Tuesday, 28 April 2015

April Blindspot: Se7en

Se7en (1995)
Directed by David Fincher

(Since this movie came out in 1995, I will be discusing spoilers since this did come out 20 years ago)

David Fincher is a director I'm coming to love very much. My first foray into his work was the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a movie that I unashamedly love. The Social Network I wasn't crazy about initially, but also grew to admire (though maybe not love). The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was dark, brooding, and fantastic. And Gone Girl is just spot-on perfection, to me. However, this was all of Fincher I'd seen. And I knew that I really needed to dive into 90's Fincher to get the real gems. Deciding between Fight Club, Zodiac and Se7en was difficult as I had heard equally good things about all of them. But ended on Se7en, though I'm not certain for what reason.

Se7en is the story of Detective Mills and Detective Somerset, and a serial killer whose murders are based on the 7 Deadly Sins. Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is in his last week before retirement, while Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) has just transferred to this city and is starting his first week on the job. When murders arise that are both disturbing and connected, Mills and Somerset find themselves hunting for who did them.

I love murder mysteries, and I love crime stories. And while this is more crime than murder mystery (it's never really a whodunnit), it's still a movie that I found incredible. While this was only Fincher's 2nd ever film (and the first that wasn't based on previous films), it still felt extremely Fincher-esque, and had so many touches of modern Fincher movies.

Se7en is probably the darkest of Fincher filmes (without having seen Zodiac and Fight Club but I feel like this darkness is hard to beat). It's grim, and depressing and everything is dirty and broken. The city is constantly raining and everything seems to be covered in grime. But the movie is slower-paced than the typical murder mystery. It's wordy and it gives the audiences real characters, who are actually fleshed out. And as usual, Fincher trusts his audience. Fincher's trust in an audience is probably the #1 thing I love about his movies. He doesn't feel the need to give characters obvious unrealistic lines to serve to explain things to the audience and doesn't film obvious shots of details or clues. And while he does this moreso in the years to come (particularly with Gone Girl), there is definitely still a strong trust here.

His trust is shown the most in that amazing, taut, intense ending. I mean, I'm going to throw it out there and say this is probably the one of the best endings ever (if not the best) to a crime/mystery film. Spot on, perfection. I mean, I knew it was coming. I knew Gwyneth Paltrow's head would end up in a box, and that Brad Pitt would be asking "what's in the box???". I knew it was coming, and it was still such an intense and perfect scene. But the twist that John Doe, our sadistic and deranged killer (played to perfection by Kevin Spacey) commits the sin of Envy, with the intention that, because John Doe had just killed his wife and delivered her severed head to Detective Mills, that Mills would then commit the act of Rage, by killing Doe. And you know what, Mills does it, he kills John Doe. And as Det. Somerset warns Mills, if he shoots Doe, "he wins". It's refreshing to see a film where the bad guy "wins". This is also what was refreshing about Gone Girl, and I know it made it frustrating for many. But the entire sequence, the driving to the desert, the discussions in the car between Mills, Somerset and John Doe, the package arriving via a delivery boy in the middle of the desert, and Brad Pitt screaming "what's in the box??" after John Doe says he had "taken her head", and Mills' final decision. It was tense, it was taut and it was perfectly and expertly edited. Is there really a better or more depressing ending to a film?

Overall, Se7en was a film I very much enjoyed. It didn't feel overly 90's (in a good way!) and all the characters felt fleshed out and realistic. Kevin Spacey as John Doe doesn't enter the film until about the last half hour, but his presence is so commanding while he is on screen. The murders he either committed or had others commit were gruesome and extremely disturbing (I found the lust murder particularly distributing), but it never felt gruesome just for the sake of it. It all felt in line with who Fincher and the screenwriter had established this, initially mysterious, killer to be. Fincher was also brilliant enough to not include Kevin Spacey's name in the opening credits, and, as I had read, not even to include him during promotion. Had I not know it was Kevin Spacey, it would've made a brilliant surprise!

