Counting Down to Gone Girl – Ranking David Fincher’s Films

As part of countdown to Gone Girl that’s out on October 3, and part Birthday tribute to David Fincher (he turned 52 in Sept. 28), I asked my pal Ted S. who’s a longtime admirer of the director to rank nine of his films since Alien in 1992. 

TedSaydalavongBanner

RankingFincherFilms

David Fincher is one of the few elite A-list directors working in Hollywood today and he’s one of my favorites too. What’s so amazing was that he almost never became the filmmaker we know today. After the disastrous Alien 3, he got blacklisted by most if not all of the major studios at that time. If you own a Blu-ray set of the Alien movies, I highly recommend you watch the making of Alien 3, it’s one of the best behind scenes documentaries ever made. Long story short, everyone blamed Fincher for that film’s failure, even though it wasn’t his fault. But like he said, he’s young and stupid and he’s disowned the film ever since. I’ve decided to ranked all of the films that he directed (I’m excluding his music videos and TV work) from my least favorite to the best one.

9. Alien 3 (1992)

Fincher_Alien3

I think many people will agree with me that this was his worse film. But you know what? Even if it’s a lame film in the franchise, it’s miles better than the awful Alien: Resurrection, heck I’ll even admit that I really enjoyed this one. Mostly because of Fincher’s visual style, Elliot Godenthal‘s excellent score and very good performances by the actors. The film should’ve never been made in the first place but everyone involved did their best to make it watchable. I think had it been made by another director, the film would’ve been unwatchable.

8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Fincher_BenjaminButton

It’s a bit too long and reminded me way too much of Forrest Gump. But it’s a still a very good film and of course it looks great. It’s one of Fincher’s films that I don’t feel the need to see it again anytime soon.

7. Panic Room (2002)

Fincher_PanicRoom

I think this film might be his most underrated work and sort of forgotten by many people. Personally I thought it’s an excellent thriller with great performance by Jodie Foster and of course Fincher’s direction was top notch. You might not recognize the very young and boyish looking Kristen Stewart who played Foster’s daughter. This film also include one of the best opening credits I’ve ever seen, see it here:

6. The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Fincher_DragonTattoo

I’ll probably get a lot of flak for saying this but I prefer Fincher’s version to the original Swedish one. Don’t get me wrong the original was good but I just prefer Fincher’s style and of course with bigger budget, the film looked spectacular. I guess after making a couple of light PG13 films, Fincher was itching to make another violent and dark flick and this one didn’t disappoint. The only complaint I have was the strange choice he made of letting his actors speaking either with weird accent or no accent at all. Daniel Craig spoke with his normal British accent while everyone else spoke with some kind weird Swedish accent, that’s just weird to me. This one also comes with a cool opening credits, very similar to the Bond flicks. Maybe since he cast James Bond in the film, he decided to include an opening credit like a Bond film. See it here:

5. The Game (1997)

Fincher_TheGame

After the huge success of Se7en, there were big expectations for his third film. Unfortunately it didn’t deliver as many has hoped but personally I enjoyed the film very much. In fact, if not for the cop-out ending, I would’ve put this one up higher on my list. I was actually quite ticked off with the ending the first time I saw it. But after watching it a few more times, I learned to appreciate what Fincher was trying to do but I still can’t forgive him for including that lame ending. Michael Douglas was pretty great in the film though and even Sean Penn was quite effective in a small supporting role. If you have some extra cash and really like the film, do get the Criterion Bluray, it’s an excellent HD transfer.

4. Zodiac (2007)

Fincher_Zodiac

Fincher’s first film to have been shot mostly on digital and it looked spectacular! This was my second favorite film of 2007 behind No Country For Old Men, I can’t recommend it enough to people. Excellent performances by the actors, great writing and of course tight direction by Fincher. It’s one of the films that actually creeps me out, there were couple of scenes in the film that gave me goose bumps. One of the best films of the decade.

3. Fight Club (1999)

Fincher_FightClub

So basically this was the film that catapulted Fincher into fame. Surprisingly though, the film tanked at the box office but became quite popular when it hits home video. It’s a little nostalgic but this film was the first DVD I ordered through Amazon and around that time, it’s the best DVD when it comes to picture, sound and special features. I must’ve played the disc on my first DVD player many many times. Of course when it came out on Bluray, I snatched it up fast. It’s a film that needs to be seen by all film buffs.

