What's up with David Fincher? After giving us only one film (2002's Panic Room) in the eight years following 1999's gleefully subversive, zeitgeist-capturing Fight Club, the notoriously meticulous filmmaker is back with The Social Network, his third effort in four years following 2007's excellent Zodiac and 2008's out-of-character — it's essentially a straight-up love story — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And he's not done yet: Fincher's American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is currently in production and will be out by the end of 2011.
That's four films in five years at a time when the industry is, like the rest of our recession-ravaged landscape, in a serious state of flux. Whatever the reason for Fincher's recent spike in productivity, I'm happy to see him working, as the guy is now indisputably one of the great American filmmakers currently drawing breath. This admittedly hyperbolic designation is proven once and for all with the arrival of The Social Network, a movie that on the surface — it's a look at the rise of Facebook and its nerdy head honcho Mark Zuckerberg — has no business being as suspenseful and entertaining as anything released by the Hollywood machine this year. (There's a virtuoso extended section — possibly as long as 20 minutes — early in The Social Network in which Fincher uses sound design, editing, photography and narrative dexterity at a level so seamless that it will probably go unnoticed by most viewers but which it had me smiling in awe. And Jesse Eisenberg rules as Zuckerberg.)
For a guy who's never had time for conventional, mainstream moviemaking — I'd bet my Blu-ray player that Seven and Fight Club wouldn't get past the pitch phase in today's studio climate — it's curious and oddly heartening that Fincher continues to get movies made that tread down his own dark path via characters that refuse to play by society's rules (see Kevin Spacey's killer in Seven, Tyler Durden in Fight Club, Jake Gyllenhaal's obsessed journalist in Zodiac and The Social Network's social-class-busting Zuckerberg).
So what is it about Fincher that allows him to flourish in the same town that spits out 30 studio hacks for every one distinctive filmmaker it produces? I don't know, but let's hope he continues defy the odds.
There's plenty out this week besides The Social Network. The surprise is that most of it is worthwhile, including a Sundance favorite, Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut and a pair of unlikely (and successful) remakes. Dig in.
CASE 39 — Renee Zellwegger stars as a social working fighting to save a girl from her abusive parents in this horror/thriller from director Christian Alvart and screenwriter Ray Wright. Co-stars Bradley Cooper, Jodelle Ferland and Ian McShane. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated R.) Not screened for review.
CATFISH — A Sundance hit, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost's documentary follows a month in the life of Ariel's brother, Nev, as he experiences the unexpected and unsettling travails of online dating. (Opens at AMC today.) — JG (Rated R.) Not screened for review.
HATCHET II — Hatchet II is billed by its distributor Dark Sky Films as “a tribute to the old-school slasher movies of the 1980s” and a “follow-up to the popular original film, which was released theatrically in 2007 and became a sleeper hit.” A sleeper hit? By what definition? Hyperbolic, head-scratching press release aside, director Adam Green did drop a nasty little thriller earlier this year, Frozen, so who's to say this won't be a worthwhile sequel to the 2006 film that earned Green entry in what some are calling the “Splat Pack,” a group of filmmakers (like Eli Roth and Darren Lynn Bousman) who don't mind spilling some blood. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Not screened for review.
JACK GOES BOATING — Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut with this intimate drama about a lonely limo driver (Hoffman) whose burgeoning relationship with a woman (Amy Ryan) coincides with the decline of his best friend's (John Oritz) marriage. Robert Glaudini adapted his own stage play for the screen. (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — JG (Rated R.) Not screened for review.
LET ME IN — Matt Reeves' remake of Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson's atmospheric vampire thriller — both of which are based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s horror novel — might not be as restrained or as poetic as its predecessor, but, like the earlier film, Let Me In's take on the genre generates unexpected empathy for its central duo — a pair of 12-year-olds (The Road's Kodi Smit-McPhee and Kick-Ass' Chloe Moretz) who form an unlikely bond. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Grade: B
LAST DANCER — Veteran director Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies,
Driving Miss Daisy) tells the true story of ballet dancer Li Cunxin
(Chi Cao) and the Chinese government's plucking of him out of poverty
and into a world of high art, celebrity and, eventually, first love.
Co-stars Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Joan Chen and Amanda
Schull. (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — JG (Rated PG.) Review coming soon.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK — Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin detail the rise of Mark Zuckerberg (a stellar Jesse Eisenberg) and his little online community called Facebook. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: A-
A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP — Acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou pays homage to Joel and Ethan Coen’s noir-tinged debut Blood Simple, shifting from the Western to a Chinese noodle shop in an isolated desert-scape where the owner Wang (Dahong Ni) plots to murder his wife (Ni Yan) and her lover Zhang (Honglei Sun) with assistance from a duplicitous police officer (Xiao Shen-Yang). The story, in both its Western and Eastern versions, remains a fascinating exploration into the dark side of the human heart. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: A-