Quick Hit: Never generates the tension it so desperately needs, this thriller consistently lingers on characters incessantly.
Zodiac is a thriller that came out in 2007. I’m not really sure how I missed it the first time around – I actually think I owned the film for a time, and just never got around to watching it. However, when it appeared on Shannon’s portion of the Top 100, it was one that I was equally excited to watch. It stars three actors that I think are incredible, and also very underrated in their non-blockbuster roles – Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film, directed by David Fincher (Fight Club), follows a cartoonist (Gyllenhaal) who becomes obsessed with the Zodiac killer. It’s based on real people and a real killer.
I think this movie was decent, and above average. The performances by the main players are excellent, with Gyllenhaal being the stand-out as the obsessed cartoonist. He continues to show the darkness that was inside of him that is set for future roles (like Nightcrawler and Nocturnal Animals). He also plays the deer in the headlights better than anyone really (see Enemy). Downey Jr. continues to play his manic self to perfection, and Ruffalo is solid as an over-worked homicide detective.
The problem here is that the suspense never feels like it peaks, and instead sends the slow burn out with no real pay-off. In some sense, this works – the paranoia is felt throughout every character’s expression, every person’s movement, and camera movement. The movie also has moments (in a two and half hour film, it’s hard to avoid this) where it simply just explores leads that never pan out. While this happened in real life, in the movies, it feels extraneous and unnecessary.
The setting of the film, which is California, is perfect. Fincher sets up the different areas, from the scene at the lake where the two lovers get killed, to the dark, seedy underbelly of the city that is shown when the taxi driver is killed. It is an easy contrast between the two – one is full of light and yellows (which makes the impending death of the couple that much more horrifying), the other is shrouded in darkness and shadows. You continue to see this in Graysmith’s (the cartoonist) personal life as well. When we first meet him, he is constantly in well-lit areas. As the movie progresses, he frequently finds himself in shadow.
Another issue I had with the film is the fact that it frequently abandons different characters to focus on the others. I thought the film worked best in the beginning, when we were going from character to character. It gave the picture a forward momentum. The film stalls in the middle as we are left only with Ruffalo’s character doing the police work, and Downey falls off the map entirely. It succeeds in salvaging this mishap when the film pivots back to Gyllenhaal, who in turn begins interacting with the other characters once more.
This film is a perfect example of a near miss. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t perfect. I’m going to give it a “B-“.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
had some shady dealings), it’s hard to buy into everything that was wrong. That’s because in the States we are regulated beyond belief for worker safety, especially in industries that are considered more dangerous – like say, oil riggers. However, the men are portrayed very well by the actors on board the rig, and the costuming is good, as well as the makeup. These men are dirty and hardworking – it’s there across their faces.
Say what you will about Peter Berg, the director of Deepwater Horizon, but he does have a particular style. That style is a handheld camera that seems never to focus or frame pictures on what you expect him to. Instead, things as simple as dialogue are slightly off kilter, slightly out of frame, or slightly out of focus. It’s baffling to me, because it’s not like the man does found footage – he’s the director of this, Lone Survivor, Hancock, etc. At times, it can lend an exciting vitality to the film in a way that Steadicams rarely can – like for instance, the scenes on the oil rig once it starts to go up in flames.
Speaking of the rig, the thing is a special effects masterpiece – oh wait, it’s not a special effect at all. They freaking built a 75 foot tall rig off the coast of Lousiana… and then LIT IT ON FIRE!
Like… seriously. They did that. And the scene where Marky Mark is on fire – that’s real too. There were also giant screens that showed giant flames to increase the look and make it seem less like CGI to the actors. That is some serious commitment folks, and I had to call it out.
The best parts of the movie are the actors. It’s fun to watch Mark Wahlberg be so stoic, because you are almost always expecting him to crack a joke. But here, he stays reserved and holds back. Kurt Russell, is wasted in a lot of scenes here, though he does have an excellent scene with John Malkovich, who has continued to butcher accents. Malkovich is excellently skeezy though, single handedly convincing a room full of men to do something that they are set against, ultimately to their demise.
I think my biggest peeve with the movie is right at the end. It seemed like they just took images or notes from Captain Phillips and Sully (ironically both starring Hanks) and said, ok, we're going to do that now to make things more emotional. It just seemed like a giant cop-out to get the tears going prior to showing the images of the real men who died. Rest in Peace.
This film isn’t amazing, but it’s not terrible. I’m going to give it a solid “C”. Perfectly average.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Decidedly bland and average, the film tells a nice story about a nice time to live.
There are lots of different movies, and I’m not referring to genres. I’m referring to good ones, bad ones, great ones, great bad ones, etc. etc. One of the most languishing for me is the ones that are perfectly average. Obviously you need average films in order to flesh out what is good and what is bad (listen to me going all ying/yang on you), but sometimes I think an average movie is worse than a bad one. At least most bad ones you can feel the atrociousness building, and they leave you with a visceral emotion. Average films leave you with shrugged shoulders and the cost of what you paid to watch the film – thank God I got this one from the library for free.
The Finest Hours follows a U.S. Coast Guard team in roughly the 1950s as they save an entire tanker of gentleman. It features Chris Pine as Bernie, a man who has tried and failed to save men before. Some movies would take this into a character piece, but this movie rarely focuses on Bernie – instead it is more about what you should do and how you should do it. Bernie is portrayed as a relentless rule follower… except at times. Different members of both crews stress continuously how much teamwork is needed to succeed, except when Casey Affleck says so. And Miriam (played by Holliday Grainger), Bernie’s strong, go-getter fiancée, has no problems saying exactly what she wants, until she is told to leave a bunch of times.
The performances are all fine – two highlights are the almost savant-like performance of Affleck’s crewman and the instant chemistry between Bernie and Miriam. But just as there are some big names in the film, there are also a bunch of underused actors who all fall into the background. I recognized multiple people with a handful of speaking lines, like John Ortiz, Eric Bana, and Ben Foster, but almost none of them were given anything to do.
The highlight of the film is the scenes on the sea. Director Craig Gillepsie shows a talent for the action scenes, allowing the size discrepancies between boats to make points… only to have it stripped away by having the characters state what had already been shown. It’s a shame, because there are some really good scenes. Apparently this movie was shot in 3D, and I imagine there are some effects that are very powerful – the waves on the Bar (I can’t stop saying it with that North Eastern accent in my head – Baaaa) are very intimidating, and the musical score for it is extremely good. It makes the scenes on the water worth watching.
Overall, the movie is bland and average. But, it’s not terrible. I’m going to give it a “C” – average all the way.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"