Se7en is definitely not a film for everyone. It moves a little slower than most genre films, but packs way more of an unsettling punch at the very end. The opening credits are stunning, and the film is just perfectly edited. It was deserving of it's Editing Oscar nomination, but it's a little disappointing that it wasn't up for more. Se7en is dark and extraordinary twisted but it's such a great film. Definitely a must-see for any Fincher fan, or just any film fan!

Friday, 24 April 2015

So Fetch Friday: Movies from the Library + Black Mass Trailer

I know it's been a few weeks, but I'm back! My Friday's have been kind of eaten up the last few weeks. It was a long weekend for Easter a few weeks ago, and then, my husband and I were in Ireland for the past 2 Fridays! We had a really great time. So much cool stuff there to see. That Irish countryside is just incredible! If you ever have the chance to go to this country, you should! The people were so sweet and kind and the country itself is gorgeous!

In that time, I haven't been able to do a whole lot, movies and TV wise. We've been watching more of Mad Men recently, and watched a few episodes while on holiday. Finally starting to get more interesting, thankfully. I've also really started getting into Gilmore Girls. I mean, how can you not love this show? Actually, I do understand how some people wouldn't, but you know what I mean. Lauren Graham is kind of just the greatest. But yeah, I've finally finished the 1st season after like 10 trillion years and I've moved in the 2nd season. Definitely a show I enjoy, even if my husband doesn't and it means less time to watch it if he doesn't want to watch it. 

Anyway, since we got back from Ireland, I have had 10 million movies waiting at the library for me, so we caught up on a few of those this week!

Finally, I've watched Unbroken. Honestly, I don't think it deserves the flack it gets. Like, a 51% on RottenTomatoes? Personally, I don't see how it's score that low. I mean, it's not a fantastic movie, but it's not nearly that bad. The movie had long stretches of actually being quite good (the POW scenes, the scenes in the boat, every time Dohmnall Gleeson was on screen) just to be ruined by incredibly cheesy moments (usually including the line "if you can take it, you can make it"). But otherwise, I thought the movie was decently done. A little amateur, sure, but decent. It may've more shown us the highlights reel of Louie Zamperini's life instead of us actually getting to know who he was as person, leaving him completely two-dimensional, but it wasn't as terrible as I've heard. However, what did actually make me disappointed was where the movie chose to cut off. I knew it was cutting off there, but the ironic thing is that Louie (according to his biography) was actually really broken after the war. He became an alcoholic and had bad PTSD (for obvious reasons). By cutting off after the war ends, leaving his PTSD, his coming to Faith, his return to Japan and his forgiving his POW guards, those things were the complete meaning behind the title of Unbroken. It's these things that bring the story full circle. To only tell half the story seemed like a letdown. 

Also, we got a chance to watch Top Five. Now, I hadn't watched a trailer, and did see the rating was 18A, so I was a little nervous going in because I don't enjoy really hard R-rated movies. And there were those 2 or 3 scenes that could've been much more tame, much shorter and much less raunchy, had it wanted to be. Those I found disappointing. But the overall film, I thought was actually quite good and pretty funny! I actually quite like Chris Rock, I think he's a funny guy. And I mean, I know he's pretty smart, but this movie does show how intelligent he actually is. Again, the really raunchy bits were so unnecessary and ruined it a little bit, but we did enjoy it. 

I also got around to watching Ida, which one Best Foreign Language Film just a few months ago at the Oscars. I wasn't overly impressed, to be honest. Maybe because I'm still a little jet-lagged and was quite tired while watching, but I just kind of shrugged. 

So have you guys seen the trailer for Johnny Depp's new movie, Black Mass? If not, check it out below. This has thrown the film completely onto my radar and I'm very excited to see how this all plays out. The trailer is incredibly tense and extremely well cut, so I'm curious to see how the rest of the film is. Anyway, Johnny Depp looks like he could actually give an Oscar-worthy performance here, so I'm very excited to see if he makes a comeback. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Black Swan/White Swan

I was immediately intrigued by Sati's idea for her White Swan/Black Swan blogathon. And the second I read about it, I knew exactly who I was going to write about. I knew I was going to write about Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. And then, thinking about it, I knew I should write about Walter as well. Breaking Bad is a show that I found incredibly well written, but also has such complex characters and such amazing storytelling. Even though I've only watched through the series once, I knew Walter, and especially Jesse were the exact people I wanted to write about for this.