A little fun fact about the film, originally it was scheduled to come out in summer season. Fox executives thought it’s going to be an action picture and Brad Pitt has just became a big star, so they figured it would be a good summer flick. Well after Fincher showed them the early cut, they freaked out and released it in slow fall season.

2. The Social Network (2010)

Fincher_SocialNetwork

I have to admit that when they first announced a movie about Facebook was happening, I didn’t have much interest in it at all. Even after Fincher signed up to direct, I still wasn’t interest in seeing it. You see around that time, I was sick of Facebook, it seemed everyone and their grandmother was using it and I just didn’t care to see a movie about it. But at the urging of my friend, I’ve decided to give it a shot and boy I’m glad I went to see it. I was mesmerized by what Fincher has done with the story about the biggest social media site on earth. Instead of just showing how Facebook was built, he focused on the relationships between the people who were involved in building the site. Of course being that it’s a movie, many of the events happened were mostly made up or changed to make it more cinematic. Also, since I’ve been involved with many start-ups throughout my career, I appreciate how Fincher dabbled into the field that many people might not know or care about. Heck currently there’s a good drama involving the founders of a popular dating app called Tinder. Google Tinder and its founders and you’ll find some good reads.

Of course after the movie came out, many people who were involved in building Facebook said everything that happened in the movie never took place. Even Fincher said he wasn’t interest in telling the history of Facebook, he just wanted to tell a good story about friendship, greed and the eventual backstabbing.

1. Se7en (1995)

Fincher_Se7en

After almost 20 years, it’s still one of the best thrillers ever made in my opinion. Heck, I’d rank this one higher than Silence of the Lambs. This dark and creepy tale of a serial killer who kills people base on their sin is a masterpiece. I can go on and on about why I love this film so much but if you’ve never seen it, then please see it as soon as you can! Some consider it a violent film but most of the violence happened off screen. And that ending, wow what an ending!

You can buy it cheap on Bluray, it’s an excellent HD transfer and I highly recommend it.

TedS_post


So those are my favorite Fincher’s films in order, are you a fan of his too and do you agree with my ranking? Do share your favorites in the comment section.

The Flix List: Four Best Film ‘Making-Of’ Documentaries

As a film lover and also a filmmaker wannabe, I love watching behind scenes stuff. It’s probably the closest thing for anyone to see what’s it like to be part of a film crew. Spike Lee once said in an interview, ‘had DVD existed when he was younger, he probably would never attended film school.’ He said you can learn so much from these behind the scenes documentaries that he recommended any film students to watch as much of them as possible.

My list contains the most in-depth look at how films were made and they’re at least 2 hours long, so you need to set some free time aside if you want to watch them. I’ll highlight the best part of each documentary.

1. The Making of Alien 3

This is probably the Holy Grail of behind the scenes docs, for years Fox kept it secret from the public because they didn’t want anyone to know what went on behind the scenes while Alien 3 was being filmed. The film was a box office disaster for them back in the early 90s and it almost destroyed David Fincher’s career.

You can find this documentary on the DVD version of Alien 3 or Blu-ray. I recommend you get the Blu-ray version because on the DVD, Fox edited out some of the segments where Fincher was bad mouthing their executives, while the Blu-ray version was uncut. It’s probably my favorite behind the scenes docs I’ve ever seen. They interviewed everyone who was involved in the project except Fincher, he disowned the film. Fox even invited him to come back and tell his side of the story but he refused since he didn’t want to re-live those ugly moments of his career.

Now if don’t have time to watch this documentary, you can read my earlier article of what went on behind the scenes of Alien 3.

2. The Making of Star Wars (Episode 4-6)

I assume if you’re a big Star Wars fan you’ve probably already seen the making of these films. Again I thought this was one of the best behind the scenes docs ever made, some of the highlights include:

  • Believe it or not, most of the Fox executives wanted to shut down the film because George Lucas was behind schedule. The film was set to come out in Christmas of 1976 but Lucas and his crew couldn’t finish it on time. Luckily for Lucas and film lovers everywhere, the president of Fox studios at the time was on Lucas’ side and told him to keep going and finish the film. Of course the rest is history but just think about how we came that close to never have seen a Star Wars film.
  • George Lucas had a heart attack during the shoot and he was only about 32 or 33 years old! He was so stressed out that Harrison Ford and the rest of the cast members tried to cheer him up every time they’re done shooting a scene. Lucas was constantly being pressured by the studio to finish the film and also had to deal with the harsh conditions of shooting in the desert.

