Browsing Tag

david fincher


OK, my thoughts aren’t THAT loud and there are no tattoos on Joey, the horse in War Horse (there is a birthmark), but I am combining my thoughts on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and War Horse in this post. I’ve been traveling and it’s been planes, trains, and automobiles for the past twenty-four hours, so the following won’t be full-length reviews but lists of the pertinent points I want to make about each movie.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

If you’re curious about this movie at all, it’s probably because you’re a) a diehard fan of the books and/or Swedish movies and want to compare, b) you haven’t read or seen any of the other versions but are thinking about checking this out to see what all the Stieg Larsson and Lisbeth Salander hubbub is about, or c) you’re a David Fincher fan. So here’s what you want to know:

  1. Rooney Mara is convincing but her Lisbeth is different than Noomi Rapace’s. Rapace was fiercer, with an undercurrent of anger even when she was still, whereas Mara’s Lisbeth is cooler, as in detached. She also looks younger and more waifish, closer to the book’s description. Bottom line, though, Rapace’s performance leaves a much more indelible impression.
  2. If you’ve read the books and seen the Swedish movie, you don’t need to see this one (my review of the book is here and the Swedish movie here). It’s faithful, down to the sluggish exposition in the beginning. There are no surprises because you know everything. The change in the ending, a source of controversy, is not a big deal and it works. Without it, the two-and-a-half-hour movie would’ve been even longer.
  3. Except for the dark, freaky title sequence, you can’t tell this is a Fincher movie, though after The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the Fincher style seems to be expanding.
  4. The biggest laugh at the screening I attended came from a T-shirt Lisbeth is wearing when she first meets Mikael.
  5. Daniel Craig is a sexier Mikael Blomkvist, which justifies his ladies’ man status in the novels. The actor starts out doing a slight Swedish accent but abandons it fairly quickly (everyone else keeps theirs on). This isn’t about him, though. It’s Mara’s movie. And while she does just fine, Rapace left combat boots that are hard to fill.

Nerd verdict: Fine film, but redundant for those previously Tattooed

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The protagonist of this movie, based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, might also be autistic or have Asperger’s, like Lisbeth. Eleven-year-old Oskar Schell, whose father died in 9/11, finds a key the senior Schell left behind and goes on a quest to find out where the key fits, believing it’s a clue to a puzzle his dad would’ve wanted him to solve.

  1. Thomas Horn, who has never acted before, is an amazing find as Oskar. His role is extremely difficult, for not only does he carry the movie, but he has long monologues spouting facts and figures that would twist the tongue of actors twice his age and experience. Horn is a Jeopardy! kids champion and obviously has the smarts to make the dialogue convincing, but he also has emotional intelligence, a harder thing to access, especially on cue. You can see him thinking, and then feel what he feels.
  2. Tom Hanks plays the dad in jovial Hanks fashion, and Bullock has some moving moments as the mom. It’s nice that it’s no longer a surprise when she turns in strong dramatic work. Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, and Max von Sydow also have standout scenes, but their roles are all small.
  3. It might still be too soon (it may always be) for a wide audience to accept a movie about 9/11. Scenes of people falling from the sky in slo-mo don’t help.

Nerd verdict: Perhaps too Loud, too soon

War Horse

An English lad named Albert raises and trains a horse named Joey that his father bought at auction to help around their farm. It’s quite clear, though, that Joey is much too spirited for mundane farm life, and when WWI breaks out, Albert’s father sells him to the cavalry. The movie is Joey’s journey through the war and the people—civilians and military from all sides—whose lives he touches.

  1. The horses who play Joey are great actors, displaying such a vivid personality, you can almost tell what Joey would say if he could talk. If you’re not invested in his fate, then your heart is smaller than the Grinch’s.
  2. Director Steven Spielberg thankfulky holds back on the war depiction instead of giving us the full Private Ryan, but some of the scenes are no less traumatic. Yes, awful things happen to the horses. I wept more than once, but didn’t feel manipulated because of Spielberg’s restraint.
  3. Tom Hiddleston (Loki!), Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock!), and Emily Watson have small roles but make the most of them. Their absense is felt when they’re not on screen.
  4. The most memorable scene is one that shows the ridiculousness of war, how people wouldn’t want to kill each other if they could see they’re not that different when standing eye to eye instead of gun to head. The scene is more striking because it uses humor in the middle of a tense situation, and the point is made while we’re laughing, which is sometimes a more effective way to communicate than making others cry.

