Friday, March 6, 2015

Ranking David Fincher's Films

10. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The big stain on Fincher's filmography, Dragon Tattoo is a film so tedious and lifeless, it's hard to believe David Fincher directed it. The cinematography is slick and the editing is spotless, but there's none of Fincher's nihilistic, often satirical, personality and the compulsive obsessions towards detail that makes his works tick. The majority of the film are a run through the motions of a poorly-written adaptation of poorly-written trash. And that could be Fincher's biggest mistake. Choosing to helm a story so thematically unfocused and hollow. Trent Reznor's soundtrack is definitely something worth salvaging, however. It's pretty fucking brilliant.

9. Alien 3

More the studio's fault than Fincher. 20th Century Fox brought him late into the game as well as botching the film's post-production without his say. Alien 3 is, what most would argue, the film that drove Fincher to become the independent perfectionist he is now. It's not as great as Fincher's biggest fans say it is, but it's not as horrendous as some diehard fans of the trilogy make it out to be either. The story progresses at a clunky pace. Events often leading to another with too little coherence and build-up, but there are truly some powerful moments in the film. Sigourney Weaver's performance is genuinely great and Fincher's direction is kinetic and exciting.

8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I would have loved this film as a giant mood piece if Benjamin Button wasn't such an unremarkable  character whose phenomenon of aging backwards is so completely meaningless and trite that Fincher's impressive CG work on Brad Pitt only seems to function only as a display of the director's talents. The lover interest Daisy, played Cate Blanchett, would have made a far more compelling lead as her passion to become a dancer and to stay with Benjamin Button mirrors Fincher's best characters and holds a lovely blossom of sentiment. It's a shame to say the story adds up to a whole lot of nothing, because the set designs are gorgeous and the film is scattered with beautiful set pieces.

7. The Game

Featuring some of Fincher's best camerawork and a potent performance from Michael Douglas, The Game is yet another one of Fincher's work stunted by the script, specifically the contrived ending. It's still enjoyable, don't get me wrong, but when that ending comes around, it turns a suspenseful taut thriller into an almost baffling joke. Are we really supposed to believe that something like that could change Michael Douglas's character? It's void of the same theatrical exuberance that made the lurid twists in Se7en and Fight Club ingenious, only bringing out a big "what the fuck?!". It's like a giant pretty-looking, if not, still mildly entertaining Twilight Zone episode that's just horribly miscalculated.

6. Panic Room

Panic Room is one of the best home invasion movies. The paper-thin story is brings nil to table, but it works perfectly as the Friday Night movie Fincher intended it to be. The movie is bloated and the camerawork is indulgent, but that's what it makes it so fun. The editing and composition are tightly composed, chocked full of fantastic subtle CGI tricks as well as the not-so-subtle but still wickedly impressive one-track shot of the entire house using both real and digital camera movement. Panic Room is Fincher flaunting his style for a tense 2 hour game of cat and mouse, proving that he's one of the modern master aestheticians in cinema.

5. Gone Girl

A cynical "fuck-you" letter dressed as trashy thriller that's still fun on multiple rewatches. Fincher's gleefully manic direction and author Gillian Flynn's hateful, but spear-sharp dialogue, craft a roller coast ride of a story from, what would otherwise be, a preposterous stupid plot. Really though, the best thing is actually neither Fincher or Gillian Flynn in this film, but Ben Affleck's tongue-in-cheek performance as a ditzy douche bag of a husband and Rosamund Pike's ever so brilliant performance as a bat-shit crazy psychopath. It's the trashiest of trash and the fun is sky-high.

4. Seven

This film isn't meant to be taken as a meditation of how we can better fix society. It's a giant bleak reminder of how shitty the world it, but also a delicate testament of learning to accept the horrors and living life without worldly attachment. It's a theme shrewdly executed by pitting eager detective Mills, played by Brad Pitt, and the retired and desensitized Detective Somerset. The chemistry is fascinating.  Mill's is blindly impulsive and optimistic, Somerset, thinking he has seen it all, only tries to persuade Mills with a more realistic perspective.