    You can see some more behind-the-scenes pictures here.
  • The special effects team had to come up with new ways to shoot the space ships battle sequences. One of them said since there didn’t have stores like Best Buy, Dell or Apple back in those days, they had to build their own computers. Lucas hired a lot people right out of college, many of them graduated from MIT or Cal Tech.

Those are some of the good stuff you’ll see in the documentary, so if you have some free time I highly recommend you watch it.

3. The Making of The Lord of The Rings Trilogy

Another great in-depth look at how these mega budget films were made. You can find these documentaries on the DVD Extended Editions or Blu-ray. Some of the highlights were:

  • You get to see how Peter Jackson and his crew working together on the script and finding the cast for each roles in the films.

    Peter Jackson directing Viggo Mortensen
  • Jackson directed hundreds of people during the big battle in The Return of The King.
  • You can see how Gollum was created by the geniuses at Weta Digital.
  • My favorite part of the doc is when they showed Howard Shores score the films. I love the music of The Lord of the Rings films so to have seen how they created the music was so amazing. Below is one of the five-part video of the scoring process you can find on YouTube:

4. The Making of The Social Network

Another of David Fincher’s film made the list, only this time he was a willing participant. The Social Network was my favorite movie of last year and I thought for sure Fincher would finally win an Oscar for directing but he didn’t. Hopefully he’ll get the golden statue someday. This is probably the shortest documentary on the list but it was still an in dept look at how the film was made. Film students everywhere, I urge you to watch it. Here are some of the highlights you’ll see on the disc:

  • Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had a couple of heated discussions about the motivations of certain characters in the film. They mostly fought about the relationship of Zuckerberg and his former best friend Eduardo Severin.

  • You’ll see Fincher directing his cast, it’s quite amazing to see how he listened to his actors and didn’t act like a dictator on the movie set. Usually a director of his status tends to be quite a mad man on the set and would tell his actors to do what he says or they’re fired.
  • The special effects crew showed how they placed Armie Hammer’s face over Josh Pence’s so they could be appear to be twins in the film.
  • Justin Timberlake talked about how he prepared to play the role of Sean Parker, even though he’d never met Sean Parker in person.

Well those are what I considered the best making of documentaries, have you seen any of them? Feel free to add any other documentaries that you have seen.

2010 Year in Review: 5 Best and 5 Worst of the year

Reel graphic courtesy of Vectorstock.com
Welcome to 2011!! What a year it has been, 2010 was the first full year of movie blogging. I had no idea where this blog would take me when I started back in June 2009, but now I can’t imagine life without it. So thanks everyone for your support, and I hope you keep on coming back! 😀

Looking back at my Most Anticipated 2010 Movies list, l’ve only seen six out of the ten (two are actually not even released yet) and of the six, one totally failed my expectation. Last year, I saw a total of 29 movies, with the last one being True Grit on the last day of the year. I know that 29 is a pretty dismal number for a movie blogger. Of course that doesn’t include all of the dvd viewings from previous years, but still! Hence one of New Year’s resolution is to try to see more movies and hopefully more independent fares to balance the mainstream stuff.

Anyway, without further ado, I present to you my five best and five worst flix list of 2010:

BEST

Please note that even though I saw The King’s Speech on January 1, I’m including it on my list as it was released in 2010.

