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.
Kicking off this year’s edition of the “31 Nights of Halloween” I only felt it appropriate to re-review a film that we reviewed a long time ago, and really needs no introduction. It’s the 1978 touchstone for horror; John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” This will also mark the first in a series of reviews all about the “Halloween” franchise, even the abysmal “Halloween: Resurrection.” So away we go from Smith’s Grove to Haddonfield.
“Halloween” starts with the murder of a young girl named Judith Myers by her 6-year old brother, Michael. After being institutionalized for 15 years under the watchful eye of Dr. Samuel Loomis, Michael is able to escape the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and Loomis knows there is only one place where he can be headed; the scene of his original crime in Haddonfield, Illinois.
Meanwhile we meet Laurie Strode and her friends Annie and Linda, just three girls looking to hook-up, smoke weed, and have a good time on Halloween, well, at least Annie and Linda are. Laurie is more the straight arrow type, looking forward to babysitting Tommy Doyle, watching “The Thing” and carving jack-o-lanterns. However, a dark presence has invaded the small town of Haddonfield and is looking to kill horny, weed smoking, babysitting teens.
As day turns into night, Dr. Loomis warns the local Sheriff, Leigh Brackett, that evil is coming to his little town and officers need to be on alert looking for Myers. Ever the skeptic, Brackett agrees to Loomis’ demands, but tells him he’s got until tonight to track down Myers.
Needless to say, Myers murder spree goes off without a hitch, victims including Annie and Linda, not to mention a dog, a horny boyfriend, and some stranger while on the road to Haddonfield. With only Laurie remaining, she is able to fight him off with a knitting needle, a wire hanger, and finally Michael’s own knife. But you can’t keep a good “unstoppable force” down as Michael moves in to finish off Laurie. However, putting the pieces together with the help of some screaming kids, Dr. Loomis comes to the rescue and empties his revolver into the chest of Michael and the nightmare is finally over as Myers falls over the balcony to his death.
As Loomis comforts Laurie and tells her that Michael was the boogeyman, the doctor leans over the balcony to observe his kill, but is shocked to see that Myers is gone, nowhere to be found.
There isn’t much to say about “Halloween” that hasn’t been said before; it’s one of the best proto-slasher films ever made, outside of possibly “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The different between Michael Myers and Leatherface, however, is where Leatherface is a hulking caricature of serial killers like Ed Gein, Myers is simply the silent force that cannot be stopped and there is no rhyme or reason. That makes the film so much scarier; you can’t rationalize with something that you can’t understand.
What makes “Halloween” stand apart from the rest of the crop of slasher fare that exploded in the 1980s was the sense of dread and the play on the fear of Halloween itself. This is more apparent in “Halloween 2” but you can still see how Halloween affects the town. The streets are empty, people lock themselves in the house, they don’t open doors, and it’s way easier to scare people, as Loomis does to a group of kids playing around the old Myers house. It’s interesting to see moments of levity in a horror film. It’s also interesting to look back at “Halloween” after seeing it the numerous sequels, that perhaps Haddonfield has always been that type of town that has harbored the terrible secret of the Myers murders and it’s legacy. Despite the fact that “Halloween” and “Halloween 2” are supposed to be standalone films and the Myers arc is supposed to end, it makes a little more sense why the streets are empty in Haddonfield after dark and people are reluctant to open the doors to screams of terror, or at least that is the way that I look at it.
Getting away from the subtext of “Halloween” and more into the actual substance, there are numerous things that I simply love about this film. The biggest, and most long-lasting effect “Halloween” has made on the public, is the music, which for my money is nearly as recognizable as the “Star Wars” theme, “Jaws” theme, or any other soundtrack theme ever. It still can raise the hair on the back of your neck, and just hearing the opening piano notes, people will automatically say “Oh, Michael Myers.” And while “Halloween” is a great film on it’s own, it wouldn’t be half the film it is without John Carpenter’s score.
The characters and actors are top notch as well. I’m not a child of the 70s, shoot, I’m barely a child of the 80s, but if I was to venture a guess, I would assume that Annie, Laurie, and Linda, are pretty typical kids of the 1970s. The talk about guys, do drugs, and get into trouble. My one gripe would be the overuse of the word “Totally” by Linda. If my count is correct, I heard “Totally” 13 times; probably close to the amount of screen time Linda gets, so you get a “Totally” a minute. There is also a lot of name dropping in this film, which I guess is a thing. The most famous of them all is Ben Tramer, who has a pseudo-important role in the sequel. These, again, are just minor quibbles.
