Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Films That I Saw: November 2016
What is there to say? I’ve been through some pretty bad years. The years growing up into my teens and deal with the bullshit that is middle school and high school. 9/11. Dropping out of college after five-six years of nothing to show for. Losing my youngest sister at 23 in 2009 that would be followed a year later with me going through a year-long depression. A couple of years later, I would check myself into a psychiatric hospital for a few days as I’m still paying off that debt. Those were some tough years as there’s been some good times and bad times but 2016. I know it’s a month away from being finished but I wish it was over now because this is pretty much the worst year I’ve been through. Not on a personal level but it’s been a fucking bummer considering what has been happening. Just as this month started off good when the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series after a long 100-year drought in what I think is one of the best baseball games I had ever seen. It goes into shit.
Now the future is more uncertain as it’s going to be in the hands of… there’s so many things I want to say. I want to say the most offensive thing that I can think of but it wouldn’t be enough to describe how much I’m not happy with the result of the Presidential election as my sister and her husband aren’t happy about it either. There’s longtime family friends of my parents who are supporters of this man as I’m no longer their friends and as far as I’m concerned. They can fuck off. As if that wasn’t bad enough, more fucking deaths happened in Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Fidel Castro, Florence Henderson, and just recently, the 70-plus people who are part of the Chapecoense football team from Brazil whose plane just crashed in Colombia. I’m also hearing things about the Dakota pipeline where protesters are being assaulted while a high school teacher told African-American students that the future president will send them back to Africa. Honestly, I don’t know what to say as this year is just fucking shit. I’ll leave it to John Oliver and everyone else to pretty much state the year that is 2016.
In the month of November, I saw a total of 36 films in 25 first-timers and 11 re-watches. Slightly down from last month but saw a damn good number of first-timers as the highlight of the month is my Blind Spot film in Roman Holiday. Here are the top 10 First-Timers that I saw for November 2016:
4. 45 Years
5. De Palma
6. The Getaway
7. Cop Car
8. Big Hero 6
10. The Good Dinosaur
This is What They Want
In the first of five documentary pieces of the 30 for 30 series that I’ve watched, the first part is about Jimmy Connors and the unexpected comeback he had at the 1991 U.S. Open where he reached the semifinals. It is a fascinating piece about one of the most popular and controversial figures in tennis who made the sport more accessible to the public as his performance at the 1991 U.S. Open was unexpected with the people rooting for him.
Muhammad and Larry
From Albert Maysles is another documentary of the 30 for 30 series as it is about the 1980 fight between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes where Ali came out retirement to fight Holmes. The footage shot by the Maysles brothers doesn’t just reveal Ali’s attempt to try and get back in the game but also the reality that was being faced as he was definitely past his prime. It is kind of a heartbreaking film to watch as Larry Holmes appeared in the film through old footage and new footage as someone that remains humble as he had some regrets about fighting a man he idolized as well as the fact that fight was made all because of money.
The Boy Next Door
I do like erotic thrillers but I think they were best made in the 1980s as this was quite tame and lacking in any substance. Sure, Jennifer Lopez looks good it was nice to see her in a sex scene despite not showing much compared to the other naked chick in the film. It’s just very formulaic and lacking any real kind of suspense as Ryan Guzman is just bad in this while John Corbett and Kristin Chenoweth are just wasted. It’s a bad movie and nothing that I would expect from someone like Rob Cohen who is just a bad director.
The 5th Wave
Another of those lame young-adult adaptations that has little to no substance as this film is no different with a few exception due to the performances of Chloe Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe. It’s about a series of catastrophic events in which teenagers find themselves having to fight aliens who have taken over planet Earth. Moretz’s character is someone who sees what is really happening as she goes on a journey to find her little brother as it has a twist that is quite obvious as it never holds up.
The third film that I saw from the 30 for 30 series is one of the best as it’s about the rivalry between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran for the welterweight world title. Yet, the film is more about the second fight in which it was a rematch with Duran as the champion as it is still quite controversial all because Duran quit the fight in the eighth round. The film features interviews with Leonard and Duran as well as supermodel Christie Brinkley who was a photographer during the fight and the training as well as Mike Tyson who gives his own views on those fights as well as why Duran quit.
The U Part 2
The sequel to the popular The U documentary focuses on the University of Miami rebuilding itself in the mid-1990s under the guidance of coach Butch Davis who would set a template for his replacement in Larry Coker who would bring the university a fifth national title in an undefeated season in 2001. Yet, a year later and another undefeated season that would lead to another shot at the national title would end on a bad call during overtime and the team goes into a freefall in many ways. Notably as it involves some scandal due to a booster as well as reveal some things that the NCAA did to the university which was really unfair.
Four Falls of Buffalo
In the early 90s, there was no team that was as good as the Buffalo Bills who would spend from 1990 to 1993 going to the Super Bowl four times but never win one. The fifth 30 for 30 doc that I saw is about that team and how special they are as they were a team that really played well but it is a shame they never got to win the Super Bowl. Still, that doesn’t take away anything they accomplished in those four years as well as play along with the fact that they were close in winning a Super Bowl.
