David Fincher

Mindhunter (2017) s02e03 – Episode 3

It’s a little weird to see “Mindhunter” doing race stuff—and this episode does a lot, not just with it turning out Albert Jones’s Black Southern FBI agent gets on better with other Southerners—Black and White—than Jonathan Groff’s preppy White liberal—but also with Groff thinking he’s getting picked up by the beautiful (Black) hotel clerk only to find she’s bringing him to talk to three (Black) mothers of dead children. I’d heard “Mindhunter” was doing the Atlanta Child Murders this season, so I was expecting all of it, but expecting it didn’t make the scenes any less effective. Especially since Jones barely gets any close-ups—David Fincher, directing again (so three hours of “Mindhunter” so far this season; no wonder he hasn’t been directing features?) usually goes with Groff and the interviewee for the two interview scenes. Jones is sitting in with Groff because Holt McCallany is dealing with a murder in his town (and lying to both Groff and Anna Torv about it).

So the ostensible A plot is Groff going to Atlanta to do the interviews, only the obvious soon-to-be A plot is the dead children, McCallany’s the B plot, with Torv going and asking out the lady bartender the decided C plot. Though Torv gets the best music in the episode (The Pretenders), even though here’s a weird cut at the end with the song volume.

Both of the serial killer interviewees are fine, but other than the white one looking so much like Jeremy Irons I kind of hope they CG’ed him young and it really is Jeremy Irons playing a hillbilly serial killer. Nate Corddry is back again—he first appeared last episode—and he’s got a couple good moments. The episode’s definitely not an actors’ showcase, however. McCallany gets less to do this episode than in either of the previous two, Groff gets overshadowed by everyone (it’s fine but it’s a thing), and Torv’s got two and a half scenes. It’s interesting to see Corddry in such a dramatic part—overwhelmed small town detective on a terrible case. It’s nice to see Corddry again.

“Mindhunter” is being real careful with the race stuff—Groff hasn’t quite grokked the reality for the Black people living in the South yet, especially not in the burgeoning Atlanta metropolis (which comes up). I’m just hoping they can handle it all. It’ll be interesting to see how “Mindhunter” scales, as it’s apparently about to go full procedural.

Mindhunter (2017) s02e02 – Episode 2

Now this episode feels like “Mindhunter.” It opens with Holt McCallany going to Wichita, with some great “period” Wichita shots, and consulting on the BTK case. There’s a bunch with him and the other cop, a rather nauseating sequence where they walk the crime scene—“Mindhunter,” at its core, is basically just ‘What if “Criminal Minds” didn’t suck,’ after all—and then a great scene where McCallany interviews one of the survivors. David Fincher directs this episode too (he directed the previous one) and he definitely works a little more at the real-life horror and terror aspect of it.

And it’s only an extended teaser basically. A B plot. The A plot has McCallany bringing back the information from Kansas and having a brainstorming session with Jonathan Groff—again, it feels like “Mindhunter” all of a sudden, even with my far from complete recollection of the first season—and it turns out they’re going to need to go talk to David Berkowitz. Even though Anna Torv doesn’t think Berkowitz fits the profile of the serial killers the team is supposed to be interviewing. The first episode of the season had a lot of talk about where the B.S.U. (Behavioral Sciences Unit, you know it from “Criminal Minds,” right?) is going in the future but not a lot of what they would actually be doing as the season unfolds. This episode gives a little bit better of an emphasis on how the unit is actually functioning.

It’s the procedural.

And it’s a great one.

And then comes Oliver Cooper as David Berkowitz.

And then it really feels like “Mindhunter,” because slowly but surely there’s the fantastic interview sequence where Cooper gets to be phenomenal and Groff gets to show off his brains and McCallany gets to think, hey, maybe interviewing these guys is a good idea.

There’s character stuff with Torv and a little with McCallany (and family)—it appears Groff is losing some of his lead stature after last season’s girlfriend debacle (or so I remember it being)—and it’s good, but it’s nothing compared to the Cooper scene.

