Fight Club (1999)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #29

Mischief. Mayhem. Soap.

Country: USA & Germany
Language: English
Runtime: 139 minutes
BBFC: 18 (cut, 1999) | 18 (uncut, 2005)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 15th October 1999 (USA)
UK Release: 12th November 1999
First Seen: TV, c.2001

Stars
Edward Norton (American History X, 25th Hour)
Brad Pitt (Interview with the Vampire, World War Z)
Helena Bonham Carter (Room with a View, The King’s Speech)
Meat Loaf (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny)

Director
David Fincher (Se7en, The Social Network)

Screenwriter
Jim Urls (Sweet Talk, Jumper)

Based on
Fight Club, a novel by Chuck Palahniuk.

The Story
The film’s nameless narrator is growing increasingly disillusioned with his mundane consumerist lifestyle, when he bumps into Tyler Durden. A free-spirited soap salesman, the pair have a fight for the heck of it. Finally experiencing some kind of genuine feeling, they set up an underground club for fighting, but it gradually becomes clear that Tyler may have bigger ideas…

Our Heroes
I am Jack’s nameless narrator. I am also Jack’s friend, Tyler Durden. Yes, just his friend…

Our Villains
The establishment! Capitalism! What’ve you got?

Best Supporting Character
Helena Bonham Carter hasn’t been fucked like that since grade school.

Memorable Quote
“The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club! ” — Tyler Durden

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” — Tyler Durden

Memorable Scene
Called into his manager’s office to discuss his bad behaviour, the Narrator decides the best method of getting his own way is by enacting physical violence… on himself.

Technical Wizardry / Truly Special Effect
For what’s essentially a drama, Fight Club is overloaded with special effects and visual trickery. I don’t know if any are particularly groundbreaking in and of themselves, but several are particularly striking. A personal favourite, thanks to the perfect execution of the idea, is the shot where the Narrator’s condo is transformed into a living IKEA catalogue.

Making of
Marla’s original post-coital line was, “I want to have your abortion.” The studio objected to such an offensive line, so Fincher agreed to change it on the condition that the new line had to be used. The studio agreed, apparently unaware that such an agreement was never going to end well. Fincher wrote the replacement line, “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school.” The studio asked for the original line back; Fincher refused. (It must say something about American values that abortion is considered more shocking than underage sex.)

Next time…
Nothing from the film, but Chuck Palahniuk has continued his novel in 10-issue comic book series Fight Club 2. A second comic series, Fight Club 3, is planned.

Awards
1 Oscar nomination (Sound Effects Editing)
1 MTV Movie Awards nominations (Best Fight for Edward Norton fighting himself)
1 BRIT Award nomination (Best Soundtrack — it lost to Notting Hill)

What the Critics Said
“Three factors elevate Fincher’s apocalyptic stew to something approaching art. First is Norton’s performance, as sneaky and shocking as that in his film debut Primal Fear. Second is Palahniuk’s story, which dances on a razor’s edge between life and death, expression and repression, ecstasy and agony. Third is Fincher’s dedication to making a film that looks and sound likes no other, one that powerfully illustrates what dementia looks like from inside and out.” — Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

Score: 79%

What the Public Say
“it’s hard to believe Fight Club is now 15 years old. As I was watching the film last night I found it hard to review because it is so ingrained in pop culture now it would be almost sacrilegious to say something bad about it. […] The first time I saw Fight Club I did not see the twist of [REDACTED] coming. I remember being surprised, but also very confused. I didn’t really understand how it worked then. On the second viewing it is easy to see a million clues pointing to this from the very beginning. Director David Fincher is very clever in how he orchestrates the film by giving you all these hints. He’s very good at walking that tight rope of not giving away too much. The twist is definitely one of the highlights of the film and why it is so memorable. It doesn’t feel cheap to me as some of these things normally do.” — Sherise, The Girl that Loved to Review

Elsewhere on 100 Films
I reviewed Fight Club as part of a retrospective on Fincher’s films back in 2011, saying “Fincher’s films often look great, but Fight Club is surely the most visually inventive. A list of exciting spectacles could be endless […] To top it off, the ‘regular’ cinematography is grounded in Fincher’s trademark darkness, as if every shot was conceived as just black and he added only what light was necessary.”