Nerd verdict: Star Horse

What are you looking to seeing this weekend? If I don’t see you here again before Sunday, I wish you a holiday that makes you feel like a kid waiting for Santa to come the night before. Smile big, spread joy, and may it come back to you tenfold.


First Official Photos of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

W Magazine has revealed the first official photos of Rooney Mara as the titular character in David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, due December 21. Mara’s transformation from the fresh-faced coed who broke up with Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network to the badass chain-smoking Lisbeth is quite startling. It’s interesting to see the differences between her incarnation and Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth in the Swedish films. Whereas Rapace was straight-up tough, Mara looks more heroin-trashy and fragile, which is okay since Lisbeth is often underestimated by the bad guys, right up until the moment she kicks them in the testes. It’s a little disconcerting for me to see Mara baring her cleavage, though, because Lisbeth is so exploited by the men in her lives, she doesn’t need to play up her sexuality.

What do you think of these pictures?

via Cinematical


Awards Are Coming! Awards Are Coming!

I’m a little behind but want to cover Golden Globe nominations and winners from some major critics’ groups.

First, GG noms in the big movie categories, with a few brief observations:

Best Motion Picture–Drama

Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

It’s a toss-up between Inception and The King’s Speech for me. Both are remarkable but in completely different ways.

Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical

Alice in Wonderland
The Kids Are All Right
The Tourist

Burlesque? Seriously? Kids is the obvious choice here.

Best Director – Motion Picture

Darren Aronofsky–Black Swan
David Fincher–The Social Network
Tom Hooper–The King’s Speech
Christopher Nolan–Inception
David O. Russell–The Fighter

Again, it’d be between Nolan and Hooper, but I’m surprised Danny Boyle didn’t make the cut. He turned what people said was an unfilmable book into an exhilarating and intensely moving motion picture.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

Jesse Eisenberg–The Social Network
Colin Firth–The King’s Speech
James Franco–127 Hours
Ryan Gosling–Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg–The Fighter

Firth is tops for me, with Franco a close second and Gosling a very close third.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

Halle Berry–Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman–Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence–Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman–Black Swan
Michelle Williams–Blue Valentine

Portman would get my vote, but Williams’s performance also got under my skin. Huge omission: Lesley Manville’s raw portrayal of a woman in denial slowly falling apart in Another Year.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy

Johnny Depp–Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp–The Tourist
Paul Giamatti–Barney’s Version
Jake Gyllenhaal–Love and Other Drugs
Kevin Spacey–Casino Jack

Haven’t seen all these perfs so not sure about this one.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy

Anne Hathaway–Love and Other Drugs
Julianne Moore–The Kids Are All Right
Annette Bening–The Kids Are All Right
Emma Stone–Easy A
Angelina Jolie–The Tourist

Tough to pick between the Kids leads but I’d go with Moore for her insecure, vulnerable, conflicted, lovely turn.

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Christian Bale–The Fighter
Michael Douglas–Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield–The Social Network
Jeremy Renner–The Town
Geoffrey Rush–The King’s Speech

Bale is the clear winner but Renner and Rush are very strong. I’m disappointed John Hawkes didn’t get recognized for his creepy turn as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone.

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Amy Adams–The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter–The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis–Black Swan
Melissa Leo–The Fighter
Jacki Weaver–Animal Kingdom

Haven’t seen Weaver’s performance. Between the other four, I’d go with Leo for her brassy, trashy mama.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

127 Hours
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

Tough call between Inception, 127 Hours and King’s Speech, all complex and smart. Good thing Oscars distinguish between original and adapted screenplays. For originality, Inception should get it. For adapted, I’d go with Hours since it was probably more difficult to rework the mostly internal story into something cinematic.

In the last couple days, film critics associations have also been doling out awards, with most naming The Social Network and David Fincher as best picture and best director. I strongly disagree but here are partial lists from some of the more prominent groups. (Click on links to see full lists.)

New York Film Critics Circle:

Best Film:
The Social Network

Best Director:
David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Screenplay:
The Kids Are All Right

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Best Actor
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actor
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

Best Cinematography
Matthew Libatique, Black Swan

Best Animated Film
The Illusionist

Boston Society of Film Critics:

Best Picture
The Social Network

Best Actor
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Best Actress
Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actress
Juliette Lewis, Conviction

Best Director
David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Cinematography
Roger Deakins, True Grit

Best Animated Film
Toy Story 3

Best Film Editing (awarded in memory of Karen Schmeer)
Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan

Best Ensemble Cast

The Fighter

I like how the L.A. Film Critics Association threw in a few surprises:

Best Picture
The Social Network

Best Director
Olivier Assayas (Carlos) and David Fincher (The Social Network)—tie.