Top 10 Re-Watches:
4. A propos de Nice
5. Charlie Wilson’s War
6. The Game
7. Panic Room
8. You Don’t Know Bo
9. The Beach
10. The Game Plan
Well, that is it for November as there isn’t much that is going to happen in December other than my final Blind Spot assignment for the year as well as the last Auteurs piece of the year on Sam Peckinpah. Along with some recent films and hopefully new ones, the list of what is coming next year will happen as well as some announcements on what I plan to do next year as I’m going to scale back a bit. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off….
© thevoid99 2016
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
2017 Blind Spot Series
With the year that is 2016 coming to a close (thank God) with one more film in the Blind Spot Series left for the year that will be Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot. The time has come to look into what is ahead for the next Blind Spot Series which has been something I've enjoyed as it gives me the chance to not only see films that I had never seen before. It also shows me all kind of different films and filmmakers as the choices for the 2017 series doesn't just reflect the many different genre of films that I wanted to see but also to shake things up. Some of which are based on filmmakers I've recently discovered or know very little about. Even as a lot of these films are old classics as it's something I want to rectify more and more over the years. Especially the films the pre-World War II era and everything else before the 1960s while I also made the decision not to choose films from the 21st Century. Having done two trilogies this year, I decide to just do one as a way to not overwhelm myself. Here are the 11 films and one trilogy of films that I will watch for 2017:
How Green Was My Valley
The Big Red One
A Brighter Summer Day
World on a Wire
The Lady Eve
& Pier Paolo Pasolini's Trilogy of Life (The Decameron - The Canterbury Tales - Arabian Nights)
© thevoid99 2016
Monday, November 28, 2016
Thirteen (2003 film)
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Hardwicke and Nikki Reed, Thirteen is the story of a thirteen-year old girl who befriends a bad girl in middle school as she is introduced to the world of chaos and self-destructive behavior as she would worry her mother. Loosely based on Reed‘s own experiences, the film is a coming-of-age film that explores a young girl‘s growing pains and her mother becoming frightened by her daughter‘s behavior. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed, Brady Corbet, Jeremy Sisto, Deborah Kara Unger, D.W. Moffett, Vanessa Hudgens, Kip Pardue, and Holly Hunter. Thirteen is a thrilling yet haunting film from Catherine Hardwicke.
The film follows the life of a thirteen-year old girl who goes from a sweet and caring honor student with a lot of promise who then befriends a popular bad girl as she becomes an unruly bad girl exploring sex, drugs, and alcohol much to the worry of recovering alcoholic mother. It is told in a very straightforward fashion as this young girl doesn’t just struggle with being in middle school but also the transition of growing out of an adolescent into becoming a teenager who would do wild things as she is introduced to all sorts of things by a girl who is also thirteen. The film’s screenplay by Catherine Hardwicke and Nikki Reed which is sort of based on the latter’s experiences as a young girl that is struggling to find herself in that period between childhood and adulthood as it is very confusing and volatile at times. For the protagonist Tracy Freeland (Evan Rachel Wood), she is a young woman that is full of innocence but there is something about her that is off and confused.
Notably as Tracy often feels slighted by her mother Melanie (Holly Hunter) who devotes time trying to work as a hairdresser as well as spend time with a recovering addict in Brady (Jeremy Sisto) whom Tracy isn’t fond of. When Tracy enters middle school as this epitome of goody two-shoes kind of girl, she is mocked by some of her classmates as she begs her mother to get trendy clothes to fit in. Once the popular bad girl Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed) takes notice of Tracy as well as see what Tracy does to fit in, Tracy becomes part of this clique of girls wearing racy clothing and do outrageous things. When Evie’s legal guardian Brooke (Deborah Kara Unger) goes away for a convention for a few weeks, Evie would temporarily live with Tracy, Melanie, and Tracy’s older brother Mason (Brady Corbet) for a while. Melanie reluctantly let Evie live with them as she becomes a positive maternal figure for Evie in some ways but she eventually would drive a wedge between Melanie and Tracy. The latter of which becomes more destructive and less caring as it makes everyone uncomfortable except for Evie.
Hardwicke’s direction is definitely stylized with its usage of hand-held cameras as well as create certain moods in the photography to help express the whirlwind of emotions that Tracy would go through. Shot on location in and around Los Angeles, California on 16mm film, Hardwicke would go for something that is intimate where she mainly uses a lot of close-ups as well as some medium shots to play into the family dynamic as well as the growing friendship between Tracy and Evie. While there are some wide shots, it also has this stylized approach to the way the camera moves such as the scenes of Tracy and Evie walking around Hollywood where Tracy gets really high and loses Evie who would be someplace else as Mason would make a chilling discovery of what Tracy has become. The direction also play into this air of recklessness into what Tracy and Evie would do such as the opening scene of how wild these girls are and it would return again as it shows how far Tracy has descended. By the time the film reaches its third act, the de-saturated look in the colors become less defined and moodier as it play into that descent but also some of the realities that even Melanie is unprepared for. Overall, Hardwicke creates a gripping yet visceral film about a thirteen-year-old girl trying to grow up too fast in the worst ways.
Cinematographer Elliot Davis does incredible work with the film‘s stylish photography with the usage of blue-colored filters as well as some grainy yet de-saturated look of some of the scenes set in the daytime and at night in the interior/exterior scenes. Editor Nancy Richardson does excellent work with the editing as it features a lot of stylish jump-cuts and dizzying fast cuts as it play into the craziness of what Tracy would go through as it is a highlight of the film. Production designer Carol Strober, with set decorator Donti Hurst and art director John B. Josselyn, does fantastic work with the look of the home the Freelands live in as well as some of the shops the characters go to.