Verdict

A controversial film to this day, Fight Club is a violent, explicit exploration of the turn-of-the-millennium Western male psyche, which hasn’t necessarily lost its relevance in the ensuing decade-and-a-half. Criticised by some for endorsing the anarchic lifestyle it depicts, praised by others for satirising that mode of thinking, and criticised by other others for not satirising it well enough, the film can certainly provoke a spread of views. There’s little doubt that David Fincher’s direction is memorably slick and inspired, however, and it has one of the most talked-about twists in movie history.

#33 will… boldly go where no comedy has gone before.

Go (1999)

2015 #119
Doug Liman | 98 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

When people call 1999’s Fight Club “the first film of the 21st Century”, it sounds a bit clever-clever. When you watch 1999’s Go, you see what they mean. Fincher forged forward; Liman encapsulated “just been” — indeed, it’s been called the most ’90s movie ever made.

A darkly comic portmanteau of young adults embroiled in drugs and violence, Leonard Maltin accurately dubbed it “junior Pulp Fiction”. In ’99 it probably seemed one in a long line of Tarantino rip-offs; those still happen now, rendering Go an early-comer.

Nonetheless, it has qualities that merit viewing, especially for 90 minutes of ’90s nostalgia.

4 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Immortals (2011)

2013 #64
Tarsem Singh Dhandwar | 111 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15* / R

ImmortalsA mash-up of mythology and… well, not giving a toss about mythology, Immortals is largely style over substance. Trailers reminiscent of 300 belie a (slightly) higher degree of artiness: in the making-of, Tarsem espouses that there are many “comic strip” movies, but he wanted to make a “painted strip” movie; Henry Cavill calls it “Fight Club meets Caravaggio”.

In the finished film the style doesn’t come across so self-consciously, but it does look beauteous more than strive to make sense. Nonetheless, despite a slow-ish first half and muddled final act, it’s often entertaining in a “pretty pictures with fighting” way.

3 out of 5

* The UK version was modified to get a 15: a couple of cuts to extreme violence (beheadings, throat slittings), red blood re-coloured black, and a reduced sound effect. Unusually, this is the same on the DVD & Blu-ray as it was in cinemas. Technically, therefore, the version I watched isn’t rated R; though it’s still very violent, so it’s hard to imagine it would have missed out. ^

In the interests of completing my ever-growing backlog, I decided to post ‘drabble reviews’ of some films. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a drabble is a complete piece of writing exactly 100 words long.

The end of David Fincher Week

You may have noticed that a week ago last Friday I posted a little piece called “David Fincher Week”. Well — 10 days, 8 films, 1,090 minutes of viewing and 9,375 words later (never mind about a month’s worth of personal anticipation beforehand) — said Week is over.

Fincher dominanceOne thing this week has achieved is re-confirming that Fincher is one of my favourite directors. Another is to remind me that I’ve not seen a single one of his films at the cinema.

A third is to have helped me consider each of his films in the context of his others, in order. I would attempt to summarise what I’ve learnt (if anything), but why do that when I can plagiarise myself? So, as I’ve rattled through the films and reviews this week, here’s a little linked-up summary of them all, highlighting where possible quotes that discuss the films in the context of Fincher’s others.


#14
Alien³: Special Edition
(1992 / 2003)

Even though [Fincher] had limited — often, no — control over much of the project, there are still signs that link it with his later films. It’s stylishly shot for one thing, most of the locations either soaked in shadow or cold light, with an often fluid camera. Darkness litters the film thematically too: setting it on a prison colony for murderers and rapists, the violent attempted gang rape of Ripley, the death and autopsy of a 10-year-old girl… Then there’s the Alien itself, from its ugly birth to its violent murders. Fincher may have not turned so explicitly to horror since, but that brand of darkness does flow on into most of his best films: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac.

It’s also, perhaps, interesting to remember this being Fincher’s first film. He might seems like an odd choice, a first-timer paling beside the experienced hands of Scott and Cameron. But that would be to forget that, for both, their Alien films were only their second time helming a feature; and while Cameron’s previous had been sci-fi (The Terminator), Scott’s was period drama The Duellists. A first-timer — especially one versed in commercials and music videos — isn’t all that different, really, and Fincher has certainly gone on to show his worth.

Read my full review here.


