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Reviews Thoughts

Gone Girl

Director David Fincher has been a long-time devotee of Alfred Hitchcock and his latest work seems to be the ultimate love letter to the ‘master of suspense’.

Although no stranger to dark crime dramas – such as Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2007) – Fincher has never really explored the mind of a killer, instead opting to craft impeccable procedurals, filled with dread.

His latest, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel, explores what happens when a marriage turns particularly sour: Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) have relocated to recession-hit Missouri and when the latter goes missing things really kick off.

To say much more about the plot is tricky because the narrative is filled with startling developments and many hidden pleasures. Even those who have read the book will savour the many twists, turns and dark humour that Fincher puts on screen.

It is some achievement that the director and novelist, adapting her own book, manage to juggle so many plot strands and characters, who include Nick’s loyal sister (Carrie Coon), a local detective (Kim Dickens), Amy’s rich ex-boyfriend (Neil Patrick Harris) and a superstar attorney (Tyler Perry).

That they do so with such precision and skill, will delight fans of the director and the book, but it also marks new ground for one of finest directors working in Hollywood. Previously his films have mainly explored male points of view, but here he delves into the dynamics of men and women.

The institution of marriage, especially the notion of a ‘perfect couple’, is by the end of the movie so prodded and pulled apart that by the end it feels like one of John Doe’s victims in Seven.

Modern, tabloid news coverage is also dissected with a knowing, penetrating wit. Often, the media circus surrounding the case of Nick and the missing ‘Amazing Amy’ resembles the climax of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951), another example of a master auteur and satirist.

However, all roads seem to lead back to Hitchcock. There are so many of his tropes on display here: a ‘wrong man’ setup; an icy blonde; carefully controlled dolly shots and pans; an important shower scene; even sections that resemble the wilder elements of Vertigo (1958) and Marnie (1964).

Unlike some of Brian De Palma’s work, this is more than an elaborate homage: the flashbacks and shifts in perspective provide a solid foundation for the cast to do some of the best work of their careers.

Affleck is perfectly cast and pulls off a role that is trickier than it might appear at first; Pike reveals hidden depths after a recent run of supporting turns; Tyler Perry is a deeply unexpected delight, whilst the rest of the cast all fit neatly into the world Fincher has sculpted.

Trent Reznor’s haunting electronic score adds a rich aural flavour to proceedings, whilst DP Jeff Cronenweth helps provide the customary dark palette that Fincher is so fond of.

Gone Girl is the kind of film that needs to seen again and perhaps demands another review with spoilers, for a full discussion of its many qualities. But for the moment, it is a film you should definitely see, one of the best of the year so far.

> Official website
> Reviews at Metacritic

Categories
Thoughts

Autism and the Movies

Do the recent spate of movies dealing with autism and Asberger’s syndrome present a shift in a wider understanding of the condition?

Wikipedia define it:

Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.

NHS Direct say:

Autism and Asperger syndrome are both part of a range of related developmental disorders known as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). They begin in childhood and persist through adulthood.

ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms, which are grouped into three broad categories, described below.

  • Problems and difficulties with social interaction, such as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people’s emotions and feelings.
  • Impaired language and communication skills, such as delayed language development and an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly.
  • Unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour. This includes making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting. The child develops set routines of behaviour, which can upset the child if the routines are broken.

Last Friday, actor Brian Cox was on The Review Show on BBC2 as a panellist to preview the films up for consideration this year.

He vigorously defended Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which features a central character with the condition.

As I wrote last week, Stephen Daldry’s film was the subject of an unusual amount of venom from some critics.

It is fair enough to criticise the film (and I would echo some of those criticisms) but was there something revealing in the more negative reviews?

Many seemed to focus on the central character’s condition as “annoying”, which could have been reflective of a lack of understanding and tolerance regarding the condition of autism and Asperger’s.

One person who can’t be accused of ignorance is David Mamet, who wrote an interesting chapter about it in his 2007 book, Bambi vs Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business.

He makes the claim that it may have played a key role in the shaping of Hollywood:

I think it not impossible that Asberger’s syndrome helped make the movie business.

The symptoms of the developmental disorder include early precocity, a great ability to maintain masses of information, a lack of ability to mix with groups in age-appropriate ways, ignorance of or indifference to social norms, high intelligence, and difficulty with transitions, married to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the minutia of the task at hand.

This sounds to me like a job description for a movie director.

He goes on to say:

Let me also note that Asberger’s syndrome has it’s highest prevalence among Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants. For those who have not been paying attention, this group constitutes, and has constituted since its earliest days, the bulk of America’s movie directors and studio heads.

Referencing Neal Gabler’s book An Empire of Their Own, he points out the fact that key early Jewish pioneers of Hollywood – Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Joseph Schenck, William Fox and Carl Laemmle – all came from an area of Europe within a 200 mile radius of Warsaw.

Mamet goes on to note that many prominent Jewish directors share this Eastern European lineage, from Joseph Von Sternberg right through to Steven Spielberg.

In 1999, just a few months after Kubrick’s death, Spielberg gave a lengthy and fascinating interview about his friend, in which he talked about his mastery of technique:

“Nobody could shoot a movie better than Stanley Kubrick in history”

In their book Asperger Syndrome: A Gift or a Curse?, Viktoria Lyons and Dr. Michael Fitzgerald have a whole chapter exploring the notion as to whether or not Kubrick had Asberger’s.

They note his obsessive interest in photography, all aspects of the filmmaking process and exhaustive research.

(It is also worth noting that Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell and Patricia Highsmith also appear in the book as case studies)

In a comment on a blog about Kubrick’s Napolean project, for which he conducted industrial amounts of research but never actually made, someone says the key may lie in his films:

“The best evidence for Kubrick being an Asperger is not perfectionism,it is the recurring themes of his films.
Aspies see themselves, or think the world sees them as robots, computers, or aliens. In A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the main character is a robot who thinks he is human. HAL, in 2001 is also a piece of artificial intelligence, a human-like computer. The definition of “A Clockwork Orange” in the first page of the book “a clockwork orange-meaning that he has the appearance of an organism but is in fact only a clockwork toy”

His preference for enormous numbers of repeated takes might also indicate something: a simple line by Scatman Crothers in The Shining (1980) was reputedly shot 148 times, a record for the most takes of a single scene.

But that attention to detail and exhaustive research pays off in the final films, even if they took a number of years to be fully recognised for what they are.

Asberger’s was the subject of Adam (2009), a drama about a young man (Hugh Dancy) and his relationship with his new neighbour (Rose Byrne), which won the Alfred P. Sloan prize at the Sundance festival – an award that acknowledges films that focus on science and technology.

In the film Dancy’s condition and interest in science, specifically the cosmos, is presented with tact and sensitivity.

All of which is a welcome contrast to the ‘mad scientist’ archetype that’s been so pervasive in pop culture since the “It’s alive!” scene from Frankenstein (1931):

Given that scientists in are usually the most sane and rational people whose discoveries and inventions have helped save countless lives, it begs the question as to why this notion persists.

The irony is even richer if we accept Mamet’s theory about Hollywood’s founders – a system created by people who may have had Asberger’s, actually perpetuates the stigma surrounding it.

Films like Rain Main (1988) seem to be the exception that proves the rule and even that film’s legacy is still debated.

But could that be about to change?

David Fincher – like Kubrick, a meticulous director of rare talent – has recently been attracted to projects with two lead characters who appear to show traces of Asberger’s and autism.

Animal welfare expert and autism advocate Temple Grandin recently talked to George Stroumboulopoulos about the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010):

(For anyone doubting the accuracy of the book or film check out this interview with Aaron Sorkin, this one with producer Scott Rudin, this intriguing Quora thread and this /Film article here).

Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is another computer hacker with limited social skills, but her character is arguably a key reason why the book caught on in the way that it did.

Not only does it reverse the gender stereotype seen so often in Hollywood – e.g. man saves ‘the damsel in distress’ – but it possibly reflects a generation of women not only comfortable with computers, but capable of using them as a tool to fight their various battles.

In the same way that Zuckerberg uses his coding skills to outwit the entitled Winklevoss twins, Salander utilises her hacking skills to get revenge on various sleazy and sexist men.

