The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)

I avoided this because I don’t much care about Facebook, but after it started winning every major year-end award I thought again. Besides, I’ve seen every other David Fincher movie in theaters, so why stop now? And I kinda loved it. What’s strange is that the stylistic flourishes I love in Fincher’s films (didn’t love so much in The Benjamin Buttons) were missing from this one – except in the great scene of the Winklevoss brothers’ big race, a wordless high-energy montage scored to a Reznor version of In the Hall of the Mountain King (better known by me as the Tetris song). Otherwise, Fincher’s style seems to disappear, simply supporting the brilliant writing (Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Wilson’s War) and acting (Jesse Eisenberg of Zombieland, Andrew Garfield of Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Justin Timberlake of Southland Tales and Armie Hammer, who recently played Harrison Bergeron).

Timberlake:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, David Fincher)

AV Club: “The script comes from Eric Roth, who would probably by accused of borrowing too liberally from Forrest Gump if he hadn’t written that too.” Wow, dude also wrote that Eric Bana gambler love story I was just mocking yesterday, and my favorite film to hate, The Postman. No wonder writing seemed to be the weakness in this would-be-spectacular movie. Huge issues (hello, racism) were ignored, episodes (hello, Tilda Swinton) weren’t well integrated with the rest of the film, and Button ended up seeming like an unambitious blank who doesn’t do much with his so-called remarkable life.

Katy suggested the unambitious-blank part and some Forrest Gump comparisons, but I wonder if that wasn’t the point, to show a regular guy with parental issues who meets a girl, goes to war, has a kid, rambles around and never quite finds his place in the world, the whole aging-backwards thing being the only remarkable thing about him. That and the movie’s obsession with mortality make it a meaningful story about life and how to live it. Maybe we unrealistically expected Button to be some kinda sci-fi superhero, while the movie was trying to speak to us about life and death, love and loss, or maybe on Christmas day we weren’t in the mood for an extended monologue about mortality, but this came out feeling like a pretty alright movie, a tearjerker to be sure but maybe not the acclaimed masterpiece to which we’d been looking forward.

Pretty nice music by Alexandre Desplat was loud and fuckin’ clear, since 45 minutes before the end of the film our dialogue track almost entirely cut out leaving us with whispered words under a huge score… thanks heaps, Regal. At least we could still hear when we tried hard, since most of the audience was either heavily concentrating or fast asleep by then. Shot NOT by Fincher’s Zodiac guy, and boy am I relieved, cuz in the parking lot I was bemoaning the lack of surprise or interest in the camera setups (figuring the CG effects left no room for surprise), comparing it negatively to the immaculately-shot Milk, which we’d snuck into before our feature started… forgetting that the Zodiac guy actually shot Milk, and some nobody (the D.P. of the last M. McConaughey romance flick) shot The Ben Buttons, thus preserving my aesthetic intuitions.

So right, Ben kills his mom being born in New Orleans on the day WWI ends, is abandoned Penguin-style by his dad, discovered and raised by Queenie and (boyfriend?) Tizzy in an old folks’ home, where unsurprisingly, people die from time to time. Ben meets a girl who is not yet Cate Blanchett but one day will be. Ben, BTW, is incredibly old, confined to a wheelchair, then learns to walk with canes as he grows ever younger. He gets a job on a tugboat, has regular sex with married Tilda Swinton in a hotel, and helps in the WWII effort while Cate becomes a dancer with hip bohemian friends & spontaneous lovers. The time is not right for those two to get together, but one day after Cate’s career-destroying car accident the time is right and they do and are very happy and have a kid. Ben finds out that his real dad is Mr. Buttons, who dies and leaves Ben the button factory he ran. Also dying: war friends, Tizzy then Queenie. Ben is afraid when he grows too young he’ll be a burden (he is) so he leaves Cate and bums around the world instead. Interesting how as his brain becomes less developed and he gets smaller, it’s effectively alzheimer’s disease – he forgets more and reverts to childish behavior living in his childhood home. Cate’s daughter grows up, her “dad” dies, and while caring for her dying mom (still played by Cate, unrecognizably) the day before Hurricane Katrina hits, she learns the whole story in a huge framing device.

Brad Pitt, after a brief spell of manic energy in Burn After Reading, is back to his brooding-as-acting style, which should work just fine in next year’s Terence Malick picture with appropriate wistful voiceover. Cate is wonderful as fucking always – the acting highlight of the movie, she can do no wrong. Brad’s Coen-costar Tilda Swinton is fine with the tiny role she gets.

People I Thought I Should Have Recognized But Actually Shouldn’t Have include TV’s M. Etc. Ali as Tizzy, an otherwise uncredited actor as the African fella who takes young Ben to a brothel, Cap’n Mike: Jared Harris (Lady in the Water), and adoptive mom Taraji Henson (Talk To Me). People I Recognized But Didn’t Know From Where include Guy Ritchie action star Jason Flemyng as Mr. Button. People I Did Not Recognize At All include framing-story secret Button daughter Julia Ormond (Inland Empire), and People I Should Have Recognized But Somehow Missed include Elias Koteas as the blind clockmaker who kicks off the story.

Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

Has David Fincher settled down? After a longer wait than ever between movies, Zodiac is almost a classical Hollywood film, not as showoffy as his others. Only showoffy bits were a Grand Theft Auto 2 perfect top-down cab follow, and some text-in-the-scenery which is just repeated from Fight Club’s Ikea catalog scene. Not that I’m complaining – he’s gone and made a great movie without tricky editing or twist endings or cameras flying through banisters.

We see most of the suspected Zodiac killings as they happen, and see the newspaper’s and police department’s reactions to the letters he sends, but since Zodiac was never caught, the movie doesn’t stop, barrelling forward in time all the way to the 90’s (starts in summer 1969). So it’s long, but it has a lot to cover and never drags.

Movie’s not “about” the Zodiac events so much as three characters surrounding it… newsman Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr, using both his physical comic acting and his drunken depraved acting in one meaty role), detective David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, harder to track without the Eternal Sunshine beard) and cartoonist turned Zodiac obsessive Robert Graysmith (Donnie Darko, our central character if the movie has one).

Most impressive opening credits since A Prairie Home Companion. The three stars, then Anthony Edwards and Dermot Mulroney, whoever they are, plus Chloe Sevigny as Donnie’s wife, Brian Cox and Philip Baker Hall as guest experts, Elias Koteas and Donal Logue as cops, and Mr. Show’s John Ennis in one scene. I was too distracted by seeing Ennis in this movie to even realize who he was playing.

Based on the book by Robert Graysmith himself – probably the only Zodiac movie you’ll ever need. Funny, this coming out within a year of The Black Dahlia, a movie that starts with the facts, follows the same trajectory of the cops refusing to let the case go, working on it to the point of their lives falling apart, but then goes into fantasy territory with them finding a ludicrous resolution to the still-unsolved case. De Palma’s boasts a more inventive script and more inventive shooting style, but Fincher’s, sticking close to the facts and presenting them straightforward, is at least that movie’s match. I think most critics far preferred the Fincher to the De Palma, because they have no imagination or sense of fun.