Costume designer Cindy Evans does wonderful work with the costumes from the stylish clothes that Tracy and Evie would wear as well as some of the clothes that Melanie wears. Sound designer Frank Gaeta does superb work with the sound as it play into some of the chaotic moments that go on at the house and at some of the locations as well as some of the quieter moments in the film. The film’s music by Mark Mothersbaugh is amazing for its electronic-based score that features some playful melodies as it also has bits of rock and pop to play into the culture that Tracy and Evie are in while music supervisors Michelle Norrell and Amy Rosen provide a soundtrack that play into that world as it features music from Liz Phair, Clinic, Folk Implosion, MC 900 Ft. Jesus, the Like, Katy Rose, Kinnie Star and Carmen Rose, and Imperial Teen.
The casting by Jakki Fink, Shani Ginsberg, and Christina Sibul is great as it feature some notable small roles from Charles Duckworth as a teenage boy that Tracy likes in Javi, Jenicka Carey as a friend of Evie in Astrid, Cynthia Ettinger as a frequent customer of Melanie, Sarah Clarke as a family friend of Melanie, Kip Pardue as a neighbor named Luke that Evie would seduce, Vanessa Hudgens as a friend of Tracy who would be abandoned only to maintain her nice-girl persona, and D.W. Moffett as Tracy and Mason’s father who is startled by what happened to Tracy as he is unsure of what is happening. Deborah Kara Unger is terrific as Evie’s guardian Brooke who gives Evie a home and often lets her do what she wants while having a scary moment during the film’s climax as it relates to Tracy’s behavior. Jeremy Sisto is superb as Melanie’s boyfriend Brady as a recovering addict who is trying to redeem himself despite being disliked by Tracy as he becomes aware of the bad influence Evie has become.
Brady Corbet is excellent as Mason as Tracy’s older brother who has a thing for Evie but eventually becomes overwhelmed as he realizes how bad of an influence she’s become. Nikki Reed is amazing as Evie Zamora as a troubled teenager who is popular as she is quite wild and can do a lot of things as she introduces Tracy to a lot of things while being a true friend of sorts where she goes to Melanie in needing a positive maternal figure. Holly Hunter is brilliant as Melanie Freeland as a woman that is struggling to raise two kids as she is unaware of what her daughter is going through as she then becomes scared of what Tracy is becoming as she has a hard time about all that is happening. Finally, there’s Evan Rachel Wood in a phenomenal performance as Tracy Freeland as a thirteen-year old girl who goes from sweet and innocent to being unruly and unpredictable as it’s a wild and scary performance from Wood who displays all of the manic energy and terror of being a teenager.
Thirteen is a spectacular film from Catherine Hardwicke that features incredible performances from Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed, and Holly Hunter. Along with an excellent supporting cast, dazzling visuals, and a fantastic music score and soundtrack. It’s a film that is quite intense as a coming-of-age drama where it does have elements that feel very real but also provide some hope about how a parent handle the growing pains of a child. In the end, Thirteen is a tremendous film from Catherine Hardwicke.
Catherine Hardwicke Films: (Lords of Dogtown) - (The Nativity Story) - (Twilight (2008 film)) - (Red Riding Hood (2011 film)) - (Plush) - (Miss You Already)
© thevoid99 2016
Sunday, November 27, 2016
The Auteurs #61: David Fincher
One of the premier directors working in Hollywood, David Fincher is a filmmaker that doesn’t play by the rules despite the fact that many of his films are by many prominent film studios in Hollywood. While a lot of his work feature amazing technical feats, much of his body of work dabble into dark subject matters with elements of suspense and terror. Often tagged as being difficult for his methods as well as struggling to live up to many expectations that Hollywood craves for. Fincher is one of the few in the Hollywood system that maintains a level of control as well as be independent in a money-driven industry.
Born on August 28, 1962 in Denver Colorado, David Andrew Leo Fincher was the son of journalist Howard Kelly “Jack” Fincher and mental health nurse Clare Mae Boettecher. Fincher’s father was an editor for Life magazine as he moved the family to San Anselmo, California two years after David’s birth where one of the Finchers’ new neighbor was an aspiring filmmaker in George Lucas. At the age of eight-years old, Fincher received his first 8mm camera as he had just seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which was a monumental moment for the young boy. It was in this moment that Fincher’s interest in film would have him stage plays in high school while working for local TV news stations as a production assistant.
In 1983 while working for Industrial Light and Magic as an assistant cameraman and matte photographer for such films as Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Fincher met another aspiring filmmaker in Dominic Sena as well as music video director Nigel Dick where they would create a production company with video director Greg Gold and producers Steve Golin and Sigurjon Sighvatsson called Propaganda Films. The company would be an outlet for filmmakers in the world of music videos and commercials to hone their craft as filmmakers. Fincher, Sena, and Dick would be among those who would use Propaganda as a training tool as well as other filmmakers such Alex Proyas, Michael Bay, Michel Gondry, Stephane Sednaoui, Spike Jonze, Gore Verbinski, Zack Snyder, and many others until it formally closed in 2002 by the time most of these filmmakers were making films.
