FINCHERFEST: Fight Club

27 09 2010

Fincher followed up disappointment with “The Game” by directing “Fight Club” in 1999, which would prove to be an iconic movie and cultural phenomenon.  While it didn’t do much business in theaters, it became a cult hit on video.  In today’s installment of Fincherfest, I’ll attempt to peg what has made it such a smashing success with fans for over a decade.

There are a multitude of ways to interpret “Fight Club,” and for precisely that reason, it is a great movie.  It can mean so many things to so many people; everyone gets something different out of it.  Heck, you can even see it through a Fascist light!  I’ve only seen it once, so there is a certain level of depth of the movie that I haven’t reached.

However, I don’t intend to bore anyone by reciting the plot or saying that the acting, directing, and writing is great.  That’s been common knowledge for over a decade now, and me saying that doesn’t really add anything to the movie.  The proof is in the celluloid (and now DVD and whatever other formats are out there).

I watched the movie a year ago after some residual curiosity from “Benjamin Button” compelled me to check out David Fincher’s violent side.  But before that, I had heard nothing but amazing things from the legions of male fans my age.  Sure enough, I wasn’t disappointed.  Although it still ranks behind “Button” for me, this is my favorite of Fincher’s early explorations to the darker side of human nature.

Here’s what I think has made it such an endearing classic for the younger generation: we have been so diligently trained to suppress all our impulsive emotions that eventually we want to explode.  Sometimes, our lives are so sheltered and so desensitized that sometimes we have the deep desire to feel some kind of emotion, even if it must be pain.  To quote Lady Antebellum, “I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all.”

“Fight Club” indulges that side of all teenage boys and budding men by going back to our primordial cavemen instincts.  We have to fight for what we want.  Kill or be killed.  The movie finds a sort of catharsis in violence, using it to express all the frustration men feel at the oppression of their natural tendencies.  So in a messed-up kind of way, the movie has served as a wake-up call to boys and men everywhere to reclaim their masculinity and reassert themselves.

There’s a perfect quote from Fincher himself that sums up the movie from my interpretation:

“We’re designed to be hunters and we’re in a society of shopping. There’s nothing to kill anymore, there’s nothing to fight, nothing to overcome, nothing to explore. In that societal emasculation this everyman [the narrator] is created.”





Oscar Moment: “The King’s Speech”

22 09 2010

Have we found a Best Picture winner with Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech?”

According to pundits, we have a certain nominee here.  It won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, which coupled with the movie’s resounding critical reception could make it quite a force for Hollywood’s top prize.  If it can enter mainstream consciousness, then it’s going to be pretty hard to beat.

I talked about how “Never Let Me Go” had the perfect Oscar formula three weeks ago, but things have changed now and this has the new best road to success.  The Academy has largely begun to ally itself with British tastes, and all signs point to this being the choice movie from our English allies.

“The King’s Speech” follows King George VI (Colin Firth) as he leads his country into World War II.  The royal family is always popular with voters; the past 15 years have seen Best Picture nominees “The Queen” and “Elizabeth,” and winner “Shakespeare in Love” with a cameo by Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I.

But there’s more to the movie than just the royal blood line.  There’s also an underdog story as George has no confidence in his ability to lead, mainly because of his stuttering and stammering.  The “speech” in the title does not refer to a long oration but rather George’s inability to be eloquent.  He hires an Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to help him with his issue, which becomes more and more pressing as Hitler becomes a bigger threat to the country by the minute.  According to a blurb from Cinematical, the movie is “not too heavy, it’s got its funny/kooky moments, and it ends on an inspirational note.”

After the win at Toronto, it’s riding a sort of front-runner status (although “The Social Network” managed to steal some thunder after many rave reviews popped up).  The People’s Choice Award certainly correlates more to the Oscars than the Venetian Golden Lion.  They have picked three Best Picture winners – “Slumdog Millionaire,” “American Beauty,” and “Chariots of Fire” – and plenty more nominees including “Precious,” “Life is Beautiful,” and “Shine.”  The award hasn’t been entirely effective in predicting Academy tastes, but it’s been very close in recent years.  “The King’s Speech” has to be considered a big contender, though, by virtue of winning.

On a different note, Kris Tapley of In Contention offered some wise words as to why being the movie on top at the moment may not be so good:

After coming out strong with the of-the-moment ‘Up in the Air’ last season, taking the same Telluride-Toronto crowd-pleasing path, their film slowly boiled down to an also ran and even came up short in the one category it seemed assured going into the Academy Awards … It’s easy to peak early in an Oscar season.  It takes tactical endurance to really come out on the other side with something to show for yourself and ‘The King’s Speech’ is burning fuel fast and early.