The episode plays a lot more like the season opener than the actual season opener plays, which isn’t not problematic, but it’s so good it doesn’t really matter. It’s focused. Last episode—same writer, same director—wasn’t anywhere near as focused. It felt perfunctory; this episode feels exploratory.

Mindhunter (2017) s02e01 – Episode 1

I forgot what happened at the end of last season of “Mindhunter.” I remembered about three-quarters of the way through this episode, but not everything. It wasn’t until the second-to-last scene there was exposition covering it all.

No wonder writing about TV is a full-time job.

And not just because you either commit season finales to all your shows to memory or have time to rewatch seasons before new ones start but because sometimes you’re going to be writing about something like this episode, which is almost entirely character… work. Not really development, because it’s just about the characters dealing with the fall-out from last season and confronting each other about their shit; there’s some exposition, but certainly not a lot. It’s not like Holt McCallany is ever going to talk a lot. Though he does in this episode, in one of the (relatively) many comic relief moments—directed by David Fincher. Fincher doing comic relief. It’s kind of interesting to see, especially since he’s not doing a procedural with it. This episode is very un-“Mindhunter” (as far as I remember it); there’s no interviewing serial killers, there’s no crime to solve. There’s an update on the recurring serial killer in training guy, but otherwise it’s all about the team recovering from last season.

It takes Jonathan Groff so long to show up in the episode you forget he was the original protagonist. It’s McCallany’s episode, even though it’s not really his show. He’s great. I forgot how great McCallany is in “Mindhunter;” my bad. He gives such a complex performance in this caricature. So good. Groff’s good too, when he shows up, he’s just not as subtle as McCallany. Not with all his activity.

So the show not being a procedural—it’s an FBI bureaucracy episode with McCallany, Groff, and Anna Torv meeting the new supervisor (Michael Cerveris). Cerveris is off to a good start. It’s hard not to remember him being a shit heel on “Good Wife” though. Cotter Smith gets a nice scene too.

By the end, you remember why you love “Mindhunter,” but you don’t feel like you’ve seen a new episode of it. Not exactly. It’s a post-script to the first season, not the start of a new one; concerning given this season only runs nine episodes.

Seven (1995, David Fincher)

Seven is a gorgeous film. It’s often a really stupid film, but it’s a gorgeous film. Even when it’s being stupid, it’s usually gorgeous. Director Fincher has a beautiful precision to his composition; he works great with photographer Darius Khondji, editor Richard Francis-Bruce and composer Howard Shore (about half the time with Shore). Seven is a visually harrowing experience. Shame the narrative breaks down halfway through when Andrew Kevin Walker’s already problematic script shifts leading man duties to Brad Pitt (from Morgan Freeman). It’s not just Pitt’s inability to lead the film, it also gets really dumb once they use the secret FBI database to find their bad guy. Fincher spends a lot of time setting up the authenticity of his hellish American city. When Seven starts flushing that verisimilitude down the proverbial toilet, well… it splatters on everyone, most unfortunately Freeman.

Freeman’s great in the film. He can’t do much in the scenes where he inexplicably plays sidekick to Pitt, who’s really bad at this particular role. While Pitt doesn’t have any chemistry with wife Gwyneth Paltrow, she doesn’t have any chemistry with anyone. Sure, her part is horrifically thin, but she’s still not good. Her scenes bonding with Freeman are painful. It’s good production designer Arthur Max went out of his way to include frequent interesting signage in the backgrounds because otherwise Paltrow’s big monologue wouldn’t be as tolerable. Even Freeman can’t make that scene work.

