Fight Club

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

At the end of the 20th Century, men have lost there sense of place in the world. With no real sociological problems to concern them, the American working class males wander through life in a daze, controlled by their jobs and their society-spawned desire for the perfect magazine lifestyle. One such man (Edward Norton) finds solace from his insomnia in support groups for people with terminal illnesses, with this contrast to his own lack of problems finally allowing him to sleep at night. However, his world is rocked by the existence of Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a fellow group-attending faker, and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a rather bizarre fellow with a penchant for soap, explosives, splicing pornography into family films and, of course, beating the crap out of other consenting men.
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Political journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has just been released from prison, wherein he was serving a short time for making falsely proven claims against successful businessman Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Ulf Friberg). With his reputation in tatters, Blomkvist accepts an offer to lay low for a while, looking into the family history of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), specifically the disappearance of Vanger’s granddaughter Harriet from their remote family island 40 years ago. Meanwhile Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), the young, socially isolated hacker Vanger hired to research into Blomkvist’s background, has to deal with her own personal issues – a new, abusive, government-appointed guardian for one – before she too becomes an integral part of Blomkvist’s case. Continue reading

Top 10… Active Directors

I recently appeared on episode #164 of the Lambcast, along with Nick from the Cinematic Katzenjammer, Pat from 100 Years of Movies and Kristen from Journeys in Classic Film. Our chosen topic of discussion was our top five active directors, and provoked some interesting thoughts including why none of us like Terrence Malick. I recommend listening to the episode, if only to hear us ruthlessly mock Nick for his first-time presenting skills, but the show also inspired me to expand upon my list for this week’s Top 10.

So today, here is my list of Top 10 Active Directors. My choices are generally based on two things: the director’s recent body of work, and their upcoming work or last film(s). This prevented me from putting, say, Steven Spielberg as no. 1 purely on the basis of Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan, because technically he is still working today, but in my opinion he peaked a good few years ago

Honourable mentions:

Fincher

This is a list for which there could potentially be dozens of honourable mentions, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to just a few. First up is David Fincher, who has yet to make a film I haven’t at least liked, if not really loved. The reason he hasn’t placed higher is that although I’m always eager to see his films, I’ve never actually made it into the cinemas to see them, and I’ve had the DVD of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo sat on my bookshelf for almost 6 months and still haven’t watched it. There’s no real reason for this other than finding the time to watch it with my girlfriend not around – there could be more rape scenes than she’d enjoy – but I feel my lack of excitement excludes him from the list. Next is Joss Whedon, whose Avengers Assemble was every bit as awesomely exhilarating as I’d hoped, and the trailer for Much Ado About Nothing looks decent too. Plus, the dude made Serenity, and has Avengers 2 on his slate. Other names I’d considered include Zack Snyder (who alas has had two unappealing flops for his most recent films, but Man of Steel looks promising), Martin Scorsese (I don’t deny he makes incredible films, but I don’t actually out-and-out love any of them as much as others seem to) and Sam Mendes (I loved Skyfall, Away We Go, American Beauty and Road to Perdition, but I don’t think he has any films in the works). The likes of Andrew Stanton, Danny Boyle, Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron, Adam McKay, James Gunn and Gore Verbinski can be considered as honourable mentions for the honourable mentions list. Continue reading

Top 5… Directors For The New Star Wars Films

As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Disney recently bought LucasFilm, and are currently planning on releasing the next trilogy of Star Wars films, starting in 2015 (which is looking like a pretty damn good year for movies so far, what with Avengers 2 and the Justice League movie). Currently nothing has been set in stone other than a frankly ridiculous amount of rumours over cast and crew, so I’m going to throw my hat into the already over-hatted ring as to whom I believe would make a decent director for what proves to be one of the most eagerly, yet cautiously, anticipated films of the next few years. As I like to do sometimes, I’ve made two lists, one of a safe pair of hands to kick off the trilogy, and another list of film-makers who could add an interesting spin on the series that I’d quite like to see.
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Seven

A buddy cop movie with a seasoned old hand so close to retirement they’re already scraping his name off the door and his hotshot, firebrand young replacement, this couldn’t be further from another Lethal Weapon. Yes, one’s a family man and the other’s a loner, one is prone to anger and the other a methodical, careful detective clearly too old for this shit, but where Richard Donner’s 80’s staple is an entertaining, action-packed romp, this is something much darker.After a disturbingly evocative opening credits sequence enriched with depth and meaning on repeated viewings, we meet Morgan Freeman’s detective Somerset, picking up his last case, a sickeningly masterful serial killer with a penchant for the seven deadly sins, the same day as Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills arrives to replace him. That’s as much setup as there is, as we follow the mismatched detectives from crime scene to crime scene, via their headquarters and areas of research, with Somerset whiling a night away poring over books in the library, whilst Mills take a brief glance at the Cliff notes.

