Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Reel Preview: The Year In Film 2015, Episode X

Five months from now, when the films of 2015 are celebrated at the Academy Awards, there’s a good chance that the bulk of those little gold statues will go to the films released this October. Here are the notables for this packed month.

It all launches with…

THE MARTIAN – Sir Ridley Scott (ALIEN, GLADIATOR) returns to sci-fi with this adaptation of the popular novel. Matt Damon stars as an astronaut stranded alone on Mars, and the impressive cast includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

SICARIO – This crime thriller goes from limited to wide release this month. Stars Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (PRISONERS).

THE WALK – Also going from limited to wide release this month, Robert Zemeckis (BACK TO THE FUTURE, FORREST GUMP) directs this true story about a French high-wire artist who covertly plans and executes a high-wire act in-between the World Trade Center Towers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt leads the way.

PAN – Another version of Peter Pan, with this time around serving as a prequel to the original story. Levi Miller plays Peter, Hugh Jackman (WOLVERINE) plays Blackbeard, and Garrett Hedlund plays a young Jim Hook. Also stars Rooney Mara and Amanda Seyfried. Directed by Joe Wright (ATONEMENT)

STEVE JOBS – Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) directs another version of the life and times of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Michael Fassbender (SHAME, PROMETHEUS) stars as Jobs. The script is written by Aaron Sorkin (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, A FEW GOOD MEN).

KNOCK KNOCK – If you need a break from the Oscar contenders, there’s always this erotic-thriller in which Keanu Reeves stars as a husband whose home gets invaded by horny teenage girls.

GOOSEBUMPS – Jack Black (SCHOOL OF ROCK) stars as the author of the popular children’s book series in this kid-friendly romp.

CRIMSON PEAK – Guillermo del Toro (PAN’S LABYRINTH, HELLBOY), directs this romantic horror film taking place in a mansion in the late 19th century. Stars Mia Wasikowska (ALICE IN WONDERLAND), Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Tom Hiddleston (Loki from THOR).

BRIDGE OF SPIES – Steven Spielberg returns with this Cold War thriller documenting the 1960 U-2 spy plane incident. It stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, and Alan Alda. The script is written by Joel and Ethan Coen (THE BIG LEBOWSKI, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN).

BEASTS OF NO NATION – This West African war drama takes a look at child-soldiers. Stars Idris Elba (THOR), and is directed by Cary Fukunaga (JANE EYRE).

TRUTH – This political drama explores the controversial news report which rattled CBS News and led to the downfall of long-time anchor Dan Rather. Robert Redford plays Dan Rather, and he is joined by Cate Blanchett, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, and Elisabeth Moss.

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER – Another break from the Oscar stuff. Vin Diesel (FAST & THE FURIOUS) stars as an immortal witch-hunter.

ROCK THE KASBAH – Back to the Oscar stuff. Bill Murray plays a has-been rock music manager. He is joined by Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, and Danny McBride. Directed by Barry Levinson (RAIN MAN, GOOD MORNING VIETNAM).

SUFFRAGETTE – The early members of the British women’s suffrage movement has their story brought to the big screen. Stars Carey Mulligan (DRIVE), Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson.

BURNT – In this drama, Bradley Cooper (AMERICAN SNIPER) plays a chef whose drug-use leads to the loss of his restaurant. Co-stars Sienna Miller, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Lily James, and Daniel Bruhl (RUSH).


Next month, Reel Speak previews the films of November.



Monday, September 28, 2015


Director Edward Zwick spent the early days of his career painting on very large canvasses; ranging from terrorist attacks, Civil War stories, samurai battles, and the second World War. His newest effort, which tells the story of chess master Bobby Fischer, operates on a much smaller scale, which is a test for a director used to telling grand stories on grand stages.
Based on a true story, Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), a chess master since a young boy, engages Russian chess master Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in a series of matches to determine the world championship. Aided by his friends (played by Michael Stuhlbarg and Peter Sarsgaard), Bobby battles his own inner demons as he finds himself in the center of the Cold War between the United States and Russia.