To say that the atmosphere is simply chilling is an "understatement". It is merciless and oppressive, never in a manipulative manner, but as a honest plea. Every murder is shocking, but revealed slowly; the punches are deliberate and build upon each other brilliantly to a horrifying climax. Seven is a masterful achievement.

3. The Social Network

This isn't a tale about money being the root of evil. We never see Zuckerberg fall down the rabbithole of sex, partying and drugs; he doesn't seem to give two shits about fame. Instead, we see young adult angst in its purest form. Fincher crafts his loneliness and desperation for attention so keenly; leaking his pain slowly a bit more and more each time. It makes you wonder why we don't see more character pieces that trust the audience as much as this film does.

And so, even though it isn't one of his inflexible thrillers, Social Network just might be Fincher's most chilling film. Desperate to make something out of his "loserism", Zuckerberg keeps trying to top himself and top himself until he loses the only friend who ever went out his way for him. The kicker is how much we're just like Zuckerberg, even if we're afraid to admit it. With the film ending on Zuckerberg hopelessly waiting for his ex-girlfriend to accept his friend request, Fincher is staring us right in the eyes.

2. Fight Club

You can pick at it all you want, but every time I watch Fight Club, the experience is giddy as it is harrowing. I love how it works as an exaggerated cautionary satire against counter-culture.  I love genuine the romantic relationship is. I love how it nails that inner-Tyler Durden instead of society, teetering on the edge of breaking out. What else can I say? The cinematography and editing are immaculate. The message is clear-cut and loud. Really, one statement encapsulates my admiration for this work: it is a fun, fun, fun movie.

1. Zodiac

How fitting for David Fincher to direct this overlooked masterpiece. I mean, what other director  could have encapsulated the madman journalistic  obsessions of those caught up with the unresolved murders of an impulsive killer. Unlike Fincher's other crimes stories (and generally most crime stories at that), Zodiac is not mounting nail-biting tension that spirals into a heart-pulsing climax. It's a tale of dead ends and threads that lead to nowhere; a tale that sputters and runs out of gas by the end. But that's the beauty of it. Fincher delves every tiny intricate detail of the case with so much vigorous anxious intent and honest factuality, that those watching are too reeled into a crazy search for the culprit. The nail-biting comes as a result of our own eagerness to piece out the clues; our heart pulses with the false anticipation that each new lead could finally lead somewhere. Fincher is scattering crumbs around a maze with no exit and luring us down the rabbit hole. By the end of the two and a half hours, most would have given up by now, confused but fascinated by why the good-hearted once boyscout (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is still chasing and chasing and chasing that he doesn't even seem fazed by the loss of his family.

The aesthetics of Zodiac are so good, they're almost unreal. Rarely do films mirror the 60s - 70s so perfectly like Fincher does here. The set design, the costume designs, the props, the music... the look and the feel of this movie shouldn't be a Hollywood production. Nah, I swear to God that Fincher travelled back in time to make this film. That's how fucking amazing the illusive setting is.

This is every quirk and trait that makes Fincher "Fincher". This is what obsession does. It sucks you dry and no movie better illustrates that.

(Note: I put Zodiac number three on my 2007 list. When I get around to updating my movie list, it's bumping up to the number one spot)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Fuck Valentine's Day. 

What’s the point? To remind those in love that they’re in love? To give that little push of motivation to the guys or gals wanting to ask someone out to just do it? Or is it really just to remind all the lonely people, like me, that we’re forever alone?

Anyway, I planned a romantic movie night (of, you know, actual romantic films like Donnie Darko, Once, The Fountain, Upstream Color and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and a friend of mine whined saying we should watch a bunch of Nicholas Sparks films instead. Long story short, she probably won’t be coming to the movie night.

Have I expressed my distaste for Nicholas Spark’s works? Stuff like The Notebook and Safe Haven only feed into this harmful trend of fetishizing romance. Instead of these “romantic” stories ever having genuine character arcs where both characters are inherently, they ride off a superficial theatrical arc instead where none of the problems come internally but externally.

“Grr, it’s not our fault that we can’t be together! It’s society’s fault!”