From 1983 to 1985, Fincher spend much of his time directing commercials before finally getting to chance with the then-popular 80s pop-rock artist Rick Springfield for a series of music videos that were quite popular in the age of MTV. In 1986, Fincher scored his first real hit directing the video for the Jermaine Stewart song We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off as it helped the song become a major hit. The video would have Fincher work with many acts such as the Motels, the Hooters, Loverboy, Eddie Money, Patty Smyth, the Outfield, and Foreigner where he had a distinctive look in his videos that were slick and filled with gorgeous photography as well as whatever tools to create something that felt new. It was at this point that Fincher was in demand as the videos he made for artists and acts such as Sting, Madonna, Paula Abdul, Don Henley, Steve Winwood, Jody Watley, Aerosmith, Billy Idol, and George Michael were coming to him to get their videos made.
Due to his success with music videos as well as be popular with the hot artists of the time, Hollywood came calling to have him involved with projects for him to helm. It was 20th Century Fox that approached with Fincher with a film that seemed to be a surefire hit and a pathway for Fincher’s filmmaker career to start with a bang. It would be in the form of a long-gestating third film of the Alien franchise which had been in development hell as well as dealing with many script issues for nearly five years since the release of James Cameron’s 1986 film Aliens. Fincher came in at a time when the project was once again about to be shelved as he read the many drafts of the script that had been in the works that included contributions from William Gibson, Eric Red, David Twohy, and Vincent Ward with Ward and Renny Harlin in the running to helm the film.
By the time Fincher came in, the film’s producers in filmmaker Walter Hill and David Giler had been trying to write the script based on the many other ideas as Rex Pickett had come in to do re-writes on the many ideas that had been written by script doctor Larry Ferguson whose ideas were not well-received by Hill, Giler, and the film’s star Sigourney Weaver. With Pickett out of the picture despite his contribution as he would not get any credit under the rules of the Writer’s Guild of America. Production was finally underway in January of 1991 at Pinewood Studios in London as the cast would include Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton, Paul McGann, Pete Postlethwaite, and Lance Henriksen briefly reprising his role as the damaged android Bishop and as its designer. For many of Fincher’s peers, they all thought he had made it but for Fincher. The project would become a nightmare as the film’s original cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth was forced to leave the shoot after two weeks as he had contracted Parkinson’s disease which would eventually claim his life in 1996.
Replaced with the British cinematographer Alex Thomson, things began to be troubling as the production was unable to get Stan Winston though Winston did give 20th Century Fox the services of Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gills in designing the aliens. Yet, Fincher found himself at odds with the executives of 20th Century Fox who would fire him several times during the tumultuous shoot as Fincher would also get at odds with Hill and Giler for not being more supportive in trying to get the film finished. By the time the film reached into post-production with editor Terry Rawlings, Fincher was already aware of what the studio wanted but felt it wasn’t good enough. Eventually, Fincher was forced out of the production for good as the film finally was released in May of 1992. Though it made nearly $160 million in the box office worldwide, the film was considered a major commercial disappointment as it only made around $55 million in the U.S. which was similar to its budget. The critical response was mixed as much of it was negative in comparison to its predecessors.
More than a decade after its theatrical release, 20th Century Fox released a box set of the franchise that included an assembled cut of the film that featured nearly forty minutes of footage that never made it to the final cut. Yet, Fincher wanted no involvement with its release despite the warmer reception the assembled version got with fans and critics. For Fincher, making the film was a horrific experience as he later stated in interviews several years later while admitting that he hates the film and often doesn’t include it when it comes to the body of work he would cultivate in the years to come.
The disappointing experience of Alien 3 forced Fincher to retreat to the world of music videos as he would helm videos for Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the Rolling Stones. Along with work for Propaganda, Fincher was hoping not to make another film until he received the draft of a script by Andrew Kevin Walker about a serious of mysterious murders based on the seven deadly sins where two detectives try to solve its mystery. The script was intriguing for Fincher although it was an earlier draft that Walker hadn’t polished yet Fincher was intrigued about being involved as a producer with someone else directing it. Yet, New Line Cinema who had the rights to have the script made offered Fincher the chance to direct with a modest $33 million budget as Brad Pitt wanted to take part in the film with the condition that Walker’s original ending was intact.
With both Fincher and Pitt getting what they wanted as the latter would play the role of the young detective David Mills while the producers got Morgan Freeman to star as the veteran detective William Somerset. With a cast that was to include Pitt’s then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow as Mills’ wife plus R. Lee Ermey, John C. McGinley, Richard Roundtree, and Kevin Spacey as the mysterious John Doe. The film would be shot largely in Los Angeles as it would be set largely on rainy days where Fincher would be given the services of famed cinematographer Darius Khondji to shoot the film and Arthur Max to do the set designs as he would be one of Fincher’s first of a series of recurring collaborators. Fincher would often have Walker on set for advice on the narrative as it would help him get through the shoot much easier as opposed to the chaos of the last film he made in which he had to work with an unfinished script that was in constant need of re-writes.
For the post-production, Fincher was able to get the services of the famed music composer Howard Shore to do the score while he worked with two of his collaborators in the art of music videos in cinematographer Harris Savides and editor Angus Wall in creating a title sequence. The title sequence would create something that was offbeat but also played into the world of the killer as it would accompanied by a remixed version of the Nine Inch Nails song Closer. Fincher also wanted to create something that didn’t play by the conventions as he had to fight tooth-and-nail for the film’s original ending to be intact that involved a mysterious box that would play into the ultimate sin. Another person that was involved in the post-production is sound designer Ren Klyce who would help create a lot of mixes for the sound as he would become one of many recurring collaborators for Fincher throughout his career.