The early goings of PAWN SACRIFICE are standard biopic fare, as the film chronicles Bobby’s early life as a chess prodigy and his uneasy relationship with his mother and sister. Once the formalities are out of the way, director Edward Zwick shifts the focus from the procedural stuff over to his complex main character, who is noted for his eccentric behavior; ranging from paranoia to making bizarre statements and demands. As Bobby enters the international spotlight and becomes a celebrity with the weight of the Cold War bearing down on him, his behavior and mental state gets worse; constantly making outlandish demands and becoming a true burden to his friends and family. Although it’s based on a true story, PAWN SACRIFICE becomes a bit of hard sell with its main character, as he basically acts like an entitled prick for the entire film. Zwick isn’t shy about exploring that fine line between insanity and genius, or the mental burdens chess players must endure to become masters of their game, but it’s not easy to enjoy the film when the main character is an asshole and the stakes are just bragging rights in a political climate.

When PAWN SACRIFICE gets away from the pain-in-the-ass main character and focuses on the chess board, the film absolutely soars. The chess matches are intense and a joy to watch, and Zwick makes the matches interesting even if the viewer has zero knowledge of the basics or the complexities of the game. It’s fair to say that a chess match has never been more fun to watch since the actual Fischer/Spassky matches. Zwick composes some excellent sequences on and away from the board, making excellent usage of archival footage and period-specific rock music. Some excellent work is also done to insert Toby Maguire’s character into old footage with TV icon Dick Cavett and others.

Despite being unlikeable character, Toby Maguire does excellent work here. That balance between authentic wackjob and certified genius in on constant display, and it’s definitely the most layered work that he’s ever done. Live Schreiber mostly speaks in Russian throughout the movie, but does most of his effective work with his brooding and intimidating body language. Michael Stuhlbarg, as Bobby’s handler and lawyer who has the toughest job in the room babysitting him, does great work in showing the pressures of the situation. Peter Sarsgaard is fine as always.

One’s enjoyment of PAWN SACRIFICE depends upon how much they are willing to forgive Zwick for having such an unlikeable character at front-and-center. It’s really not Zwick’s fault as that’s the way it happened, making the film a serviceable docu-drama which just falls short of an emotional hook. There’s still a lot to enjoy, and it’s a unique entry into Zwick’s catalog as it stays intimate while playing on a world stage, but its only fun for half the time. This match is a draw.



Wednesday, September 23, 2015


“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
This month marks the 25th anniversary of Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS.

Based on the 1986 non-fiction book by Nicholas Pileggi called Wiseguys, GOODFELLAS was a crime film which told of the rise and fall of Lucchese crime family associates Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), and his best friends Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro), and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci).

Development of the film went as far back as the early 1980’s. Scorsese, whose name in time would be synonymous with organized crime movies, had no interest in mob dramas before reading Pileggi’s book. Scorsese intended to make the film prior to his THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988), but put the Wiseguys adaptation on hold when funding for CHRIST came through first. When they revisited the project later, Scorsese saw the film in a new light; instead of a straight-up gangster film done in the spirit of James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson, it would be a mob home-movie, showing how those guys lived their every-day lives.

Scorsese and Pileggi collaborated on the screenplay, taking their favorite parts of the book and expanding on them. Character’s names were slightly altered, and the name would be changed to GOODFELLAS because Wiseguys had already been used as a 1986 comedy film by Brian DePalma. The main actors, Liotta, DeNiro, and Pesci, rehearsed by ad-libbing scenes…and Scorsese took the best ad-libs and inserted them in the screenplay. DeNiro consulted with the real-life Henry Hill in preparation for the part.

Filming was on-location in Queens, New York, New Jersey, and parts of Long Island. The approach was to make things feel out-of-control with many tracking shots, lots of movement, and multiple location switches. Scorsese was heavily influenced by the film JULES AND JIM (1962), and used extensive narration (by Liotta, in character), quick edits, and freeze frames (all of which would become a Scorsese trademark).

The cast of Liotta, DeNiro, and Pesci put in inspired performances, and they were joined by equally energized performances by their co-stars; Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Vincent, and Chuck Low. Scorsese’s mom made an appearance as Pesci’s character’s mom. The soundtrack was composed of music from the time periods scenes took place in (1955-1980).

