Patron Pick – The Game

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will get to pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

The Game (1997)
Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris
Directed by David Fincher

David Fincher is a director I highly respect, but I wouldn’t say I love all his movies. I was lukewarm on Benjamin Button; Mank was good but only stood out because of the emaciated year 2020 was, and Alien 3 is flawed but interesting. I count Zodiac as one of my favorite pictures of all time, and Gone Girl is also a masterpiece. The Game has always been a strange one to me, made in the period between Seven and Fight Club; it is such an odd movie with a unique story. It certainly feels like a Fincher movie from the cinematography and lighting, but it never solidifies a consistent tone. Matt picked this as his Patron selection for November, and it allowed me to revisit the second David Fincher film I ever saw.

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Film Review – The Social Network

The Social Network (2010, dir. David Fincher)
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rashida Jones, Brenda Song

In the middle of David Fincher’s latest film a character sums up the current technology driven economy by saying this current generation creates jobs for themselves. In the past supply-demand was the dominating force; the people wanted something, then someone provided it. Now, we have products that are given to us and we are conditioned to need and want them. Facebook as one example. No one ever needed Facebook, but by preying on some very primitive psychological compulsions, it has become an addictive force. The Social Network rewinds back before there was Farmville or Poking or Mafia Wars, and focuses on the collegiate roots of Facebook. Here we see at its core the entire idea came from the exclusivity of Harvard’s Final Clubs.

The more intimate moments of the film are fictionalized and used to reveal aspects of Mark Zuckerberg’s personality, but the litigations that frame the film are very real. Its 2003, and Mark is a sophomore at Harvard, a kid from a middle class family who is studying computer science. Mark and his best friend, Eduardo are a clever pair, with Eduardo able to get money together whenever needed. After being spurned by a female student due to his emotionally stilted personality, Mark strikes back via Livejournal and quickly cobbled together webpage that has students rate Harvard girls against each other. The site gets him placed on academic probation and the attention of the Winklevoss twins, monied legacies who want to make a Harvard dating site. Mark listens to their idea, turns it down, then rebuilds it in his own images. As the site spreads beyond the walls of Harvard and even across the pond, Mark becomes more obsessed with becoming the very elite he resented in school.

This film succeeds on a number of factors: Aaron Sorkin’s amazing script, David Fincher’s perfect direction and editing, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score. In a movie that is mostly people sitting around talking, you think it would drag, but the craft around everything creates tension and drama in every moment. I find myself liking every *other* Fincher film. Meh on The Game, loved Se7en, Fight Club doesn’t hold up, Zodiac is underrated, Benjamin Button is a yawn, and now The Social Network. I think Fincher works best with a script that isn’t trying to be anything huge. These small stories are given scope through the way he makes films. The score is also one of the strongest elements of the film, in particular a rowing competition scene that involves tilt-shift camera work and tight editing that is a short film unto itself.

The Social Network reminded me a lot of films like All the President’s Men. That film was made only a couple years after the events of Watergate, and it is a much stronger film about the Nixon administration than it would have been if they made it in 1990. The Social Network is very much about this moment and mindset in time. The young men behind Facebook were following the capitalist fundamentalism they were born into in the 1980s. They were never too concerned about the money behind the site, it merely worked to fund the venture, but they desired the power that came with it. There’s a moment in the film, Mark and Eduardo have just had sex with a couple girls in a club bathroom, they stand outside grinning and revealing their adolescent nature. Eduardo turns to Mark, smiling, and says “We have groupies”. Counter this with an image at the end with Mark obsessively refreshing a Facebook page and its clear this mindset is a destructive one.

The Alien Quadrilogy – The Evolution of Ellen Ripley Part Two

SPOILERS BELOW, if you haven’t seen the Alien films and being surprised is important to you don’t read.