Let’s not forget that the original title of Steig Larrson’s novel was “Men Who Hate Women” and that the female protagonist was partly inspired by the author witnessing the gang rape of a girl, which led to his lifelong hatred of violent abuse against women.

Her position as an outsider is thus cemented by her endurance of abuse as well as her distant personality – the fact that her character has resonated so strongly in pop culture, surely suggests something about the sexism and intolerance that is still prevalent in the modern world.

On the official site for the original Scandinavian production, there is even a whole section devoted to whether or not the character has Asberger’s, but it isn’t presented necessarily as a flaw – it is just who she is and in some ways works to her advantage.

After all, she is described by her employer (Goran Visnic) in Fincher’s film as “one of the best investigators” he has but “different”.

She is the latest in a long line of obsessive loners in Fincher films: there is the disillusioned, library-dwelling cop in Seven (1995), the coldly distant financier in The Game (1997), the split-personality at the heart of Fight Club (1999), the determined mother in Panic Room (2002), the outsider-cartoonist in Zodiac (2007) or the old-man-getting-younger in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

All feature some special gift, which can often be both a blessing and a curse.

If this sounds like a superhero movie, you might be interested to know that Fincher was offered the first Spider-Man movie but this extract from a Q&A session at the BFI Southbank in Febraury 2009 reveals why that never happened:

Q4: You’ve made films where improbable things look realistic. Did you ever consider making a superhero movie or fantasy, where things are bit more difficult to make believable?

Fincher: I was asked if I might be interested in the first Spider-Man, and I went in and told them what I might be interested in doing, and they hated it. No, I’m not interested in doing “A Superhero”. The thing I liked about Spider-Man was I liked the idea of a teenager, the notion of this moment in time when you’re so vulnerable yet completely invulnerable. But I wasn’t interested in the genesis, I just couldn’t shoot somebody being bitten by a radioactive spider – just couldn’t sleep knowing I’d done that. [audience laughs]

But if you think about it, The Social Network is a kind of superhero movie where geeky outsiders (like Peter Parker or the X-Men) use their special talents to create something bigger than themselves – its just in this case its a website that connects millions of people rather than a symbolic crimefighter.

If you want to take that analogy further, Michael Chabon’s 2000 novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, depicts Jewish outsiders working during the ‘Golden Age‘ of comics, which is loosely inspired by the lives of real people including Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Like Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin falling out over Facebook, Spiderman creators Lee and Steve Ditko had some disagreement over the character who would become famous – essentially, Lee did the writing whilst Ditko did the drawing.

People I discussed The Social Network with seemed divided about the central character: older viewers perceived him as a jerk who betrayed his friends, whilst younger one saw him as a hero for sticking it to the privileged Harvard elite and building a website that has become a huge part of their lives.

In fact, the film works as a brilliant metaphor for Hollywood itself – brilliant Jewish upstarts defy the East coast establishment (represented by the Winklevoss twins) to find their nirvana on the West Coast (Silicon Valley).

Although many see the final scene as a Rosebud-style comeuppance for Zuckerberg, they seem to forget the small matter of him not only becoming a billionaire, but having an unusual amount of control of the company he founded.

The geek really does inherit the earth.

The photo the Zuckerberg character he keeps refreshing is that of a former girlfriend played by Rooney Mara, the very same actress who plays Lisbeth Salander, reinforcing the connection between the films.

Mara was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and was on the red carpet last Sunday.

It was the very same carpet where Sacha Baron Cohen poured ‘the ashes of Kim Jong Il’ over Ryan Seacrest (a stunt which spread like wildfire on Twitter and already has 7.2 million views on YouTube):

What does this have to do with Asberger’s or autism?

Sacha’s brother is Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and director of the University’s Autism Research Centre.

Wikipedia have more details:

He is best known for his work on autism, including his early theory that autism involves degrees of “mind-blindness” (or delays in the development of theory of mind); and his later theory that autism is an extreme form of the “male brain”, which involved a re-conceptualisation of typical psychological sex differences in terms of empathizing–systemizing theory.

Here he is giving a lecture in Stockholm:

In a recent interview with the broswer he was asked about books and films he’d recommend.

Among his choices were The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time by Mark Haddon, the 2003 bestseller which featured a narrator with Asberger’s, and Werner Herzog’s film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974).

The central character is famous in Germany for being – as the title might suggest – one of those real-life enigmas who has inspired endless debate.

He appeared in a Nuremberg village in 1828 with no language, he was taken in by the local doctor who tried to help assimilate him to normal society.

Part of the fascination with central character and Herzog’s film are the underlying questions it throws up, but Baron-Cohen thinks it is significant for other reasons:

Kaspar Hauser might be the first well-documented case of autism in literature, or even in history.

Some people wonder whether autism is just a modern phenomenon, but here we have a very early account. The film (and the original book) raises very similar issues to those raised in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and shares a main character who is somehow detached from humanity.

Like The Curious Incident, Kaspar Hauser also suffered neglect and abuse (of a different kind – he was reportedly chained up and isolated for the first 17 years of his life), so this by no means represents autism.

Indeed, it could be more similar to the case of Genie, a so-called feral child who was also reared in isolation and never properly developed language or social skills.

It taps into the same fascination that anthropologists have with other cultures, but in this case it is a fascination with someone who is not part of any culture.

There’s a sort of mirroring that goes on, because the character is so detached he is observing other people. Some people with Asperger syndrome describe themselves as feeling as though they came from another planet: they watch human interaction and they don’t quite understand it. They don’t feel that they can participate in it.

Baron-Cohen has hit on something here about autism and the power of cinema.

It is a medium which presents us with an immersive ‘second reality’ on screen and that rare chance to escape from our sense of self (as long as the film isn’t really bad).

‘Escapism’ is often used as a derogatory term for disposable entertainment, but surely any film that achieves a sense of escape from ourselves is successful on some level.

For people suffering from a sense that they can’t participate in ‘normal society’ (which by they way, isn’t so normal these days), it may come as a welcome relief.

The spectrum of autism – of which Asberger’s is a part – is something that the mainstream media and general public finds hard to grapple with.

Perhaps because the stereotypes perpetuated and recycled through the media, only increase the social taboo, prevent discussion and increase the sense of isolation.

But it is heartening to know that one of the UK’s leading experts finds something of real value in a Herzog movie.

The German auteur has carved out a unique career in both features and documentaries, and Kaspar Hauser was his international breakthrough – it is ironic that a film about isolation should connect internationally.

Perhaps the recent spate of films dealing with autism can have a similar connection, not just with people who have the condition but with the wider public too.

Asberger’s and autism is much more than the ‘annoying kid’ in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close or Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant in Rain Main (1988).

It may be embedded in the very DNA of Hollywood and some cinemas greatest filmmakers.

>; More on Asberger’s Syndrome at Wikipedia
>; Extremely Loud and Autism
>; Review of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
>; Wrong Planet on ‘Asberger’s Movies’

Categories
Cinema Reviews

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher brings his full digital armoury to Stieg Larsson‘s bestseller and the result is a masterful adaptation hampered only by the limitations of the source material.

When journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is hired by the patriarch of a rich Swedish family (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of a family member in the 1960s, he eventually crosses paths with computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) as they gradually uncover a web of intrigue in a society with many dark secrets.

Major Hollywood studios have shied away from making adult dramas in recent years, so Sony giving a director free reign on dark tale of conspiracy, rape and murder represented something of a risk.

But the original novel triggered one of publishing phenomenons of last decade, which spawned a Swedish produced trilogy of films and now the inevitable Hollywood remake.

Inevitable is perhaps a misleading word, because although it was highly likely they would produce a version, one might have expected that they would tone down the darker elements of the book to appeal to a wider audience.

But given that the mix of graphic sexual violence and conspiracy plays such a large part in their appeal, Sony and MGM faced a quandary.

Do they dilute them down to a PG-13 and risk a fan backlash?

Or create that rare thing in the modern era, a wide release for adult audience?

They opted for the latter and recruited none other than director David Fincher, who had just made The Social Network for the studio and has a track record of police procedural thrillers.