GOODFELLAS would premiere at the 47th Venice International Film Festival, and Scorsese would receive the Silver Lion Award for best director. The film would open in September, just in time for Oscar Season, to outstanding reviews. Film critics Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, and Peter Travers would rank the film #1 of the year. It would be nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and Joe Pesci would win for Best Supporting Actor. It would win Best Film and Best Director at the BAFTA’s that year along with three others. Today, it appears on many Best Of lists by the American Film Institute, and in 2000 would be included in the National Film Registry. GOODFELLAS would inspire countless other mob-inspired stories on TV and on the big screen, and its sharp script would produce many quotable lines which reside firmly in pop-culture today. The 2014 ESPN 30 FOR 30 documentary PLAYING FOR THE MOB, which told the story of Henry Hill’s involvement in a points-shaving scandal, was narrated by Ray Liotta and was setup in a way that knowledge of GOODFELLAS was a requirement.

A very long time ago, when this Blogger was taking his Film Appreciation class, there were certain directors and films which we were required to study, and Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS was at the top of the list. That class was the first true exposure of the film to this Blogger, and to this day am still impressed with the tremendous amount of energy the film has; there is always a sense of perpetual motion…characters and plot careening towards something at all times. That is a difficult thing to maintain in film, and GOODFELLAS did it in a way which serves as a template for all future filmmakers. Today, it is difficult to get through a week without hearing a quote from the film, and the dynamic personalities of Henry, Jimmy, and Tommy is something that lives on forever on the screen and in our heads. It’s not easy to find empathy for characters who are all crooks, but Scorsese pulled it off, making GOODFELLAS not only a classic but a transcendent film. It doesn’t get much better than this.

“You’re gonna like this guy, he’s a good fella.”

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Reel Review: BLACK MASS

In his short directing career, the films of Scott Cooper have played out like a meal composed of the finest ingredients available, only to leave the patron feeling like they only consumed one of the five courses they were promised. Cooper’s newest, BLACK MASS, is much of the same, only this time there is one essential ingredient which carries the entire meal.
Based on a true story, 1970’s Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) is persuaded by his childhood friend, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), to turn informant to help wipe out a rival mob. Bulger uses the alliance to gain power and become one of the biggest crime bosses in the city…all with the FBI’s knowledge.

BLACK MASS, at its core, is a story about two men who grew up together on the streets of the rough and tumble South Boston; one of which went into crime, and the other went into law enforcement. Both men are fiercely loyal to each other, and that loyalty is put to the test as each one of them uses the uneasy alliance for their own purposes; Connolly uses Whitey to further his career, and Whitey uses his protected-informant status to commit even more crimes and build a criminal empire.

Somewhere around the half-way mark, BLACK MASS loses that focus and settles into a standard procedural, with each one of the inevitable beats of who-betrays-who coming at obvious times. Director Scott Cooper spends a lot of time with his characters and lets them play off one another, but in losing sight of the heart of the story, BLACK MASS ends up feeling very empty and cold. Too much time is spent away from Whitey and Connolly and too much with the large cast of cops and robbers. It functions just fine as a film, but the feeling of something missing is not easy to shake off.

Cooper, in only his third feature film, does great work in building tension, photographing Boston, and bringing the creepy underbelly of the crime-world to life. He has some clever shooting and editing tricks up his sleeve; namely shooting 9/10’s of a scene very tight only to wrap it up with wide-shot, showing people and things that we didn’t know were in the same room. But mostly, Cooper solidifies his reputation as a director for actors, as everyone in the large cast turns in great performances.

And the greatest performance of them all belongs to Johnny Depp, who is more energized and committed to his craft here than he has been in years. Depp vanishes into the character, giving us a cold and merciless man who loves his mom and son just as much as he hates traitors and people he can’t trust. He is chilling, frightening, and commands the screen whenever he appears. He manages to act his way through the heavy prosthetics, which unfortunately make him stick out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the cast.

The rest of the large cast is all solid, even though most of them seem to struggle with their Boston accents. Benedict Cumberbatch appears as Whitey’s brother, and his accent comes and goes inside of one sentence, and Corey Stoll, who plays a prosecutor, has the same problem. Joel Edgerton maintains his just fine, and shoulders the burden of carrying the film right along with Depp. Dakota Johnson, as the mother of Whitey’s son, turns in the best work she’s ever done, and the supporting cast of Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, Juno Temple, and Peter Sarsgaard are all strong.