    1. How To Train Your Dragon (full review)
      Even though I didn’t get a chance to see this in 3D, it’s positively my favorite of the year! The visuals are a spectacle, but this Dreamworks’ animated feature also has plenty of heart. It’s right up there with Wall-E in terms of how much this movie affected me. I’ve seen it twice already and loved every minute of it. I’ve seen bought the Blu-ray and will probably end up being my fave of all time! 😀
      5Reels
    2. Toy Story 3
      I didn’t review this Pixar masterpiece, but it inspired me to list my Top 5 Fave Pixar Characters. Watching Toy Story 3 was no doubt one of the most entertaining cinematic experience in quite a while. If there is such a thing as a ‘flawless’ movie, this one could count as one.  The beauty of Pixar animated features are how well written the characters are and how incredibly poignant are their stories. These incredible toys have faced all kinds of mishaps and misadventures, but nothing could prepare them — and us — for what they’re about to face here. That ‘hand holding’ scene packs an emotional punch that if you didn’t at least choke up, you’ve got to be made of stone! It made me feel like a kid again, I will treasure this movie (and the entire trilogy) for years to come.
      5Reels
    3. Inception (full review)
      One of the most original concept I’ve seen in a long time, Inception truly lives up to the hype. It’s an exhilarating experience watching this Christopher Nolan’s brain teaser, but one that certainly needs to be seen on the big screen. This is a film where the visual eye candy matches the brain candy (unlike Tron: Legacy), not to mention the wonderful performances from all of the cast. Totally agree with Ted’s assessment that Nolan should’ve been TIME’s pick for ‘the next Spielberg.’ In fact, even with less than a dozen movies under his belt, judging from the quality of his work, you could even say he’s already Spielberg’s equal.
      4halfReels
    4. The King’s Speech
      I was going to post my Best/Worst list on Saturday but I’m glad I waited until I saw this one. My wise blogger friend Mad Hatter warned me to be careful not to become a ‘victim’ of hype, and he specifically mentioned this movie “…just go in to watch a movie, don’t go looking for a new favorite. It’ll make the results that much more enjoyable.” And so I did. But guess what, as I’ve predicted in my top 5 favorite films about British monarch list, this one would’ve certainly made the list!

      Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush delivered masterful performances, certainly one of their career’s best that deserve major award recognition this year. This buddy dramedy between King George VI and his eccentric speech therapist Lionel Logue are affecting, funny and earnest. It made me laugh and cry throughout and by the end I really was ready to clap. Beautifully written and directed, it also boasted the wonderful performance of the supporting cast: Helena Bonham Carter as the King’s wife and Guy Pearce as the King’s brother David.
      4halfReels
    5. True Grit
      I never thought I’d put this one on my Best list given that I had no interest in seeing this at all. I’m not a fan of Westerns nor the Coen Brothers (don’t get me wrong, I think they’re talented, I just don’t really ‘get’ their movies). But for whatever reason, the trailer intrigued me enough to make me want to see it in the theater. Unlike a lot of the Coens’ fans, I’m actually more inclined to see it BECAUSE of its PG-13 rating, I figure I wouldn’t have to worry about all the extreme violence that my friends warned me about in No Country for Old Men.

      Well, obviously I dug it or it wouldn’t have been on the list. In fact, it knocked Social Network out of my Top Five. I was truly impressed by the fourteen year-old Hailee Steinfeld in her breakout performance as the tough-talking Mattie Ross set out to avenge her father’s murder. She was nominated for a SAG Award in a Supporting Role, but you could say the young girl carried the film alongside seasoned actor Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. As Joel Coen said in this Screencrave interview, this film is “… Less a Western than a dark comedy… We wanted what was funny about the
 book, what was the humor of the book to come through in the movie.” Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much.
      4Reels

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Social Network
    This one was in my Top Five before I saw True Grit, in fact, I was thisclose to making a ‘tie’ pick and broke the Top 5 rule 🙂 For a film about a social utility web site I hardly use, I found this David Fincher film surprisingly engaging. It has won practically every major award and though I was skeptical before seeing it, now I can see why. Aaron Sorkin’s well-written script and Fincher’s astute direction made for a suspenseful story and one that kept me engrossed from start to finish. As Ted mentioned in his Best list, it’s refreshing to see a film without a single gunshot or explosion being fired, yet still managed to keep me at the edge of my seat.

