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Posts Tagged ‘David Fincher’

Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz

“MANK” My rating: A- (Now on Netflix)

131 minutes | MPAA rating: R

David Fincher’s “Mank” is both a work of genius and a foolhardy gamble, a backstage-Hollywood epic that, for maximum effectiveness, requires its audience to be intimately familiar with Orson Welles’  “Citizen Kane.”

Great. I watch “Kane” a couple of times a year; I’ve even played it on slo-mo so as to appreciate every little nuance of its visual splendor (though one needs to set aside a full 12 hours for that act of devotion).

But I’m not sure how your average 2020 moviegoer is going to react to Fincher’s effort, since “Mank” is literally crammed to the gills with visual, aural and thematic references to “Kane.”

For this viewer, at least, it is two hours of cinematic heaven.

As presented in the screenplay by Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher, “Mank” is not about the filming of “Citizen Kane” or about the controversy generated by the finished film. (In fact, I’m not sure the words “Citizen Kane” are even uttered here until the last five minutes.)

Rather it centers on the writing of the screenplay in 1940. Orson Welles, the boy wonder director of “Kane” (Tom Burke, who sounds like Welles even if he doesn’t much look like him), is here little more than a walk-on character.

The film’s “hero” is Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), a Hollywood screenwriter who has worn out his welcome at the studios thanks to his boozing and bitterly dismissive attitude toward Tinseltown’s power structure.

As played by Oldman, Mank is adept at wrapping his verbal poison pills in the soothing charm of a born  ranconteur. He’s just this short of being openly contemptuous of his studio bosses, but even they cannot hate him.

Although he is a miserable SOB, there’s something about Mank that inspires devotion and loyalty. His wife (Tuppence Middleton) — known universally as “Poor Sara” —  wearily cleans up after his boozing and insane gambling habit.

Now Mank’s been hired by Welles — the wiz kid’s been given carte blanche by RKO to make his first movie — to come up with a screenplay about a newspaper tycoon inspired by real-life media mogul William Randolph Hearst.  Mank, nursing a broken leg, has been installed in a bungalow in remote Victorville CA, far away from temptation.

He’s accompanied by producer John Houseman (Sam Troughton), who is to edit his daily pages, and by a somewhat stiff British lady (Lily Collins) who is expected to see to his physical care and keep him off the sauce…although before long he’s made her his collaborator in mischief.

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Rosamund Pike, Benn Affleck...in happier times

Rosamund Pike, Benn Affleck…in happier times

“GONE GIRL” My rating: A- (Opening wide on Oct. 3)

minutes | MPAA rating: R

The Affleck smirk — the way Ben Affleck, without even trying, looks like a high school halfback who has just initiated one of the new cheerleaders beneath the bleachers — is put to spectacular use in “Gone Girl.”

In David Fincher’s first-rate adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s dark suspense novel, Affleck plays a  handsome husband suspected of killing his beautiful wife, who has inexplicably gone missing. Here’s a poor jerk who — despite his best efforts to appear sympathetic in front of the cops, the cameras and the court of public opinion — can’t help coming off as insincere and smug.

Damn that Affleck smirk!

Or, rather, all hail the Affleck smirk, imbued as it is with ambivalence and leaving us uncertain about whether we should be cheering or booing the film’s protagonist.

That indecision could be problematical (moviegoers like being told what to think and feel), but “Gone Girl” nevertheless sucks us into the bitter (and bitterly funny) world fashioned by Fincher and Flynn (who adapted her own book for the screen — and in many respects actually improved upon the novel).

It’s a thoroughly satisfying mystery and suspense tale, sure, but “Gone Girl” also is one of the cinema’s most supremely cynical statements about the institution of marriage. It makes “The War of the Roses” seem warm and fuzzy.

And as if that wasn’t cake enough, we get for icing a hugely perceptive and bleakly comic depiction of the tabloid media, Internet opinion-making, and the astoundingly shallow fickleness of the American public.

There’s enough great stuff in here for three or four movies.  That Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Zodiac,” “Fight Club”) and Kansas City-reared Flynn keep it all in perfect balance is some sort of miracle.

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