2007

November 6, 2014

Zodiac (2007)

PACING

Zodiac – Pacing

There are certain films you see once, and they quickly dissolve from your mind. Not because they are bad by any means, its usually, at least for me, that they are so massive, engrossing, or emotionally investing that my body’s automatic response is to forget about them. The best example I can think of at this time is “Inception.” While visually stunning, the film as a whole is still very hard to wrap my head around and I’ve avoided watching it ever since seeing it in the theater. Again, it’s not because I don’t like it, and hell, who knows, maybe if I saw the film again, I wouldn’t like it, especially since it doesn’t have an end credit sequence……anyway. This brings me to “Zodiac” probably one of the most slept films in David Fincher’s filmography. It’s taut, gritty, and paced to perfection with the addition of great acting performances and a truly engrossing story that you nearly forget it based on an actual unsolved case.

“Zodiac” tells the true story of the Zodiac murders that took place across Northern, and possibly South California between 1966 and 1972. Shortly after a unsolved murder in 1969 in Vallejo, CA, a letter is sent to the San Francisco Chronicle which details the crime and claims that another murder was also committed nearly a year prior by someone calling themselves “Zodiac.” Spanning the course of nearly 25 years, “Zodiac” recounts the effort of journalist Paul Avery, cartoonist Robert Graysmith, and SFPD Inspector,  Dave Toschi, as their lives intersect closely with possible suspects, and the obsession to catch Zodiac that nearly destroys their lives.

Throughout high school and college, I had an obsession with true crime and serial killers. I wanted to know the stories behind the crimes and what really made people tick. Some of the most infamous murderers of all time seem like something out of a movie, which makes the most sense why some of the most unnerving horror and suspense films have been based on serial killers like Ed Gein, Albert Fish, and Dennis Lynn Rader, the BTK Killer. However, if you look at the glut of direct-to-DVD and made-for-TV films about serial killers most of them are, for lack of a better term, lackluster, to say the least. At first glance, you might almost think that “Zodiac” might have the same fate, but there is pedigree to spare.

It’s easy to forget that this is even a David Fincher film. Taking into account how diversified his filmography is, “Zodiac” seems like the start of a new Fincher direction. Moving away from dark, gritty horror/suspense films such as “Se7ev” and “The Game,” “Zodiac” was at the time his most mature effort to date, not mention his longest film up to that point, clocking in at 157 minutes (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” would top it the following year with a run-time of 166 minutes). While some might see the long run-time as a negative, I thought it gave Fincher enough time to introduce characters, detail the crimes, and get the point across that obsession; either good or bad, corrupts and destroys nearly everything.

While “Zodiac” could be considered the beginning of a new Fincher era, this film was also a breeding ground for what we could expect from Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo. And of course the renaissance of Robert Downey, Jr., who only a year later would become Tony Stark. While the film is called “Zodiac” the infamous murderer is pretty much a plot point or a foil to the actors. We are witness to his murder spree, but it’s the emotion and the portrayals by Downey, Jr., Gyllenhaal, and Ruffalo that drive the film from beginning to end. Fincher is also able to create a giant puzzle where it’s the job of the audience of what to believe and reach their own conclusion. Unlike other killers throughout history, the Zodiac Killer was never caught, which creates a true mystery film where there is no right or wrong answer as to who is the true culprit in the crimes.

While “Zodiac” didn’t really get it’s due in the theater, if you are a fan of true crime, or simply great direction by a master who is dedicated to all of the little details that make a film special, than this film is for you. It features an engrossing story, fine performances, and it delivers where other films about serial killers fall short.

Fun Fact: Over the past 100 years, there have been nearly 20 reported serial killers in the state of California.

October 12, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween, Grindhouse

Grindhouse – Ambitious

Here’s the problem with kids these days; they don’t appreciate shit!  I’m an old-school type of guy (and if I’m already a curmudgeon at age 28, well, you know what you can do), that’s why I hate crap like “Twilight”and any other abomination that co-ops things that were once bad-ass and turns them into little emo-bitches who sparkle, or shoe-gaze for over two hours.  Has any “scene kid”or emo kid seen “Dracula” from 1931 or maybe even “The Wolf Man” from 1941 (once again dating myself).  If Lon Chaney, Jr. or Bela Lugosi were alive to see what had become of their beloved characters, well, I’m sure Lugosi would get hooked back on morphine and Chaney would gladly take a few silver bullets to the heart.  I’ll give you this, if you’ve seen “The Lost Boys” I’ll give you a bye….but that’s it.