So there’s a chance that “The King’s Speech” has had its moment in the sun.  But there’s certainly nothing wrong with being at the top of the list for the moment, and many have speculated that Best Picture may come down to “old school Academy play versus a Gen-Y instant classic.”  I’d say given the fact that it’s a light drama with an acceptable amount of bait, it’s a pretty good bet for Best Picture and thus Best Director.

(No matter what happens, it’s a British period piece, and that guarantees at least Best Costume Design and Best Production Design at the very least.)

The actors are also going to be a big selling point for the movie.  Firth is coming straight off his first Oscar nomination last year for “A Single Man,” and people are beginning to take him very seriously as an actor.  As I said last year, “he is a likable actor, never demanding much attention, and making missteps in only the quietest of fashions.  Firth is the kind of actor the Academy would want to give the golden statue to, and he’s at a prime point in his career to get it.

Geoffrey Rush could easily find himself in the Best Supporting Actor race.  With no clear front-runner, he could easily charge to the front despite having won before back in 1996.  The fact that he’s already been awarded an Oscar should only be a factor when choosing the winner; the effect should be minimal on his nomination.  And Helena Bonham Carter, as George’s wife, should be able to squeeze out a nomination as well.  While she’s taken on some kooky roles since her last nomination in 1997 for “The Wings of the Dove,” a return to Academy fare could find her back in their favor once more.

It’s easy to call “The King’s Speech” a leader now as it rides high on the buzz of film festival success.  But let’s not forget that it has to ride out a full-scale release and the precursor season before it can climb the stage at the Kodak Theater in February.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing





REVIEW: Alice in Wonderland

21 03 2010

No matter your opinion on director Tim Burton, it can’t be denied that the man has some true creativity.  This spark is what gained him notoriety in the late ’80s and early ’90s with hits like “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”  Recently, however, Burton has seemed to have found that creativity isn’t always synonymous with originality, and has mainly spent the past five years retooling other people’s work.

But while Burton puts his own unique spin on these projects, I have felt that each of them has lost a very distinct part of their original identity.  With his remake of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the movie lost most of its original charm and fun.  His film adaptation of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” dropped a sizable portion of Stephen Sondheim’s songs, and the story lost a great deal of character development.

Unfortunately, “Alice in Wonderland” falls into the same pattern.  This time, Burton has stripped the movie of a lot of its sense.  Granted, this is a fairly non-sensical story, so this isn’t the worst movie to receive this treatment.  But Burton makes it lose even the most basic coherency, and no movie can be excused for that.

It’s hard to describe what exactly Burton’s take on “Alice in Wonderland” actually is.  It is not a remake of the Disney animated classic like I assumed it would be.  But it is not any sort of sequel, prequel, revamping, or modernizing of anything we have ever seen.  This version is just off in its own little world, reminding us of our favorite characters but never giving us any reason to fall in love with them again.

The story follows Alice (Mia Wasikowska) at the age of 19, once again drawn by the white rabbit into the magical world where the impossible is very possible.  The land is now being ruled by the ruthless Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), whose reign of terror is enforced by the fearsome Jabberwocky.  Alice becomes public enemy #1 whenever it is foreseen that she will slay the beast.  To ensure that her head stays on her shoulders, Alice enlists the help of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) along with a few other oddballs including the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp).

Burton said that his intention was to “try and make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events” because he never felt an emotional connection between the characters in the original.  In this respect, his version is an utter disaster.  I saw exactly the opposite of what he intended: Alice wandering from place to place with absolutely no plot building.

On the acting side of things, this is obviously Mia Wasikowska’s big moment, and this movie is obviously going to get her noticed.  I’m sure this is only the beginning of many movies that we see this young talent in.  As for the old pros, the only person that seems to be having any fun is Helena Bonham Carter.  She makes the character her own, and it works.  Not to mention, she made me chuckle every time she spat out the Red Queen’s trademark phrase “off with her head!”  Johnny Depp can’t seem to make any more sense out of the Mad Hatter than we can, and in Anne Hathaway’s brief moments on screen, she seems to be fascinated only with twirling around the set like a ballerina.