It’s not that these romantic stories can’t work. In the right hands, Romeo and Juliet is a pretty damn powerful story because regardless of society tearing the two apart, Shakespeare makes it clear that their lustful feelings towards one another resulted in haste, instantaneous decisions that hinder them from escaping the external grasps.

It works in Kemonozume because it’s style over substance and it works off the fact that a lot of what makes fiction so engaging is because it provides a form of escapism. Realism isn’t the problem I have with a lot of romance stories. It’s the fact that there’s a lack of acknowledgment that the story they’re telling is pure escapism. It’s too self-serious and dresses itself as something compelling that could actually exist in real life.

Love in a story should serve a bigger purpose with intrinsic value. It seems with garbage like 50 Shades of Grey that love has been dulled down to visceral trite. It’s kind of a shame when love can open up and tackle so many questions in the real world. It even works as a healing process. As said by Chuck Palhaniuk, who’s a far more compelling romantic than Nicholas Sparks, “The damaged love the damaged”

Now excuse while I watch Donnie Darko make the decision to save the universe because of his love for Gretchen Ross.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

2015 Winter Season Blows - Part 1

Death Parade Episodes 1 - 3

Death Parade's first episode was, and is still, the only episode I loved from the winter season. (I'm behind on Yuri Bear Storm and Durarara, but still, shows you how great this season's been for me). The first episode was entertaining in how chilling and grand it played on a thematic level, but also compelling in how morally ambiguous and almost satirical it worked metaphorically. I love anything that leaves things open for interpretation. First episode, we see the consequences of a wife and a husband. The wife goes to Hell after playing darts, the husband goes to Heaven. Why? Well, the series never really gives that out and that's what makes it pretty damn cool. On a surface level, it seems the husband has some harsh pent up feelings of anger towards his wife, but it also seems these feelings were brought on by the wife who seemed to have an affair. Past consequences are never disclosed, but left for the audience to infer and make their own judgments. Plus, what the Hell is "The Void". What exactly is the dart game supposed to represent? All these interesting things to ponder about and then comes the second episode.

It's irritating in the same way some fans disregard Richard Kelly's original cut of Donnie Darko. It gives out a bit more information than it should and takes away some of the ambiguity. Death Parade's second episode is far worse than that. It walks the audience through the first episode clearing up most of the confusion one would have and revealing the wife and husband's situation more clearly. Boo! I hopped aboard this series thinking shit wouldn't be so literal and on the nose. Yeah, it's still a bit ambiguous, but think if Stanley Kubrick winked at the audience, telling us that 2001: Space Odyssey is suppose to be abstract. Death Parade's only unclear because it tells us so.

Fortunately, the third episode is slightly more promising since the series goes back to toying with death and the unexpected again. It's just too bad the series can't be more patient. It's stakes are too high and there isn't enough theatrical buildup for much of it at all. It's like the dude who wants to catch the pesky mice in his house. Too eager to catch them that he doesn't even think of laying out his traps in meticulous fashion. Ah well, at least the cinematography is still gorgeous.

Yatterman Episodes 1 - 2

Goddamn, talk about a tonally inconsistent shitstorm. Flawfinder saying this series makes Angel Beats awful combination of humor and drama look like Haibane Renmei isn't too bad of a comparison. 

The humor itself isn't funny at all. It's supposed to be a throw-back to past times? But who cares? I get - or at least I think I get - that the female lead putting on a big silly bravado is a facade for the pain she hides underneath, but the execution fails to sell it. Even though I can sort of appreciate what the series may want to say on a dramatic level (as run-of-the-mill it is), it's too bombastic and gag-heavy on a thematic level for anything to work. Plus, the side characters are fucking lame.

Rolling Girls Episodes 2 - 3

What's there to really say? All my fears of Rolling Girls came true, once the wacky madcap bullshit subsided, the film had nothing to ride on. This is why you don't treat "crazy shit" as its own element. You have to have something behind it because, damn, the cast of this show is so mind-numbingly lifeless, the direction is wish-washy and there's nothing viscerally exciting about the visuals anymore.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Short First Impressions: Rolling Girls Episode 1 and 2 - So What's the Point?