By the way, this review isn’t even about werewolves (well kind of) or vampires, I simply had to get that off my chest.  However, there is something special about taking something old and making it new again.  Take 2007’s “Grindhouse,” the two-movies-in-one masterpiece by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

“Grindhouse” while fantastic, was a flop, and to me, that’s frustrating.  People, and unfortunately the studios, either prefer shitty remakes (there are a few exceptions) or…….gulp……PG-13 horror (and shame on you if you dare defend PG-13 horror).  Rodriguez and Tarantino gave a big “F You” as they usually do, and decided to dig up old exploitation movies from the 1960s and 70s and make a three-hour epic of sleaze, blood, guts, sex, and even more sleaze.  Throw in some fake trailers, done by the likes of Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth, and you have something special.  Too bad people have the attention spans of circus fleas because I would love to see more films like “Grindhouse” make a comeback.

The first film, “Planet Terror” directed by Rodriguez, deals with, SICKOS, not zombies, but SICKOS, kind of like psychos, but instead they eat flesh and their balls melt.  Here are the major plot points; there is a chemical weapon unleashed, people get sick and start eating and killing each other, there’s a government conspiracy, a stripper loses her leg and has a gun reattached to the stub, and we have some “From Dusk Till Dawn” references.  Simple, right?  Yeah, it is.

The second film, “Death Proof” directed by Tarantino, is a take on the slasher genre which stars the awesome Kurt Russell as “Stuntman” Mike who kills young women with his “death proof” stunt car.  People say this is the weaker of the two films, but I highly disagree.  While it might not pack in as much action as “Planet Terror” the dialogue is good, acting solid, and like I said before, it has Kurt Russell.  What else do you need?

Rodriguez and Tarantino go back to basics for “Grindhouse” and it works so well.  It’s simple, stupid fun that is lost upon the modern horror audience.  Not everything has to be a love story between Kristen Stewart, a vampire, and a werewolf.  Or a ghost story shot with a shaky camera.  Or…….”The Wicker Man.”  Maybe that was too easy, but I will give Nick Cage props for this.

If you haven’t already, please check out “Grindhouse,” it’s so good, it’s scary.

Fun Fact:  Grindhouse cinema derives from the defunct burlesque theaters located on 42nd Street in New York City.

October 8, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween, Trick r Treat

Trick r Treat – Tradition

I know, I’m an anthology whore.  It started when I first got the box set for “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”  Reading those stories had a profound affect on me and how I saw and understood horror in general.  I still go back to those books every once in a while and re-live the good old days.  What can I say, I love short horror stories, and it works perfectly for the horror genre.  You really don’t see drama or action anthologies, it just fits with horror.   From “Creepshow” to the under appreciated “John Carpenter’s Body Bags” it had been a while since a reputable horror anthology had come out, until “Trick r Treat” was finally released, on DVD in 2009.

I say finally because the film was a wrap in 2007 and it showed up at a few film festivals, however, Warner Bros. had no idea what to do with the movie for two years, kind of like MGM with “The Cabin in the Woods.”  The travesty is that “Trick r Treat”never made it to the theaters, where I think it would have made a killing with audiences. But it did finally see the light of day in 2009 when it was released on DVD, and the cult following started from there. The movie has some credentials; it was directed by Michael Dougherty, who wrote the excellent “X2” and the sub-par “Superman Returns,” was produced by Bryan Singer, and we all know what he’s known for, and stars the likes of Brian Cox, pre-Sookie Anna Paquin, and the underrated Dylan Baker.

“Trick r Trick” is more so the “Pulp Fiction” of horror movies since the stories are interwoven as opposed to the separate stories with a wrap around formula, giving the film some teeth, and making it more thoughtful than your average horror fare.  The basic idea of “Trick r Treat” revolves around Halloween tradition and mythology while introducing the audience to a brand new Halloween mascot “Sam.”  He is the one constant in all the segments and, in my book, the most recognizable horror icon since Freddy Krueger (sorry “Saw” fans, Jigsaw doesn’t really rank up there for me).

The acting is solid, it has great atmosphere and, for my money, should become a Halloween movie tradition right up there with “Halloween” and “Creepshow.”  “Trick r Treat” is tons of fun, without all the filler, and with the right distributor (I’m looking at you Lionsgate) could turn into a yearly (clever) Halloween franchise.