#14a
Se7en
(1995)

the cinematography [is] an aspect Fincher put a lot of work into both originally and then again to make it look right on the DVD re-release. This may well be because the film is incredibly dark. Black seems to be its default position — everything else is cut out of the darkness with as little light as possible. Often backgrounds and locations are better lit than foregrounds or actors, making the viewer focus on silhouettes with minimal light offering splashes of detail. Even the scenes that occur at daytime (most, anyway) do so in the middle of ferocious, ceaseless rain that ensures it never gets too bright.

Read my full review here.


#15a
The Game
(1997)

The Game stands out in Fincher’s filmography as not being particularly Fincher-y. He’s made equally as mainstream-friendly fare since — Panic Room, Benjamin Button, The Social Network — so that The Game doesn’t have as shocking a kick as Alien³, Se7en or Fight Club is not so unusual. More so, It’s not as stylishly directed or shot as any of his other films. It’s not badly done at all, but the cinematography is unremarkable and the direction is good without being any more. Many other competent directors could have been responsible — there’s no sign of his unique touch, probably his only film (that I’ve seen anyway) not to display that. To sum up: well-made, just not distinctive.

Read my full review here.


#16a
Fight Club
(1999)

Another point that interests me here is the audience’s reaction to a filmmaker who uses twists. As we’ve seen, Fincher produced three films in a row that had considerable twist endings; two of them often number in lists of the best movie twists ever. So how is it that he didn’t gain a particular reputation for twist endings, whereas M. Night Shyamalan gained one after… well, one film. I’m not complaining about this — the constant need to provide a shocking last-minute rug-pull has gone on to scupper Shyamalan’s career — but the difference of reaction/public perception is intriguing. I’m sure there are reasons — the sheer size of The Sixth Sense’s twist relative to those in Fincher’s films (it’s only Fight Club’s, his third such film, that changes everything we’ve seen in the same way); the way Shyamalan appeared to court the reputation; and so on.

…Fincher’s films often look great, but Fight Club is surely the most visually inventive. A list of exciting spectacles could be endless… To top it off, the ‘regular’ cinematography is grounded in Fincher’s trademark darkness, as if every shot was conceived as just black and he added only what light was necessary.

Read my full review here.


#16b
Panic Room
(2002)

it’s still clearly a Fincher film thanks to the visuals. So it’s quite dark and stylish, of course, which at least one review I’ve read credited much more to dual cinematographs Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji. Not to dismiss either man’s influence and skill, but, piss off. You only need to watch Fincher’s previous films (one shot by Khondji, the other three by three different DoPs) to see that this is a director who knows what he’s after visually (as if his reputation for shooting an obscene number of takes for every little shot didn’t suggest that well enough). To say it’s only thanks to Hall and Khondji that Fincher could produce such a good-looking film does the director a disservice.

Nonetheless, his style is even more evident in the distinctive, physically impossible swooping camera shots.

Read my full review here.


#16c
Zodiac: Director’s Cut
(2007 / 2008)

there are still some properly chilling scenes. Best — by which, all things considered, I mean “worst”; or, rather, “most scary” — of all is Graysmith’s visit to the house of a suspect’s friend, Bob Vaughn, at which point a series of revelations question who exactly should be under suspicion… Another review describes it as “one of the single most chilling scenes ever committed to film” and I’m inclined to agree.

Another triumph of direction comes in how effectively Fincher conveys the time periods the film crosses using relatively subtle means: popular music, appearing in snatches in the background rather than blaring out at us; the actual passage of time with time-lapse shots of a skyscraper being constructed or an audio montage of the major news in a skipped period; and place-and-time subtitles too, but hey, sometimes you need specificity.

Read my full review here.


The visuals may be Benjamin Button’s strongpoint, holding up a variety of era-evoking colour palettes and other design elements as it passes throughout the 20th Century. Flashback-like asides are conveyed in older film styles — scratchy prints for instance, or with a silent movie aesthetic — that on the one hand could seem an inappropriate indulgence, but objectively work very nicely. For a director who has a reputation in some corners for exhibiting excessive flair with swish shots and effects, Fincher shows steady restraint here — as he did in Zodiac, and Se7en, and all the moments in his other films where it was appropriate.

