Tag Archives: David Fincher

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button was born a little boy who looked like an old man; baby Benjamin suffered from old age ailments. He had a disease that made him age backwards. His mom dies in childbirth and his dad abandons him post haste, so little Benny Button is left on the stoop of a nursing home to be raised by the good-hearted Queenie. Benjamin first meets the love of his life, Daisy, when they are 7 years old. She’s a little ballerina, but he’s a wizened old man in a wheel chair. They’ll meet on and off again throughout all the years of his life, and make a little family when they overlap in middle age, but it doesn’t last long. So when Daisy’s on her death bed she tells this story in its entirety to her daughter Caroline, who learns for the first time who her father was.

MV5BMTI1MjY5MzY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU1OTUxMg@@._V1_The film was among the first to film in New Orleans after Katrina, enticed by tax savings that made up a good chunk of their budget. Director David Fincher praised the city’s rehab efforts and filmed in both rural and urban settings. The film pays tribute to Katrina by having the flood threaten just as Daisy lays dying.

Someone’s been wanting to make some version of this film since before I was born. In the mid-80s, Frank Oz was sough to direct, with Martin Short as its possible star. Later, Spielberg was keen to direct, and Tom Cruise slated to star. Then Ron Howard thought he might have a go, with John Travolta in the lead. Can you picture any of those?

Brad Pitt could spend upwards of 5 hours a day in the makeup chair. Even so, they had to resort to hiring child actors to portray the younger-looking versions of Benjamin – not because the makeup and effects teams couldn’t handle it, but simply because the budget was totally depleted. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy and had some young actors to cover her character as a child as well – including a very young Elle Fanning. Julia Ormand plays their daughter Caroline, but her younger self is covered by none other than 2 year old Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.

Since Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment, we may swing by the Nolan house at 2707 Coliseum St., where lots of the filming took place, in virtually every room of the house. With 6 bedrooms, it was home to 3 generations of Nolans, one of whom played a doctor in the film. Fincher knew he wanted this particular house, benjamin-button-house.jpgwhich would serve to ground the fantasy, but it wasn’t an easy get. The owner had evacuated for Katrina, and had refused every previous request by movie crews. She turned down Fincher too – twice. Fincher combed over 300 other locations and ruled out every one. Finally the owner relented, and she moved into a condo so her home could be made to fit the period. She never did move back in: she evacuated again when hurricane Gustav threatened, and while away she passed, without ever seeing the movie filmed in her home of over 60 years.

 

 

 

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Zodiac: 10th Annivesary

It’s been a decade since David Fincher graced cinemas with Zodiac, which means it’s been 10 years since it climbed its way to the top of my favourite David Fincher films list, and remained there.

Zodiac is about the 1960s\70s manhunt for the San Francisco-area Zodiac Killer, who went on a murder spree-media frenzy, terrorizing people in several Northern California zodiac.jpgcommunities but evading police and justice to this day. The Zodiac Killer had held a dimming spot in our collective conscious for years when David Fincher got his hands on the material (a new book on the case by Robert Graysmith was the inspiration, though not terribly well-written) and turned a tired story into something that could take your breath away.

There are several brilliant strokes that make this movie more than just a movie.

  1. It focuses on Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist at a San Francisco newspaper (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and Paul Avery, a reporter (Robert Downey, Jr.), who became obsessed with the case and played armchair detectives. This was effective story-telling be because Graysmith and Avery are just like us: outsiders. They have no business “detecting.” They have no privileged information. They’re just interested, and it makes us interested.
  2. That said, this is a serial killer movie without the serial killer. The crimes were never solved. At best, he’s a shadowy figure in the movie (and brilliantly, Fincher had several different actors play this shadowy figure so we always feel a little off-kilter). This truly is about the regular people (and Inspector Toschi, a cop frustrated by the case’s dead ends – played by Mark Ruffalo), feeling more like Spotlight than Seven.
  3. Although the movie works very well strictly as crime drama, that’s really just a superficial reading of Zodiac, the tip of the iceberg with a whole lot more waiting to be discovered underneath. The film’s tone lulls us into a trance. The score, the pacing, the editing, it all works together to draw us into this hyper-awareness that heightens everything, so that we watch raptly, watching office scenes with trepidation equal to the creepy, cob-webby basement scenes. We start to realize that the serial killer is not what’s threatening Graysmith; it’s the search for truth that’s ripping his life apart. Now that little nugget comes with a whole lot more cynicism that mere murder can provide.
  4. The case and the film each build consistently, unrelentingly. You get pulled into it, dragged along. It’s not about the violence and blood (there’s very little of either), but about relentless pursuit, without resolution. That’s hard to maintain and in less capable hands, this could easily have been a dry and boring movie. But Fincher bring the suspense, and without us realizing it, he infuses that suspense into every scene. The suspense never lets up. It becomes an ache, one achieved not with fancy car chases or dramatic shootouts, but through methodical police work, the film as detail-oriented as the director himself.
  5. There’s no ending. Or no satisfying one, at least. That goes against what usually makes a Fincher film great, those memorable last lines, a Beatles tune playing over the credits. But Zodiac goes without, because in real life, the Zodiac Killer got away. Maybe we know who it is. Maybe. But no arrest was ever made, no one ever served time. The film reflects this truth and denies us catharsis and our “Hollywood ending” as we understand them. The Zodiac murders weren’t just a news item, it was The Case for a generation, one that never got wrapped up. Fincher was part of that generation, and grew up in the area. It obviously stuck with him. In many ways, Zodiac is his most personal film, so he made it not about the killer, but about the people chasing him. The people trying to solve the ultimate puzzle, and paying the price when justice is ellusive.