In fact, the only thing about “Alice in Wonderland” that was executed exceptionally well was the mischievous Cheshire Cat, voiced by British comedian Stephen Fry.  Striking the perfect balance between cute and dastardly, I found myself consistently begging for the blue smoke to materialize into the devilish kitty.  But most of my wishing was not rewarded, much like my wishing for the movie to become something other than a mess.  However, it is a mess that is distinctly Tim Burton – whether that’s good or not is up to you.  C /





What To Look Forward To in … March 2010

12 02 2010

There’s more to March than just the Oscars.  Finally, March arrives and we can stop dwelling on 2009.  In my opinion, March is usually a pretty decent movie month.  This year’s crop looks especially promising with new movies from Tim Burton, Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”).

March 5

After almost 3 months, “Avatar” will have to cede those illustrious 3-D and IMAX screens to Tim Burton’s twist on “Alice in Wonderland.”  The titular character is played by relative newcomer Mia Wasikowsa, who will look quite a bit older than the Alice you remember from Disney’s 1951 animated classic.  If that’s not a big enough draw for you, surely Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (who will hopefully channel more of his glorious Jack Sparrow than his Jacko-esque Willy Wonka) will suffice.  No?  How about Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts?  Or Anne Hathaway as the White Queen?  Perhaps Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar?  No doubt about it, this is one exciting cast, and I’m sure Tim Burton won’t have any problem distinguishing himself from the numerous “Alice in Wonderland” rip-offs that have sprouted over the past few years.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” is directed by Antoine Fuqua, helmer of “Training Day,” which was enough to get me interested.  However, it really looks to be little more than a mash-up of every cop movie ever made.  But hey, that may be your thing, which would make this your potpourri.

March 12

I’m excited for “Green Zone,” which looks to be a smart political thriller. See my previous post at the release of the trailer for more info.

On the indie side of things, Noah Baumbach looks to return to Oscar form after “Margot at the Wedding” underwhelmed with “Greenberg.”  The movie stars Ben Stiller as Greenberg, the grouchy misanthrope who finds a reason to be pessimistic about everything.  However, a special woman comes along and begins to melt his heart.  I’m looking forward to a double-edged performance from Stiller, one that can show off his dramatic chops but also give us plenty of hearty laughs.

Seth Rogen’s four roommates in “Knocked Up” were equally as funny as he was. Each of them have slowly gotten their “moment”: Jonah Hill in “Superbad,” Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Now, it could be Jay Baruchel’s turn. “She’s Out of My League” pits him similar situation: the uncomely guy getting the smoking hot babe. Hopefully Paramount gives this the push it deserves, maybe making Baruchel a breakout comedic star of 2010.

Could “Remember Me” get Robert Pattinson the Razzie for Worst Actor? After narrowly missing the cut for his two performances as Edward Cullen, this could finally be the one to get him the kind of awards attention he deserves.

Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor. What on earth is he doing in “Our Family Wedding?” For that matter, America Ferrera has won SAG and Golden Globe awards, and Carlos Mencia was once actually funny! This looks not only insufferable but almost racist. Plus, didn’t I see this movie in 2005 when it was called “Guess Who?”

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

6 08 2009

I don’t even know why I’m bothering to write a review for the latest installment in the “Harry Potter” franchise this late in the game.  The movie opened 4 weeks ago, and by this point, you have either seen it or you haven’t.  If you love the books like me, you rush out and see it the first day or even at midnight.  If you don’t dig the books or the movies, you aren’t going to see it because the movies don’t allow time to stragglers to catch up.  What I will say about “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is that it is one of the best in the series.  The key element to its recovery from the horrifying previous film is an expertly crafted script.  Director David Yates returns and seems to find his stride this time.  His “Potter” is darker than we have ever seen it, and it works remarkably well.

Usually I give a plot summary in the second paragraph, but I think only a brief one is called for here.   The villainous Lord Voldemort is back, and tensions are high in the wizarding world.  But the tension is  higher with Harry and his pals are finding the pain and beauty of teenage crushes.

I love the books, but I am not one of those purists that is furious when they omit subplots.  I think that this is one of the best adaptations from book to movie.  However, I was intrigued by the shift in focus.  Rowling’s brilliant novel focuses more on Harry and Dumbledore trying to discover the dark secrets of how Tom Riddle came to be Voldemort by collecting memories from people who knew Tom.  The movie plays up the teen angst angle of the story, and I had no problem with that.  It gives a light, humorous side to balance out the bleak darkness of the rest of the story. Read the rest of this entry »