Average User Score: 7.5Feb 11, 2014There is not much of a storyline to Lone Survivor directed by Peter Berg. Just based on the title alone, we are already fully aware of the film’s ending. A Four man team goes into battle. Three of them die. Only One survives.
The pre-action first act is pretty weak. It’s the same old ultra-patriotic, Navy Seal prestige banter complete with a rookie giving a front-of-the-class speech defining his role as a Seal Diver. In the mission briefing the target Afghans are portrayed as cliché plot devices. Never is there a mention that these Afghan’s are actual humans whose country the Seals are currently occupying, and are currently planning to kill. Scenes like these are not usually later redeemed, but as soon as the four Seals drop into the field, the tone of the film changes.
What makes the film Lone Survivor a good film is 100% in its execution. The performances of all the actors, the special effects and stunts, the lighting and the sound, the fancy camera work and exotic scenery, the violence, equal the actual enactment: a very powerful, non-partisan, grim portrayal of modern ground combat.
Once dropped in the field, the Seals encounter innocent civilians. Faced with the ethical decision of whether to execute them or free them, the Seals let them go. This is truly a controversial choice. Acting differently surely would have produced a different, less deadly outcome (for the Seals at least). Any logical viewer will afterwards struggle to justify why the Seals made the choice they did. Why would they sacrifice themselves for the innocents? It is almost nonsense, but in war decisions are made on the fly, and this is what happened.
Within minutes the freed civilians alert the troops, and an army of hundreds of heavily armed men surround the group of 4. This when the action starts.
It begins with the exchange of long-range rifle fire but soon the Seals are surrounded and flanked fiercely. As the battle shifts positions we encounter scenes where Seals must make split second decisions between particularly gruesome tasks. Which is less likely to kill me? Pushing forward and engaging in fire where I am extremely outnumbered, or throwing myself down this 50 foot rock face?
The unfolding of this battle, and that is to say two-thirds of the film, really cannot be described in words. The battle truly is the film. It is an attempt at the depicting the intensity of real combat, and myself having zero experience in real combat, I think Peter Berg is very successful in portraying it.
Their radio signals having been lost, their back-up firepower having failed them, and every other piece of bad luck imaginable having occurred, the battle ends. The Seals literally having fought to their deaths.… Expand
Average User Score: 9.0Feb 11, 2014Nearly everyone knows the rules, number one of which I’m about to break.
What do you do if you’re sick of your boring, pathetic life? In the most cathartic, DIY approach possible, Fight Club answers this question: you change it. The absolute prototype of an existential thriller, it wouldn’t be taking too much of a leap to suggest that Fight Club is one of the best films ever made.
Jim Uhls’ excellently adapted screenplay of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel (this is the only major work by Uhls that I can find), this thriller has been exciting male audiences the world over since its release in 1999. Even Palahniuk himself said the film was amazing. In fact, he admitted that film was so good, the book in comparison made him feel ashamed.
A nameless, pitiful, seemingly friend and family-less Office worker (Edward Norton) suffers from insomnia. True to Palahniuk’s style, the solution to the insomnia comes in a bizarre way. He finds relief by attending support groups for diseases, diseases he doesn’t have; these people really listen to him, and afterwards, he sleeps. At these meetings he meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Character), a nemesis and lover, and it is through her that Mr. Office worker discovers his true self, but not until after he’s transformed more than just his own life.
Mr. Pitiful Office worker meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Durden helps Mr. Pitiful Office worker admit to his misery once and for all. Channeling their suppressed male aggression in its rawest form, they start fighting each other. Soon Mr. Pitiful Office worker realizes that he and Durden are not alone.
Men, downtrodden, tired of their insignificance as worthless individuals all aim to do something greater. They jump at the chance to vent their primal steam, and the solo fights turn into group fights.
Durden’s vision eventually transcends aggression in its physical form and becomes something much greater, a community where the individual ceases to exist. As part of this whole, every unnamed member is an equal and significant contributor, and it is through the whole that the individual finds meaning. As part of the whole they are changing the future together.
This movie is a directing marvel. With time shifts, psychological manipulations, and very meticulous scene planning, we are kept on the edge of our seats for the entire film. Accompanied by the pounding soundtrack composed by the Dust Brothers, Fincher achieves the rarity of making a movie better than a book. Fincher turns the concrete basement of Lou’s Tavern into perhaps the most famous arena in all of modern film. The house on Paper Street, a lone abandoned mansion, becomes a factory of redefinition, of reinvention. In the final scene an amazing mesh between the visuals and the music, The Pixies’ “Where is my Mind,” Fincher creates one of the most stunning combinations of sight and sound in all of film. And it's a pretty damn good ending to the plot too.