It just so happens that the end result contains elements of Seven (a serial killer movie with gothic elements), Zodiac (a slow burn drama that looks into the mystery of the past) and the aforementioned The Social Network (the story of an outsider who uses technology to outwit people).

From the startling opening credits, it is clear that we are in Fincher-land: the impeccable compositions, polished design, razor-sharp visuals and haunted protagonists all feel a natural part of his filmmaking landscape.

Ever since Zodiac, Fincher has been on the forefront of digital cinematography and Jeff Cronenweth’s visuals here are stunning, with the wintry terrain of Sweden providing a frequently beautiful counterpoint to the darker interior scenes.

The screenplay by Steven Zaillian does a highly effective job at compressing the sprawling strands of the novel into a coherent whole.

Those familiar with the book might know that Salander and Mikael are kept apart for a large part of the story and the resulting investigation involves a raft of supporting characters as the elusive history of the Vanger family slowly emerges.

Zaillian has largely stayed faithful to the book, but also added some welcome improvements – especially in the latter stages – whilst the editing by Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter is remarkably precise and efficient in keeping the story moving.

The wonderfully atmospheric score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross somehow manages to evoke the chilly physical and psychological terrains of the story, whilst also blending in with Ren Klyce’s immersive sound design.

Before filming began much attention was focused on who would get the coveted role of Lisbeth Salander and Rooney Mara delivers a powerful performance in what is a challenging role, both mentally and physically.

Daniel Craig conveys a certain rugged charm as Blomkvist and when they finally get together their unlikely chemistry clicks into place nicely, bridging the gender and generational divide which have been a large part of the book’s global appeal.

The illustrious supporting cast also do solid work: Plummer is wholly believable as the head of the Vanger clan; Stellan Skarsgard is sly and charming as his son; whilst actors like Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson and Geraldine James expertly fill out key smaller roles.

All of these elements are marshalled with military precision by Fincher, who has delivered a technically brilliant adaptation of the source material, which should satisfy the global fanbase.

There is a noble tradition of pulpy best sellers becoming classic movies (Psycho, The Godfather and Jaws) and this version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo represents an interesting example of transferring words to screen.

However, there remains a sense that this whole exercise is a bit like fitting a Ferrari engine into a Volvo: isn’t the army of A-list talent assembled here vastly superior to Larsson’s potboiler?

Although it deals with interesting issues which Hollywood rarely touches – violence towards women, the insidious nature of right-wing politics in supposedly liberal countries – it nevertheless follows the crime fiction template right down to the letter.

This is not to say that mainstream fiction cannot raise interesting issues as the book certainly tapped into the zeitgeist of corruption has pervaded the West in the last few years, whilst Larsson’s untimely death in 2004 helped fuel the mystique even further.

Recent events involving journalism scandals (Hackgate), computer hackers (recent Wikileaks revelations) and even far-right murder in Scandinavia (Norway attacks) seem only to have enhanced the potent brew of crime, violence and institutionalised corruption that lies at the heart of the Millennium trilogy.

But the material upon which this film is based feels like a series of plot points squeezed into a tight-fitting story, with hardly any breathing space left after the multiple revelations and plot twists.

Readers have been presumably drawn precisely because of this mix of page-turning intrigue but I suspect what really took it to another level of popularity was the central combination of regular male hero and strikingly unusual female anti-hero.

But after the books and Swedish produced film trilogy, how much appetite is there for this?

I suspect that a major global release like this will make significant money, although whether enough to justify further films remains to be seen.

For a filmmaker like Fincher, who has crafted two ground-breaking police thrillers in Seven and Zodiac, the fundamental material inevitably feels something of a step down for him, like asking a renaissance master to draw in crayon.

It is to his credit that the end result is an invigorating entertainment and a curiously timely blockbuster for Christmas 2011, as we reflect on what a dark and corrupt place the world has become.

> Official site and Mouth Taped Shut
> Reviews at Metacritic
> More on Stieg Larsson and the original Millenium series
> Interesting article on the 4K production pipeline used on the film

Categories
Interesting Viral Video

Dragon Tattoo Hard Copy Viral

As part of the viral campaign for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Sony have released an ingenious recreation of a 1990s TV show.

It has never ceased to amaze me how badly big budget movies have traditionally executed on screen news graphics (e.g. that ‘news report’ during climax of Spiderman 3).

But David Fincher isn’t the kind of director to allow sloppy visuals into his movies.

Even if he just oversaw it, his noted perfectionism and knowledge of various video formats may have influenced the final result, due to his extensive work in commercials and music videos since the 1980s.

So perhaps that was why this fantastic recreation of Hard Copy appeared on YouTube recently:

Those who have read the book, or seen the Swedish film, will note how events from the plot are woven into the news segment.

But check out the audio and visual fidelity to the original show.

It appears the look they were going for was a VHS copy recorded to TV, transferred to a computer and then uploaded to YouTube – note the tracking lines and period commercials.

Digital editing programs now it easier to recreate this older look but it is still an impressive feat, along with some (possible) Easter eggs for the eagle-eyed.

If you want to compare it with the actual show, check out this actual clip from September 1989:

If you don’t remember it, Hard Copy was a US tabloid news show that ran from 1989 to 1999.

Like a sleazy tabloid cousin of 60 Minutes, it wasn’t afraid of sneaky tactics and attracted controversy due its airing of violent material.

In short, a perfect fit for the dark world of Steig Larsson‘s book.

Note that the channel is called Mouth Taped Shut, which is also the blog which has been hosting various production photos and viral tidbits.

One intriguing episode of Hard Copy was their investigation into the notorious Nine Inch Nails video for Down In It:

Given that NIN frontman Trent Reznor is actually scoring Fincher’s new film, was this whole concept inspired by his past appearance on the show?

It’s a very effective viral campaign but also suprisingly mischievous and playful – a bit like Fincher and Reznor perhaps?

> Mouth Taped Shut
> Details on the soundtrack
> More on the Stieg Larsson novel and Hard Copy at Wikipedia

Categories
music Soundtracks

Dragon Tattoo Soundtrack Sampler

Trent Reznor recently released details and samples from his upcoming score to David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

On his official website, he wrote:

For the last fourteen months Atticus and I have been hard at work on David Fincher’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. We laughed, we cried, we lost our minds and in the process made some of the most beautiful and disturbing music of our careers. The result is a sprawling three-hour opus that I am happy to announce is available for pre-order right now for as low as $11.99. The full release will be available in one week – December 9th.

You have two options right now:

VIsit iTunes here where you can immediately download Karen O’s and our version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” when you pre-order the soundtrack for $11.99.

You can also check it on soundcloud and also see how popular it is by checking the number of plays. click here for more info if you want to know how to get more soundcloud plays for your music.

You will also be able to exclusively watch the legendary 8-minute trailer you may have heard about (no purchase necessary obviously). We scored this trailer separately from the film, BTW.

Or…

Visit our store here. We’re offering a variety of purchasing options including multiple format high-quality digital files, CDs and a really nice limited edition deluxe package containing vinyl and a flash drive.

In addition, RIGHT NOW you can download a six-track, 35 minute sampler with no purchase necessary.

You can also listen to selected tracks here:

Dragon Tattoo Sampler by ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

The full track listing is:

1. Immigrant Song
2. She Reminds Me Of You
3. People Lie All The Time
4. Pinned and Mounted
5. Perihelion
6. What If We Could?
7. With the Flies
8. Hidden In Snow
9. A Thousand Details
10. One Particular Moment
11. I Can’t Take It Anymore
12. How Brittle The Bones
13. Please Take Your Hand Away
14. Cut Into Pieces
15. The Splinter
16. An Itch
17. Hypomania
18. Under the Midnight Sun
19. Aphelion
20. You’re Here
21. The Same As the Others
22. A Pause for Reflection
23. While Waiting
24. The Seconds Drag
25. Later Into the Night
26. Parallel Timeline (Alternate Outcome)
27. Another Way of Caring
28. A Viable Construct
29. Revealed In the Thaw
30. Millenia
31. We Could Wait Forever
32. Oraculum
33. Great Bird of Prey
34. The Heretics
35. A Pair of Doves
36. Infiltrator
37. The Sound Of Forgetting
38. Of Secrets
39. Is Your Love Strong Enough?