    Great performances abound from all the young actors, in fact, it should win Best Ensemble Cast of Actors Under 30 (the oldest in the cast is Justin Timberlake at 29). Jesse Eisenberg is great as Mark Zuckerberg, but Andrew Garfield stole scenes as Eduardo Saverin. His is one of the notable performances that I noticed from last year (I feel another list coming)
    4Reels
  • The Town
    Ben Affleck’s sophomore project after the excellent Gone, Baby, Gone proves that he’s not just a one hit wonder. This compelling crime drama set in his favorite town of Boston boasts dynamic action, poignant dialog and notable performances from Affleck himself, as well as Rebecca Hall and Jeremy Renner. Though his acting skill is back in a lot of people’s good graces, I still think he’s a more talented director than actor. It’s not quite as good as Michael Man’s Heat, but still a worthy heist movie in its own right.
    3halfReels
  • Nowhere Boy (full review)
    After watching Kick-Ass, I was really impressed by Aaron Johnson’s performance. But seeing him in this confirmed he’s definitely one of Britain’s hottest young imports working today. His spot-on performance as John Lennon is deeply affecting — he wasn’t merely impersonating the music legend but was able to capture the forlornness and unhappiness of his youth. Not to mention the terrific performances of Kristin Scott Thomas as John’s aunt Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as his estranged mother. This is one biopic not to be missed.
    3halfReels

WORST

I was quite fortunate that I skipped a lot of films that look awful even from the trailer (Grown Ups, Cop Out, Valentine’s Day, The Back Up Plan, etc.). But still, compared to the others I saw, I think these five deserve to be on the bottom five:

  1. The Expendables (full review)
    Just downright awful, not worth seeing in the theater even for the cast! As I said in my review, there is absolutely nothing I could praise about this movie. In fact, the one star is for the “He wants to be president” line from Sly to Arnie the Governator, and the only not-so-cringe-inducing performance by Mickey Rourke.

    1 out of 5 reels
  2. Clash of the Titans (full review)
    Horrible acting, subpar script and so-so visual effects makes this a total waste of time. At least the Harryhausen original made an attempt to be somewhat engaging despite the poor CGI. I’m glad I didn’t waste my money seeing it on 3D (which I heard was even more terrible), but I wish I just wait until it came out in DVD.

    1 out of 5 reels

  3. Knight & Day
    It’s official. Tom Cruise has a superhero complex. He just loves being such a bad ass hero. It’s not enough that he’s got the Mission: Impossible franchise, he’s once again reprising the Ethan Hunt heroic character who defies logic and physics in order to fulfill his mission. Throw in an ever annoying Cameron Diaz who shares nearly every bit of screen time with him and the agony is complete. If I wasn’t cringing at all the ludicrous action scenes, I was scratching my head wondering what Peter Saarsgard was doing in this movie?? At least the gorgeous locations in Spain make this somewhat bearable, but overall, it was a vapid production.

    1.5 out of 5 reels
    ..
  4. The Bounty Hunter
    This is the movie that made me write this open letter to Gerry Butler. As I said in that post, I kinda had a hunch this was going to be bad, but saw it anyway as I already promised my friend Prairiegirl I’d go see it. Not even my affinity for Butler could make me enjoy this flick all the way through. Sure there were some funny moments but really, it’s more fun watching GB’s interviews!

    1.5 out of 5 reels
  5. The Tourist (full review)
    It pains me to put this on my worst list because I had been anticipating it so much and two of my favorite actors are in it (in fact, the two stars are for Rufus Sewell and Timothy Dalton to share! :D) But the inept script and preposterous plot forced me to do it. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complete waste and I’d even recommend this one for a rental as it’s still an entertaining fare to spend a mindless afternoon on. As I said in my review, Johnny Depp is pretty funny on occasion, but certainly it isn’t one of his best work.

    2 out of 5 reels

So that’s my list folks. Obviously with a list like this, it’s all a matter of personal taste, so no offense if your favorite ends up in my WORST list 😀 Well, what are your best and worst picks of this past year? Let’s hear it!