The most memorable scene is when Durden is behind the wheel of a car full of passengers. He buckles up, pins the gas, and lets go of the wheel. The car veers off the road and crashes, flipping multiple times. We are force fed the hard truth here. The Fight Club mantra: to change to our lives we need to rid ourselves of our past failures, forget the job, the kids, the car, the living room, the flat screen HDTV, and just let go.
You are not your f'cking khakis.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.5Feb 11, 20142013’s most surprisingly awesome film was Pacific Rim. How did I miss this? Well…
Even though it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who has to date made only excellent films, the trailers and the marketing for Pacific Rim did not do the film justice. There was only a bare-bones connection linking del Toro’s star power to this film. For the average person who may know del Toro’s other films, Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy 1 & 2, but not his name, the little “directed by” box at the bottom of the promotional poster would not have rung any bells, at least not in the same way a giant “From the Director of…” promotion would have. Still, I know del Toro by name and I still didn’t realize this was his film. Wayyy after it was already out of theatres I watched it on a plane. It was great.
Not only did the marketing not exploit any of the film’s star power, it didn’t even really give us any idea what it was about. The trailer just showed huge metal warriors battling Godzilla-like creatures, much in the fashion of recent mindless action movies such as Battleship (I did actually enjoy Battleship) or anything from the recent Transformers franchise. I hypothesis that this complete disconnect must have been intentional. In this way Pacific Rim attracted the same audience as the previously mentioned movies. A huge audience base that is easily swayed and turned on by special effects, battle scenes, and stuff blowing up, but they are potentially turned off by something that could be considered “cinema,” or too arty. This audience needed to be brought in from the beginning.
As for the more savvy movie-goers, although turned off by the meat head marketing, they are generally more inquisitive than the average Transformers fan, and so it seems the producers relied on these movie-goer’s inquisitive nature. Since it’s an actual good film, the savvy will find their way to it eventually. This film’s crappy marketing was actually a ploy to lure multiple demographics in subliminal ways, and thus mucho bank was made. Just a hypothesis.
FYI: According to Slashfilm.com, Transformers2 was the highest grossing, most negatively rated film in history, so getting the Transformers audience was just good business. The fact that the movie is also good is just a rare and wonderful freak, but not accidental, occurrence for the Transformers audience.
What makes Pacific Rim so great? Using a montage
sequence and voiceover, in the first five minutes of the film we learn all about the world that Earth has become. Monster Kaijus have invaded from a dimension shifting portal in the ocean, humans have built fighting machines called Jaegers to combat the Kaijus, and this on-going threat, the conflict between the two entities has eventually just becomes a routine part of common culture. Then suddenly things change.
The set designs are spectacular. Hong Kong is specially tailored here to fit a Kaiju bashing society. The encampments where the machinery and pilots are based is a gloomy complex that looks like the inside of a submarine. Being a big budget action film, Pacific Rim relies heavily on computer-generated graphics and spectacular special effects for its visual telling. Truthfully I have no idea how any of these action scenes would have been shot as almost every one is an epic between giant monsters, earthy and not. But it is not the visuals alone that make this a great movie. Transformers has great visuals.
It is the script that is so awesome. Co-written by Travis Beachman and del Toro, it is a sci-fi monster movie, but it is the nuances that make the film so much fun to watch. All the intricacies of the world. For instance, two people whose brain functions combine in a process called “the drift” pilot Jaegers. Pilots’ ability to drift effectively in unison is what creates great pilots. The drift is probably the single coolest thing about this film, and the idea is used later for purposes even crazier.
The Kaijus become so powerful that mankind is forced into a final standoff using all the remaining Jaegers against multiple super strong Kaijus. The prospects for humanity’s survival look grim. In final act of the film a spectacular twist takes place thanks to some unlikely scientists, and the fate of all humanity hangs on their wild hunch, the functioning of the aging military machinery, and the drift between the last two standing Jaeger pilots. I wish I had seen this film in theatres.
