Se7en (1995)

se7enSe7en (Blu-ray)

There’s not really much to be said about Se7en (is it ‘Seven’ or ‘Se7en’ anyway?)– it is David Fincher’s dark masterpiece, a film up there with the very best films of all time.

Having recently watched Fight Club due to enjoying the first season of Mr Robot (which shares much of its themes and content with Fincher’s film), it was no doubt inevitable that I’d then be reaching for this particular blu-ray. It is a dark, mesmerising thriller, so perfect it almost hurts. Well, I say perfect but it does go a little off the rails towards the end… did I just write that? It feels like a sin… no, it’s just that after the finer-executed, intense ‘sins’ we see created earlier in the film, the ‘lust’ one feels forced somehow. It doesn’t work, it pales compared to the others, almost descending into some standard melodramatic potboiler/horror mash-up, but it’s easily forgiven, as everything else in the film oozes perfection. Maybe that ‘lust’ sequence, and the casting of Spacey, maybe, just maybe is the film bending to more mainstream genre conventions, I don’t know, but other than that, this film is truly great: thats Great with a capital ‘G’. The acting, the photography, the make-up, the music, the art direction… it’s a dark, twisted work of art, superior film-making indeed, and almost perverse perfection.

The rain never ends. There is seldom any sunlight, or any warmth. The city feels like a city of the damned, as if its denizens are souls trapped in some circle of hell from which there is no escape. A feeling of dread pervades everything; there is never any inclination that anything remotely like justice or hope or salvation is even possible here. There is a feeling that we are watching a film from the ‘seventies, where characters seem like real people and their world is as real as ours, when anything is possible, even a bad ending, an inconclusive ending, a disturbing ending.  It’s a scary thing. It’s never anything remotely like an ordinary contemporary thriller (except maybe during that aforementioned ‘lust’ section).

Its like a bad dream, one returned to everytime we rewatch it. Watching this film I often think back on Alien 3 and its own horrible flawed beauty, and wonder what Alien 3 might have been had Fincher been left to make it unmolested by the studio suits. After the failure of Alien 3 (a film I always liked, even the ‘faulty’ original cinema cut),  Se7en had an incredible impact, a sense of revelation, vindication. Here Fincher seems to be in control over everything, and the results show. Yes it’s all style and atmosphere but…to criticise the film for that, almost feels like missing the point- it’s so integral to the piece, the atmosphere is actually one of the films characters, like the production design is in Blade Runner.  Se7en is something very close to perfect.

 

Fight Club (1999)

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“The things you own end up owning you” – I think he’s seen my DVD/Blu-ray collection…

Oh boy- Fight Club is 17 years old this year. That’s really scary. I remember seeing it at the cinema, it was an amazing experience. I came out thinking I had just seen something new, something important. But 17 years ago? Where have all those years gone?

What is perhaps scarier is that it must be eight years or more since I last watched it. A film as good as Fight Club deserves to be watched at least once a year. Which raises a question: which films deserve to be re-watched at least once a year? If nothing else, re-watching really great films every year helps give a sense of perspective. You realise how bland current stuff is when you are constantly re-watching the really good stuff. So which films are that good they deserve to be re-watched every year;  Jaws? Citizen Kane? Ben-Hur? The Godfather? Fight Club? Well, Fight Club might be a contentious one. I’m a fan of the film and count it within my fifty great films list but it always had its detractors from Day One. God knows this film has it’s haters.

So anyway, I’ve now watched my previously never-watched blu-ray copy (yep, its one of those) of Fight Club. Now, I remember it being a good film, indeed a very good film, but really this thing just blew me away. Its funny and yes its violent and it’s full of both juvenile and insightful politicising and it’s dark and visually astonishing. I mean really, it’s so cleverly constructed/art-directed and filmed- anarchy and the decay of society has never looked so beautiful and horrible. Its like a work of art, of counter-culture. Or maybe it’s the very thing that it screams against. Its product (the irony of my disc copy being a ’10th Anniversary edition” not lost on me).

This dark, subversive satire is as sharp and brutal now as it was back in 1999- perhaps even more so, as the world we live in now is arguably much worse than the one in which Fight Club was originally made and set in. Yes, the film is a document of the world on the eve of the new millennium, but there’s nothing more telling that Fight Club is a pre-9/11 film than the finale with those skyscrapers being blown up and collapsing. There’s all kinds of things happening and being said in Fight Club that seems to have added meaning now. It almost feels like watching  different film, like it’s been loaded with all sort of additional baggage since 1999, there’s so many more reasons to flinch and mutter WTF? as the ways society and the world has worsened since 1999 informs the film.  And thats just above all the anti-consumerism stuff that’s as pertinent now as it ever was, particularly as the gap between the rich and the poor in society widens (“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact”).

This film has such great dialogue- whether you agree with its commentary or not, Fight Club must be the most quotable film outside of a Tarantino flick. The cast is brilliant. Pitt and Norton have never been better, and Helena Bonham Carter a revelation. She’s great in this.