Cooper’s casting of Johnny Depp in BLACK MASS is certainly a godsend, as the film would certainly struggle to find anything interesting without him. Like the rest of his films, BLACK MASS seems to do everything right when putting the ingredients together, and it tastes pretty good, but oddly isn’t very filling. This is a film that’s only worthwhile for seeing a performance of a lifetime.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Reel Preview: Everything You Need To Know About BLACK MASS

The summer heat may still be hanging around, but Oscar Season is fully underway…with one of the first hopeful contenders entering the ring this weekend. Here is everything you need to know about BLACK MASS.
What is this about? – Based on a 2011 non-fiction book, BLACK MASS follows the life and career of infamous mobster Whitey Bulger, who among other crimes, was allegedly responsible for 19 murders in the Boston area and worked as an FBI informant for over 30 years in an attempt to wipe out a rival gang.
Who is in this? – The lead role of Whitey is being played by Johnny Depp, whose recent output includes hits and misses such as MORTDECAI (2015), INTO THE WOODS (2014), TRANSCENDENCE (2014), DARK SHADOWS (2013), THE LONE RANGER (2013), and THE RUM DIARY (2011). Depp is joined by a heavyweight cast which includes Joel Edgerton (WARRIOR), Benedict Cumberbatch (THE IMITATION GAME), Corey Stoll (ANT-MAN), Peter Sarsgaard (JARHEAD), Dakota Johnson (50 SHADES OF GREY), and Kevin Bacon.
Who is the director? – BLACK MASS is directed by Scott Cooper, who has brought us the Oscar nominated CRAZY HEART in 2009, and the gritty family/crime drama OUT OF THE FURNACE in 2013.
Random Facts – In preparation for the role, Johnny Depp studied police surveillance footage and audio. He attempted to meet with Bulger (currently in prison), but was denied access * BLACK MASS was originally to be directed by Barry Levinson (THE NATURAL, GOOD MORNING VIETNAM) * The film was shot on location in Boston * Sienna Miller was cast in the movie and filmed scenes, but her part was cut due to pacing reasons * Many of the scenes where a murder takes place were filmed in the actual location where the real event took place * Johnny Depp has declared BLACK MASS his favorite out of all of his films * Martin Scorsese’s 2006 gangster film THE DEPARTED, which won Best Picture, was heavily influenced by Whitey Bulger’s life and career.
What to Expect? – Beginning with the director, Scott Cooper has had an uneven directing output thus far. His two films, CRAZY HEART and OUT OF THE FURNACE, have received mixed reviews, but the one thing that Cooper has proven is that he is an actor’s director. CRAZY HEART earned Jeff Bridges an Oscar for Best Actor, and although it didn’t receive any awards or nominations, the strong cast of OUT OF THE FURNACE (Christain Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Wilem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, and Sam Shepard), all put in memorable performances. If getting a great actor to be great is what Cooper does, then we can at least expect something special out of Johnny Depp. Depp, who has spent the better part of the last decade buried in too much makeup and acting weird in one-too-many Tim Burton films, has thus far given BLACK MASS some serious praise, which is something that he doesn’t do too often. Depp has been slowly eeking his way out of the ridiculous-character phase of his career with mixed results; he had the shitty tech-drama TRANSCENDENCE in 2014, and the duller-than-shit PUBLIC ENEMIES in 2009 in which he also played a real-life gangster (John Dillinger). If Depp is really inspired here, he could easily shoulder the weight of the film, which would make Cooper’s job easy. Expectations should be high.


BLACK MASS opens September 18th.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Reel Opinion: The Importance of DEADPOOL

Superhero movies are everywhere in this current era of Hollywood. Major studios like Disney/Marvel, Warner Bros./DC Comics, 20th Century Fox, and Sony Pictures have scheduled production of films to last us well into the next decade. And why not? Superhero movies promise a fun time at the theatre, kids and adults love them, and when done right…offer a beacon of hope for us all. 

There has been a lot of talk going around that the avalanche of super-movies, which began its current run in 2000 with Bryan Singer’s X-MEN, will eventually wear out its welcome. Legendary director Steven Spielberg recently predicted that the genre will one day go the way of the Western; meaning that it will be a form of film and storytelling that people will tire of and stay away. And once people stay away, the studios will abandon the Supers and look elsewhere. 