Sony also recently released this 8-minute trailer, which is quite an interesting thing to do before a major release like this:

The film opens in the UK on Boxing Day.

Official site
Mouth-Taped-Shut
> Trent Reznor

Categories
Thoughts

The Review Which Broke The Embargo

The recent flap about The New Yorker running an early review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reveals the perils facing studios in the modern age.

I realise that with the global economy in meltdown and news of an earth-like planet being discovered this is relatively unimportant in the wider scheme of things, but it does shed light on how big films get released and critical conversations are ‘managed’ in the age of 24/7 media.

Outside media circles the concept of a news embargo is likely to be met with confusion or perhaps a yawn, so let’s go to Wikipedia for a quick definition:

“In journalism and public relations, a news embargo or press embargo is a request by a source that the information or news provided by that source not be published until a certain date or certain conditions have been met. The understanding is that if the embargo is broken by reporting before then, the source will retaliate by restricting access to further information by that journalist or his publication, giving them a long-term disadvantage relative to more cooperative outlets.

They are often used by businesses making a product announcement, by medical journals, and by government officials announcing policy initiatives; the media is given advance knowledge of details being held secret so that reports can be prepared to coincide with the announcement date and yet still meet press time. In theory, press embargoes reduce inaccuracy in the reporting of breaking stories by reducing the incentive for journalists to cut corners in hopes of “scooping” the competition.”

So, let’s remember that embargoes aren’t unique to the film industry.

If you’ve seen the documentary Page One, you’ll see the extraordinary spectacle of the New York Times newsroom debating what do when the US government effectively embargoed the news that (most) US troops were pulling out of Iraq.

NBC got the TV scoop, whilst the Times decided to run nothing the next day – prompting the existential news question, ‘does story really exist if the New York Times ignores it’?

Think about the daily news cycle.

Stories in broadcast, print or online outlets rarely just magically appear, there are normally placed (via press release, background leak or interview) and processed (by editors and journalists) for a specific reason.

When it comes to mainstream film releases, studios or distributors usually have screenings for different outlets in the run up to release so they can run features and reviews.

In the UK, these screenings usually break down into three kinds: long lead (for publications that need more time due to publishing constraints), broadcast and online (often nearer the release date) and a national press show (often the Monday or Tuesday before release).

Generally speaking, the distributor will adjust the number of screenings depending on the type of film release and in the last decade as the web became more pervasive, more stringent measures were employed to stop the leaking of advance reactions.

For a big budget release there will be a couple of big screenings and a national press show; for a lower budget film (which needs media attention and awareness) they may screen it more in order to drum up interest; whilst for a real stinker they may not even screen it at all and just rely on marketing.

Which brings us to embargoes – which is when a studio gets a journalist to sign a piece of paper saying they will not run their review until a certain date.

From the studio point of view they have invited someone to view a film for free and want to be able to control the media message.

Why do journalists agree to this?

For the critic or outlet it is seductive because they usually want to see the film in question and are prepared to pay the small price for honouring what is essentially a “gentleman’s agreement”.

Most go along with it because they reason that they could just refuse to see the advance screening or that they could be refused future screenings from that studio or distributor.

My personal take is that if you make a promise, you should stick to it. If you don’t want to sign an embargo, then don’t attend the screening.

But this is not to say that the whole business brings up valid questions.

Is it just a simple case of honouring a simple agreement? Or are big companies controlling the media message too much?

And what about those cases where critics have broken an embargo with a positive review, only to have the studio effectively wink at them and do nothing?

Recently Christopher Tookey published a review of War Horse, even though other critics aren’t allowed to do so until December 25th.

Is there consistency on which outlets get to publish before others?

Let’s go back to that Wikipedia entry for a second:

“News organizations sometimes break embargoes and report information before the embargo expires, either accidentally (due to miscommunication in the newsroom) or intentionally (to get the jump on their competitors). Breaking an embargo is typically considered a serious breach of trust and can result in the source barring the offending news outlet from receiving advance information for a long period of time”

This gives you an idea of the grey area that exists as both parties can benefit (or not) depending on the situation, which brings us to the case of The New Yorker’s unofficial early review of David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

This is one of those occasions in Hollywood where a major studio (Sony Pictures) has recruited A-list quality talent (producer Scott Rudin and director David Fincher) to make a movie of a bestselling novel (Stieg Larsson’s dark tale of conspiracy and murder).

But this isn’t a usual mainstream release by any means – it is dark material for a big studio and will almost certainly be R-rated due to the sexual content and violence.

Generally studios shy away from making expensive R-rated films as the potential audience is limited – the only R-rated blockbusters in recent times were 300 (an action film made for a reasonable budget), The Passion of the Christ (a complete one-off made outside the studio system) and The Hangover (a dark horse comedy made for relatively low price).

You would have to go back to 2003 for a comparable R-rated film, when Warner Bros released The Matrix Reloaded and even that had the safety blanket of being a sequel to a suprise hit.

On the face of it, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo seems like a slam-dunk: killer talent behind the camera, enormously popular source material and a massive global release on December 21st.

But now is exactly the time studio executives get nervous as they start to get the early audience research in, tweak their final marketing push and ponder everything that could possibly go wrong.

What if it’s too dark? Will audiences want to see rape, murder and Swedish conspiracies (in English accents!) for their Christmas trip to the cinema?

A marketing campaign for a film like this can be enormously expensive and is almost like a military operation, with print ads, TV spots and online elements that have to be co-ordinated months in advance.

Nearer to the release, the most expensive element is often TV spots which carry one line (or sometimes one-word) reviews of the film in question and these have to take into consideration the first wave of positive reviews.

Which brings us back to the question facing the studio and producers: how do you handle the media screenings?

After all, once a couple of reviews hit the web, others will expect to follow suit.

So far the screening strategy has been selective, in order to build buzz and screen it to critics groups so as to possibly make their end-of-year lists.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere was one of the chosen few to see it and wrote recently:

“Dragon Tattoo was screened last Monday for the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review and to a select group of Los Angeles-based Fincher fanboys. It was then shown to a small group of critics and columnists (including myself) last Friday morning at Sony’s L.A. lot.”

So far, so normal.

Then a review went live and broke the embargo.

Was this a rogue blogger who tweeted his negative review, before doing a YouTube video that then went viral on Facebook?

No, it was a positive review from that most august of old media institutions, The New Yorker.

On Sunday Deadline – a site read by most movers and shakers in Hollywood – published a post titled “So What If David Denby Broke Sony/Scott Rudin’s ‘Dragon Tattoo’ Embargo? Fuck It!“, which laid out the gory details including the letter Sony had sent out to other journalists reminding them not to review early:

Embargoes are dumbass, and even more so when they involve matters of no consequence like showbiz. And still more so when the movie review at issue was positive like David Denby’s critique of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in The New Yorker. In my opinion, no film reviewer should ever agree to embargoes because doing what the studios want is a slippery slope. It’s just a short hop to becoming part of Hollywood’s publicity machine. In this case, producer Scott Rudin is the biggest baby on the planet. (Remember how, when The Social Network began losing to The King’s Speech last awards season, he stopped attending every honoring ceremony including the Oscars? No class.) And Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Amy Pascal on the phone just now told me the studio has been “wrestling” with this since Friday night. Yet she couldn’t explain why these embargoes are even necessary or this villification of Denby, who happens to be my favorite film critic, is even warranted. I asked if the review is good. She answered that she’d heard it was. So what’s the problem? Heaven help us when the studios finally succeed in controlling all media… Here’s the letter which Sony sent out at 2 AM:

Dear Colleague,

All who attended screenings of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo agreed in writing to withhold reviews until closer to the date of the film’s worldwide release date. Regrettably, one of your colleagues, David Denby of The New Yorker, has decided to break his agreement and will run his review on Monday, December 5th. This embargo violation is completely unacceptable.