There’s some decent acting from R. Lee Ermey. It’s strange how well Fincher and editor Francis-Bruce do with some performances and how badly they do with others. Especially since the second half is just a star vehicle for the completely underwhelming Pitt. But there’s also this interrogation sequence (a very, very stupid one as far as cop movie logic goes, but Seven laughs at reasonable cop movie logic time and again) where Pitt’s interrogating Michael Massee and Freeman’s interrogating Leland Orser. Orser’s awful, but clearly going for what Fincher and Walker want. Massee’s great in his few moments, the editing on his side. Sure, Massee’s acting opposite Pitt, but the editing lets him have his scene, it doesn’t give it to Pitt.

Later on in the film, when Pitt’s having his big intellectual showdown with Kevin Spacey (who does wonders with a terribly written part), Fincher and Francis-Bruce let Pitt have the scene. They really should. One feels bad for Spacey, acting opposite such a vacuum. Pitt’s far better in the first half of the film, whining about being Freeman’s subordinate; he lets his hair do a lot of the acting in those scenes. His frosted blond tips give the better performance.

It’s a beautifully directed film. Fincher’s excellent at whatever the film needs–Freeman sulking around because he’s a lonely old cop and it’s what lonely old cops do, Pitt doing a chase sequence, even John C. McGinley’s glorified cameo as the SWAT commander has some good procedural sequences–but he doesn’t actually have a real vision for it. He takes a little here, takes a little there. It ends with an inexplicable nod to film noir and Casablanca. It’s dumb. Because Walker’s script, in addition to often being bad, is often dumb. It needed a good rewrite and far better performances in Pitt and Paltrow’s roles.

Oh, and the nameless American city bit? That choice was stupid too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by Andrew Kevin Walker; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Arthur Max; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Phyllis Carlyle; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Brad Pitt (Mills), Morgan Freeman (Somerset), Gwyneth Paltrow (Tracy), Kevin Spacey (John), R. Lee Ermey (Police Captain), John C. McGinley (California), Richard Schiff (Mark Swarr) and Richard Roundtree (District Attorney Martin Talbot).


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Alien³ (1992, David Fincher)

Alien³ is a strange film. Some of its problems inevitably stem from its post-production issues, but there's also the question of intent. It's three films in one; first is a sequel to Aliens. That storyline takes about an hour. Then it's its own film for about forty-five minutes. Then it's the final film in a series for the last ten or so. Characters move between these phases, but not necessarily subplots and the filmmaking techniques even change.

Disjointed might be the politest description; incredibly messy also works. Gloriously messy might be the best, however, because Alien³ is glorious. Fincher does an outstanding job directing–and his composition techniques also signal changes in the film's phases–with wonderful Alex Thomson photography. But the Terry Rawlings editing really brings the whole thing together. It's a lush, dark, dank film.

All of the acting is great, especially Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance. Sigourney Weaver is fantastic (of course, it wouldn't work at all if she wasn't). She and Dutton occasionally get some terrible, trailer-ready lines and they push through them. It's in the quieter moments Weaver really shines; it's simultaneously too obviously on her shoulders and just right.

The special effects are fine. The practical ones are outstanding and the production design is phenomenal.

Additional good supporting turns from Danny Webb, Ralph Brown, Brian Glover, Pete Postlethwaite. Paul McCann's good even if he inexplicably disappears (one of those post-production issues).

Great Elliot Goldenthal score.

In pieces, Alien³ is excellent. All together, it's still good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Vincent Ward and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gordon Carroll, Giler and Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Dillon), Charles Dance (Clemens), Paul McGann (Golic), Brian Glover (Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Danny Webb (Morse), Christopher John Fields (Rains), Holt McCallany (Junior), Pete Postlethwaite (David) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop).


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Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

If Steven Spielberg used to be “the kid who’d never grow up,” I always figured David Fincher would always be “the disaffected teen who never grew up,” which is why Zodiac is so surprising. It’s a mature, thoughtful work, one I wouldn’t have even associated with Fincher if I hadn’t known. It’s calm and thoughtful, opening with the old Paramount and Warner Bros. logos, with a score from David Shire–the goal doesn’t seem to be to emulate a 1970s movie (the hit-heavy soundtrack wouldn’t have happened yet), but to reorient the viewer into that time period. When Fincher gets to the early eighties, he’s got this establishing shot at an airport and a plane takes off and there’s something really beautiful about it. Planes take off, whatever, three a minute and on sunny days, like this day in the film, it probably looks really nice… but I’d spent two and a half hours with the Zodiac killer, so it really jarred me. Made me appreciate Fincher not as an aesthetically pleasing director, which he’d always (ideally) been, but as one who could find the extraordinary in the everyday, which he’d never been.