…Viewer awareness of time passing in the narrative is left to the odd snippet of dialogue or obvious jump; aside from a few clear points, there’s a less convincing sense of era than Fincher evoked in Zodiac. Whether this matters or not is debatable — Button isn’t a chronicle of the 20th Century through one man’s eyes, but is rather the story of a (somewhat unusual) life lived during that timed period.

Read my full review here.


it is indeed marvellously directed. As ever, Fincher knows when to keep it simple and when to jazz it up. Witness the incredible visuals in the Henley Regatta boat race, for instance — not brand-new techniques, but the combination of them with the editing and music makes for an outstanding sequence, 90 seconds of pure cinematic perfection.

Conversely, look at all the film’s conversations. Let’s draw on one that’s discussed in the making-of material, the scene between Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker in the club: as Fincher says, he could’ve had a Steadicam endlessly circling them or something similar to make it seem Fast and Hip, but in reality you need to see the conversation, and especially Mark’s reactions, so instead it’s just a good old fashioned shot-reverse-shot. For all his visual prowess, it’s understanding this need for simplicity and (g)old standard techniques when appropriate that Fincher has had a handle on throughout his career.

Read my full review here.



Fincher’s next “gift to us” (as Andrew Garfield put it at the BAFTAs), his ninth film, will be an English-language adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, currently scheduled to reach UK cinemas on 26th December.

I expect I’ll catch it on Blu-ray sometime in 2012.

[P.S. 30/9/2014: I’ve still not watched it. I am a failure.]

Fight Club (1999)

2011 #16a
David Fincher | 139 mins | Blu-ray | 18 / R

Fight ClubI used to have a friend who loved all kinds of action movies and rap movies and other kinds of violence-obsessed forms of entertainment. He once tried to watch Fight Club, in the wake of the praise poured upon it and no doubt interested in the visceral thrill of the fighting element, but got bored about halfway through and turned it off. He was not impressed. Please note that halfway through is certainly after the titular club, and all its associated antics, begins.

I start with this story because I’m now going to pick on Roger Ebert’s 1999 review of Fight Club. I don’t know if his opinion has changed in the intervening decade — a decade which has seen Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahnuik’s novel quickly canonised as a generation-defining modern classic — but we’ll take his review as an example of all the critical ones (the reasonably critical ones, anyway — unreasonable critics are impossible to argue against after all), because he’s respected and because I can’t be bothered to trawl through too much more of the big pile of reviews Rotten Tomatoes offers up. But more so, actually, because I’d be here forever batting away criticism after criticism if I did.

Incidentally, the film has there an 81% approval rating. This is perhaps negated by the fact it includes more recent reviews — some are of the Blu-ray, for instance — but a debate about whether it should be an archive of original-release critical opinions or of all-time critical opinions is for somewhere else. My point is, critics who dislike Fight Club are in the minority (29 ‘rotten’ reviews vs 122 ‘fresh’ ones), so it might just be a little cruel to go picking on them all. Though rubbish like “Fight Club undermines any seriousness it might have harboured with an avalanche of smirky cynicism designed to flatter the hipper-than-thou fantasies of adolescent moviegoers,” doesn’t so much need rebuttal as offering of some literature to the reviewer. Plus it comes from a Christian magazine/website so it’d be a bit like picking on a kid with learning disabilities.

So, Ebert.Ebert

Of course, Fight Club itself does not advocate Durden’s philosophy. It is a warning against it, I guess

At least he starts here. To miss that would be… well, I’ll return to that point later. On the other hand, he’s surely using it to preemptively cut-off criticism of his criticism — Ebert is adept at predicting ways people might defend a movie and telling them they were wrong in advance, as we have seen.

Although sophisticates will be able to rationalize the movie as an argument against the behavior it shows, my guess is that audience will like the behavior but not the argument. Certainly they’ll buy tickets because they can see Pitt and Norton pounding on each other; a lot more people will leave this movie and get in fights than will leave it discussing Tyler Durden’s moral philosophy.

…whatever Fincher thinks the message is, that’s not what most audience members will get.