By allowing critics to see films early, at different times, embargo dates level the playing field and enable reviews to run within the films’ primary release window, when audiences are most interested. As a matter of principle, the New Yorker’s breach violates a trust and undermines a system designed to help journalists do their job and serve their readers. We have been speaking directly with The New Yorker about this matter and expect to take measures to ensure this kind of violation does not occur again.

In the meantime, we have every intention of maintaining the embargo in place and we want to remind you that reviews may not be published prior to December 13th.

We urge all who have been given the opportunity to see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to honor the commitments agreed to as a condition of having early access to the film.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

Andre Caraco, Executive Vice President, Motion Picture Publicity
Sony Pictures Entertainment

The Playlist then published an email exchange between Denby and Rudin, which shed more light on the affair:

—–Original Message—–
From: Scott Rudin
Sent: Sat 12/3/2011 12:08 AM
To: Denby, David
Subject:
You’re going to break the review embargo on Dragon Tattoo? I’m stunned that you of all people would even entertain doing this. It’s a very, very damaging move and a total contravention of what you agreed. You’re an honorable man.

From: Denby, David
Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2011 11:19 AM
To: Scott Rudin
Subject: RE:

Dear Scott:
Scott, I know Fincher was working on the picture up to the last minute, but the yearly schedule is gauged to have many big movies come out at the end of the year.
The system is destructive: Grown-ups are ignored for much of the year, cast out like downsized workers, and then given eight good movies all at once in the last five weeks of the year. A magazine like “The New Yorker” has to cope as best as it can with a nutty release schedule. It was not my intention to break the embargo, and I never would have done it with a negative review. But since I liked the movie, we came reluctantly to the decision to go with early publication for the following reasons, which I have also sent to Seth Fradkoff:

1) The jam-up of important films makes it very hard on magazines. We don’t want to run a bunch of tiny reviews at Christmas. That’s not what “The New Yorker” is about. Anthony and I don’t want to write them that way, and our readers don’t want to read them that way.

2) Like many weeklies, we do a double issue at the end of the year, at this crucial time. This exacerbates the problem.

3) The New York Film Critics Circle, in its wisdom, decided to move up its voting meeting, as you well know, to November 29, something Owen Gleiberman and I furiously opposed, getting nowhere. We thought the early date was idiotic, and we’re in favor of returning it to something like December 8 next year. In any case, the early vote forced the early screening of “Dragon Tattoo.” So we had a dilemma: What to put in the magazine on December 5? Certainly not “We Bought the Zoo,” or whatever it’s called. If we held everything serious, we would be coming out on Christmas-season movies until mid-January. We had to get something serious in the magazine. So reluctantly, we went early with “Dragon,” which I called “mesmerizing.” I apologize for the breach of the embargo. It won’t happen again. But this was a special case brought on by year-end madness.

In any case, congratulations for producing another good movie. I look forward to the Daldry.

Best, David Denby

From: Scott Rudin
Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2011 13:04:32 -0500
To: David Denby
Subject: Re:
I appreciate all of this, David, but you simply have to be good for your word. Your seeing the movie was conditional on your honoring the embargo, which you agreed to do. The needs of the magazine cannot trump your word. The fact that the review is good is immaterial, as I suspect you know. You’ve very badly damaged the movie by doing this, and I could not in good conscience invite you to see another movie of mine again, Daldry or otherwise. I can’t ignore this, and I expect that you wouldn’t either if the situation were reversed. I’m really not interested in why you did this except that you did — and you must at least own that, purely and simply, you broke your word to us and that that is a deeply lousy and immoral thing to have done. If you weren’t prepared to honor the embargo, you should have done the honorable thing and said so before you accepted the invitation. The glut of Christmas movies is not news to you, and to pretend otherwise is simply disingenuous. You will now cause ALL of the other reviews to run a month before the release of the movie, and that is a deeply destructive thing to have done simply because you’re disdainful of We Bought a Zoo. Why am I meant to care about that??? Come on…that’s nonsense, and you know it.

The immediate question hanging over this is who deliberately leaked this email exchange?

But aside from that it also reveals some interesting points.

Although it’s slightly – if not completely – off-point, Denby brings up the problems posed by the end-of-year crush of movies looking for awards season consideration.

Meanwhile there’s something magnificently ballsy about Rudin fighting his corner and principles.

He’s arguably the producer of his generation, with an unmatched record for making quality films inside the studio system, and there’s something admirable about him going to bat for his film and the studio who stumped up the cash for it.

A little part of me suspects this could all be part of a cunning strategy to get the media elite talking about this film.

Think back to last year and the masterful marketing campaign Sony and Rudin ran for The Social Network.

No-one from Sony publicly complained (to my knowledge) when Scott Foundas broke the embargo with a positive review then, so how is Denby any different?

In a strange way, the marketing challenge for this Fincher film is reversed: with The Social Network it was getting a mainstream audience to go and see a film about Facebook, whilst with Dragon Tattoo mainstream interest is assured and maybe the challenge is getting upscale audiences convinced of its artistic merits for awards season consideration.

Did Denby and his editors run the review for attention?

Given that it was only available in the digital edition of the New Yorker, was it a cunning ruse to drive more traffic to their iPad subscriptions? (Even though it has already been duplicated online here)

Did Rudin deliberately pick a loud fight to drum up interest as part of an ingenious marketing campaign?

Let’s also remember the brilliant first teaser trailer was rumoured to be leaked from the studio before being pulled after a few days (and thousands of views on YouTube) – in order to add to its viral ‘authenticity’.

Let’s not forget the Tumblr production blog Mouth-Taped-Shut, which has been nothing short of genius.

My personal theory is that Rudin is genuinely angry as he wasn’t expecting The New Yorker (of all places) to break the embargo and this could screw up the latter stages of the campaign, which can be so crucial and financially costly (although the kerfuffle could actually work to the film’s benefit).

A director who has made two films with Sony once told me that an overlooked part of studios greenlighting a film is the basic question:

“Is your marketing department excited about selling the movie?”

But whatever the truth or final box office numbers of the film, it highlights the tensions between media and studios in the Internet age.

Are embargoes realistic in an age of social media and endless duplication of digital chatter?

Or are they part of a game which both parties feel they have to play in order to drum up interest in their respective businesses to the wider public?

I’m not sure anyone has definitive answers to these questions, but let’s finish with another open question.

If studios never screened any films for critics – with outlets covering the cost of tickets – how would this affect reviews?

> Official site
> Deadline on the leaked review
> The Playlist on the leaked email exchange
> Mouth Taped Shut

Categories
Trailers

Trailer: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

This is the latest trailer for David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which opens on December 21st.

<a href="http://video.uk.msn.com/watch/video/the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-exclusive-trailer/2tbg0god?rt=ajax&#038;IID=1&#038;videoid=711ed3f0-7b20-9609-c37f-de9511616b9a&#038;autoplayvideo=true&#038;renderhtmlasattribute=false&#038;id=ux1_2_1&#038;src=v5:embed::" target="_new" title="The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Exclusive Trailer">Video: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo &#8211; Exclusive Trailer</a>

Note the electronic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and the digital cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth.

For some reason Sony have given the exclusive to MSN but if the above embed is giving you problems then just check it out at Apple Trailers or YouTube.

Categories
Interesting

Christopher Nolan and David Fincher on Terrence Malick

Fox Searchlight have released a video of directors Christopher Nolan and David Fincher talking about Terrence Malick.

Used as a way to promote The Tree of Life ahead of its wider US release on July 8th, it makes for interesting viewing.

Nolan has often cited Malick as one of his favourite directors, whilst Fincher has listed Days of Heaven (1978) amongst his all-time favourite films.

It is a smart way of marketing The Tree of Life to audiences concerned by the unusual nature of the film and perhaps says to geekier audiences that there is more to cinema than just comic book adaptations and Hollywood conventions.

The Tree of Life is in limited release in the US and opens wide on July 8th, the same day as the UK release.

> Watch the featurette in HD at Apple
> Official site
> Malick spotted in Cannes
> Reviews of The Tree of Life at Metacritic (currently has a score of 87)
> Find out more about Terrence Malick at Wikipedia and MUBi

Categories
Trailers

The Studio with the Leaked Trailer?