Rolling Girls is big and wild. The gorgeous visuals pulse with manic energy. It's crazy, it's mad and its scope is huge. Yet, with so much happening on a visceral level, how is it that, really, nothing happens at all?

For the introductory episodes, Rolling Girls doesn't set anything up that's worthwhile. I understand what the show has set up, but I don't understand what the PURPOSE of it all is. The world exploration isn't so much an exploration. Rather, it's jerked along by directionless loosely-strung vignettes. Scenes bounce to scenes without much impact because a narrative is never fleshed out to drive it.

This lack of a core identity leads to some frustrating tonal shifts. The dramatic developments are bad enough as is because they sort of "come and go" with the mistaken notion that these sporadic moments work to characterize the girls rather than actually establishing motivations and personality. Worse, Rolling Girls treats these dramatic developments as a separate trait from its quirky craziness resulting in a muddled "oil in water" mess of a definitive purpose. They feel like a completely different story. One that doesn't belong with all the colorful explosions and the flashy vibrant fights. 

A lot of people compare Rolling Girls to FLCL and Kill la Kill, which is a big disservice to two fantastic shows that set up direction and a purpose right from the get go. Every scene transitions with narrative propulsion and impact(the actual merits of a scene are debatable and of a completely different matter). Sure, Rolling Girls is crazy in the sense that so many bombastic scenarios are thrown out into the open, but it works solely as an aesthetic and one that's neither clever or unique. FLCL and Kill la Kill's craziness are motivated and thoughtful. Ideas are thrown at the walls and themes are addressed and tackled with  compelling characters and dramatic correnspondence. 

Ultimately, what makes FLCL and Kill la Kill work is because they have a voice. Rolling Girls does not.

Additional Updates:

Though college and work have seriously cut down my free time, I'd be lying with you if I said laziness didn't factor into my recent lack of posts. I got a bunch of stuff started up that never went anywhere and the only thing to blame is my lack of self-motivation. So with the old year gone and the new year kicking in, my resolution is to get back to posting regularly, at least once every two weeks.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso is a Poorly Directed Anime

Really loving Bahamut this season, but if there's honestly one anime that's really been running through my mind the most, it's KimiUso (or Your Lie in April). I know while I watched the series, that I always felt uncomfortable and perturbed by what I thought the series conveyed. Then I noticed that many manga readers, fans who were familiar and initially fine with the story, stating that, they too, were also feeling conflicted with the adaptation. I wanted to dig into why this was and so, with my animu blogger and buddy, Frog-kun, we wrote an editorial on the matter that y'all should all read over here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Grisaia's Cinematography vs. Amagi's

Real surprised that people are praising Grisaia for the beautiful cinematography. If anything, it's the worst looking first episode I've seen so far. Even Terraformars' shoddy cinematography just struck me as complete laziness and lacking any basic knowledge of how a shot works. Here, the creators obviously have some understanding of cinematography from a surface level, they just don't how it all connects on a deeper level.

I hope any readers won't find this article too "nit-pick-y", since most pay heed to the writing and the general surface level of direction. However, for someone who's passionate about the visual arts, I want to argue that, as stated in an answer, cinematography is similar to the prose to a book. You can have something interesting to say, but it means jack shit if you don't know how to say it.

Cinema is a language and, like any language, it's not something you understand overnight. I'm no Stanley Kubrick or David Fincher, but over the years I've been striving to learn everything about cinemaitc language so I can become like them. Over the years, I feel like I know enough to try to give you readers a taste of why this language means so much to me and why Grisaia's cinematic language is only of a beginner's.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gone Girl - Movie Review

Gone Girl is David Fincher's "Finchiest" film yet and the most fun he's had since his 1999, Fight Club. It's also much nastier than Fight Club. Sheer off all the nihilistic, cynical muck from that film and at its core you'll find that it's a well-meaning tale about one man's loneliness and his desperation to connect with other people. Gone Girl's core is black and shriveled. It's pure concentrated nastiness; the trashiest of trash. But, oh, is it glorious fun!