The last thing that really stands up is the actual creation and depiction of Michael Myers. Pure and simple, there is no rhyme or reason behind Myers, he just is. In later sequels it’s explained, sort of, that he worships Samhain and his reason for killing is that he is the curse of his family name, so he mist kill all members of his family? That stuff is just weird, but if you just take the first film into account, the fact that there really isn’t a reason for the murder of his sister and the senseless murder of everyone else, is pretty scary. Even in our daily lives, we constantly search for the what if’s and why’s when something awful happens. From mass shootings, to serial killings, to everything in-between, we want to know why. In the case of Michael Myers, there is no why, the only explanation is that he is pure evil, which when you think about a doctor saying that (Loomis) is pretty silly, but it’s also understandable. Sometimes there is no reason for bad things that happen, which is both frustrating, and terribly frightening.
For a film being close to 40 years old, “Halloween” has aged very well. The scares are timeless, the music adds to the never-ending sense of dread, and the characters are still pretty relatable. You can go into the film deeper and talk about how it either exploits women, empowers women, or is a morality tale that punishes the evil people who do drugs and have sex out of wedlock, but that’s for another review, and I’m looking at this from a pure horror film aspect, and the film still plays very well. While there might be scarier films out there, “Halloween” for my money, can still scare someone who hasn’t seen it and is a milestone for not only horror, but film in general.
Fun Fact: It took John Carpenter four days to complete the score for “Halloween.”
The Bridge – Again
FX is known for putting out fantastic programming. Just look at the catalog; “The Shield,” “Justified,” “American Horror Story,” “Louie,” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Of course I’m missing a few, including “Archer” but you look at their lineup either currently or in the past, and you see the quality. This brings me to FX’s newest show “The Bridge” a look at crime on the border of Texas and Mexico. After watching the pilot I was left thinking, “again?”
“The Bridge” is based on the Swedish TV series “Bron” which deals with crime on the Denmark-Sweden border. Who’d of thought; crime in Denmark and and Sweden, I thought that only happened in Steig Larsson novels. In this American version, two cops, Diane Kruger, who is ironically German, and Demian Bichir, who is in fact Mexican, so that helps, both find a body on the US-Mexico border. It’s discovered that the body was cut in half and comprised of two different bodies. Intrigued?
Moving from the plot aspects to the character aspects for a second, I just want to comment on the character Sonya Cross, or North, depending where you read her character’s name from. Now this is the third show in the past year where the creators decided to go the now-cliched detective route, namely giving the main detective symptoms of Aspergers. We’ve had “Sherlock” on the BBC, “Hannibal” on NBC, and now “The Bridge” on FX. There used to be an age where cops or detectives had the cliche of having a gruff exterior with a soft interior, usually involving “a past event” that shaped their character, but now we are stuck with detectives and cops who have some sort of autism. It was cute the first time, but personally I think it’s time find a new cliche.
Being that the pilot was an “extended pilot” (clocking in at just over 90 minutes as opposed to your standard 60 minute program) we get some extra time with our main characters and our “killer.” Yet, I didn’t really feel any type of investment with either North or her Mexican counterpart, Marco Ruiz. The stakes seem higher for Ruiz who is balancing both personal and professional business in one of the most corrupt cities in Mexico, whereas the only thing we know about North is that she is a little off.
Stylistically, if you took the film “Savages” and gave it the Michael Mann treatment, that’s exactly how “The Bridge” looks, which means it looks great. I would even say that it even has a little “No Country For Old Man” vibe with the look and feel of the desert landscapes. They always say imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Overall, “The Bridge” has potential, but in a TV landscape with every cop and procedural show trying to one-up the other when it comes to violence, gory, and autistic detectives, where does this show fit? Being it’s on FX, the pedigree is there, but it’s where they decide to go with the characters that really matters. If I want to see gory murders and detectives with problems I’ll stick with “Hannibal.”
Fun Fact: According to The International Boundary and Water Commission, the US-Mexico border is approximately 1.954 miles long.