Was the leaked trailer for David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo the first stage of a clever marketing campaign?

The first I heard of it was an official email on Friday morning telling me that the TV debut of the trailer would be Thursday 2nd June.

All this is pretty standard stuff for a major studio announcing the first look at a major production (this is Sony’s big film for Christmas).

But then over the weekend a bootleg version of the trailer popped up on YouTube and began lighting up on people’s Twitter feeds.

Set to a funky cover version of Led Zeppelin‘s Immigrant Song performed by Trent Reznor and Karen O, it’s one of the most striking and stylish teasers for a big studio film I’ve seen in quite some time.

Notice the quick cutting (there seems to be a rhythm of one edit per second), the dark Seven-style vibe and big, blocky fonts at the end which spell the fantastic tagline of “The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas”.

It feels like Fincher had a hand in personally supervising this, but how did it end up online? More to the point, how does a bootlegged trailer shot in a cinema sound so good?

Could it be the first step in Sony’s marketing push for this film?

(Let’s also not forget that one of the main characters is a computer hacker, so maybe the idea of an unofficial bootleg trailer fits in with the mood of the story).

> More on the upcoming Fincher version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
> Entertainment Weekly with their take on the trailer

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting

The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

This 42-minute documentary explores the making of the famous 1969 western and is narrated by director George Roy Hill.

Although it is a lot rougher than the slick promotional EPKs used today, it features a lot of fascinating behind-the-scenes footage.

George Roy Hill is wonderfully open and frank about various aspects of the production, including:

  • Newman’s acting process
  • Casting Katherine Ross
  • Problems with a bull
  • Conrad Hall’s cinematography
  • The multi-camera setup for the train explosion
  • Old-school visual effects used in the river jump sequence
  • How they shot the final sequence

His final line of commentary is priceless:

“I have now spent exactly a year and three months on this film and at this point I don’t know how it is going to be received. I think it’s a good film, I think the guys are great in it, and I think the relationships work. It was a helluva lot of hard work doing it …and if the audiences don’t dig it I think I’ll go out of my fu*king mind”

The documentary is interesting as it was made before the film became a huge box-office success and the highest grossing film of 1969.

It was also important for a young David Fincher, who explained why in a 2009 Guardian interview:

“The eureka moment was when I saw a behind-the-scenes making-of about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was kind of a shabby EPK that had been cobbled together, but it was narrated by the director, George Roy Hill. And it was the first time I’d ever conceived that films didn’t happen in real time. I was about seven years old, and I thought, “What a cool job.” You get to go on location, have trained horses and blow up trains and hang out with Katharine Ross. That seemed like a pretty good gig”

> Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at Wikipedia
> George Roy Hill at the IMDb
> William Goldman on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting

Creating the Winklevoss Twins in The Social Network

One of the most impressive elements of The Social Network was the visual effects that allowed one actor to play twins.

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss were the twin brothers who claimed that Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) stole their idea for Facebook.

However, director David Fincher had a problem when he couldn’t find a pair of twins that matched the real world Harvard rowers.

So, a solution was hatched where a combination of visual effects and another fill-in actor (Josh Pence) was used to create the illusion.

A visual effects team from Lola (a company that specialises in human face and body manipulation) essentially painted a digital version of Hammer’s face on to Pence’s.

This video shows how they did it:

> Detailed explanation of the process at FX Guide
> Buy The Social Network on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK

Categories
DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD & Blu-ray: The Social Network

One of the best films of 2010 gets a solid array of features including an excellent making of documentary.

The Social Network begins with Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) getting dumped by a girl (Rooney Mara) which prompts him to hack in to the campus computer network as revenge, whilst blogging about his reasons for doing so.

This brings him to the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who approach him with the idea of a social network site, but Zuckerberg opts to create his own version with the help of his friend Eduardo Severin (Andrew Garfield).

Originally called TheFacebook it is an instant success at Harvard and campuses across the US, which leads Zuckerberg to California where entrepreneur and Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) helps him approach investors.

The narrative is intercut with flashforwards to various legal depositions, in which characters explain the conflicts which would later arise, with the Winklevoss twins and Narenda claiming Zuckerberg stole their idea, whilst Severin (who initially bankrolled the site) falls out with Zuckerberg over Parker’s influence.

Aaron Sorkin’s sculpted rat-a-tat dialogue provides a mixture of humour, pathos and insight in presenting what Facebook did to the founders, as well as the overall ironies for them and the wider culture that embraced it.

David Fincher might also seem a counter-intuitive choice, but aside from directing with his customary skill and taste, he manages to ramp up the drama by keeping things simple and focused. Compared to his previous work it moves quickly and the editing and structure all ground the information in a tight and engrossing package.

The director’s customary dark visual palette is on display again, but the balanced compositions from cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth nicely dovetail the crispness of the digital images, which were shot on the Red One digital camera.

Building on the visual look of the film, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide a wonderfully discordant score which not only complements the action but feels like a groundbreaking use of music in a mainstream film.

The performances are excellent across the board: Eisenberg hits the right notes as a brilliant and surprisingly sympathetic anti-hero, Garfield depicts the dry wit and regret of the forgotten man in Facebook’s creation; Armie Hammer (with the help of SFX wizardy) is terrific in the dual role of the ‘Winklevii’ and Justin Timberlake is surprisingly strong as the rebellious entrepreneur Sean Parker.

Like Fincher’s Zodiac (2007)  is a densely constructed film that plays very well on repeated viewings.

For some it will be the cautionary parable of a website which connected over 500 million virtual friends which also broke up the actual friends that created it.

For others Mark Zuckerberg could become like Gordon Gekko, an unlikely figure of inspiration to a generation who use technology to change old assumptions and beliefs.

With its mix of potent ideas and impeccable craft, it is a likely Oscar contender and deserves the recognition and kudos, as it paints a fascinating picture of age old tensions at the heart of new technology.

Sony have done an excellent job with the Blu-ray and the audio and visual transfer is outstanding.

The extra features in the 2-disc special edition are extensive and provide a lot of insight into the filmmaking process.

Disc One

  • Director’s Audio Commentary: Director David Fincher discusses the tone, casting process, the performances, adapting the film from the source materials, mixing drama and realism, visual effects and more.
  • Writer and Cast Audio Commentary: Aaron Sorkin and the main cast – Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, and Josh Pence – discuss working with Fincher, what it was like on set, the score and give their take on the events depicted in the story.
  • BD-Live.

Disc Two

  • How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook? (1080p, 1:32:43): This four-part documentary, split in to sections called Commencement, Boston, Los Angeles, and The Lot, mixes a lot of on-set footage with cast and crew interviews, covering the the pre-production and shooting in some depth.
  • Jeff Cronenweth and David Fincher on the Visuals (1080p, 7:48): The DOP and director discuss how the visual look of the film and the challenges of shooting digitally.
  • Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter, and Ren Klyce on Post (1080p, 17:24): Fascinating look at how the 268 hours of footage were edited down to the final cut, exploring the editing and sound design.
  • Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and David Fincher on the Score (1080p, 18:55): Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross discuss how they came up with the film’s groundbreaking score.
  • In the Hall of the Mountain King: Music Exploration (1080p): An early, discarded version of the music for  the Henley Regatta sequence compared with what we seen in the final film.
  • Swarmatron (1080p, 4:28): Trent Reznor describes an instrument that featured heavily in the film’s score.
  • Ruby Skye VIP Room: Multi-Angle Scene Breakdown (1080p): An interactive feature in which allows you to watch the Ruby Skye nightclub sequence from four different perspectives: rehearsal, interviews, tech scout and principal photography.

> Buy The Social Network on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
Official site
The Social Network at the IMDb
Find out more about Facebook at Wikipedia

Categories
Awards Season News

Tom Hooper wins the DGA award

Tom Hooper was the surprise winner of the DGA award last night for The King’s Speech.

Although David Fincher was favoured by many Oscar pundits after The Social Network dominated the season so far, Hooper won the union’s prize for outstanding achievement in feature film at last night’s ceremony in Hollywood.

