Jodie Foster is divorcing a pharma boss, diabetic daughter Kristen Stewart in tow, moving into the Manhattan home of a dead guy with a missing fortune, and nobody here has ever seen a scary movie before. On their very first night, entitled rich kid Jared Leto breaks in with corrupt security expert Forest Whitaker and psychopath Dwight Yoakam, and the standoff begins. I remember this being the most tense movie I’d ever seen in theaters – obviously not as wild the second time around two decades later, but a real good time.

Not the panic room but the elevator:

I’m reading the Adam Nayman book on Fincher and rewatching a couple movies. Production of this one (and all his movies, haha) was difficult. Adam says the cinematography has a “floating, disembodied aesthetic” and he compares it to other apartment movies and contemporary thrillers.

Jodie’s ex Patrick Bauchau (La Collectionneuse) gets involved:

Michael Fassbender is a reportedly excellent assassin, but after his long, confident voiceover and setup, he botches the first job we see, hitting someone other than the target then escaping to find that his bosses are trying to erase him, getting to him through his girlfriend (Sophie Charlotte of a bunch of Brazilian films Filipe did not like). Fass proceeds up the chain, killing according to personality – physical smashing through walls with “Brute” Sala Baker, cool chat with Tilda Swinton, bloodless faceoff with client Arliss Howard (a fellow film producer of Mank). Fass’s second spy-revenge action movie which I found enjoyable enough, nothing more (Nayman found more). This is the most I’ve wanted a movie’s soundtrack in a while (I mean the Reznor, but yes it’s also prompting a Smiths re-listen).

Killer in Florida:

Sicinski:

Since The Social Network, he’s seemed dead-set on making incredibly detailed films about stupid things. As is so often the case these days, we cannot be certain whether The Killer is just a lunkheaded, self-important project or whether it is a film about lunkheaded self-importance. Based on the reviews I’ve read, one’s appreciation of The Killer seems to be directly proportional to the extent that the viewer believes it’s a comedy. But even then, how are we to take the jokes that don’t land?

I hadn’t seen this since opening weekend, almost thirty years ago. I don’t recall it being good, and it has a poor reputation, but now I’m a seasoned auteurist cinephile with the keen ability to recognize David Fincher’s brilliant work within this studio disaster… oh ha, no I’m not, if anything the flaws were more apparent than ever.

Great opening, showing brief flashes of alien chaos aboard the ship full of sleeping soldiers, intercut with the quiet opening titles. The escape ship from part 2 crash lands on a prison mining planet, where Ripley washes up onshore burned and maggoty while the other cast is killed off via text on a computer screen. I try not to knock myself out keeping track of characters and personalities in these movies until half of them have died off – it was pretty doable in the last movie, gonna be harder here with this bunch of shaved-head barcoded space monkeys. Let’s start with Roc, the only actor I recognize (besides Pete Postlethwaite in a minor role), a sort of unionist preacher who doesn’t want women on his planet.

Ripley and Roc:

In this case I got what I deserved by watching the extended cut – it’s baggy and talky. So much of the movie is people floridly trying to avoid telling each other important things. Charles Dance (of Space Truckers, appropriately) is the soft-voiced medical officer. One of the other officials and also the scar-eyed psycho who teams up with the aliens against humanity are played by Withnail & I actors – lots of British accents in space jail. I forgot the scene where Ripley med-scans herself, proof that there were no new ideas in the prequels.

Spoiler alert:

It’s almost a really well-made movie, full of no-name actors who turned out to be really good at their roles, but it’s got some fundamental problems that good acting couldn’t overcome. It opens by squandering the goodwill of the second movie by killing off Newt and the others… it’s no fun for long stretches, and the last half hour is all aliens running full-tilt down long corridors, which is a visual effect they couldn’t manage. They followed up a great James Cameron movie with a film whose climax involves liquid metal… and the studio couldn’t pull off the effects… the year after Cameron’s Terminator 2 came out. They must have been so embarrassed.

Hundreds of years in the future, video cameras will look like this again:

Fincher brings his sleek style to an exasperating, overlong, coincidence-filled thriller. If I was a proper auteurist the story wouldn’t matter and I’d go on about the great technique – but I’m not, so I was bored.

A Man Without a Country:

Disgraced journalist Daniel Craig is hired by Christopher Plummer of a rich nazi family to discover who killed Plummer’s granddaughter forty years ago – and since there’s no body, we already know that Racer X is really Speed’s bro… I mean that the girl is still alive. Halfway through the movie Craig meets (hooks up with) antisocial goth hacker Rooney Mara. First part of the movie sets up horrible, dangerous people: the businessman who sues Craig, Rooney’s rapist parole officer, Plummer’s evil nephew Stellan Skarsgard, then in the end our heroes take bloody revenge on all of them.

Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck:

Stellan’s fiery end:

I love that everyone knows all about Craig’s life and work – for an investigative journalist he’s quite bad at keeping secrets. A few amusing parts: most of the dragon-tattoo hackery-fakery, and Stellan soundtracking his torture chamber with an Enya song. Rooney Mara won best actress at Cannes (for Carol) the same day I watched this.

Full of great twists that I’m about to give away. Soon after Ben Affleck’s wife disappears, and he’s sad and hanging out with his sympathetic sister (Carrie Coon of HBO show The Leftovers, also about disappearing people) and doing press, and the cops are slightly suspicious that Ben might be a murderer, Ben’s secret girlfriend shows up, turning the tables on his perfect husband image. Then after things start getting worse for Ben amd his sister is mortgaging the house to pay for celebrity lawyer Tyler Perry, the movie reveals wife Rosamund Pike (The World’s End), alive and well and plotting to frame him as a murderer as revenge for the secret girlfriend. Rosamund grew up the subject of her parents’ series of children’s books (Amazing Amy) and is not gonna settle for a less-than-amazing husband. She’s also not very street-smart, and soon loses all her money to thieving motel neighbors, and instead of heating up her plan to commit suicide and have her body’s discovery be the final nail in Ben’s coffin, she hides out with super-rich ex-boyfriend Neil Patrick Harris, then decides to claim the whole thing was an abduction, murders Neil and returns covered in blood to perfect husband Ben. Somehow it managed to outdo itself in the last couple minutes with the creepiest ending possible.

Novel/screenplay by Gillian Flynn. Fincher has kept the efficient snappy editing to the rhythm of dialogue from The Social Network. Who’d have thought circa 2004 that I’d end up liking Ben Affleck so much? Was going to quote from the Fincher interview in Film Comment but it’s all too good, can’t decide which bit is best.

DCairns: “Like a 40s women’s picture, the movie evokes a pleasurable response of condemnation mixed with admiration. The woman is bad, and we should want to see her punished, but she’s also very impressive, and we find ourselves rooting for her. At a certain point in the story, we are rooting for both man and wife — maybe this is what Fincher means by calling it a perfect date movie.” I certainly wonder what Katy would’ve thought, and what conversation would’ve ensued had we watched it together. Maybe someday she’ll have a semester off and we’ll run a week marathon of long movies I wish she’d seen with me: Gone Girl, Interstellar, Margaret

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:

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.

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.