This is the primary reason I’ve chosen Ebert’s review to pick on, and it was this paragraph that led to my opening one. My guess is, the kind of person liable to buy in to Tyler’s moral philosophy and engage in similar fights will get bored by the movie and go watch something that’s more straight-up action (or just go get in a fight, of course). To say that only “sophisticates” will be able to comprehend the points the film is actually making does a disservice to most viewers. Now, I’m not going to be one of the first to jump to the defence of the great unwashed — when programmes like The X Factor rule our TV schedules it’s quite clear their cultural taste is highly questionable — but I don’t think you have to be exceptionally gifted to get what Fight Club’s driving at. Tyler DurdenPerhaps I’m coming at it from too privileged a background? I don’t know. But I still don’t believe people would be so easily led as Ebert implies; and those that might be probably got bored and switched off.

Maybe at the time it was a genuine fear that Fight Club would inspire violence (a different review compares the potential effect to A Clockwork Orange’s over here), but history has proven it near groundless. In over a decade since its release, there have been no more than a handful of incidents one might directly and solely attribute to Fight Club’s influence.

And just maybe, it was already covering the thoughts of a generation — rather than being the spark that set them off, it was reflecting back a mentality that already existed and saying, “look, don’t go this far with that thought”. It’s not groundless to think that: Palahniuk interviewed young white-collar workers while writing the novel and widely found opinions which he worked into the novel, about the influence of a lack of father figures and the resentment of the lifestyles advertising promoted. All of this is carried over into the film.

In many ways, it’s like Fincher’s movie The Game… That film was also about a testing process in which a man drowning in capitalism (Michael Douglas) has the rug of his life pulled out from under him and has to learn to fight for survival. I admired The Game much more than Fight Club because it was really about its theme

Hm.

For better or worse, I think Fight Club is far more tied into its themes than The Game is. Fincher’s earlier film, as I discussed yesterday, is a well-made and entertaining thriller, and it does have a similar thematic basis to Fight Club — Douglas’ character is effectively stripped of his lifestyle to show how hollow it isDiscussion and what he’s lacking as a human being. That just underscores the action, however; it adds something to the film, certainly, but there’s nothing there to lead viewers to “leave the movie… discussing [its] moral philosophy”. Fight Club, on the other hand, is more forward about its thematic points. Both the Narrator and Tyler spout philosophical tidbits at various points, and their differing reactions to the path they take considers this too. It still works as a story — it isn’t just facilitating an essay on the subjects of free will and consumerism — but it’s more present, and presents more to consider, and perhaps discuss, than The Game does.

Later, the movie takes still another turn. A lot of recent films seem unsatisfied unless they can add final scenes that redefine the reality of everything that has gone before; call it the Keyser Soze syndrome.

…the third [act] is trickery

Ah, the twist.

Despite what Ebert implies, Fight Club’s twist works. It makes sense. “Sense” in the sense that the characters are mentally ill and we’ve been let into their experience — quite literally, an unreliable Narrator — but that fits. Clues are littered throughout. You can argue they’re not fundamental to the story — most are lines or asides that hint at it — but I don’t think it’s a nonsensical turn of events. In fact, one could argue that it contains perhaps the film’s biggest point: beneath the veneer of consumer-focused office-working modern life, every man has a Tyler Durden who wants to put society to rights. The question becomes, should he be let out; He likes himself reallyFight Club explores what might happen if he were, but leaves it up to the viewer to decide if it turned out for the best (while strongly erring, despite what Ebert suggests, to the side of “no”).

The twist also calls to mind The Game again. Whereas knowing the end result of that film’s twist (or twists, really) can scupper it after only another viewing or two, Fight Club doesn’t suffer in the slightest from the revelation that… well, y’know (and if you don’t, that’s why I’ve not said it). You can watch it again and pick up the clues and see how it works — and, as I said, it does — but you can also still enjoy the film, its story and its ideas without the need for the twist to remain a surprise. A bit like Se7en, I suppose.

Another point that interests me here is the audience’s reaction to a filmmaker who uses twists. As we’ve seen, Fincher produced three films in a row that had considerable twist endings; two of them often number in lists of the best movie twists ever. So how is it that he didn’t gain a particular reputation for twist endings, whereas M. Night Shyamalan gained one after… well, one film. I’m not complaining about this — the constant need to provide a shocking last-minute rug-pull has gone on to scupper Shyamalan’s career — but the difference of reaction/public perception is intriguing. I’m sure there are reasons — the sheer size of The Sixth Sense’s twist relative to those in Fincher’s films (it’s only Fight Club’s, his third such film, that changes everything we’ve seen in the same way); the way Shyamalan appeared to court the reputation; and so on.