Guest Post – From Vision to Film: ALIEN 3

TedSaydalavongBanner
Happy Friday all! It’s been nearly three months since we got a Vision-to-Film post from guest blogger Ted S. Last time we got the story on Superman Returns, and now we’ve got David Fincher’s Alien 3. I’ve been saving this to coincide with his recently-released Facebook movie The Social Network, as well as the upcoming Blu-ray release of the Alien Anthology coming on October 26th. The piece below could also be called the David Fincher story 😀

After the success of James Cameron’s Aliens, 20th Century Fox wanted to bring [the lead character] Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her nemesis back to the big screen by the summer of 1992. First they offered the project to Renny Harlin, but he had wanted to do Die Hard 2. So they brought in Vincent Ward to write and direct the picture instead. Before Ward came on board, there were several versions of the film that were pitched to the studio, in one version it focused entirely on Hicks, Bishop and Newt. The story would tie up loose ends from the preceding film with Newt returning to Earth to live with her grandparents, as well as Hicks and Bishop and a new team of Colonial Marines battling a rival faction of planets who use the Alien as a bio-weapon. Of course the studio didn’t greet light that version, probably because of budget concerns and the fact that Ripley was absent in the story.

In Ward’s version, the story involved a wooded planet and a group of monks who thought they were living in post-apocalyptic dark ages, and had a middle-ages lifestyle. The group refused all kinds of modern technology, and when Ripley and the alien crash-land on Earth they would blame Ripley for the alien attacks. Ripley was to be impregnated by the alien “the old-fashioned way” rather than through a face-hugger, and therefore being impregnated with a human-alien hybrid. According to the storyboards, she would dream of half human-half alien hybrids. Other storyboards included horse-alien and sheep-alien hybrids. Ward left the project after the producers insisted that he change the monks to prisoners and drop the wooded planet idea. In the documentary about this film, which is available on the special Alien Anthology edition released on DVD a few years back, the crew in London actually built sets of wooden planets for the shoot. A month before the shooting date, the studio told the crew to stop working while they look for a new director and rewrite the script.

David Fincher

So in order to make the summer of 1992 release date, Fox and the producers were scrambling to find another director, at one point Walter Hill (one of the producers of the film), was going to take the directing gig himself. But luckily they found the up and coming young director David Fincher. Around this time, Fincher had done mostly music videos, so he was affordable and would practically do whatever the studio tells him. Or so they thought. In the first meeting with the executives, Fincher pitched his own version of the film and said that he wanted to expand from the original script. Rumors been going around for years that Fox actually has Fincher’s version of the film in storage somewhere but refuses to show it to the public. Those rumors turned out to be false because had Fincher actually shot his version, the budget would’ve tripled and the film wouldn’t have made the release date. Also, in the special edition DVD, Fox included the director’s cut of the film which is much better than the theatrical version. They even asked Fincher if he wanted to come back to work on the film before it was released on DVD. He declined the offer since he disowned the film years ago.

Anyways, after Fincher met with the studio people, he thought he was going to make his version of an Alien film. Well, apparently he was in for a big surprise. On the first day of shooting, he wanted to shoot a big sequence, but the producers on the set told him that he couldn’t do that. Fincher had no idea that he was being monitored by the studio from the beginning, they actually hired a guy whose job was to keep an eye on Fincher’s every move and report back daily to the executives. Believe it or not, this guy got credited in the film as an Executive Producer. About a month into shooting, Fincher finally realized that he wouldn’t be able to shoot his version of the movie and that he basically got screwed by the studio. He then left the project before editing began.

Fincher and Sigourney Weaver on the set

The film made its May 1992 release date and earned some money. But considering it had cost around $60 mil to make and it only made about $50 mil back, it was a huge disappointment for Fox. Also, this was the summer of big franchises – Batman Returns made big money, so did Lethal Weapon 3. So I’m sure Fox executives weren’t too happy how the film performed that year. Fincher didn’t do much better himself. After the box office disappointment of Alien 3; his directing career seemed to be pretty much over. He was to blame for the lack success of the film, even though it wasn’t his fault. He was simply here to finish the project that Fox should have cancelled from the beginning.

But then three years later, Fincher made the classic thriller Se7en, and has since directed The Game, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the recent hit The Social Network. Now he’s one of the top directors in the business today, and now currently filming the Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As for the Alien franchise, well Fox decided to come out with another sequel, the awful Alien: Resurrection follow by the even more awful Alien vs. Predator films. Currently Ridley Scott is working on the prequel to Alien, this one will take place several years before the event of the first film. Let’s hope Sir Ridley can finally make a good Alien film again, I guess we’ll find out sometime next year.


TedS_post


What do you think of this story and/or Fincher? Are you a big fan of the film?