There is such a raw energy to the film. Yes it’s a mainstream Hollywood film starring Hollywood A-listers directed by a major director for a major studio, but it feels like an indie, like guerilla film-making on some higher level than we’re used to. Some of the shots are as audacious as ever, some of the CGI a bit more dated than I expected, but on the whole it remains a spellbinding piece of work. Afterwards the question inevitably lingers, whatever happened to David Fincher? He never made anything as bold as this again. Well, not yet, anyway- I guess there is always hope.

Mr Robot – Season One (2015)

mr robot2016.34: Mr Robot Season One (Amazon Prime/VOD)

The first rule of Mr Robot is that you don’t talk about Mr Robot. I could gush about how brilliant it is (and I will), but I can’t back that up with any reasons because, well, that would spoil the experience of actually watching it. Everything really has to be kept vague and inevitably mysterious but that’s sort of what the show is, it kind of sums up Mr Robot. You’re not really sure exactly what kind of show it is that you are watching, it keeps on shifting and twisting. And that ‘first rule’ stuff might sound very Fight Club but there’s a reason for that. Mr Robot is like some kind of love-child of Fight Club and The Matrix, except it’s possibly actually cooler than either. Its that good.

So anyway, keeping things vague and spoiler-free.  Rami Malek is outstanding as nerdy nihilist hacker Elliot Anderson. His socially-challenged, drug-dependant character is an incredible performance, really nuanced, so much conveyed in his eyes, in his expressions… really incredible work. Christian Slater is great. All the cast is great. The photography is never less than gorgeous, the framing of shots quite exquisite and unusual. The scripts… the scripts are fantastic, but of course I can’t tell you why. It’s a subversive modern fairy tale, a social commentary, an examination of modern life, how we are more trapped than we would like to admit, how social media frees no-one, how corporations are the new Evil Empire (literally- the one here is even named Evil Corp). And its a thriller too. Oh, and the music score is fantastic, 80s-style keyboards and accompanied by great choices of source music.

But that’s it, thats all I can say. I could write so much more but no, you’ll have to watch those ten episodes yourself, unsullied by spoilers. Its the only way to discover this show. Beyond that, well, maybe that’s why we have comments sections. Feel free. But really, if you haven’t, you really need to see this series. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, then go buy the season one Blu-ray boxset. It really is one of the very best tv shows out there.

Gone Girl (2014)

gone1Gone Girl is a fine thriller, elevated no end by Rosamund Pike’s great performance which in most other years might well have been awarded an Oscar- she’s that good. On the face of it, the premise of the film is fairly simple- revolving around the mysterious disappearance of Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) who increasingly begins to fall under suspicion of her possible murder. There is of course an inevitable twist but surprisingly this comes mid-way through the film, from which point the film almost becomes another film entirely. Its a good film but due to its nature its one I can’t discuss freely without heading into spoiler-territory.

The only point I can really make is regarding the film’s soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. David Fincher has seemingly become infatuated with ambient soundscapes in his movies (the pair having scored his last three movies now) and while it might serve Fincher’s purpose, I suspect you could run this film minus any of its music score and not notice any difference at all. Its that kind of score. Which is all well and good, but I prefer music that’s almost a character in the film; scores like Poledouris’ Conan The Barbarian or Hermann’s Vertigo or even, for a more recent example, Zimmer’s Interstellar. Music that is an integral part of the film and its sense of character- Reznor’s score here is more of a drone with the odd bit of tune hidden away in its mix, and is pretty much redundant. It is what it is. But the fact that Fincher seems to be more in favour of this style when his earlier films had such great scores as Goldenthal’s Alien 3 or Shore’s Seven or the Dust Brother’s Fight Club… well its rather disheartening.
gone2And really that’s my biggest beef with Gone Girl- Fincher himself. This is the guy after all, who directed Alien 3, the unfairly-maligned result of a troubled production that is a beautifully-shot elegy on death, moody and stark with great performances, wonderful music, great photography and sets…. its a great failure. Its got balls, and is easily the most interesting of all the sequels to Alien. This is the guy who directed Seven, as brutally dark a film as you’ll ever see, a fascinating thriller that’s pretty much the definitive serial-killer movie. Again, great score, great performances, beautifully shot, a film, again, with balls. And then of course we have Fight Club, one of the boldest, mind-bogglingly ballsy movies to come out of Hollywood, ever. The very least you could say of these movies is that Fincher was pushing the envelope, and proving himself something of a maverick director. If Alien 3 failed, it wasn’t really down to Fincher, and the workprint version at least hints at what might have been had the suits left him alone. His next two films were great, classic films.

I’m not going to suggest that his subsequent movies weren’t any good, I’m a big fan of Zodiac in particular, but Fincher seems to be settling down to a routine of thrillers that are competently made but nowhere near as bold as his early films. He seems to be mirroring the career-trajectory of Ridley Scott, whose own best films can easily be argued to be his first three, from which he himself settled into often pedestrian fare.

Gone Girl is a good film, but I have the feeing it would be just as good a film with anyone else directing it. Fincher should be making films only he could make. He should be making a Dune or Rendezvous With Rama or his own Unforgiven, by which I mean a genre film that turns things on its head and says something new. I don’t think his last few films have, and though I’d like to think his future projects will, at the moment that’s getting a little dubious. The promise of a Fincher film used to excite me, but that’s worn off now, sadly.