That day hasn’t arrived just yet. This past summer, Disney/Marvel’s AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON was a blockbuster smash; pulling in over $1.4 billion worldwide, making it the sixth-highest-grossing film of all time. All those dollars reflect what people want to see. But there is still trouble to be had which is cause for concern. Fox Studios’ newest version of FANTASTIC FOUR this year flopped like a fish on the dock as it struggled to make back its budget. Of course it didn’t help that the film was one of the worst reviewed of the year; it was a bad movie that deserved to bomb…and that brings us to Fox’s next undertaking, DEADPOOL. 

Based on the Marvel comics character of the same name, DEADPOOL is intended to be the eighth installment in Fox’s ongoing X-MEN series. Ryan Reynolds plays the wise-cracking character who undergoes an experiment which leaves him with new abilities. This is Reynolds' second shot at the character (he played a loose version of him in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE), and his third shot at playing a superhero (the abysmal GREEN LANTERN). Recently, the film’s producer, Simon Kinberg has confirmed that Fox is already looking to go ahead with a sequel, even though the first film doesn’t come out until February of 2016. 

Fox’s eagerness to build a money-making franchise of movies is one of the things that could and would bring about Spielberg’s prediction. While it’s nice to be ambitious like Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros./DC Comics, Fox would be wise to just make sure they have a good first movie made. They also expected FANTASTIC FOUR to be a franchise builder, but those plans are in limbo after the film’s terrible performance at the box office, and with critics and fans. There is also the minor matter of DEADPOOL being a relatively obscure character. This Blogger is willing to bet that nine out of ten people on the street had never heard of him, so Fox has their work cut out for them. After all, these movies are not made exclusively for comic book fans; you have to get the general public through the gate because that’s where the real money is. 

If superhero movies are going to survive and not ride off into the sunset, then smart decisions have to be made. Fox would be well advised to put all of their energy and resources into making one solid movie before punting things down the line, and make sure that the movie is marketed correctly; after all, Ryan Reynolds is not exactly a huge box office draw and has the cloud of two lousy superhero movies hanging over him. As long as the genre keeps up the quality, people will come…and the Supers will thrive. But if DEADPOOL blows it, then the end will be beginning. 


DEADPOOL arrives on February 12, 2016. Ryan Reynolds is joined by Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, and Gina Carano. It is directed by first-time director Tim Miller. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Reel Review: THE VISIT

When M. Night Shyamalan isn’t making dumb decisions or taking a job as a big-nuts studio stooge, there is no question about his ability to craft a movie. His talent for writing interesting characters, creating tension, and building atmosphere and mystique are nearly un-matched in today’s current crop of directors.When he’s doing what he does best, he is the best…and his newest flick, THE VISIT, has all of that in full view, along with something new. 

A brother and sister, Tyler and Becca (Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge) are sent to their grandparents by their mom (Kathryn Hahn) for a week-long visit. Once some strange things begin happening with grandpa (called Pop Pop, played by Peter McRobbie), and grandma (called Nana, played by Deanna Dunagan), they find their chances to return home become very slim. 

Everyone loves a trip to the grandparents’ house, and in the early goings of THE VISIT, M. Night fully captures those great heartwarming feelings of family. It gives his film a moral center and strong characters with a past to latch onto, and that carries through the rest of the story very well. Once the weird stuff starts happening and the two kids are put into some sort of terror, M. Night’s talent for generating scares kicks into high gear. The scares are not cheap as they are well-earned thanks to his patient touch. There is a genuine creep-factor going on thanks in part to the surroundings feeling so familiar and welcoming with something unexplained going on. M. Night also proves his reputation as being a true master at not what is in the camera frame, but out of it; as what we don’t see is certainly more frightening than what we can’t. As a horror film, THE VISIT shines. 

Where THE VISIT loses its glow is with the presentation. Done in the spirit of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, M. Night for the first time uses the first-person, found-footage technique. The two kids are videotaping constantly throughout their adventure in the hopes of making a documentary about their family, and this is how we see the film. The narrative bounces back-and-forth from two cameras, and while it works for the most part (aside from some goddamn shaky-cam looking like one of those videos where an idiot forgets to stop recording and walks around forever), after a while it gets tiresome. There are a lot of convenient things that happen in THE VISIT to justify the cameras rolling all the time, and even more convenient things to justify the situation the kids are in. M. Night asks his audience to buy into a lot, and just how much they are willing to buy into may determine the enjoyment of the film. 