The film made its premiere in late September of 1995 as it drew excellent reviews from the critics while being a surprising hit in the box office thanks in some part to Brad Pitt’s emergence as a film star. The film would eventually gross more than a $100 million in the U.S. while its total tally worldwide was more than $327 million. The film would give screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker a nomination for Best Screenplay at the British Academy Awards while editor Richard Francis-Bruce received the film’s sole Oscar nod for Best Editor. The film would win three MTV Movie Awards for Best Film, Most Desirable Male for Pitt, and Best Villain to Spacey.
The success of Se7en gave Fincher some clout as well as renewed confidence as a filmmaker as his personal life marked some changes as his marriage to Donya Fiorentino fell apart in 1995 despite having a daughter in Phelix around that time. Yet, Fincher would rebound when he married Cean Chaffin in 1996 who would become one of his producers as she would help handle some of business aspects of the industry as well as film executives. For their first collaboration, the two took on a project Fincher had interest in helming around the time his filmmaking career was starting. The script had been in the hands of Propaganda for some time as it revolved around a wealthy investment banker who is given an invitation by his brother to play a game that would blur the ideas of reality and fiction where it would eventually become thrilling and deadly.
Brad Pitt was initially going to star in the film but was unable to due to scheduling reasons as Michael Douglas was eventually cast in the lead role of Nicholas Van Orton though he had some reservations considering that the film was to be funded by the European-based company Polygram Films. Jodie Foster was approached to play Nicholas’ daughter but she was unable to take part due to another project she was attached to as her part was re-written to become Nicholas’ brother Conrad where Jeff Bridges was approached only for Sean Penn to be eventually cast. Deborah Kara Unger was given the supporting role of the waitress Christine who becomes an unlikely participant in the game. The supporting cast would also include an array of character actors and cult figures such as Carroll Baker, James Rebhorn, and Armin Mueller-Stahl to be in the film.
Fincher would bring in Harris Savides to shoot the film as it would be largely shot in San Francisco where Fincher resided in as he felt shooting the film in San Francisco instead of Los Angeles would be cheaper. Fincher gathered many of the same collaborators from his previous film while getting James Haygood to do the editing of the film. While much of the film was set and shot in and around San Francisco, Fincher would shoot the film on weekends as it was difficult to shoot around the city during the weekdays where everyone is working. The shoot would last for 100 days as Fincher also got to shoot in a soundstage for a sequence where Michael Douglas is riding in a cab that is about to crash into San Francisco Bay.
The film was released in late September of 1997 where it got some excellent reviews from critics as a high-octane thriller. Though it did make more than a $100 million worldwide, the film was considered a commercial disappointment making only $48 million in the U.S. The disappointing commercial reaction would be something Fincher would endure constantly where even though studios liked what he was able to do. It always came short when it came down to money. Still, the film would eventually become a hit on home video where as it would get a special DVD/Blu-Ray release from the Criterion Collection in 2012.
A month before the release of The Game, Fincher was offered the chance to helm the film version of Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel about an everyman who lashes out against his environment as he and another man form a fight club to express their discontent. While Fincher would accept the job to helm the film though it would be under the supervision of 20th Century Fox whom he had a troubled history with. Fincher was able to get more control this time around as he was protected by producers and Fox 2000 executive Laura Ziskin despite the fact that the film contained a lot of anti-corporate messages and themes that made many in 20th Century Fox uneasy. When Fincher was able to get Brad Pitt on board as the character Tyler Durden with Pitt receiving a $17.5 million salary, the studio felt a little bit easy though not by much.
For the role of the film’s un-named protagonist, studios wanted Matt Damon or Sean Penn but Fincher was able to get Edward Norton for the role while Helena Bonham Carter was cast as Marla against the wishes of the studio. With Meat Loaf and Jared Leto taking on small supporting parts, Fincher spent much of the first half of 1998 doing pre-production where Pitt and Norton went to take lessons in boxing, tae kwon do, grappling, and soap making while Fincher would work with screenwriter Jim Uhls on the script with Andrew Kevin Walker providing some assistance. The film was initially budgeted at $23 million, it would increase once filming began as it escalated into $50 million which made one of the film’s executive producers in Arnon Milchan uneasy until he saw the dailies.
Having felt bad about the way Jordan Cronenweth was dismissed from the production of Alien 3, Fincher asked Jordan’s son Jeff to shoot the film as he would become a recurring collaborator of Fincher for years to come. Fincher also hired visual effects artist Kevin Tod Haug, who had done some visual effects work on The Game, to create some effects as it would play into the film’s eerie look as well as the elements of surrealism. The work on the visuals took a long time as the 138-day shoot ended in December of 1998 as its budget would increase more due to the fact that Fincher shot a lot of footage. By the time post-production began, Fincher found himself at odds with the executives of 20th Century Fox over the marketing which some believed hurt the film’s commercial potential. Adding to the troubles while Fincher, editor James Haygood, and sound designer Ren Klyce were working doing post-production was trying to market a film that was extremely violent as Fincher eventually had ideas to market it but 20th Century Fox didn’t like it.