The nominees were David Fincher (The Social Network), Christopher Nolan (Inception), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and David O. Russell (The Fighter), a line-up which was mirrored in the Oscar nominations, aside from Nolan who missed out there as the Coen Brothers (True Girt) were favoured by the Academy.

The DGA is a key award as only six times in 62 years has the winner not gone on to claim Best Director at the Oscars, with the most recent exception being 2003, when DGA winner Rob Marshall (Chicago) lost out to Roman Polanski (The Pianist).

With a just a month until the Oscars on February 27th, some are now predicting that The King’s Speech is now the favourite to beat The Social Network.

After the film about King George and his speech therapist won at the Producers Guild of America last weekend, it looked like the tide could be turning against Fincher’s film which had dominated the awards season so far.

But it looks like The King’s Speech will now be entering the final stretch as the favourite, although why does a gut feeling tell me that it’s not totally over for The Social Network?

> DGA awards
> Awards season analysis at In Contention, Awards Daily and Hollywood Elsewhere

Categories
Posters

The Wikileaks Network

David Fincher recently completed a film about Facebook (The Social Network) and is currently in Sweden shooting a conspiracy thriller (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).

Think about it: computer hackersSweden and intrigue.

Maybe his next film should be about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange? 🙂

> The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) at the IMDb
> More on the recent leaking of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks at Wikipedia

Categories
Cinema Reviews

The Social Network

David Fincher’s latest film is an absorbing drama about the battles amongst the founders of social networking website Facebook.

It begins with Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) getting dumped by a girl (Rooney Mara) which prompts him to hack in to the campus computer network as revenge, whilst blogging about his reasons for doing so.

This brings him to the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (played by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who approach him with the idea of a social network site, but Zuckerberg opts to create his own version with the help of his friend Eduardo Severin (Andrew Garfield).

Originally called TheFacebook it is an instant success at Harvard and campuses across the US, which leads Zuckerberg to California where entrepreneur and Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) helps him approach investors.

The narrative is intercut with flashforwards to various legal depositions, in which characters explain the conflicts which would later arise, with the Winklevoss twins and Narenda claiming Zuckerberg stole their idea, whilst Severin (who initially bankrolled the site) falls out with Zuckerberg over Parker’s influence.

This might not initially sound like the most exciting or dynamic material for a film, but with an A-list roster of talent behind the camera – director Fincher, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin – the end result is a stimulating tale of human relationships gone wrong.

It is also a very interior film, with much of the action taking place inside dorm rooms and legal offices, but Sorkin’s script does an excellent job at rattling through the events and digging out some juicy drama.

His sculpted rat-a-tat dialogue provides a mixture of humour, pathos and insight in presenting what Facebook did to the founders, plus the overall ironies for them and the wider culture that embraced it.

Whilst he has expressed doubts about the web and new technology, Sorkin is perfectly suited to this material.

As a more traditional writer, he mines the old fashioned themes of envy, jealousy and ambition inherent in the story, but from a distance which allows him to probe the social cost of relationships online.

David Fincher might also seem a counter-intuitive choice, but aside from directing with his customary skill and taste, he manages to ramp up the drama by keeping things simple and focused.

Compared to his previous work it moves quickly and the editing and structure all ground the information in a tight and engrossing package.

Fincher’s customary dark visual palette is on display again, but the balanced compositions from cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth nicely dovetail the crispness of the digital images (which were shot on the Red One digital camera).

Building on the visual look of the film, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross provide a wonderfully discordant score.

Their compelling soundscape of samples and beats gives the film a distant and offset mood, which may or may not be a reflection of Zuckerberg’s personality.

In a film filled with fine performances, Jesse Eisenberg is the stand out with a focused and at times mesmerising portrait of Zuckerberg as an awkward, brilliant and driven individual.

It might not be as accurate as some have claimed but it captures the restless energy and intelligence that drove Facebook in its messy early years and kept it from being sold off (and ruined) too soon.

Garfield paints a convincing picture of a wronged friend unable to keep up with events, whilst Timberlake is charming as the one person who appreciates Zuckerberg’s idea of how big Facebook can actually be.

The Winklevoss twins – or “Winklevii” as Zuckerberg dismisses them at one point – are actually played by one actor, a feat achieved with considerable technical aplomb by both Armie Hammer and Fincher’s visual effects team.

Representing old school privilege, they also feature in a perfectly executed scene when they try to convince the then Harvard president Lawrence Summers (Douglas Urbanski) that Zuckerberg has stolen the site from them.

The dialogue, acting and direction frequently paint a telling clash between the traditional world unable to comprehend the new paradigm represented by upstarts in Silicon Valley.

Whatever the veracity of the sources used to inspire the film, and Ben Mezrich’s book on which it was based has been criticised, it is structured so that the audience can draw their own conclusions from the various perspectives offered by the Winklevoss twins, Severin and Zuckerberg.

Who comes out best will clearly be a debating point for audiences, but the portrait of Zuckerberg as a social outsider driven by something other than just money is not as unflattering as one might think.

A lot of the debate surrounding the film is the portrayal of Zuckerberg himself.

Although it paints a picture of an intense and potentially haunted individual, you can also see him as an irreverent visionary battling against negativity to build something millions of people use.

There are thematic parallels to Citizen Kane: a young wunderkind creates an empire, has huge ambitions, women issues, breaks up with a friend and collaborator, is left seemingly alone despite creating over millions of virtual connections for other people. (For Rosebud, substitute an ex-girlfriend).

In a sense The Social Network is the cinematic equivalent of a Facebook profile: it uses selected facts to present a portrait of an individual; features potentially embarrassing information; and harvests personal data that will be seen all around the world.

For tech journalists a little too concerned with the details, let’s remember this is a representation of the facts and not a definitive statement.

But like Facebook, it has been assembled with considerable technical skill and may strike a deep chord with audiences hungry to find out more about an online phenomenon so embedded in contemporary life.

How future viewers will judge it is hard to predict, but I suspect two very different perspectives could emerge.

For some it will be the cautionary parable of a website which connected over 500 million virtual friends which also broke up the actual friends that created it.

For others Mark Zuckerberg could become like Gordon Gekko, an unlikely figure of inspiration to a generation who use technology to change old assumptions and beliefs.

With its mix of potent ideas and impeccable craft, it is a likely Oscar contender and deserves the recognition and kudos, as it paints a fascinating picture of age old tensions at the heart of new technology.

The Social Network is out in the UK on Friday 15th October

> Official site
> The Social Network at the IMDb
> Find out more about Facebook at Wikipedia

Categories
Behind The Scenes

The Social Network in Henley and Windsor

Earlier this summer David Fincher was in the UK filming scenes at Henley and Windsor for The Social Network.

The film charts the origins of Facebook and the disputes that arose between founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his co-founder and friend Eduardo Severin (Andrew Garfield).

Another key strand of the plot involves the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer, who plays both) and their business partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) who claimed Zuckerberg stole their idea and made it his own.

In 2004, the two twins rowed in the Final of The Grand Challenge Cup at Henley and Fincher was at the Regatta last summer to recreate the race for the film.

Someone with a camera spotted the director filming across the Thames (he’s the one with the hat on).

If you look at this location on Google Maps you can see the view Fincher was aiming for, with the marquees on the other side.

(I can’t be the only one to notice the irony of the director of Fight Club shooting at a place that almost defines English privilege)

What’s interesting about the scene is that it uses some unusual camera techniques to depict the boat race.

In a recent interview with /Film, Fincher described the effect he was going for:

/Film: The tilt/shift isolated focus you employed in the boating sequence. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on the big screen before and would love to learn what inspired it.

Fincher: We could only shoot 3 races at the Henley Royal Regatta; We had to shoot 4 days of boat inserts in Eton. The only way to make the date for release was to make the backgrounds as soft as humanly possible. I decided it might be more “subjective” if the world around the races fell away in focus, leaving the rowers to move into and out of planes of focus to accentuate their piston-like effort.

In addition his friend and fellow director Mark Romanek snapped a photo of him on the river at Windsor back in July as they filmed the inserts near Eton.

Earlier in his career Romanek was a contemporary of Fincher at Propaganda Films where they both cut their teeth on music videos and commercials.