Alien3 (1992, dir. David Fincher)

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dutton, Charles Dance, Pete Postlethwaite
When we last left Ripley in James Cameron’s Aliens, she had defeated the Alien Queen and was back in cryosleep with her makeshift family (Hicks, Newt, Bishop). However, a couple months later a fire breaks out on board the space marine vessel Sulaco and the sleeping travelers are emergency ejected in a small capsule. The capsule ends up on the prison planet Fiorina 161. Sadly, all but Ripley are dead and she has an emotional collapse at this realization.
Alien3 is a great film is you like Ripley, but not necessarily if you like the xenomorph creature. The picture plays fast and loose with some of the franchise’s established rules with the creatures and moves at a much slower pace then the action-oriented Aliens. But, as I said above if you are interested in the evolution of the Ripley character then the film is quite interesting. I have to say, that after going back and re-watching this one I enjoyed it more than Aliens. It has a stronger story and I’m a big fan of when horror films take pacing seriously.
Ellen Ripley develops a love interest in the film, the prison doctor Clemens and I liked how the relationship played out atypically from most relationships in films. Ripley never takes a passive, traditionally feminine role and in fact behaves in a fairly masculine way with Clemens. Clemens doesn’t become passive either so it makes for a kind of relationship not seen much on screen. Ripley also undergoes her most severe trauma. She discovers that the fire on board the Sulaco was caused by two facehugging egg aliens (one of whom is responsible for the creature running around in the film). Ripley also learns she has been implanted with a queen. The realization that the species would have died off with the destruction of their planet in Aliens, convinces Ripley that she must make the greatest sacrifice.
If we play out the sexual/pregnancy/rape subtext of the first Alien film this makes it the pain Ripley’s situation even greater. The one violation she has fought off for decades has now happened. Sigourney Weaver plays the devastation of Ripley amazingly. The film comes to a climactic finale as Ripley races to destroy herself and Weyland-Utani rushes to Fiorina to try and claim the creature inside her for R & D purposes. In the end, Ripley makes a metaphoric fall backwards into a vat of molten lead, arms extended in an explicitly Christ-like manner, saving the universe from the xenomorph species.

Alien: Resurrection (1997, dir. Jean Pierre-Jeunet)
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dany Hedaya, Brad Dourif, Dominque Pinon
Probably wondering how a fourth film starring Sigourney Weaver could be possible after the last one. Joss Whedon was brought on board to pen this truly final installment in Ripley’s story and sets the picture hundreds of years into the future. Blood samples taken in the infirmary on Fiorina 161 are gathered up by Weyland-Utani. Centuries later, the company has been absorbed as part of a bizarre government/corporate ruling body that presides over Earth. Ripley has been cloned for the sole purpose of harvesting the queen from her and in turn producing eggs and more xenos. The goal? To somehow train the creatures to become weapons in the corporate military.
Weaver plays Ripley 8, the eight and successful attempt to clone Ellen . Because of the mixing of blood, Ripley 8 also contains traces of xenomorph DNA, enabling her to have heightened sense and the trademark acidic blood. Because this character does not have the memory of the original, all the experiences and trauma are discarded. Ripley 8 is kept in a special chamber and watched over by the scientists whom are also trying to condition the xenos. This Ripley is a much less interesting character than Ellen Ripley. She fits a prototypical action hero mode, with no real emotional reaction or understanding of the consequences of her actions.
In essence, it feels like Whedon simply in enamored with the kick ass chick archetype and imposes it onto Ripley. If Buffy or River Tam is your thing, no prob, but to place that template onto the Alien franchise doesn’t feel like a natural fit. My personal preference was that having a mature, more adult figure like Ripley made for such a unique character in science fiction. The original Ellen Ripley felt like a real human being, truly scarred by her trauma with the xenomorphs yet not allowing to cripple her with fear. Her reactions felt real, she lashed out without thinking through completely, but from a purely survival perspective.
This last entry, serves as a disappointing capstone, despite having such a talented cast and crew behind it. I’m of the belief that director Jeunet decided to make a parody of all the action pictures he saw coming out of Hollywood, and if that’s true he nails it on the head. The gore is over the top to the point of being absurd and the dialogue has that clunky, smarmy style you see in any C-grade action flick. I also noticed a trend of European directors having characters in American action films cursing way too much, and has led me to believe they think this is an essential trait for blockbuster action cinema in this country.