Best Actor
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Actress
Kim Hye-ja, Mother

Best Supporting Actor
Niels Arestrup, A Prophet

Best Supporting Actress
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Best Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Cinematography
Black Swan

Best Foreign Language Film

Best Music/Score
The Ghost Writer (Alexandre Desplat) and The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)

If you’re still with me, here are links to winners from the Toronto Film Critics, D.C. Film Critics, Southeastern Film Critics and AFI’s top 10 movies of the year.

Do you agree The Social Network is this year’s best movie? Any others you’re rooting for? What about favorite-but-overlooked performances?


First Photos of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander has posted the first photos of Rooney Mara in training for David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The pictures aren’t great quality but they’re clear enough to see Mara looking Lisbeth-y. You can click on the site’s name to see more photos.

Do these look promising or are you still skeptical? I want pics of my boy Daniel Craig as Blomkvist! [UPDATE: For the first official photos of Mara as Lisbeth, click here.]


The Girl Who Will Play Lisbeth Salander Is…

…Rooney Mara.

David Fincher has finally chosen the lead actress for his adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Mara, 25, will star opposite Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, Robin Wright as Millenium‘s editor Erika Berger, Stellan Skarsgard as Martin Vanger, with Max von Sydow in talks for Henrik Vanger.

A few weeks ago, Fincher had whittled down his choices to these four actresses, three of whom are foreigners. Fincher went with the sole American, presumably because he worked with her in his upcoming The Social Network. I don’t know anything about Mara’s acting so I won’t judge but will admit I was kinda rooting for one of the others since the filmmakers are apparently still setting it in Sweden. Then again, Mara has as much chance as the others of being believable since they’re not Scandinavian, either.

For more info, click here.

Lisbeth fans, what do you think? (UPDATE: Here are first photos of Mara in character.)


The Right Girl

As announced earlier this week, Daniel Craig is confirmed as Mikael Blomkvist in David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the two sequels in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. I whooped for joy at this news because I think there’s no better choice for Blomkvist. Craig has the intelligence to portray the journalist and the sex appeal to convince us Blomkvist is a ladies’ man.

But now the focus turns towards the casting of Lisbeth Salander, which is more crucial to the success of the franchise. According to numerous sources, Fincher has narrowed his choices to the following four actresses:

  1. Léa Seydoux
  2. Sarah Snook
  3. Rooney Mara
  4. Sophie Lowe

I’m excited that three out of four are foreigners—Snook and Lowe are Australians, Leydoux is French—and all are unknown here. When I watch the movie I’ll want to see only Lisbeth up there, not thinking, “Oh, that’s Ellen Page /Natalie Portman/Carey Mulligan in punk makeup.”

What do you think? Do you want an unknown or more established actress as Lisbeth? Judging only from their photos, do any of these give off a Lisbeth vibe to you? How do you feel about Craig as Blomkvist?


Curious Case of Facebook Movie

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO

Last year, reports surfaced that Aaron Sorkin would write a movie about the creation of Facebook, which I found curious enough. Sorkin has written highly dramatic, cerebral projects about military law proceedings (A Few Good Men) and D.C. politics (The West Wing) and now he turns his pen towards…social networking? How compelling can that be? And if someone’s not on Facebook, can they still enjoy it?

The project just took an intriguing turn as Variety reports that David Fincher is considering directing the movie, called The Social Network. Fincher is known for directing dark projects so why does this story interest him? I’m aware of the controversy surrounding Facebook’s creation—CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard classmates sued him for stealing their idea—but didn’t realize it was gritty enough to interest the director of Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac. His last film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, might have included a love story but was really about mortality.

So is your interest suddenly piqued? Would you watch this movie if Fincher directs it? Who should play Zuckerberg? (UPDATE: Click here to see who Columbia cast as Zuckerberg. Justin Timberlake’s in the movie, too!)


BENJAMIN BUTTON Q & A with Brad Pitt and David Fincher

On Monday, November 10, Brad Pitt and David Fincher came to the Mann Bruin theater in Westwood to discuss The Curious Case of Benjamin Button after a preview screening (click here for my review). Pitt, sporting brown hair and a mustache for his current role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds [sic], and Fincher are obviously old chums, poking fun, interjecting constantly and finishing each other’s sentences. The camaraderie is probably due to their having previously worked together on Se7en and Fight Club but on Monday, the focus remained on Button.


