Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday Matinee: An Ode to David Fincher - Part I

I've been planning this post for quite a long time.  Because you see, I have a bit of a thing for David Fincher.

My son and I adore his movies.  Over meals we have intense discussions about his themes, style and casting.  We both have admitted that if we were to see this man in public, we might not have full composure.  We might squeal or giggle and act a fool.  

Before I wrote us this ode, though, I had to watch a couple of movies I hadn't seen, and re-watch some that I hadn't seen in awhile.  I had to do some homework.  

My goal was twofold.  First I just wanted to gush in a very unprofessional, fangirl kind of way.  Hey, I've made it clear I'm not a movie critic.  But I know what I like.  And I like him, unequivocally.  My second goal was to make you aware of him.  I'm sure you know his movies (he has made 9 in all) but he has a pattern of excellence, at least with my taste of movies, in all of them.  I wanted to connect the dots for you, if you hadn't already.

David Fincher was born on August 28, 1962 in Denver Colorado, but was primarily raised in Marin County California.  He got a Super 8 camera for his 8th birthday (I see his parents had a sense of humor) and never looked back.  Right out of high school, he worked for John Korty (a filmmaker primarily known for his documentaries) as a cameraman.  He then went to work for George Lucas (who was a neighbor) in special effects, then got into the business of making commercials and music videos for some of the greatest performers in the industry, like Madonna, Sting, Aerosmith, George Michael and Michael Jackson.

If I had to throw out some themes and labels for his work, it would be...noir, original, edgy, dark, grunge, and visual.  You can certainly see his music video influence in some of his opening sequences for sure (the opening sequence for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo BLEW MY MIND, but all of his movies have a stylized musical element).  He tends to make films about alienation and obsession.  He doesn't always go for the blockbuster, crowd-pleasing ending.  In fact, he is known for locking horns with the studio execs in such matters, earning him a reputation for being stubborn.  He has been known to dismiss an actor for being annoying.  He has been known to shoot a scene 90 times.  In an interview, he was quoted as "wanting his audience to feel uncomfortable".  Oh yeah, and his movies tend to be long.  He has a lot to say.

So what I am going to do is this.  Fincher has made 9 movies, and I'm going to rank them from #9 to #1 over the next few weeks.  I know this ranking wasn't really necessary, but there is sport in it.  But with the exception of maybe the first two movies on my list, it pains me to minimize any of them.  To put "Zodiac" as #7, for example, makes me sick because it is a phenomenal movie.  Suffice it to say, you won't go wrong with any of these.


#9.  Alien 3 (1992)

Starring:  Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dutton, Charles Dance

Alien 3 was Fincher's directorial debut, and pretty much a dismal box office failure.  But to Fincher's defense, he inherited a bad script that was in a constant state of revision, had a rushed production schedule, and Fox edited the soul out of the original cut.  It isn't a horrible movie, and has shades of what would be Fincher's subtle stamp of style, and far from the worst in the series (Alien: Resurrection for example).  

#8:  Panic Room (2002)

Starring:  Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto

This is a decent thriller about a divorced mother and her diabetic child held captive in their NYC home by three burglars.  Mother and daughter take refuge inside a high-tech safe room within the house, but what the burglars want is in that room.  Thus ensues a battle of the wills and the mind to survive.  The camerawork is particular effective in navigating throughout this huge home, it is fast-paced with a team of great acting (this was Stewart before her head swelled and her mouth was perpetually open).  There was a memorable scene near the end with Whitaker that was very poetic...I would have been happy had the movie ended there, and would have been Fincher-esque.  Instead an added segment made it all a little too crowd-pleasing.  I have a feeling this was part of a compromise that ultimately adding nothing for me.

#7:  Zodiac (2007)

Starring:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr.

This movie is based on the non-fiction book by Robert Graysmith of the same name, and explores the infamous unsolved investigation of the Zodiac serial killer in San Francisco in the 1960's and 1970's, and the toll it took on those involved.  The primary focus is on a political cartoonist working at The Chronicle who becomes obsessed with the case when police and the newspaper receive mysterious encrypted letters and phone calls from the killer.  The acting in this movie is superb, and there is also a great use of music to pull you back into the time period.  It felt like I was investigating the case along with the reporters and police on-screen, and when we come face-to-face...more than once...with parties most likely involved with these grisly killings (once in a basement!!!), it is HEART STOPPING.  Fincher, his screenwriter, and the producer all spent 18 months conducting their own investigation and research before filming, and it shows.  This is not a slasher movie, like Saw, it is a smart movie that makes your brain buzz.

Next week, I'll progress up my list of favorites, #6 through #4.


Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

In this list, I've only seen Panic Room, which I really enjoyed. Love the grungy dark visuals, so looking forward to the rest of your list!

Clearly, I need to watch Zodiac!

bermudaonion said...

I've seen 3 of his movies but missed all of those.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I love his work too. I just looked it up in IMDB to check, but I've seen (and loved) all of his films but Alien 3. I had no idea he worked for George Lucas! Oh, did you watch his miniseries House of Cards on Netflix?

Heidenkind said...

So avoid Alien 3 then? ;)