Fun Fact:  “Trick r Treat” is based on a cartoon short created by Dougherty called “Season’s Greetings” from 1996. 

September 15, 2012

Sleuth

SLICK

Sleuth is SLICK.  Sleuth is stylish.  Sleuth is surprising on many levels.  It is the ultimate game of cat and mouse with stakes that are always fun to explore cinematically.  Adultery.  Revenge.  Murder.  You know, the classics.

The first thing that grabs you when watching Sleuth is the look.  Director Kenneth Branagh does a marvelous job structuring the set ups and set pieces.  He’s more the directer of Hamlet here than the director of Thor.  Haris Zambarloukos’s cinematography is very clever, with specific visual elements that make every shot interesting.  This is a huge treat for the avid cinephile, and a huge help for the antsy.  I say this because Sleuth is based on a play.  And that means that it is a very dialogue heavy film.  However, the dialogue between stars Michael Caine and Jude Law is excellent.  Sorkinesque.  The late great Harold Pinter’s words and conversations form a maze of clues, hints, and misdirections that always lead us to fun places.  

Branagh can be given a pat on the bum for getting great performances from the aforementioned Caine and Law.  Michael Caine has never been better.  Those of you who only know him as Chris Nolan’s Alfred….SHAME ON YOU!  You should have known him first as Alfie….or Carter…or Lawrence.  He gives those that did a reminder of how great an actor he is.  And is there anyone out there who can legitimately question the talents of Jude Law?  Love him or hate him, his ranging body of work and performances in them are undeniably solid.  A fact that doesn’t change here.

I would be remiss in not mentioning a comparison to the original 1972 Sleuth with Sir Laurence Olivier and a younger Michael Caine in the Jude Law role.  The easy answer is that the original is better.  Of course its better.  It has Sir Laurence F*#KING Olivier for Christ sakes!  However, watching Caine swap roles in the newer version and seeing what he does with it gives the newer film value.  Not to mention, seeing modern day filmmaking techniques used to do things the original could not.

I’m sure people were aware when Sleuth came out in theaters, but few went to see it.  That is a real shame because films with style AND substance need to be seen more in Hollywood so they can be made more in Hollywood.  Give it a butcher’s…then tell me I’m wrong.

August 18, 2012

Rescue Dawn…And Inexplicably Behind Enemy Lines

HARROWING
Hey, remember that horrid dreck of a film Behind Enemy Linesstarring a more annoying than funny Owen Wilson and a completely phoning it in at this point Gene Hackman?  Yeah?  Well, Rescue Dawn is exactly like that.  Wait….no…no, no, no.  Rescue Dawn is nothing like that.  Rescue Dawn is practically the opposite of that.  Despite both films being about a pilot trying to survive while trapped in enemy territory, Rescue Dawn sets itself apart by being a HARROWING tale of desperation, will, and faith.  While, Behind Enemy Lines simply presents a cheap, clichéd, cash grab that only manages to make me want to gouge out my eyes with a dull spoon and/or puke uncontrollably.   But I’m not here to insult Behind Enemy Lines.  I’m here to talk about Rescue Dawn….and insult Behind Enemy Lines.
Rescue Dawn earns its spot with great survival films like Cast Away, The Road, and my personal favorite The Adventures Of Milo and Otis…uh…I mean The Edge.  Dawn has the advantage over those 4…um…3 by being a true story.  A situation that gains a whole new respect from its viewers by being filmed starkly, without pulling any punches.  Director Werner Herzog, oddly famous for actually eating his own shoe,  greatly delivers on the unflinching realism of being in a P.O.W. camp.  The effects of starvation and malnutrition, the desperation to escape, the fear of capture and the loneliness of isolation.  Its all there in spades. 
Usually, survival films provide great opportunities for some terrific performances.  Rescue Dawn is no different.  Christian Bale is always at his best when he gets to totally go method and manipulate his body, as he does here. (Lost 55 pounds for the role.)  However, Steve Zahn (Lost 40 pounds for the role.) and the vastly underrated Jeremy Davies (Lost 33 pounds for the role.) give him a run for his money.
If you want to see a quality drama with good acting, good direction, and good storytelling, then watch Rescue Dawn.  If you want to see a film that takes a similar situation and reduces it to a mindless, banal, poorly shot action film, then watch the vomit inducing dumpster fire that is Behind Enemy Lines.  Hell, watch them both…then tell me I’m wrong.  Sweet Lord, I hate Behind Enemy Lines.
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