The moderator began by asking how each got involved with the project. “I first read it in ’82 and didn’t know it was a Fitzgerald story,” Fincher said. He liked the script but went on to direct other films. Over the years, he kept revisiting it, eventually finding a version he felt he could make. He liked it so much he didn’t feel it necessary to read the short story. Fincher then approached Pitt directly about playing the lead.

“He doesn’t want to talk to agents,” Pitt joked.

Pitt, who also hasn’t read the source story, had his reservations about getting involved. “I really didn’t want to do it. I’ve had my foray into romance and it didn’t go well for me. The script was beautiful but I didn’t think I was right for it.” What changed his mind? Fincher told him it wasn’t going to be a “ballad of co-dependency and that defined it for me,” Pitt said.

“It’s a love story but look at the body count!” Fincher said.

He continued to say that at first, he intended to have Benjamin be “a series of hand-offs, from actor to actor,” with several people playing the character at different stages, “but [Pitt] told me, ‘I’m not gonna do that.'”

Pitt added, “I originally wanted to play both guys in Fight Club.”

“He’s not kidding,” Fincher said.

The moderator next asked Fincher about the groundbreaking special effects used in the movie. “It’s an amalgam of lots of different processes that’s been used in video games and [the movie] Beowulf.”

Pitt interjected, “It was only finished a couple of weeks ago.”

Fincher went on to explain that they “mapped [Pitt’s] facial expressions onto actors at different ages.”

“It was amazing,” Pitt said.

Fincher added, “Amazing, but silly.”

Pitt continued, “It was all shot on digital, where you have a large monitor and you get to see right then and there how much is coming across. It’s much easier to control your decibel level.”

The moderator asked about Pitt’s time in the makeup chair and he said it usually took five hours. “When I first moved out here and read about Jeff Goldblum [and his makeup experience] on The Fly, I said, ‘That’s never gonna happen to me,'” Pitt said, smiling.

“You never cut your fee on prosthetic jobs,” Fincher advised.

Pitt continued, “There were two people on set to keep track of the math. [Benjamin] would be 17 but in 64-year-old makeup. I’d do this [he mimes getting up from a chair] and they’d say, ‘No, you’re older than that.'” Pitt then would pretend he knew it all along and say, “I was getting there. I was just warming up.”

The moderator asked about their favorite scenes. “The around-the-world trip,” Pitt said. Fincher talked about the scene where Caroline went through Benjamin’s postcards and discovered they were written to her. He praised screenwriter Eric Roth for condensing a whole life into those brief notes on the cards.

The moderator asked, “What would you like people to take away from this movie?” Fincher stammered while Pitt said, “Yes.”

Fincher explained that throughout the test screening process, there were scenes that people said he absolutely should cut and others that they thought should absolutely NEVER be cut. “If I had cut everything that people said should be cut, the movie would be an hour and a half. If I kept everything that people said I shouldn’t cut, the movie would be four and a half hours. The strength of Eric’s writing is that he finds things people relate to in an intimate way.”

The moderator concluded the evening by asking what was next for them.

“I’m filming in Berlin right now,” Pitt said.

“Sleeping,” Fincher said.


In the next couple weeks, I’ll be attending screenings and Q & A’s with Hugh Jackman and Baz Luhrmann (for Australia); Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis and John Patrick Shanley (for Doubt), and Ron Howard (for Frost/Nixon) so check back regularly for those reports.


Scoop! Review of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON Plus Q & A with Brad Pitt, David Fincher

Last night, I attended the first L.A. audience screening (meaning not a test screening) of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (out Dec. 25), where Brad Pitt and director David Fincher did Q & A afterwards. I haven’t seen a review anywhere else because the movie was only recently finished (Fincher said there are still 3 shots he’d like to fix) so this might be the first.

Before I get to the movie’s review and fun facts learned from Pitt and Fincher in person (who practically put on a comedy routine), I want to mention that in the next couple weeks, I’ll be going to screenings of some hotly anticipated Oscar bait like Australia, Milk, Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road and Doubt, so make sure you bookmark this page for all the scoop.

I also have 3 beautiful, glossy Benjamin Button programs that were handed out at the screening. They’re 6 pages long and not available anywhere else. They contain color photographs plus Q & A and testimonials from Pitt, Fincher, Cate Blanchett, screenwriter Eric Roth and producer Kathleen Marshall. On Nov. 16, I’ll randomly select 3 people from my subscribers list to receive one so if you’d like a program, subscribe now!