Let's see if Pacific Rim 2 ever makes it from the hard-drive on Travis Beachman's desk to the screen. This time, I'd give it a chance.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.1Feb 11, 2014As an elderly woman lies on her deathbed she recounts the peculiar story of Benjamin Button, a man whose life is inexplicably tied to a mysterious backwards-running clock. After Benjamin’s mother dies in childbirth, the father abandons baby Benjamin because of his stark physical defects. Luckily Queenie, a black woman who manages a senior’s care home, finds newborn Benjamin and raises him herself. For the rest of his life Benjamin calls Queenie mother.
When Benjamin is born, he emerges prematurely aged. Medical tests show that he has the physical characteristics of a person in his eighties. Originally penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald, makes Benjamin Button tells a peculiar life story that forays in the world of the fantastic: the crux of the story is that, just as the clock ticks backwards, Benjamin too ages in reverse. He gets younger and younger over time.
The task of dealing with this massive disconnect between his physically aged exterior, and his inner infantile self, forces Benjamin to attempt to act like an adult (to match his aged exterior), but no matter how hard he tries his true inner child shines through, especially whenever it comes to booze and women, areas where he has zero experience. Benjamin wins the adoration of most every character he meets, and along the way he breaks through the prejudicial barriers that age and race typically erect.
This film is a diversion for Fincher. Many of the defining qualities of David Fincher’s films are not so very present in Benjamin Button. This charmed, almost magical tale shares none of the characteristic of other Fincher scripts. It is not filtered through the darkened lens of hyper awareness; there is none of the desolation and bleak deconstruction of modern culture that fills Zodiac, the most recently released Fincher film before this one.
Benjamin Button seems to be the only film in Fincher's body of work that is not a dark, psychological thriller. Here, Fincher proves that he can work in drama just as well as he can work in action and suspense, however he does have expert help.
The director of photography Claudio Miranda, who had worked on a number of Fincher’s earlier pictures, sets the tones and temperature of the images so they project like a thriller, dark with shadows, slight, almost sepia toned. A highly refined picture quality.
Once again, this film features Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, the brilliant editing team that would go on to win multiple Oscars for best editing in The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They brilliantly let visuals alone tell as much of the story as possible. As with Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Benjamin Button has tons of shots and locations. The exact opposite of Panic Room.
Eric Roth & David Fincher
The technique of recounting the story through recollection as a series of flashbacks, as well as Benjamin’s unexpected success despite his handicap, make Benjamin Button bear an off-putting resemblance to the structure of Forest Gump (1994). This is no coincidence.
The same writer who won an Oscar for his Forest Gump screenplay, Eric Roth, is also the writer of Benjamin Button.
As characters both Forest and Benjamin worked on boats, both took part in World Wars, and both perpetually pursue women from their childhood. What is great thought is that Fincher is able to divert this potential redundancy. While Forest bumbles along, simply falling into phenomenal situations, Benjamin paves his own way. It’s existential drive versus dumb luck.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.2Feb 11, 2014In a dark, dangerous San Francisco lives Nicholas Van Orten (Michael Douglas), a very rich businessman and a total loner. He doesn’t come across as pathetic, but as rather as stern and cold, and blatantly unhappy despite the lap of luxury in which he lives. Sensing Nicholas’ unhappiness, Nicholas’ wild and über ostentatious brother Conrad (Sean Penn) appears and presents Nicholas a birthday gift, a gift that is sure to add some excitement to Nicholas life, and lift him out of the depressive fog that he carries around everywhere.
Along the way we learn some little bits of information about Nicholas’ life, but not much, which is nice because his past doesn’t really seem to matter anyway. Fincher takes the character and forces him to deal strictly with the present time. All past regrets, misdeeds, and sins fall away when you are literally fighting for your life.
Conrad’s gift is a game. A set of real life, role-playing scenarios designed and executed by a company alleged called CRS. We don’t know what CRS is, and neither does Nicholas, so when bizarre happenings start to occur, such as the nightly news anchor breaking character and speaking directly to Nicholas in his living room, Nicholas cannot tell what is really happening. Is this part of the game? Or am I hallucinating?
Soon the puppet masters at CRS crank up the intensity of the events. There are numerous attempts on Nicholas’ life. At one point he wakes up in Mexico after having been buried alive in an underground tomb. The occurrences are so extreme, that as an audience, we are just as confused as Nicholas. It is real? Or is it a game? It is impossible to tell, and this is what makes this film so much fun to watch.