The script is dotted with well balanced moments of humour – Somerset having dinner with Mills and his wife Tracey (Gwyneth Paltrow) – and some deep black humour: “this guy’s sat in his own piss and shit; if he wasn’t dead he’d’ve stood up by now,” plus R. Lee Ermey’s belligerent, furious Police Captain (“This is not even my desk” is one of my favourite film quotes, ever).

Crucially, we see none of the killer’s murders onscreen, merely their gruesome aftermaths. It’s not as gory as you might remember, but it evokes imagery and feelings that some may find disturbing, not least what happens to Leland Orser’s character, who probably has the worst memories of those who survive. It could be argues that this is a precursor to the Saw franchise, punishing those that seem to deserve it in creative, torturous ways, but at least here we are saved the nightmarish spectacles of witnessing the deaths.

At times the film feels a bit predictable, like a police procedural itself, but whenever this is about to happen the plot shifts direction, taking an unexpected twist to shake things up again. The colour palette of muted greys and browns, interspersed with deep reds amongst the incessant torrential downpour of the nameless city only adds to the feelings of despair.

There’s small roles for John C. McGinley and Richard Schiff in there as well, a nice surprise for me in the opening credits, but unfortunately at times the acting, especially Pitt during the final scenes, leaves something to be desired. The ending has become the stuff of legend, but I won’t reveal it just in case, save that Pitt’s gurning and crying are a bit over the top and take you out of the scene. This is another one of those films where knowing your actors may ruin the film too, as recognising a voice could cause annoyances later on, but not too badly.

Overall this is director David Fincher’s defining film (better than Fight Club in my opinion, though it’s been a while). The gritty tone is perfectly realised through every medium possible, the plot is gripping, the twists hold up and, though far from an enjoyable experience, it remains worthwhile.

Choose film 10/10

Zodiac

Amidst the 4th of July celebrations in California in 1969, two young romantics drive out to a secluded spot the locals refer to as Lover’s Lane. The mood is of anticipation; anything could happen as the other kids drive away, our lovestruck pair left alone. There’s a spark of romance, playful glances, touches, the gentle ribbing of one another as they become closer. And then they’re shot in cold blood and left for dead with no word of explanation by an unseen killer. This murder, along with the many that follow it, dramatically changes the lives of many people, but our focus here is a select three; Mark Ruffalo’s cop, Robert Downey Jr’s journalist and Jake Gyllenhall’s cartoonist, as they each set out to catch the killer. Their motives are different – Ruffalo’s David Toschi wants justice, RDJ’s Paul Avery is out to further his career and Gyllenhall’s Robert Graysmith is obsessed with the puzzles the killer sends to the local papers, but all three will suffer in terms of careers, personal lives and sanity at the hands of this killer.
Based on the real life Zodiac killer (the influence of the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry, here namechecked when Toschi can’t sit through a showing), the case remained unsolved when the lead suspect died some years ago, and it’s this sense of inconclusiveness that runs throughout the film – you know there will not be a satisfactory ending. Plaudits should be laden for the realism of the film – not since All the President’s Men has so much paperwork been completed – but unfortunately the dreary, depressing side of catching a killer rubs begins to rub off onto the film during its overlong running time. Director David Fincher (Benjamin Button, Seven) is usually so adept at keeping interest, even when Morgan Freeman went to a library, but here not even a cast including Elias Koteas, Philip Baker Hall, Brian Cox, Anthony Edwards, John Carroll Lynch, Adam Goldberg and Clea Duvall can raise this above tedium. There’s a good film in here somewhere, and a good edit could bring it out. More Downey Jr. and Brian Cox couldn’t hurt though, they’re the best parts of the film and are criminally underused.

Choose life 7/10

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

 Benjamin Button is stuck in the shadow of Forrest Gump, a film that has cornered the market on tales of the highlights of a man’s life, and how the world’s history has at times affected it. Button does not do much for itself to help this matter, mirroring Gump on many factors, such as a stint on a boat, involvement in a military conflict, a long lost love. The main difference, and it is one that should have separated Button far more than it did, is that the main character is born an old man, and grows progressively younger, the curious case from the title. Being in the title of the film would lead you to believe that it is this case that the tale would be about, yet it is retained to simply being a plot device, driving the plot rather than being the centre of it. Also, the characters lack of interest in Button’s extraordinary affliction annoyed me intensely, as did the lack of any real explanation as to how such a condition could arise.

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