Zodiac shifts its attention between the crimes, the reporters, and the police. For a while, it’s all the crimes and the reporters and for a while it’s all the crimes and the police. It seems like, at the beginning, it’s going to follow Jake Gyllenhaal–he’ll lead the viewer through the story–but then he disappears and, even before he does, it becomes clear Zodiac‘s not following a character-centered narrative. It’s not even about the effects of obsession on the characters. It shows the effects, but it’s really just a very straightforward narrative–first of the Zodiac killings from the San Francisco Chronicle‘s point of view, then from the investigating inspectors (I love how San Francisco calls them inspectors), then from the book writer (Gyllenhaal) as he does he research. It ought to not work, since that narrative model is mostly gone these days. In some ways, the roving narrative and the music, it reminded me of Summer of Sam while watching it, then I had to correct my interior dialogue not to defame Zodiac with such a comparison.

Of the actors, Ruffalo is the best. He’s first billed, but his character remains the most–not enigmatic or sketchy, but off-center–then he has a little scene towards the end and I realized his story throughout the film occupied a whole layer of the narrative and it was great and he was doing some amazing work. Amazing Ruffalo work is, probably, the best acting there is to be seen anymore. As the Chronicle lacky then book author, Gyllenhaal’s good, maybe even excellent, since the film makes no bones about his character not exactly being relatable. He’s supposed to be a little lame. It’s the closest the film comes to making any judgment on its characters. Robert Downey Jr. really doesn’t have an above the title role, but he’s great when he’s in it, which is no surprise. It’s Anthony Edwards who gives the most surprisingly good performance, just because it’d never occurred to me he could be so good, which has more to do with me… well, no it doesn’t. It has to do with “ER,” but whatever.

I kept having to remind myself during the film, it’s not a good example of modern cinema. I was ready to skip down the street and sing the praises of American filmmaking like it was 1999 or something, then reality kept knocking, so I had to accept I’d just have to get Zodiac on DVD… It’s rather indulgent, I just realized; Fincher submerges the viewer and holds him or her down in that bathtub, not letting them loose until the final epilogue card fades. It’s an unbelievable achievement for him, a significant one for twenty-first century American cinema, and just a lovely experience.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by James Vanderbilt, based on books by Robert Graysmith; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Angus Wall; music by David Shire; production designer, Donald Graham Burt; produced by Vanderbilt, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer and Cean Chaffin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Robert Graysmith), Mark Ruffalo (Inspector Dave Toschi), Robert Downey Jr. (Paul Avery), Anthony Edwards (Inspector Bill Armstrong), Brian Cox (Melvin Belli), Elias Koteas (Sgt. Jack Mulanax) and Chloë Sevigny (Melanie).


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The Game (1997, David Fincher)

I don’t know what possessed me to watch The Game again, probably my access to the DVD, but even so, I don’t know what possessed me to finish watching it. It’s fairly atrocious early on, once it becomes obvious that no reasonable human being could identify with Michael Douglas’s character. He’s playing a lonely, depressed multimillionaire who lives in a big house and is good for absolutely nothing. He doesn’t even have fun. I was opined–and still do–that the rich cannot produce good art because there’s no real conflict in their lives. Similarly, the rich make difficult subjects for fiction. Something like Sabrina notwithstanding….