The film finally made its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in Italy on September 10, 1999 where it shocked audiences and critics leading up to its North American theatrical release later that month. The film polarized audiences and critics yet it was a film that a lot of people talked about as it was extremely controversial upon its release. Despite the buzz over its premise, the film received mixed reviews from critics while its box office take in America was poor as it only grossed $37 million against its final $63 million budget. Though the film would gross a total of more than a $100 million worldwide, the film was considered a failure until it was released a year later on home video and the newly-emerged DVD where it became a massive hit in the home video market. The film would eventually have a cultural impact and become a lauded cult film as it would help Fincher’s reputation as Hollywood’s prince of darkness.
Wanting to do something that was less hectic and more accessible, Fincher was given a script by David Koepp that explored the idea of panic rooms as it was about a mother and daughter who bought a new house only to deal with burglars as they hide in a panic room. The simplicity of the premise was something Fincher wanted as it would be another studio picture under Columbia Pictures who gave him creative control. Since Fincher’s last film revolved largely around men, the fact that the script had a female lead was something totally different but also welcoming. With Koepp also serving as producer and allowing many of Fincher’s collaborators to be on board, the film was to star Nicole Kidman in the leading role with Hayden Panettiere as Kidman’s daughter while the trio of Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakam were cast as the burglars.
Production began in January of 2001 where two weeks into the shooting, Kidman got injured on set as she was forced out of the production as the injury was serious. Production was halted as Columbia scrambled to find another actress to replace Kidman as Jodie Foster was eventually cast but the production had another setback when the film’s cinematographer Darius Khondji left the production due to creative issues with Fincher. Conrad Hall Jr. would join the set though Khondji’s work would be credited as another casting change was made when Panettiere left the production before Kidman’s injury as then-newcomer Kristen Stewart was cast as Foster’s daughter. Kidman would later make a voice cameo in the film as the girlfriend of the protagonist’s ex-husband as the production was then troubled once again five weeks into the shoot when Foster learned she was pregnant. Aware of what was happening, Foster asked Fincher and co-producer Cean Chaffin to not rush the production.
Though shooting was halted and restarted in November as it was finished, problems emerge where Columbia screened a rough cut of the film for a test screening as it didn’t do well. Wanting to avoid re-shoots, Fincher and editors James Haygood and Angus Wall spent time trying to go over some of the takes that had been filmed. Another problem that became some concern was that the studio wanted Fincher to tone down some of the violence and language for a PG-13 rating instead of a R rating but Fincher refused as he also wasn’t fond of the marketing as he felt the film was different than his previous works. Fincher would get what he wanted as he was able to have the film finished for its late March 2002 release.
The film’s release on March of 2002 was greeted with excellent reviews as well as being a major box office hit making more than $96 million in the U.S. against its $48 million budget while making an additional $100 million around the world. The film’s success was a relief for Fincher who was getting some attention for not just being a master of suspense and dark stories but also dealing with some of the troubled aspects that went on in making films. Fincher decided to take a break from films as he spent much of his time away from the world of filmmaking as well as mourn the passing of his father in April of 2003.
After some time away from the world of film, Fincher returned to the world of film as he was approached to helm a script about the famed Zodiac killer who had been killing people in the late 1960s/early 1970s around the Bay Area in California. Fincher grew up knowing about the infamous killings that wreaked havoc around San Francisco and parts of California as he met with screenwriter James Vanderbilt who had been writing a script about the murders. While Fincher was being offered to helm an adaptation of James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, Fincher’s plans for that project were too ambitious as he focused on the Zodiac project with Vanderbilt and producer Bradley J. Fischer as the three spent eighteen months conducting their own investigation into the killings as they interviewed witnesses, people relating to the suspects, survivors, and others that knew about what happened. It was around this time that Fincher was beginning to cast the film as he cast Jake Gyllenhaal as cartoonist Robert Graysmith who would begin his own investigation of the murders in the 1970s while Mark Ruffalo was cast as detective David Toschi.
Gyllenhaal and Ruffalo would meet their real-life counterparts while Fincher would work on casting as well as be interested in the emergence of digital filmmaking as he reunited with old collaborator Harris Savides for the production. Having used the Thomson Viper on a few commercials he made in the early 2000s, Fincher decided to use it for the shoot while also using 35mm film for high-speed camera for slow-motion effects. With the cast that would include Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch, Chloe Sevigny, and Robert Downey Jr. as the journalist Paul Avery who covered the killings in the 1960s. The production finally began in September of 2005 in San Francisco as it would be a long one not just because of the large ensemble cast but also Fincher’s insistence on perfection. Not everyone liked Fincher’s approach to multiple takes as Gyllenhaal had a big issue with it as tension brewed between the two.
The 115-day shoot ended in February of 2006 as Fincher worked on some of the visual effects to recreate parts of San Francisco during that period as well as some of the moments of violence. The post-production work took nearly a year as Fincher worked with collaborators in editor Angus Wall and sound designer Ren Klyce on many of the visuals and sound. For the soundtrack, Fincher brought in David Shire to score the film as he loved Shire’s score work in the 70s as he felt it was appropriate for the film. By late 2006, Fincher brought in a cut to the executives of Warner Brothers and Paramount who both shared duties in releasing the film as it’s running time was over three hours. The executives at Paramount wasn’t happy with the cut as they hoped to release the film in December of 2006 for Oscar consideration. While Fincher had final cut privileges, the director did feel the film wasn’t ready as he was trying to find the right cut of the film as it was later pushed for a March 2007 release.