The twist, and yes there is a twist, is a good one, although some may have it figured out way early, but even if it is, the eventual execution is well-done and still effective with a great chill-down-your-spine factor. The big reveal comes early and not at the very end, which is a nice touch as it puts the characters into even more of a pickle. It’s a sign of a patient filmmaker. 

Acting is superb. Both young actors, Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge, get the most work and effectively display a lot of emotions. Kathryn Hahn is also great as a loving mom…and Nana and Pop Pop are frightengly handled well by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie. Both of them put some great work and are a horrific joy to watch. 

When the smoke clears it’s easy to leave THE VISIT with a smile, as M. Night does offer a pretty good time. It works best when just enjoying the ride, even though the handi-cam approach makes it feel like less of an actual film and more of an experiment. It's still the best work M. Night has done in over a decade as he does show off the things that he does best.  It's just too bad he didn’t stick with more of that and less with tinkering with new toys.  


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Reel 20: SE7EN

“What’s in the box?!”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of David Fincher’s SE7EN. 

SE7EN (or SEVEN), a neo-noir psychological thriller, tells the tale of two detectives in an un-named city; a newly transferred David Mills (Brad Pitt) and a soon-to-retire William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), who get deeply involved in the hunt for a serial killer whose murders correspond to the seven deadly sins…gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and envy. 

Often regarded as a modern classic, the many mystiques about SE7EN began with the screenplay. The film was written by Andrew Kevin Walker during his time in New York City; a city and period of his life which he found to be deeply dark and depressing. The ending of the movie, now regarded as the mother-of-all-twist-endings, which involved a certain character’s head in a box, was originally met with apprehension from the studio, New Line Cinema…who preferred a traditional detective thriller. But when the script was sent to director David Fincher, the version with the head in the box was still in the script and Fincher signed on to direct on that ending. When the mistake was realized, the studio balked, but, Fincher had found an ally in rising star Brad Pitt. Fincher was just coming off a bad experience with his film ALIEN 3 thanks to studio interference, and Pitt had just had a similar experience during LEGENDS OF THE FALL. Once Pitt joined in the fight to keep the head in the box scene, the studio gave in and history was on the way to be made. 

Filmed in crowded urban streets in which the weather produced an oppressing rain, Fincher and production designer Arthur Max created a dismal-looking film in which the surroundings reflected the inhabitants. The murders by the killer, known in the film as John Doe, played constant head games with the detectives and the audience…and the name of the actor playing Doe was kept off of the posters and marketing campaigns…adding a hefty amount of surprise and shock when he finally shows up near the end. The cast was rounded out by Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey (FULL METAL JACKET), Richard Roundtree (the original SHAFT), and John C. McGinley (PLATOON). 

Audiences responded to the shock and awe of the film. SE7EN spent four consecutive weeks in the top spot at the U.S. Box Office, and would finish as the (ahem), seventh-highest grossing film in 1995. It would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Editing, and Andrew Kevin Walker would be nominated for  a BAFTA for his screenplay. The American Film Institute (AFI), features the film on lists such as 100 Thrills, 100 Heroes and Villains, and Mystery Film. Film critic Roger Ebert featured it on his Great Movies list. SE7EN would put David Fincher’s star on the rise, and would send him on his way to make THE GAME (1997) and FIGHT CLUB (1999). 


SE7EN is a film which can fulfill many appetites, as it tends to land on many different tables; it is a police procedural, buddy-cop flick, and psychological head-game messer-upper with a touch of classic horror. Its ability to play in different genres makes it right-at-home in the bright summer months or the darkness of winter nights. It delves deeply into the minds of serial killers and the men who hunt them, making the screenplay a textbook for movie-making, and Fincher’s use of lights and shadows and sounds for a thick foreboding atmosphere making it a must-watch for every Film 101 class. The whopper of an ending, which in 1995 sent this Blogger and many others staggering out of the theatre, still has an impact during revisits today. SE7EN is indeed a modern classic, and belongs on the top shelf of every cinema-fan’s library. 


1995 was a special year in film. Click HERE to see Reel Speak’s review of the year.