#279. David Fincher

Many directors in Hollywood will stick to a particular genre, mainly because their artistic style matches well with the mood of the genre. Wes Craven directed horror, Charlie Chaplin directed silent comedies, Steven Spielberg directed science fiction, Alfred Hitchcock directed thrillers. In terms of modern directors, there are very few that have tackled the psychological thriller well. Christopher Nolan falls into this category, but David Fincher succeeds in this genre as well. What’s even more interesting is that Fincher seems drawn to film adaptations of stories and books. This is the niche where he excels as a director. There are a lot of books out there that cover some pretty dark material, and David Fincher’s artistic direction certainly brings that element out on the screen. This week’s two films highlight some of David Fincher’s best works.

The Social Networksocial_network_film_poster
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours

While Fincher’s filmography is not extensive (he’s only directed 10 films), his skill is quite apparent. A number of his early films have attained cult status, including Se7en (1995) and Fight Club (1999), the latter of which was an adaptation of the book of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk. In terms of recognition by the Academy, within two years, he directed films that were nominated for Best Picture, as well as Best Director. His first nominations were for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), which itself was based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, he didn’t win that year, but his second set of nominations came with The Social Network (2010), which was also based on a book (this time being The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich). Once again, he was passed over for an Oscar, but I know he’ll soon be nominated again . . . hopefully claiming a win along with it.

Jumping back-and-forth between the deposition of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), and the time he spent at Harvard, The Social Network’s tagline reads, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Zuckerberg’s first enemy was none other than Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), the girl who dumped him. Fueled by anger and frustration, he created a website that compared the physical attractiveness of women on the Harvard campus. His next enemies would be the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), who found out that he created a popular social networking site named Thefacebook after they had asked him to code a similar idea they had. As the social media empire expanded, his final enemy would be that of Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), the close friend who helped him start Facebook in the first place. Now he’s being sued and remains a lonely, apathetic man.

Year: 1995
Rating: R
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours

As I mentioned before, one of the directors who directed thrillers was Alfred Hitchcock. David Fincher has directed thrillers as well, but his style is much darker. Perhaps this is due to the types of thrillers that he has chosen to direct. From the aforementioned Fight Club (1999), to the film adaptation of Gone Girl (2014) (based on the Gillian Flynn novel of the same name), these psychological thrillers really play with the audience’s mind. Even though mystery thrillers come closer to what Hitchcock has done in the past, Fincher’s mystery thrillers are considerably more violent, merely on their source material alone. Case in point: Zodiac (2007) and the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) (based on the novel of the same name by Stieg Larsson) both examine serial killers. One of his first films, Se7en (1995) certainly set Fincher’s style, as it’s a psychological mystery thriller.

Nearing retirement, detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is reluctantly paired with hot-shot detective, David Mills (Brad Pitt). Their first case involves a pair of murders, both of which are linked to two of the seven deadly sins: “gluttony” and “greed.” At these crime scenes, there are clues to the next murder: “sloth.” It is at this point that the two of them realize the killer has been taking an enormous amount of time to set up and execute these murders. Doing some research into the seven sins, they find John Doe (Kevin Spacey), who manages to escape. Meanwhile, the detectives are moments too late to prevent the murders of “lust” and “pride”. At this point, Doe surrenders willfully, but not without a few conditions. Revealing the location of the last two murders that have yet to take place, all three of them drive out to the middle of the desert to learn how “envy” and “wrath” will die.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic Fincher films

Bacon #: 2 (Being John Malkovich / Sean Penn -> Mystic River / Kevin Bacon)


#221. Jake Gyllenhaal

Many actors who started acting at a young age often burn out into obscurity. After a few choice roles exhibiting their youth, they will struggle to land the more serious and adult roles lauded by critics and the Academy. Jake Gyllenhaal is perhaps the exception to this rule. Even though he started acting at the young age of ten, he never became pigeonholed as the “child actor”. Perhaps this is due to a limited filmography. Perhaps his early roles quickly removed him from the “child actor” category. Whatever the reason, Gyllenhaal has seemed to quickly rise into some excellent performances, much like fellow child actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Natalie Portman. As he has aged, his acting has only gotten better, as evidenced by his roles in Zodiac (2007), Prisoners (2013), and Nightcrawler (2014). This week’s two films highlight the beginning and later works of Jake Gyllenhaal’s current career.

October SkyOctober Sky
Year: 1999
Rating: PG
Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours

Jake Gyllenhaal first appeared on the big screen in City Slickers (1991). Two years later, after appearing in his father’s film (his father is director, Stephen Gyllenhaal), A Dangerous Woman (1993), it would be another six years before he truly obtained his breakout role. At the age of nineteen, October Sky (1999) took the somewhat unknown Jake Gyllenhaal and thrust him into the limelight. And while it was a good performance, his career took an upward turn in the mid-2000’s. After starring in The Day After Tomorrow (2004), he obtained his first and (so far) only Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Brokeback Mountain (2005). Partly because of his role in Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal was able to separate himself from his younger roles, thus ensuring that he would be given the “adult” parts that have given him so much positive, critical attention.

Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) has fallen in love with the idea of space. After watching Sputnik 1 fly overhead one crisp, October evening in West Virginia, he decides to make rocketry his hobby and passion. Enlisting the help of his friends, they start building rockets, with limited success. It’s only after they start delving into the science of rocketry and enlisting the help of some of the local coal mine machinists that they start to see their homemade creations fly into the sky. Unfortunately, Homer’s father, John (Chris Cooper) is not pleased with his son’s distraction, as he wants Homer to follow in his footsteps and work in the coal mine. On the other side, Homer’s mother, Elsie (Natalie Canerday), and the boys’ science teacher, Miss Riley (Laura Dern), have been encouraging their rocket-powered pursuits, eventually pushing the boys to compete in and win a national science fair.

Source CodeSource Code
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Even though Jake Gyllenhaal has appeared in many serious, dramatic roles, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t had some fun. Sure, taut thrillers like the aforementioned Zodiac (2007), Prisoners (2013), and Nightcrawler (2014) showcase his acting ability, but sometimes an audience just needs a fun action or romantic flick. Films like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Love & Other Drugs (2010) are entertaining, even if they are somewhat critically panned. Source Code (2011) is just one of these fun films. Of course, with films like Donnie Darko (2001), and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) under his belt, Gyllenhaal is certainly no stranger to the concept of time travel. And while Donnie Darko was a more serious role, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time fits right in with the “fun” category, along with Source Code.

The last thing Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) remembers is being deployed to Afghanistan as an Army pilot. This is why he is confused to find himself on a train heading to Chicago. To further the confusion, everyone around him thinks he’s a schoolteacher by the name of Sean Fentress. When the train explodes, he suddenly finds himself in a cold and dark cockpit wherein his only means of communication is through a video screen. On the other end of the screen is Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). She knows his true identity of Colter Stevens, but tells him that he must replay the last eight minutes of Sean Fentress’ life to gather information about a potentially bigger threat to Chicago. Through many iterations, Stevens manages not only to save the day, but to change history completely.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great Gyllenhaal roles

Bacon #: 2 (Prisoners / Wayne Duvall -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)

#054. Serial Killers

Death is often a common theme in film. This can come in many forms, including many standard conflicts. Man versus nature and man versus man can usually end with someone dead at the end of the day. Films about war, be it historical or imagined can really pile up the body counts. Often, a death in a movie can be due to circumstance or complete accident in order to propel the plot. However, perhaps the most disturbing deaths in cinema are the ones that are somewhat premeditated. Many could consider killing once, but it takes a special kind of madness to propel someone to multiple killings. These characters are sometimes based on real-life events (as in 2007’s Zodiac), but when it comes down to it, these antagonists are the most terrifying in all of cinema. What propels them to kill is usually a twisted and insane reason, which is why many films about serial killers are categorized in the horror genre. This week, we will examine two films that highlight the antics of serial killers.

Man Bites DogMan Bites Dog
Year: 1992
Rating: NC-17
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

To truly understand a serial killer, you must interview one. Even though it would take quite a bit of courage just to sit down and talk with someone like that, the scariest thing about it would be learning that they are really no different from you or me. What is more disturbing is when you come across a serial killer who considers it his career. After all, people have to make money somehow, so why not do it by stealing from those you kill? While Man Bites Dog examines the life of such a man, hopefully we can be comforted in the fact that while the style is that of a documentary, the subject is absolutely fictional. I don’t know what I’d do if I learned that someone like this truly existed, but needless to say some of my faith in humanity might be lost that day.

Killing is a craft, and no one understands this craft better than Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde). While a camera crew follows him, documenting his life (satirically, thankfully), we see that there is some method in his madness. He usually starts off the month by offing a postman, and generally sticks to older individuals living off of their pensions for his petty cash. Still, since he is so comfortable with killing, there are random murders here and there. As Ben gets more comfortable with his film crew, he soon starts asking them to help him out. What was supposed to be an objective lens of the documentary quickly becomes accessory to murder. Truly, by the end of Man Bites Dog, there can be no possible way for a happy ending to exist. Everyone was in too deep.

The Silence of the LambsThe Silence of the Lambs
Year: 1991
Rating: R
Length: 118 minutes / 1.96 hours

To understand a serial killer, you would have to interview one. However, in order to catch a serial killer, you must become one. Or, at least you must call upon one to help get into the mindset of someone who is mentally unhealthy. In The Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a serial killer who is called upon to lend his expertise in order to catch another serial killer who is on the loose. When it comes to the most famous villain in American film history, Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter stands at the top of the list, or at least according to the American Film Institute (based off of their “100 Years . . . 100 Heroes & Villains” list). In fact, Hopkins won an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in one of the most chilling movies ever made.

Serial killers are one thing, but when you add on top of that skinning the victims or (even worse) eating them, a whole new level of depravity is reached. Unfortunately, in order to catch a killer who has taken to skinning women, FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) must call upon the experience and expertise of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). While Hannibal is a former brilliant psychologist, he is also a cannibalistic serial killer, which is why Clarice must visit him in prison to ask for his insight into the case. After all, information is all but free. As Clarice gets closer to finding the killer, has Hannibal been using this opportunity to stage his escape? If there’s one thing worse than a serial killer on the loose, it is most definitely having two serial killers on the loose.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 murderous madmen