Tag: zodiac

Zodiac


Zodiac (2007)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A deliberate sidestepping of overt action is the strategy director David Fincher employs in “Zodiac,” a true crime thriller surrounding the hunt for the Zodiac killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area from 1969 to 1971. Highly intelligent, meticulous, and efficient, at times the picture embodies the texture of a documentary in the way it dares to break away from the expected plot and dramatic parabola. What matters is information, how it is presented, and what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from them. What results is a film for a select audience: those who are tickled by the act of looking through a microscope and noting the beautiful, horrifying, surprising details of a specimen. It is not for viewers who wish to be entertained by ostentatious shootouts and car crashes where the bad guy drops dead in the final act. In fact, the climax consists simply of two people looking at each other in the eye, denoting common understanding.

Observe its use of violence. It is rapid, matter-of-fact, making a point to show how excruciating it is to get stabbed and shot. Notice how slow motion is used. Attention is not at the point of contact between weapon and flesh—as horror films tend to do—but on facial expressions of the victims. There is no score playing in the background when a person is being assaulted or murdered which makes the whimpering, the crying, the begging for help all the more deafening. Take note, too, how the victims’ desperation can be felt even after killing ends. The violence is meant to be ugly, traumatizing, and sad. Our sympathy is always with the injured or dying person, never the killer. These are designed precisely so that we wish for the Zodiac to get caught—even though we already know he never was.

The picture is an excellent procedural that brings to mind Alan J. Pakula’s “All the President’s Men.” We follow three men who dare to stare into the eyes of evil: San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), and SF police inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo). We experience their day-to-day interactions with colleagues; following—sometimes overstepping—rules and regulations; wrestling with bureaucracy. There is excitement in the rhythm of their workspaces. Downey Jr., Gyllenhaal, and Ruffalo deliver terrific, naturalistic performances. They have a habit of inviting us to question what it is they are thinking at any given moment.

Evil stares right back at these figures, however, and we watch their lives unravel throughout the course of twenty-two years: erosion of one’s physical and mental health, deteriorating relationships with family, coming to terms with one’s limitations as an investigator. There is a sense of surrender during the last third in particular. So many years have passed, people who were most enthusiastic to catch the killer then now just want to move on. Even the person who chooses to carry on the torch is forced to wonder at times whether his actions are still worth it. These are characters worth following not only because they are good at their jobs, getting to the truth is who they are.

Despite numerous details surrounding each murder (especially intriguing are scenes that allow us to walk a crime scene), handwritten letters that the Zodiac sent to newspapers, a dozen witness accounts, and endless paper trails, the labyrinthine mystery is told with urgency and clarity. For example, the screenplay by James Vanderbilt does not simply tell us that a partial set of fingerprints from an otherwise extremely cautious murderer is important. It shows how it is important and why. When a piece of evidence is presented, the astute and patience writing makes a point of relating the information to the bigger picture and so we always have an appreciation of the investigation. Does a seemingly reliable evidence make sense? How so? The film wishes to engage rather than spoon-feed us.

The picture is not without a sense of humor. In between gruesome deaths and barrage of possible case-breaking information are moments of exhalation: a date gone wrong (or gone right—depending on how one looks at it), police stations not having fax machines yet and so urgent files must be sent via snail mail, a character’s obsession with animal crackers, among many others. These did not need to be in the movie—and yet they are. Fincher wishes for us to be so invested into this world that he is able to find humor amidst terrifying events. Nearly every single change in tone is pulled off beautifully.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The first part of the “Millennium” trilogy originally titled “Män som hatar kvinnor” or “Men Who Hate Women” focused on a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) who was sentenced to three months in prison for libel and computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) assigned to keep tabs on his activities. A wealthy man who established the Vanger company hired Mikael to investigate a 40-year-old case involving a disappearance of his niece who he believed to have been murdered. The more Mikael and Lisbeth differentiated between truths and lies about the case, the more they risked their lives because they had no idea who to trust since the killer might be a member of the Vanger family. I loved the way the movie started off with the two main characters dealing with the challenges in their own lives and slowly their paths eventually converged. It worked for me because we had a chance to see them in their respective elements, and when the two finally got together, we saw them work together while being out of their elements. It was fascinating to watch because the strong acting perfectly complemented the strong characters but at the same time the material was more than willing to explore the more sensitive sides of the characters, particularly Lisbeth’s history of abuse and violence. Lisbeth’s tortured past was the heart of the film alongside her complex relationship with Mikael. As for the murder mystery, there was nothing particularly new about it but the slow burn of the material mixed with small twists involving varying perspectives made a gripping, edge-of-your-seat product. (At times I caught myself trying to cover my eyes.) There were a handful of haunting images dispersed throughout which somewhat reminded me of the “Saw” franchise if it was more like David Fincher’s “Zodiac”-like procedural than mainstream torture porn. Despite the two-and-a-half-hour running time, each scene had a sense of urgency so when the climax was reached, the revelations made sense instead of the audiences feeling cheated. Yes, the material consisted of scenes involving brutal violence against women but at the same time I thought it empowered women instead of disrespecting them which was reflected by Lisbeth’s creativity, resourcefulness, intelligence and strength. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev and based on Stieg Larsson’s novels, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was a fantastic start of the “Millennium” series and exhibited potential to get better because it purposely left chilling loose ends concerning the characters’ histories. It left me wanting more in the best possible way.