Romanek recently spoke about this time:

I guess I was in the right place at the right time along with a bunch of other guys. (…) It’s like there was this exciting sense. David Fincher the other day was saying it was like “Dogtown and Z-Boys.” It was just this moment, particularly at Propaganda and Satellite Films, where you really felt you were part of something going on in the zeitgeist.

And people were culturally, on a global scale, they were paying attention to what you were doing. So if you were making this thing, it would be serviced to 17 countries the next day.

Back then, it’s only 10 years ago or something, they didn’t really do movies day-and-date globally. And TV commercials were usually pretty regional. But music videos, if you made a music video, it went out to 22 countries the day you finished the master. That’s pretty heady stuff. And to young people, by and large, who are going to have an effect on the culture.

And it was very exciting because I had an office. Spike Jonze had an office next to me, and David Fincher was down the hall, and David Lynch was walking around, and Michel Gondry would come over from France to do a video. And we’d all be at the coffee shop at Propaganda talking shop. It was pretty f–king cool.”

Both directors now have films coming out: Fincher’s The Social Network is out in the UK on October 15th whilst Romanek’s Never Let Me Go is out on January 11th over here.

* UPDATE 11/10/10: Effects house A52 have put the Henley sequence online

> David Fincher at the IMDb
>More photos of the filming at Henley
> Find out more about Henley at Wikipedia

Categories
News

Early reviews for The Social Network

The early reviews for The Social Network have been extremely positive with 100% scores so far on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

David Fincher’s new film about the founding of Facebook opens in the US next week and Sony has already started screening it for selected critics in order to build buzz.

Here are a selection of some of the reviews so far:

Continues Fincher’s fascinating transition from genre filmmaker extraordinaire to indelible chronicler of our times –
Justin Chang, Variety

A mesmerizing, bewildering and infuriating protagonist makes this movie about Facebook’s creation a must-see – Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter

On a first viewing, it seems almost indecently smart, funny and sexy. The second time around… half the time I sat there marveling at the similarities of the story, themes and structure to Citizen Kane. – Todd McCarthy, indieWIRE

It’s the finest film in many years to open the New York Film Festival – Lou Lumenick, New York Post

David Fincher’s The Social Network is Zodiac’s younger, geekier, greedier brother. That means it’s good, as in really good. It’s the strongest Best Picture contender I’ve seen so far this year – Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere

…the most culturally relevant film Scott Rudin has produced since 1998′s “The Truman Show.” But while that film was a potent forecast of where we were heading as an entertainment-hungry society, this one is no less significant for its depiction of the here and now. – Kris Tapley, In Contention

At the moment it has 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 100 score on Metacritic, but this will obviously change once more reviews are published.

I suspect there could be something of a traditional media backlash to the fervour of these early reactions, like there was for Inception earlier this year.

However, this is a good start for Sony and the team positioning this for a shot at the Oscars. The most interesting question is how much awareness there is amongst the broader public.

Amongst film and tech geeks on the web it is eagerly anticipated, but how many of Facebook’s estimated 500 million users are actually going to see this?

The marketing campaign has been slick and clever but it will be fascinating to see how mainstream this film actually goes.

Reportedly Mark Zuckerberg has seen it, even though he said he wouldn’t. But did he like it?

I somehow doubt it will end up on his list of favourite movies and TV shows.

> Official site
> Reviews of The Social Network at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic

Categories
Interesting

The Opening of Alien 3

In retrospect the Alien films have had some pretty remarkable directors in Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

The first two are benchmark sci-fi horror films, whilst the third and fourth had various production problems which led to a significant drop off in quality (we’ll politely ignore the mediocre irrelevance of the AVP franchise).

But given that Alien 3 (or Alien³ as it was styled) was the feature debut of Fincher and it is interesting to re-examine where it stands in relation to his other work.

This video by Matt Zoller Seitz and Aaron Aradillas for the Museum of the Moving Image takes an in-depth look at the credits of Alien 3, how it compared to the first two films and the MTV techniques which were incorporated into the film, beginning with his 1990 video for Madonna’s Express Yourself.

It is part of a series on the site on Fincher’s credit sequences, in the run up to the opening of The Social Network in early October.

> David Fincher at Wikipedia
> Alien 3 at IMDb
> Ridley Scott and James Cameron express their feelings about Aliens vs Predators

Categories
Trailers

Trailer: The Social Network

This is the first full length trailer for The Social Network, the upcoming film about the founding of Facebook.

Adapted from the 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding Of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich, it is directed by David Fincher and stars Jesse Eisenberg (as Mark Zuckerberg), Justin Timberlake (as Sean Parker) and Andrew Garfield (as Eduardo Saverin).

The film will be released in the US on October 1st and in the UK on October 15th.

Categories
blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

Blu-ray: Fight Club

Fight Club on BlurayA Blu-ray only re-release for Fight Club (Fox) is a 10th Anniversary Edition of the the 1999 film based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk.

Directed by David Fincher it stars Edward Norton and Brad Pitt as disaffected males who bond over their disgust at (what was then) modern society by creating an underground club where men beat each other up.

Although I’m not the kind of die-hard fan to name this as one of the greatest films of the 90s (they do actually exist) it remains a skilful and intriguing mainstream film dealing with such issues as consumerism and terrorism in a sly and unnerving way.

Norton and Pitt both impress in the leads whilst Fincher brings his trademark visual flair to the screen. Apparently Fox’s owner Rupert Murdoch was appalled when he saw the film and it is hard to imagine such a project even being greenlit today by a mainstream studio.

The climax, which eerily foreshadows the events of 9/11, subject matter and subversive humour led to it causing a stir when it premièred at the Venice film festival in 1999.

In time it became much more successful on DVD and now the Blu-ray release should appeal directly to its significant fanbase.

Fincher himself supervised the transfer and included some bizarre touches in the spirit of the film (e.g. the menu is not what you might expect).

The general vibe on this disc is positive with Gary Tooze of DVD Beaver saying:

This surely is the best of all editions with a vastly superior image, flawless audio and old – as well as new – extras. Like it or love it – the film is an unforgettable ride and a milestone in the careers of the director and two lead stars.

This Blu-ray surely replicates the theatrical experience better than ever before for your home theater. An impressive amount of effort has gone into this 20th Century Fox release and for anyone, even remotely, keen on the film – we are highly recommending it as the definitive way to see David Fincher’s inventive, surprising and subversive Fight Club.

He also has comparison screen shots of the DVD and Blu-ray versions here.

The technical specs are:

  • 1080P / 23.976 fps Dual-layered Blu-ray
  • Disc Size: 46,278,055,124 bytes
  • Feature: 34,166,661,120 bytes
  • Video Bitrate: 23.45 Mbps
  • Codec: MPEG4 AVC Video

The extras have some new elements which include:

  • A Hit In The Ear: Ren Klyce and the Sound Design of Fight Club (New)
  • Welcome To Fight Club
  • Angel Faces Beating
  • The Crash
  • Tyler’s Goodbye
  • Flogging Fight ClubNew Insomniac Mode: I Am Jack’s Search Index, Commentary Log, Topic Search (New)
  • Guys Choice Award (New)
  • Work: Production, Visual Effects, On Location (New)
  • Edward Norton Interview (New)
  • Commentary by David Fincher
  • Commentary by David Fincher, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter
  • Commentary by Chuck Palahniuk and Jim Uhls
  • Commentary by Alex McDowell, Jeff Cronenweth, Michael Kaplan and Kevin Haug
  • Seven Deleted Scenes and Alternate Scenes
  • Theatrical Teaser, Theatrical Trailer, The Eight Rules of Fight Club
  • 12 TV Spots
  • Public Service Announcements
  • Music Video
  • Five Internet Spots
  • Promotional Gallery
  • Art Gallery

Fight Club is out now on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox

> Buy the Fight Club Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Fight Club at the IMDbub, david fincher

Categories
Awards Season Cinema Interesting

David Fincher and Brad Pitt on Charlie Rose

The director and star of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button talk to Charlie Rose for an hour about the film.

The film opens here on Friday 6th February.

> Official site for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
> David Fincher and Brad Pitt at the IMDb