1. Choose max 3 characters to write about.
2. You can also feature characters from TV series.
3. We are not looking for doppelgangers - we are looking for one person with two sides. For example in Black Swan you can write about Nina and her alter ego but not about Lily and Nina, which are two different people. You can write about Gollum/Smeagol but you cannot write about Bette and Dot - the Siamese twins from AHS: Freakshow - because technically they are two different people.
4. Write about why you chose the character 
5. Provide a theory on what causes the two different sides and what are the signs and contradictions between the two

Walter White

White Swan

-loyalty to family
-willing to smear his name to protect his family
-his loyalty to Jesse
-desire to provide for his family
-determination and resourcefulness

Black Swan
-driven to succeed at any cost
-willing to endanger/harm others
-desperation to be revered and loved

Let's start with Walter White. Walter starts off Breaking Bad as a regular ho-hum high school chemistry teacher, who also works part-time at a car wash. Upon discovering he has inoperable lung cancer, Walt ends up striking up a relationship with a past student of his, in order to cook crystal meth together, so that he might be able to provide for his family when he's gone. This starts to bring out a complete different side of Walt. A side that only shows in small cracks and spurts at the beginning, but eventually starts to completely consume Walt. Walt becomes obsessed with making money, more than even seems realistic or possible, at first. He always wants to go bigger and higher and eventually will stop at seemingly nothing to achieve his goals. Walt will hurt people, kill people and manipulate people in order to get what he wants. He see's the results of his actions and ploughs forward anyway. All he cares about is his family (or, at least, so he tells himself). Originally, Heisenberg was a disguise, an assumed name when doing 'business dealings'. But Heisenberg starts to take on a life of his own. What started as an assumed name starts to take hold over Walt. While I don't know if Walt was always capable of being Heisenberg, Walt finds himself almost completely consumed by this greed.

We know that originally Walt had pure intentions in mind. He wanted something to leave behind for his family, so that they wouldn't be struggling with consuming debt. But our first peek at Walt's greed and ego is when he refuses to have his treatment paid for by his old friends who are now rich off a company Walt helped fund, but sold his share. He doesn't want charity. He wants to be able to provide, like a man of the family should. But what started off as good intentions, soon Walt finds the business of cooking meth consuming him. He wants as much money as he can get, and will do almost anything for it.

As anyone who has watched Breaking Bad can tell you, Walt is neither all good nor all evil. We understand why he entered the meth making business, but we don't necessarily understand all his decisions. Walt is always looking out for himself but, by extension, we know he does this to protect and look out for his family. But he's willing to hurt his family and tarnish his name in order to provide for them, even if they reject him. He's constantly manipulating people to get what he wants, and will lie to anyone. Most of all, he lies to and manipulates Jesse Pinkman, his former student and meth partner. But while he is constantly manipulating Jesse, Walt also has a strange sense of allegiance to Jesse. Even when things go awry between the two, Walt can never find it in himself to hurt Jesse beyond repair. By the end of it all, his black swam may have overrun the white swan, but the white swan is still there, lingering at the edges. It's now been smudged by the black swan. His intentions are good, but his hands aren't clean and neither are his methods.

Jesse Pinkman

White Swan
-desire for family
-knows where to draw the line (though if often pushed past it)
-good with children
-desire to be "good"

Black Swan
-addicted to drugs
-lack of responsibility
-closed off to others

Jesse Pinkman is probably one of my favourite characters on TV. His character is so incredibly rich and complex. In fact, I had to think about his duality far more than I did Walter's. Walt is an obvious dual character while I feel Jesse's duality is much more subtle- which is one of the main reasons I find him so fascinating.

