fully and tragically shows how impossible it is for an artist to escape the machinery of fame.

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