OK, on to the movie review. It’s based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story but it’s been expanded quite a bit because the epic film runs about 2:45 long. It opens in New Orleans in a hospital as Katrina is approaching. Fincher uses the framing device of Blanchett’s character, Daisy, on her death bed to tell Benjamin’s story. Julia Ormond (wasted in a thankless role) plays her daughter Caroline, who reads from her mother’s diary, taking us into flashbacks about a baby born in New Orleans in 1918 looking like an 80-year-old man (an older woman takes one look at the baby and says, “He looks just like my ex-husband!”). We soon find out this baby is not near death, as a doctor suspects, but will in fact get younger as he ages. This might have something to do with a newly installed clock in the local train station that tells time backwards. The clock was created by the mysterious Monsieur Gateau (Elias Koteas), who wanted time to go backwards so that his son, killed in World War I, might come back to him.

The baby’s father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), who actually owns a button factory, is so horrified by his son’s wrinkled visage, he first intends to throw him in a river but then changes his mind and leaves him on the doorstep of a nursing home, where caretaker Queenie (the spirited Taraji P. Henson) finds him and takes him in. Queenie, who’d been told she couldn’t have children, isn’t fazed by the baby’s condition (ossified bones, cataract-filled eyes), calling him “a miracle, just not the kind one hopes to see.”


Queenie raises the boy in the nursing home, where Benjamin has no idea at first that he’s not old like everyone else. Here, he meets red-headed Daisy for the first time as a 5-year-old (visiting her grandmother) and is instantly infatuated. They embark on a friendship that evolves into a love that lasts for the rest of their lives despite their impossible circumstances. Before they can meet again as lovers in mid-life, Benjamin finds work on a tugboat and heads off to see the world, while Daisy becomes a star ballet dancer, performing in Paris and with the Bolshoi in Russia.


When they finally come together as lovers, it’s with the knowledge it can’t last. “Will you still love me when my skin is old and sagging?” she asks. “Will you still love me when I have acne?” he retorts. Complications and separations ensue until they come together again one last time at the end of their lives in drastically different forms.

Pitt, buried in old-man makeup for most of the movie (we only get to see him as golden boy for about 15 minutes), gives a nice, subtle performance full of wonder and longing. When the 7-year-old Benjamin crawls into a makeshift tent with 5-year-old Daisy to share secrets, the scene could’ve been creepy because after all, it’s a grown man under some sheets with a little girl. It’s a testament to Pitt’s skill, then, that we’re able to overlook his old-man exterior to see the innocence in Benjamin’s eyes and realize it’s really just two kids playing.

Having said that, I wasn’t as moved by this film as I wanted to be. This was number one on my list of must-see holiday movies and I so wanted to be blown away but it just didn’t happen. This movie is a very ambitious effort—it looks gorgeous, there are some groundbreaking special effects and the rest of the cast also do excellent work but it’s the kind of movie you respect more than love. It’s like a piece of art that you look at and say, “It’s pretty,” but don’t necessarily want to bring home.

I think the problem for me was the stakes weren’t high enough for Benjamin and there was no sense of urgency throughout most of his life. Except for his father’s initial reaction, everyone pretty much accepts Benjamin upon first meeting. He doesn’t go to school where other kids beat up on him, he gets a demanding job as crew member on a tugboat while looking like a fragile old man and the captain barely questions it, and Daisy knows right away he’s not as old as he looks when she first meets him. In order for the film to be more compelling, Benjamin needs more obstacles to overcome. Even when he sees some action in World War II, we don’t fear for his safety because we already know the film will probably take us to the end of his life to fully explore his extraordinary condition. (I haven’t read the short story so if any of you have, please leave a comment and tell me how this differs from Fitzgerald’s version.)

I’m surprised there aren’t more riveting moments in this movie, considering it’s directed by Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en). I was attracted to it after hearing that Fincher would take the unsentimental route. Well, it’s unsentimental almost to the point of passivity. This isn’t to say it’s boring—it isn’t. Many times, it’s even laugh-out-loud funny (watch for an old man repeatedly telling people he’s been hit by lightning seven times). There are visually interesting aspects—the film looks like old stock at times, where you can see the pops and scratches like on an old newsreel. The color is sometimes muted, sometimes overly saturated, like the unnatural tones of a black and white movie that’s been colorized. The crash of the tugboat against a German submarine is breathtaking, Titanic-like but on a much smaller scale. The score by Alexandre Desplat (Oscar-nominated for The Queen but I thought his score for The Painted Veil was more enchanting) is lovely as usual.

All this amounts to a lot of value for your money, an especially attractive quality this holiday season. I just wish I could’ve been more moved by this character’s life story instead of being left feeling like a casual observer.

Call me only mildly Curious.

Rating: Good

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of this post, where I’ll report what Pitt and Fincher shared during the Q & A.

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