Jesse's duality, his black swan vs white swan, is very different from Walt's. Walt knows exactly what he's doing and how it affects others. Jesse, however, seems to be constantly undermining himself, and finding himself in situations, not really knowing how he got there. At the heart, he's a white swan. I know this isn't obvious at first. I mean, he starts off the show as a meth cook, looking to make easy money. He's unmotivated and he's also hooked on using drugs. But he cares about people (especially children). He craves a family and is loyal to the people he loves. At the heart, he wants to be a good person. But this is so at odds with how he acts and behaves. He keeps undermining the good intentions that he has. His refusal to quit cooking and using results in being disowned by his family and the loss of a girl he loves. He's constantly finding himself manipulated by people stronger than him, but also seems to crumble back into his destructive behaviour and self-pity when not being controlled. He makes rash decisions, usually in response to someone hurting, betraying or using a person he loves. But those rash decisions usually cause more damage than good. He finds it difficult to kill people because he cares about people and is strongly affected by death, even those he doesn't know well. But yet he still kills people for gain, to cover his tracks and so that he and Walt won't get caught.

Jesse is convinced that the only way to achieve anything in life is to be this 'black swan'. He thinks the only thing he is good at is cooking. He knows he's irresponsible and can't seem to grow up. He desperately wants a less destructive life, a normal life, with a family and people for him to love and who love him too. But he's stuck. He thinks where he is now, cooking and dealing, are the only things he'll ever amount to, so he continues doing what he's doing, being the black swan, all the while he's being crushed by the fact that he can't have this better life, that he can't ever truly be a white swan. Jesse is trapped in this life that he clearly doesn't want, but he feels he can't escape it, or just isn't really willing to try. He feels like this destructive way of life is the only way to continue. He has a front of not trying to show just how sensitive, fragile and caring he is.

Walt gets Jesse way in over his head by coercing him into cooking with him. It's a lot more than Jesse ever bargained for, and Walt is constantly pushing past what's 'realistic' or possible. He has good intentions behind cooking but, as mentioned, he's constantly having this inner battle, and Walt pushes him further down the path of destruction. It's an unhealthy relationship, where Walt tells Jesse the exact negative thoughts that Jesse has about himself (calling him irresponsible, useless, a junkie, etc), and it reinforces Jesse to continue what he's doing, because he's told he isn't worth anything more. So the cycle continues of Jesse desperately wanting to be someone different than he is, but not ever able to break the cycle. And now, not only is Jesse convincing himself this is the only way, but Walt insists this as well, getting Jesse to do things he doesn't want to do. Walt convinces him they are unavoidable and will lead to their success, attempting to convince Jesse that what they're doing isn't just black or white. And Jesse goes along with this, feeling that he doesn't have any choices. He has no family, and has lost the women he has loved, and doesn't even really have any friends. Jesse may be a good person, but he also can't live with the fact that his life is so destructive and the guilt that comes with never being able to achieve that better life. It takes a long time for Jesse to try and get out, and to completely quit. While he may feel trapped in this life of destruction, he also can't stop his habits and addictions. While he definitely is a white swan, he's also controlled and thinks being the black swan is the only option, and something he can't ever escape. The white and black sides of him are constantly at odds with each other, a battle which is suffocating him with guilt at the fact that he can never achieve the better life he so desperately wants.

Walter and Jesse are men who are going on very similar, but opposite paths. Jesse starts off as a black swan, who desperately wants to be White. Whereas Walter is a complete (and boring) white swan and descends into a criminal, a black swan. For a while, they meet in the middle, and that's where some of the best episodes on the show come from. It's when they meet in the middle, both a mix of the good and the bad, both having an inner battle of right and wrong, that things seems to get the most interesting. Walt and Jesse are two very contrasting characters, one starting as the white swan, the other as the black, and then, by the end, things have completely swapped. This character arc that they go through, both in their own lives and together, is expertly written, and so realistically human. Walt is someone we are always seemingly rationalizing. And Jesse, while we originally thought he was an irresponsible junkie, he's someone we come to root for. We see the heart of Jesse and know that he is good.

This was a lot of fun to write about! I've kind of been obsessing about Breaking Bad and it was really fun to finally do a big blog post about Walt, and my favourite ever character Jesse Pinkman. I hope you enjoyed this and I look forward to reading everyone else's entries!