Saw VI


Saw VI (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

I just realized that a “Saw” sequel was released every year since the original. So it made me wonder when they would stop delivering us torture porn. Even though I do not particularly like the “Saw” franchise, I’m inclined to watch each movie that comes out because of my curiosity. In “Saw VI,” it was the same old formula: Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) gave his mindless and psychopathic minions (Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell) cryptic envelopes from the grave that contained photos of people who “needed to learn how to appreciate life more.” I’ve never and will never agree with Jigsaw’s illogical rationalization of “teaching” people but it was brainless entertainment so I went along with it. I enjoyed saw “Saw VI” more than “Saw IV” and “Saw V” because it focused more on one individual (Peter Outerbridge) which was one of the leaders of an insurance company who devised a formula that decided whether the company would cover the cost of a person’s treatment for an illness. I also enjoyed (I’m not sure if that’s the right word) the opening scene which involved sacrificing the most amount of flesh for one to survive and the carousel scene. Other than those, the filmmakers threw the audiences random flashbacks designed to explain how “everything is connected.” For me, it’s all smokes and mirrors and I don’t see any brilliance in them. While most audiences would probably go, “Oh my god, that’s so smart!,” I just sit there and think, “That’s it?” because I could sometimes guess what the twist was (such as in this instance). While watching the movie, I actually thought of the possibility that one day, a writer would reset the franchise and make a hard-boiled procedural film (somewhere along the lines of “Zodiac” or perhaps even “Se7en”) about the Jigsaw murders instead of just featuring one torture scene after another. Instead of seeing the murder from a psychopath’s perspective (which we’ve been experiencing since “Saw II”), it would be nice to see it from a detective’s point of view. But not just any detective; a detective who is a good person even though he or she has her inner demons. A little bit of intelligence and heart would certainly benefit this franchise because so far, it hasn’t offered me anything new. But will that stop me from watching “Saw VII”? (Come on, I bet it was already in post-production by the time I saw this movie.) Probably not.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Directed by the enigmatic David Fincher (“Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” “Zodiac”), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a sight to behold, but it is too long for its own good. While the first and last hours are absolute perfection, I couldn’t help but feel tired during its saggy middle. There were so many repetitive elements that Fincher could’ve left out because they do not contribute to the overall big picture. I consider this film as one of Brad Pitt’s most complete performances. Throughout most of the picture, we see him with wrinkly skin and broken down posture; however, we feel for his character so much because even though he is born in extraordinary circumstances, he leads a pretty ordinary life. Pitt reminds everyone that he is more than just an actor who is mostly known for his pretty face. Prior to watching this film, I thought this would be another “Big Fish” which highlights oddities and fantasies but I was glad to be proven wrong. Although the characters we meet during Pitt’s journey are colorful, they are not out of the ordinary–they are people who are not unlike anyone we can meet off the streets, but they have fascinating stories to tell because of their beliefs and drive. My favorite character who Pitt meets is played by Tilda Swinton. She craves to do something with her life, but she feels trapped because of a specific failure she experienced in her past. That fear to continue only to possibly fail again is universal so I couldn’t help but get affected. Cate Blanchett is always amazing in every movie I see her star in so it was no surprise that she delivered. I couldn’t take my eyes off her during her ballet sequences. I could feel the pain in her eyes whenever the topic of getting old is discussed; her insecurities are heightened whenever she sees her lover get younger every time they meet. Like the fear of failure, the fear of getting older is universal as well. Although those two actresses did a great job, I think Taraji P. Henson, as Benjamin’s mother, should be recognized as well. She played her character with such sincerity, I felt warm whenever she’d express her enthusiasm. Even though this film is about many universal ideas, my favorite issue it tackled was the idea of returning home. There was a quote that made me think because, being a college student that goes to school about seven hours away, it is true in my case: “It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed, is you.” I didn’t love this picture, but I really liked it because it has so much to say about life. In a nutshell, despite its depressing tone, it made feel so thankful and so happy to be alive.