Because life is cruel, Zodiac was NOT a hit at the box office, making a paltry $33M in the U.S. against its $65M budget. It was never going to be a hit. It’s not lurid or bloody. It’s an ode to method. And while today we’ve become obsessed with this method (Making A zodiac-murder-scene.gifMurderer, OJ: Made in America), 10 years ago it was unknown. Maybe it was Fincher who invented it. He definitely perfected it, and without an entire season’s worth of episodes to devote to his subject, he imbues each scene with loads of meaning, making each one impactful and riveting. Maybe not as riveting as Wild Hogs, that atrocious piece of shit starring Tim Allen, John Travolta and Martin Lawrence (it opened the same weekend and beat Zodiac by about 30 million dollars), but in the past decade, it has impressed nearly everyone who’s sought it out. The cast is splendid, the script smart, the direction thoughtful and meaningful. But it did not win the Oscar. Know why? BECAUSE IT WASN’T EVEN NOMINATED!

 

Gone Girl

Gone Girl is director David Fincher’s most successful film to date and most people are familiar with it and, if you’re not, the less you know the better so I will skip the usual plot summary.

Despite Golden Globe nominations for best actress, screenplay, director, and original score, only actress Rosamund Pike walked away with a shot at an Oscar. Her best actress nomination makes sense, especially this year where the pool of strong female lead performances seems more shallow than it was over the last few years. We get to know Amazing Amy mostly through flashbacks and Pike’s eyes and haunting narration suggest she’s got secrets and we really want to find out what happened to her.

gone girl review

The fact that Gone Girl works so well though has a lot to do with Ben Affleck, who plays Amy’s husband. The press has picked on Ben almost as much as they did his Gone Girl character. It’s probably partly because he’s made more than his share of shitty movies. He also has this way about him though. He’s a charming enough guy but often can’t seem to help seeming insincere. Maybe it’s his, as Amy puts it, “villainous chin”. Or maybe it’s just hard to seem sincere under   a media microscope, where your every gesture is examined for signs of insincerity. Either way, he knows what it’s like to be bullied by the press and he seems to draw on that experience to deliver probably his best performance so far. Ben’s public life serves Gone Girl just as well as Michael Keaton’s did Birdman. Even that famous smugness of his works. His character’s a nice guy but we’re not always sure we believe him, as much as we’d like to. The way Affleck and Pike play it, we’re never quite sure what the truth is.

For another asshole’s point of view, click here.

Gone Girl

I didn’t like the book. It was too slick. You see it coming a mile away. It felt like an airport book done up in a fancy dust jacket so we’d mistake it as “lit”. It wasn’t.gonegirl

The movie? Trash. But exquisite,moody, sexy, noir trash that you can almost picture in a fast-talking, black and white, Hitchcockian way. Which is maybe what it should have been. Or maybe what it aspired to be.

It’s juicy and entertaining. The who-dunnit aspect is over surprisingly quickly, which is probably for the best since the book relied on the reader being really really dense and the movie gives us a bit more credit.

The movie succeeds with its portrayal of the media coverage of the disappearance of a beautiful blonde woman. Of course they’re going to jump allll down Ben Affleck’s throat, and of course Ben Affleck is a pretty good choice to play someone being hounded viciously by press (not to mention the brilliant casting of his chin!). The woman who does the Nancy Grace impression is spot-on. Rosamund Pike is also well-cast, and both she and Affleck handle their ever-evolving characters with subtety and competence. As an audience, we are constantly asked to re-assess what we feel about them as we learn more and like them less. Affleck excels at smug; Pike does chilling with panache. You can believe in the polarity of the characters, and that’s the hinge of the movie.

There’s a creepiness lurking about in this movie, even during the flashbacks to better times. They’re flirty, but they’re also just playing a game, and then that game gets serious, and then it gets out of control. Enter NPH, a slimy character if ever there was one. As much as I love me some NPH, I could have done with less of him in this movie, and more of Tyler Perry, playing a suave and yummy lawyer who takes the reins  and steers Affleck confidently into manipulating the media.

The questions in this movie will make you squirm (although, the sheer length of the movie may already have had you squirming anyway). Do we ever really know our spouses? Can we? And what is “true self” anyway – if we present ourselve very carefully and consistently one way, isn’t that what we mean by “identity?” And if nothing else, the movie’s ending will leave you in agony. Sweet, sweet agony.