The world that CRS tailors to its clients is very cool and well put together. Even though Nicholas is told distinctly that the CRS game will begin, and it is not until after he is told this that strange and dangerous things start to happen, we are still unsure if it’s game or reality. Fincher is essentially blurring our understanding of the common philosophical conventions of cause and effect.
The Game is a good thriller, and an entertaining watch. The production value of the film is excellent. It projects on screen in dark, shadowy tones, mixed with diverse textures setting one scene to next to a another composed completely different. The film is full of interesting settings from Nicholas’ mansion, to a Mexican border town, to meetings in coffee shops, to cabins in the woods, but despite the actual events taking place being very entertaining to watch, the film never really establishes what truth it is trying to convey. The ending is disappointing. We are not left with any kind of substantial meaning.
The CRS experience is meant to be a massive, over-the-top shock to the nervous system. This shock forces one, Nicholas in this case, to decide whether he wants to fight to stay alive, or let go and die. Maybe we are supposed to take the hint and choose to live now, even though we don’t have CRS to break us out of our depression and lethargy, as individuals, or as a whole society. But this might be pushing the limits of interpretation. Despite the absence of the deeper themes, such as investigating the pointlessness of existence as in Fight Club, or the proving the worthlessness of humanity as in Seven, The Game is still great watch. Once the film ends, it doesn’t linger for days in the front of your mind like the best thrillers, but while your watching it you’ll be on the edge of your seat, never knowing what it going to happen next.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.0Jan 11, 2014Thanks to David Fincher, the world now has Rooney Mara to admire (and stare at). She plays the Goth misfit Lisbeth in this film, her first lead role, and she’s actually pretty good. She does revenge particularly well. A fierce character, while not dominating every scene, Rooney dominates the film. She is the one we think a hour later.
I will not try and compare her performance with Noomi Repace's, whom I also love to watch. Both do Lisbeth their
When Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) gets into some political hot water and needs to get out of Stockholm, he takes a job as an investigator in the Swedish countryside trying to solve the mystery of a disappeared girl, but there are people that do not want him to to find the answers. Eventually he teams up with Lisbeth and they work on the case together.
In the first part of the film, the intersecting story lines between the two main characters are done with skill. Many scenes are not action or dialogue based, yet all they all add to the story. The decision to film this version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Sweden, as opposed to swapping it out for some American city, was a well made one.
Since so much of the story is told in images, kudos goes to the editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall. Both are long time collaborators of Fincher, and they’ve both won multiple Oscars, including one for this film. I get the suspicion that they worked extra overtime on this movie; there are just tons and tons of scenes, a complete 180 from the style of Panic Room.
The chemistry between Rooney and Craig really builds throughout the film as the two work great together. The irregularity of the pairing makes it much more interesting and intriguing to follow than most typical, on-screen romances.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not the most depressing of all Fincher productions, but it’s still pretty low down there, and I mean this in the best way possible. It’s either always raining or cold outside while sometimes this envorinment is contrasted against interior scenes that are pristine, white, clean. Tension. Clean rooms don't seem to apear often in Fincher films, and as expected there are many others that are dark and dirty.
The film ends in a reasonably satisfying way leaving us hanging, waiting for the sequel.
Errata: I could have gone without the final Stockholm scene when Lisbeth is riding her motorbike through the streets as it snows. A similar situation occurred in The Wolverine (2013) where Logan rode a motorbike through the mountains in Japanese winter. These situations would never occur. Motorbikes and snow are never a very convincing combination (for me anyway).… Expand
Average User Score: 7.8Jan 11, 2014Now that the criminal mastermind flick has become a set type, widely overdone, this film tends to get easily shrugged off as yet another film about an ultra-intelligent serial killer who is always one step ahead of the cops, yes just like Seven. Still though, this film is quite different. Zodiac has nowhere near as much internal darkness bursting from its seams.
But Zodiac is dark, just not Seven dark. Even though Zodiac is still a murder-thriller, it’s tone compared to Seven, is a like a lovely ray of sunshine. Being that this storyline is all loosely based on actual events, enacting the film out in the time period during which it occurred, the late 60’s-early 70’s gives the film a freshness, a nostalgia that seems to come with those decades.
The plot: In an age before mail bombs and anthrax scares, a killer toys with his pursuers by leaving complex clues just above their tracker’s radars, just out of reach of their capabilities, the chase then becomes perpetual, the madness wide spread- reporters, cops, victim’s families, all exposed to the madness. Society engulfing.