As a means of dealing with his pain, [the Narrator] seeks out 12-step meetings, where he can hug those less fortunate than himself and find catharsis in their suffering. It is not without irony that the first meeting he attends is for post-surgical victims of testicular cancer, since the whole movie is about guys afraid of losing their cojones.

That, however, is some reasonable analysis. I liked this.

Bob's boobsTo round off this defence of Fight Club, let’s call up the BBFC (this is the point I said I’d return to). You may remember they cut four seconds of violence from the film (reinstated in 2007. Incidentally, the MPAA had no problem whatsoever with the violence but questioned some of the sex, such as Tyler being seen wearing a rubber glove. American values regarding sex/violence on film and TV are seriously questionable.) In 1999, when asked to ban the film for glamourising and encouraging the kind of behaviour it contains, the BBFC refused, and in no uncertain terms:

The film as a whole is — quite clearly — critical and sharply parodic of the amateur fascism which in part it portrays. Its central theme of male machismo (and the anti-social behaviour that flows from it) is emphatically rejected by the central character in the concluding reels.

Maybe it’s just me, but such a definitive statement — underlined by the relatively informal addition of “quite clearly” — from an authoritative body, one that is (theoretically) objective about a film’s quality in lieu of deciding which age groups its content is suitable for, feels unusual to me; and, by extension, worth taking into consideration. Not as the be-all-and-end-all of the debate, of course, but if the BBFC are prepared to dismiss such criticism of the film with a “quite clearly” — a “if you missed it, you’re dim” kind of phrase — then you have to think it’s pretty obvious.

A couple of stray points before I go:

Tyler...If you’ve not read it, know that the film keeps a lot of Palahnuik’s novel. The narration often takes it verbatim. With the exception of the ending — changed, for the better — it’s a remarkably faithful adaptation.

Fincher’s films often look great, but Fight Club is surely the most visually inventive. A list of exciting spectacles could be endless, but for some: the title sequence, pulling back from the fear centre of the brain, through the brain, and down the barrel of a gun in extreme close-up; the IKEA catalogue condo shot; big sweeping flybys of tiny things — the contents of a trash can, kitchen appliances, bomb wiring; the meditation cave bits; flash frames of Tyler; the “let me tell you a bit about Tyler Durden” sequence, with the fourth-wall-obliterating to-camera narration and the interaction between ‘flashback’ & narrator; the crazy mutating sex scene… To top it off, the ‘regular’ cinematography is grounded in Fincher’s trademark darkness, as if every shot was conceived as just black and he added only what light was necessary.

And a pet peeve: Look at the end credits. See how Ed Norton’s character is credited as Jack? Oh, that’s right — he isn’t. He doesn’t have a name. The film makes a point of drawing our attention to this point: early on, Marla asks him his name; there is no answer. And that’s because his name isI am not Jack's anything (shh, whisper it) (…oh yes, I’m keeping this spoiler-free). There are counter arguments to that being his real name (his colleagues never call him it, only those who met him… after), but that’s beside the point. Stop calling him Jack. (I believe I read somewhere that, on the relevant DVD commentary, Ed Norton says he calls the character Jack. Not good enough reasoning for me.)

That’ll do, then.

At one point consensus seemed to have it that Fight Club was easily Fincher’s best movie, a generation-defining statement, “the first great film of the 21st Century” despite being released in 1999 (I can never remember who originated that quote). I don’t know if times have changed that as a widespread opinion, particularly with the acclaim The Social Network has received. That’s been called a generation-defining movie too, actually — two in as many decades; nice work. But I digress; such talk is for a few days’ time.

I’ve always preferred Se7en myself. I still do. But Fight Club is nonetheless an exceptional film.

5 out of 5

I watched Fight Club as part of a David Fincher Week. Read my thoughts on all his films to date here.

David Fincher Week

David FincherDavid Fincher’s multi-Oscar-nominated latest, The Social Network, hits UK DVD and Blu-ray a week from Monday (and we’ll find out what, if anything, it’s won just two weeks later). As Fincher’s one of my favourite directors, and is responsible for several of my favourite-ever films, I’ve decided to mark the occasion with a David Fincher Week. The title of this post may’ve given that away.