But, really, I was trying to figure out–as The Game went from mediocre to bad to mediocre again to worse than ever (the only good moment comes in the last few scenes, not surprisingly, it’s all Sean Penn)–I was trying to figure out why I used to love David Fincher. I saw The Game in the theater and I can’t believe it didn’t cure me. Fincher is shockingly incapable of recognizing good material and not just the script. I mean, Douglas turns in what must be his worst performance, since all it does is rehash his previous stuff (Wall Street and maybe Disclosure specifically). When Douglas does show some humanity, it comes across like someone else wrote the scene and Fincher stuck it in.

The Game also–and I hate to gripe about this one, because I usually advise against it–has logic holes the size of the Grand Canyon. I advise against surveying such holes because they aren’t the piece’s point and when you interact with a work, you have to give it some leeway. There’s nothing to interact with in The Game, so all that’s left is to point out how incredibly stupid it is. Still, Fincher’s composition isn’t bad–though it’s poorly edited and the cinematography begs for someone better–and a lot of the supporting cast is fun… James Rebhorn in particular, love the Rebhorn.

For some reason, I thought I had something else to say about this film, some other way to close it–besides that it’s a piece of horrendous shit. Oh, I remember: Howard Shore’s score is good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by James Haygood; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; produced by Steve Golin and Cean Chaffin; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Michael Douglas (Nicholas Van Orton), Sean Penn (Conrad), James Rebhorn (Jim Feingold), Deborah Kara Unger (Christine), Peter Donat (Samuel Sutherland), Carroll Baker (Ilsa) and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Anson Baer).


Alien³ (1992, David Fincher), the assembly cut

So, I guess David Fincher wasn’t that upset about the “Assembly Cut” Fox did of Alien³ for their moronically-titled “Alien Quadrilogy” DVD set a few years ago, because he left his name on it. Fincher’s always badmouthing Alien³ but hasn’t got the balls needed to Alan Smithee a film (like Michael Mann has). Now, was Fincher smart not to reedit the film for DVD? Well, he couldn’t do anything to improve on the existing Alien³ theatrical cut (he’s simply not a capable enough artist), so I guess it doesn’t matter.

I’ve been hearing about this damn cut for years, probably since 1997. Everyone who loved Fincher (from Seven) and thought he was a genius (for Seven!) talked about this magic cut. Most of what’s in this “assembly cut” is in the novelization (I used to read novelizations, then I started listening to film school snobs. I’m not sure which was worse) and none of it helps the film. This cut runs about a half hour longer and includes some different scenes and shit, but mostly it just uses up the viewer’s patience. I need to watch Alien³ the regular version in a few weeks to properly grade it, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t so poorly paced. There’s a full hour of red herring here, which the studio wisely cut the hell out of. Fox was not always a terrible, inhuman studio. That happened, I’m pretty sure, after NewsCorp bought it. According to IMDb, Fincher walked before editing began, which seems to be a good thing, because this “assembly” cut does little but show how much good editing can improve a film.

Now, this cut is and has been lauded around the internet and film snobs (how much of a film snob can you be if you like Panic Room, however) have spewed praise… The fans of this cut think that calling something a “quadrilogy” is an acceptable human practice. I’m not that upset watching this cut–the DVD set was a Christmas gift and it’s not that bad, in the two and a half range, but it was a complete waste of time and did nothing but make me doubt the folks who recommended it.

Alien³, the longer cut, was supposed to be the holy grail of DVD (much like folks hope Warner will do an official, expanded Superman II). Oddly, off the top of my head, I can only think of three or four films that benefit from an expanded cut. The Big Red One, Blade Runner, Touch of Evil (to some degree, it was always great), and then it gets murky. No, wait, Star Trek: The Motion Picture became watchable. Anyway, if anyone out there has the Aussie/UK version of The Last of the Mohicans without Mann’s 2000 tweaks, let me know….

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Vincent Ward and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gordon Carroll, Giler and Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Dillon), Charles Dance (Clemens), Paul McGann (Golic), Brian Glover (Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Danny Webb (Morse), Christopher John Fields (Rains), Holt McCallany (Junior), Pete Postlethwaite (David) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop).


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