The lighting, the darkness, the shadows, the string dissonance, and the rain of course: all hugely important to Fincher’s work, perhaps his most important set of tricks, perhaps they could even be called Finchinian, or would it be Ficheresque? They pop up in all this films.
In the real tense bits we get close, claustrophobic shots, bare-bones dialogue, tense body
language, the potential victim’s fear seeping almost literally thought the screen, then BAM! Scene complete. No sentimentality.
None of Fincher’s tactics in creating suspense come across as clichés. These are textbook lessons in how to frame a successful suspense scene. In a thriller the actor is a part of the puzzle. Like a part of complex musical arrangement, all the players need to play their parts perfectly.
In thrillers the character is thrown into an extreme situation, an abyss created by the filmmaker, and Zodiac, unlike Panic Room, is a bottomless abyss. Great performances are made by the actor’s that find the rawest, ravenous ways to claw their ways out, even if the character fails.
During Zodiac, Jake Gyllehaal was still coming up in the ranks. He had not fully moved on to the badass action hero roles he plays today and in his underling position in the film, as a cartoonist constantly getting in the way of the “real” reporters, he becomes an interesting underdog of a main character, even though he’s not supposed to be the main attraction. A pleasure to watch, we know, and he knows, he is in a subservient role and he never breaks out of it .
Thrillers are the king of film as the symphony is king of music. Great symphonies are difficult to execute. So many elements, so many moving parts, everything must align perfectly, so when that moment of suspense is created, in both thriller and symphony, whether scene of movement, we stand in awe.
Zodiac has those moments.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.1Jan 11, 2014In slasher flicks like Scream (1996), break-ins are single scenes. Heist flicks like The Bank Job (2008) or The Score (2001) spend most of the films planning out the break-ins, and then only a scene or two actually carrying them out. So the fact that aside from the very beginning, Panic Room is just really one long break-in scene always made the film seem like a silly waste of time. I mean, it gives the whole plot away right in the title. A couple of thieves arrive and tear up the place, the family hides, problems occur. Hurray.
The coincidence of everything just-so-happening to be available at the exact right time: the happenstance of the break-in coinciding with the idea that the house just so happens to contain a panic room, this seems too much to handle.
Yet all the mighty forces align and provide the viewer with an experience that is actually quite satisfying. Although not an overly complicated plot, the script is very well written and includes explanations for exactly why these happenings occur as they do.
For skeptic viewers like me, who usually find unexplainable exceptional coincidences a deal breakers, David Keopp’s logical, explanatory script (Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible) provides answers, and an excellent foundation for David Fincher to build his dark mess. (IMDB says Keopp got 4 million bucks for the script, so….).
Seemingly, this film takes the primal fear of invasion, bad people coming into our homes in the night and doing bad things to us. But rather than exploit the concept a has been beaten to death, Panic Room does not rely on the traditional fear of invasion. It adds dimension, reason, even a kind of logic explaining how this whole event could have turned out right for everyone, if only it could have unfolded just a single day earlier.
It is in considering the film’s simplicity that the profound difficulty of this film’s production is most realized. The decision for the director and crew to call “that’s a wrap” must have been murky one.
Unlike any of Fincher’s other films, Panic Room is shot entirely on only one set, in linear time, and deals with only with a single event. It is minimal in its approach, like a play. It is essentially all based on the interaction of the actors stage together, almost.
Forest Whitacker, Jodie Foster and even Dwight Yoakam all crank out great performances, but Fincher’s dark, perfectly influential shots, using unusual angles, intercoms and video cameras, small vs. open spaces, and of course, darkness and rain are what make this cinema, and not theater. Aligning open frames with great musical peaks, the score by Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) intensifies the single track plot of Panic Room, pushing it along as a series of arcs, suspensefully running up and down, each arc increasing in intensity, until the film hits the peak, and even though we knew all along what was coming, we are still very satisfied with when it finally does.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.4Dec 30, 2013Thomas Vinterberg- This film dredges up the "other side" of sexual abuse accusations, a much needed discourse that we all choose to ignore. This is what can happen when our rampant paranoia that every man over the age of 15 is a pedophile. How many innocent men have paid a price, but committed no crime?… Expand
Average User Score: 8.6Dec 30, 2013One of Terrence Malick's first features. Amazing portrait of the United States agricultural machine in 1918. This film is a masterpiece that captures the early 1900's exactly as it was. Added to that a terrific script and cast. Visually Stunning!… Expand