Unfortunately Fincher has directed one too many films to make a neat week. Normally Alien³ would be the obvious candidate for elimination, what with its production troubles and Fincher leaving the project before editing began, but the ‘Assembly Cut’ included on the Quadrilogy DVD, and now Anthology Blu-ray, is closer to his vision (“closer” being the operative word). Besides which, I’ve not seen it, so it can have a new number, something Panic Room can’t. Neither can Se7en, The Game or Fight Club, but I have two of those on Blu-rays I’ve not yet watched and I’m rather fond of The Game.

But I’m going to include Panic Room anyway, because it’s nice to be thorough, and so just have a David Fincher Week-and-a-Day. Or slip the review in on the same day as the Zodiac Director’s Cut, because I’ve already reviewed that film and I doubt the extra, what is it, four minutes of footage makes much difference.

David Fincher poster collageMy viewing starts tonight, for a week running Friday to Friday — I’m relying on HMV to get The Social Network to me in timely fashion for that to work. I intend to start posting reviews on Sunday night — technically, Monday morning — which gives me a couple of days to write them, for a week running Monday to Monday. Neatness in both watching and reviewing, then.

For those unfamiliar with Fincher’s body of work, or who just fancy a handy reminder, here’s a handy timetable of when I intend to post my reviews:

Alien³: Special Edition Monday 7th
Se7en Tuesday 8th
The Game Wednesday 9th
Fight Club Thursday 10th
Panic Room Friday 11th
Zodiac: Director’s Cut Saturday 12th
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Sunday 13th
The Social Network Monday 14th

Alien3So the week begins with a film I’ve seen in a cut I haven’t, ends with two films I’ve never seen, and along the way takes in several of my favourite-ever films. Lovely.

Right, I’m off to watch Alien³. See you Monday.

Well, Sunday, at midnight.

Hopefully.

My end-of-the-week summary can now be read here.

Choke (2008)

2010 #27
Clark Gregg | 88 mins | TV | 18 / R

ChokeChoke is adapted from a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, and you can tell.

I’ve not read Choke, but I have read Fight Club, and the film was an incredibly close adaptation both in terms of the narrative style and the dialogue’s voice. Here, the distinctive narratorial ‘voice’ is very reminiscent of Fight Club, both book and film, as are numerous other elements: support groups; random encounters; the inclusion of a Big Twist. While an awareness of the author means the latter feels a little formulaic, Shyamalan-style, at least it seems Palahniuk can still pull them off.

The sum of all this is Choke feels like it exists in Fight Club’s shadow; a low-budget adaptation of another of an author’s works after one has been a high-profile success. This is a little unfair to Choke — despite the surface similarities, the meat of the film is in no way an attempt at Fight Club 2 — but the similar feeling and tone it frequently exudes can leave that impression.

It’s also not as funny as the trailer led me to believe. It definitely has moments — several proper laugh-out-loud ones too — but it lacks consistency. The tale is sometimes muddled in what it wants to be and how it wants to cover it. Some very serious issues are touched on, and while they’re not treated lightly (it occasionally nudges at being a dramedy) the comedic tone rubs against them. It isn’t vulgar in the way some comedies are when exploiting serious issues for ‘laughs’, but nor is it conclusive in its own style. Having not read the novel, I don’t know if we need to lay the blame for this at the door of Palahniuk or screenwriter/director Clark Gregg.

The cast are without fault. Sam Rockwell is brilliant as ever, continuing to build a body of work that suggests he’s been underrated. Perhaps there’s a similarity to some of his roles, but he has a sort of rough likability that can make one overlook that. I’ve still not seen Moon (shame on me, I know) but one hopes it might provide a launch pad to wider recognition, even if he ultimately failed to gain any major award noms for it. Also in the cast are Anjelica Huston, in an interesting and constantly evolving part, and Kelly Macdonald, who it’s always nice to see even if her American accent is variable.

Choke has its moments — quite a few of them, actually — but it feels like it’s perhaps missing a few others, with what’s left not quite gelling into the whole its cast and crew hoped for. It doesn’t go far enough down the quotable/zany route to become properly cultish (I may be proved wrong in this of course), nor does it come far enough down the meaningful-undercurrent path to transcend such underground aims. I think I want to like it a bit more than I actually did, and awareness of this may make my mark a tad stingy. I’d certainly encourage anyone who thinks Choke might be up their street to give it a go.

3 out of 5