The film would make its premiere in March of 2007 where it did modestly well in the American box office making more than $33 million against its $65 million budget yet it would recoup its losses through a worldwide release which took in more than $51 million. The film’s release date in the U.S. came at a bad time though Paramount was surprised that it did do OK despite its competition. Fincher would spend more time on the film as he would present an extended cut that featured five more minutes of material that didn’t make it to the film’s theatrical release as Paramount submitted it for Oscar contention in 2007 with its home video release coming in January of 2008 where it garnered rave reviews as well as do well in the home video market. The film would eventually land in several top ten critics’ list as it helped establish Fincher more as a director that can bring in the goods.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
While developing the project that would be Zodiac, Fincher was approached about helming a film that was very different from his other work as it was based on a short story F. Scott Fitzgerald about the extraordinary of a life of a man who aged backwards as he would witness many events throughout the 19th Century. The project was something that went through many developments since the mid-1980s as Fincher’s acceptance of the project was big as Paramount would distribute the film in the U.S. with Warner Brothers releasing it internationally. With the backing of Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall as producers with Fincher’s wife Cean Chaffin and the script to be written by Eric Roth with Robin Swicord providing ideas from her own previous drafts of her own script. The film would mark a reunion between Fincher and Brad Pitt since 1999’s Fight Club as Pitt would star as the titular character. In 2005, Cate Blanchett was cast as Pitt’s love-interest Daisy while the rest of the ensemble would include Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond, Taraji P. Henson, Jared Harris, Jason Flemyng, and Fincher regular Elias Koteas.
With the script updated to be set in the 20th Century in New Orleans, the film would be the first production set in the city since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005. Fincher would get the services of Claudio Miranda who did some shooting on Zodiac as he would fill in for Harris Savides who was unavailable at the time. Shooting began in November of 2006 around the time Fincher was still finishing up the editing of Zodiac as it was shot in and around New Orleans with additional shooting set in Los Angeles and its various soundstages. The film was to be Fincher’s most expensive film to date with a budget of $167 million as it was largely due to the visual effects. The production was quite smooth as it would help the city of New Orleans as the shoot would last 150 days yet much of the time was on the visual effects and the makeup for Pitt to look like an old man and later a young man.
While the production was finished in November of 2007, plans for its release in March of 2008 was pushed to November of 2008 and eventually in late December in time for Oscar consideration. Needing help in the editing, Fincher brought in Kirk Baxter to help Angus Wall in the editing while Fincher would receive the services of composer Alexandre Desplat to write music for the film. The film was finally finished in time for its Christmas 2008 release where it was well-received with critics while doing modestly well in the U.S. making more than $127 million while making more than $200 million worldwide. The film would be given several Oscar nominations including Best Director for Fincher as well as acting nominations for Pitt and Henson while winning three Oscars for its art direction, visual effects, and makeup.
The Social Network
Having achieved a major level of success as well as some clout in Hollywood, Fincher wanted to do something different that wasn’t as ambitious as his previous two films. It was around this time Fincher met with the famed TV writer Aaron Sorkin who had been involved in film writing screenplay on several projects. Sorkin had received a manuscript by Ben Mezrich about the founding of the social network platform that is Facebook as it revealed a lot into how it was founded and all of the things that went on behind the scenes. Sorkin sees it as a story that is very complex that carried many of the classic tropes that is expected in the creation of invention as it involves betrayal, jealousy, and greed. Around the time Sorkin was adapting the script and interviewing those who knew about the formation of Facebook. He also heard about two lawsuits that were happening around the same time as he decided to put that into the script as he contacted Fincher who agreed to make a film about the founding of Facebook. The two would get additional help from producer Scott Rudin who would get funding for the film as Fincher gathered many of his collaborators for the film as well as go to Laray Mayfield to aid in the casting.
The cast would largely consist of young actors who aren’t as well-established with the mainstream as Jesse Eisenberg is cast as Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, pop singer Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, and several other small roles from Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara, Brenda Song, and Rashida Jones. Shooting began in October of 2009 as Jeff Cronenweth would shoot the film as he would become Fincher’s regular cinematographer through this point as it was shot largely around Cambridge, Massachusetts near Harvard as they were unable to shoot the film at Harvard. For the character of the Winklevoss twins which was played by Armie Hammer, Josh Pence would play the double as visual effects would come in to create a facial double as they used split-screen technology and digital effects for Hammer’s face to on Pence’s body.
By the time reached post-production where Fincher worked on the film with editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall and sound designer Ren Klyce. Fincher knew he needed something different for the score as he and Sorkin tried other music for the film’s opening credit scenes. Fincher called upon Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor for help as Fincher had a history working with Reznor dating back to using NIN’s music for the opening credits of Se7en as well as directing the NIN video Only in 2005. Reznor and longtime NIN collaborator Atticus Ross would create an electronic-based score that was very different as Reznor and Ross used different instruments to create some of the pieces. Even a demented remake of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King as it would play in the Henley Regatta scene.