Hannibal – Mulligan
When trying to adapt a specific character from another medium, say literature or film, to television, its always a tricky proposition. Since the character is already established in said mediums you have to know the audience that already recognizes the character and make them believe the transition is seamless, while still exposing the character to a new market, fans, critics, etc. One of the most recognizable characters in modern crime novels is Hannibal Lecter; the psychiatrist/cannibal that haunted our dreams through the words of Thomas Harris. Even if you’re a “lament” you’ve heard of Lecter in some way, shape, or form. Now we get to see Dr. Lecter on the small screen as he assists criminal profiler, Will Graham, from the novel “Red Dragon” to try and track down serial killers. While the premiere episode of “Hannibal” was bumpy, at best, I’ll still give it a mulligan for what its trying to accomplish, at least for a few more episodes.
If you’ve seen, or read, “Red Dragon” or “Silence of the Lambs,” you pretty much know the deal. There is a killer on the loose, in this case a killer impaling young girls on antlers, and on occasion one or more of their organs missing (see where I’m going with this). Will Graham is on the case, commissioned by Special Agent Jack Crawford, played by Laurence Fishburne, to find the killer. Crawford brings in another consultant, Hannibal Lecter, a respected psychiatrist from the Baltimore-area. Graham and Lecter seem an unlikely duo at first with each one trying to outwit the other, but Lecter sense a kindred spirit in Graham with his ability to empathize with the killers he hunts.
Despite my misgivings about this show, the more I think about it, the more I want to see where it goes. You know the end of the journey for both Will and Hannibal, but now its the journey of how they both got there. It’s the cat-and-mouse game that will guide the show onward, which isn’t that bad when you think about it. With so much fervor on origin stories about mythological characters (just look at every Marvel Studios Phase 1 film) “Hannibal” has a chance to succeed with an audience that wants to know; Why? and How?
While I’ve talked myself off the ledge about the storyline of “Hannibal” my main concern is the casting; namely Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter. For starters, I like Mads, I think he is a solid actor who knows how to play a villain and steal scenes on occasion. But I just feel that he is wrong as Lecter. For starters, he LOOKS like a killer. The thing about Anthony Hopkins playing Lecter, or even Brian Cox for that matter, was that he didn’t look the part of a psychopathic, narcissistic, cannibal. He was a posh doctor with a penchant for opera, fine dining, and drawing. Hopkins was the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. Mikkelsen, on the other hand, is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. If I saw him walking down the street I would run the other way because I knew I was only a remark away from being served with a nice Chianti. I also found myself struggling to understand Lecter when he spoke. Since Mads has a pretty thick Danish accent, not all the dialogue came through clearly which isn’t great when you are trying to hang on to everything Lecter is saying to get deeper into his character and motives.
With that being said, I don’t blame the casting either. If the creators are basing this version of Lecter on the novel “Hannibal Rising” it makes sense. Lecter, by birth, was Eastern European, not British as some of us might assume. While aristocratic, Eastern Europe, namely Lithuania, is vastly different than the British Isles. Can Mikkelsen outshine Hopkins as a Hannibal Lecter for a new generation? Well, we’ll have to see about that.
From a literary standpoint, the show sticks pretty close to the source material of “Red Dragon,” which is good in my opinion. It sheds more light on Will Graham and his special gift for empathy, but it comes off as kind of a second rate Sherlock Holmes, more so the Benedict Cumberbatch version than the Robert Downey Jr. version.
Bottom line, I’m giving this show a mulligan. I can’t judge a show that I have reasonably high hopes for by just one episode. Sure, there are kinks to work out, and the show suffers from “a style over substance” problem, and if another network had the rights to Harris’ work, namely an FX or dare I say, HBO, maybe the show could push the envelope a bit more, but that’s not really the issue. I think the biggest thing people are having a hard time wrapping their heads around are the casting choices and the overall mood. We fear change, and we’ve been spoiled by the Hopkins’ Lecter for over 20 years so when this new, “exotic” Lecter comes along our first inclination is to bash him, and I fully understand why, but before we jump to conclusions, divorce yourself from preconceived notions of who Lecter was, and let this new incarnation do it’s own thing.
Fun Fact: H.H. Holmes, who lived from 1861 to 1896, has been given “credit” as one of the first known American serial killers. His crimes were an inspiration for the book, “The Devil in the White City.”