The film made its premiere at the New York Film Festival in late September 2010 as it drew phenomenal reviews ahead of its theatrical release a week later as it became a major box office hit grossing more than $97 million in the U.S. against its $40 million budget as well as an additional $128 million worldwide. The film would be listed as one of the year’s best films as it won Best Film and Best Director for Fincher at both the New York and Los Angeles film critics circle as the accolades would pile up. The film would receive eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture and a Best Director for Fincher as it would win three Oscars for its score, editing, and Sorkin’s adapted screenplay giving Fincher his biggest success to date.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The success of The Social Network gave Fincher complete freedom as Sony wanted to repeat its success by giving Fincher the chance to helm a Hollywood remake of Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which was a best-seller that had a very successful film version in 2009 in its native Sweden. Producer Scott Rudin wanted to make a version for American audiences as he asked Steve Zailian to write the script that had been going on for quite some time. With Fincher now taking part of the project, it seemed like a win-win for Sony as Fincher would bring in many of his collaborators for the project. The project was to be budgeted at $90 million and to be shot in Stockholm, Sweden with some of it shot in Zurich, Switzerland, and Oslo, Norway.
For the lead role of Lisbeth Salander, many actresses wanted to play the role as Fincher eventually chose Rooney Mara who had a small but crucial role in The Social Network as Fincher fought for her to get the role as Sony wanted a bigger name. Daniel Craig would be cast as Mikael Blomkvist as the cast would include Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard, Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, and Yorick van Wageningen. Shooting began in September of 2010 as Fincher reveled in shooting in Sweden as well as create something that was quite dark as well as be quite graphic at times. With Mara dying her hair and sporting all sorts of things for the look of the character, it was something that was quite extreme from mainstream fare as it was exactly what Fincher wanted.
For the film’s music, Fincher as the duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to come up with an array of different pieces ranging from ambient to dark electronic as the two would also re-create two cover songs in Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song with Yeah Yeah Yeahs vocalist Karen O and Bryan Ferry’s Is Your Love Strong Enough? that is performed by another Reznor/Ross project in How to Destroy Angels that features Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig-Reznor on vocals. The film was marketed in a very unique way as Fincher and Rudin were hoping to create a franchise of sorts that would be targeted towards adults with plans doing the follow-ups of Larsson’s trilogy of stories just as the film versions in Sweden had done with great success.
The film made its premiere the Christmas 2011 release where it did receive excellent reviews but despite grossing more than $100 million in the U.S. box office and more than $130 million internationally. The film was considered a commercial disappointment as plans for its follow-ups were on hold. While the film would garner five Oscar nominations for its score, cinematography, sound editing, and a Best Actress nomination for Rooney Mara plus a Best Editing win for Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall. In 2015, Sony announced plans to reboot the series from a book that wasn’t written by Larsson as Fincher, Mara, and Craig were out of the picture as plans for that film are in the works as of late 2016.
A year after the release of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as well as developing a TV series that would become House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll, and many others that made its premiere in 2013 through Netflix. Fincher was approached to direct an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller about a man who has been accused of killing his wife after she had disappeared where he is the center of a media circus. Flynn chose to adapt her own book into a script as she consulted with Fincher about many ideas for the narrative as the film was supposed to star Reese Witherspoon who backed out due to scheduling conflicts as she would be involved with the film as a producer.
British actress Rosamund Pike would be cast as Amy Dunne while Ben Affleck would play her husband Nick as the cast would also include Carrie Coon, filmmaker Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, model Emily Ratajkowski, and Neil Patrick Harris as a former boyfriend of Amy. Fincher gathered many of his collaborators for the film as it would be a slightly smaller film that Fincher’s previous film with a $61 million budget. While Fincher would shoot some of the film in Los Angeles, much of it was shot in Cape Girardeau, Missouri for a five-week shoot beginning in September of 2013. It was a production that was less hectic than some of Fincher’s other films as it reveled not just on suspense but also elements of humor as it had satire relating to the media coverage of Amy’s disappearance.
The direction would have Fincher provide many different ideas of what had happened as he brought in Flynn to help with the narrative as it relate to the many twists and reveals over what had happened. Especially as Fincher added some dark humor and moments that were quite disturbing as he asked the duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to create music that played to its dark tone. The film would also have Fincher create something that is very accessible as the film would appeal to a wide audience as much of his film often appealed to males and film buffs as this film leaned toward women. Notably as it was marketed as a romantic film gone absolutely wrong as it would prove to be crucial to the film’s commercial success.
The film made its premiere in late September of 2014 as the opening film of the New York Film Festival as it was released to North American theaters a week later. The film would be a major box office success as it grossed nearly $130 million in the U.S. while grossing a total of $369 million worldwide. The film would receive rave reviews as it helped boost the film’s box office as it was praised for its cast, look, music, Fincher’s direction, and script while Rosamund Pike would receive the film’s lone Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
With 10 films under his belt and being one of the few in Hollywood who can create films on his own terms with star power or just by his name alone. David Fincher is a filmmaker that definitely exudes a sense of excitement no matter how dark much of his work is. While there hasn’t been anything definitive into what he’ll do next, Fincher does manage to create something that is often a cut above a lot of films whether they’re suspense films or dream-like dramas with heavy stakes. With cinema often playing safe for a mass audience, safe is the last thing David Fincher is as he’s all about not playing by the rules.
Related: 15 Essential Videos by David Fincher
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