Journalists and detectives obsess over solving the mysterious Zodiac murders in 60's and 70's California.
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr
Review by Jon Kissel
Americans get worked up over strange things. Back before the days when the president demanded every ounce of attention and the media was happy to give it to him, we’ve lost our collective shit over Harambe and Cecil, Casey Anthony and Jon-Benet Ramsey. David Fincher remembers being a kid during a period of war and social unrest that makes today look quaint, and his California community choosing to go a little bit nuts over an early serial killer who attempted to kill seven people and was tragically successful for five of them. The Zodiac killer sucks up some amount of air during his active period, but for most, it fades and becomes a thing that happens, fodder for an opening paragraph in an amateur movie review and not much more. For others, this becomes a defining event in their lives for reasons they can’t explain and those meticulous, obsessive individuals, not unlike Fincher himself, are the people he chooses to follow in Zodiac, an epic-length investigation of a mostly meaningless event that’s only grown more relevant with the explosion of true-crime material in the 13 years since its release.
Someone’s going to make a great legal thriller one day about the Satanic Panic, wherein delirious fears of devil worship combined with quack psychology and a gullible justice system to send people to jail on made-up charges. No one’s done it yet on the feature level, though there’s been strong Satanic Panic-adjacent documentaries like the ones about the West Memphis Three. Pre-Hail Satan, director Penny Lane’s first impulse was to make just such a documentary, but the devoted and earnest outcasts of the Satanic Temple caught her attention instead. The resulting effort is perhaps the first evangelizing documentary, or at least the first one that’s ever worked on me. Hail Satan presents such an inspiring vision of countering credulousness and theocracy that I wonder if this is the same feeling morons experience when they babble in pieced-together baby talk, or, as they would say, speak in tongues. Based on the transgressive thrill the film gives me every time someone says Hail Satan, I think the church might’ve just gained a convert.
Having imitated John Carpenter 80’s horror movies in his breakout hit It Follows, David Robert Mitchell’s highly anticipated, repeatedly delayed, and ultimately failing Under the Silver Lake takes Los Angeles detective stories as its inspiration. The one guy on the hunt for answers can be found in films as varied as Inherent Vice, The Long Goodbye, or Mulholland Dr, all of which are evoked here with sets or scenery or moods. Like It Follows, however, a good start slowly crumbles under a foundation not broad enough to support the weight Mitchell builds atop it. By hinting at so many other movies that are better than itself, Under the Silver Lake can’t help but draw unflattering comparisons. The plots of these kinds of dense private-eye films rarely make sense, but with enough cinematic power or thematic consistency, it doesn’t matter. With as loose and scattered as this film is, it matters.
Martin Scorsese’s 2019 has found the hall-of-fame director in the center of two of the biggest concerns in the cinematic world. His thoughtful and high-minded discourse about where superhero movies fall in the film landscape endeared him to every cinephile concerned about monopoly power and the worrying trend of anonymous fans sticking up for multi-billion corporations. His choice to make his latest film with Netflix put him on the opposite side of the purists, though it’s hard to imagine a studio financing a $160 million, 209 minute epic that’s far away from the perversely enticing boisterousness of Scorsese’s Goodfellas or Wolf of Wall Street. A still-vital director wading into so many corners of the cultural landscape makes Scorsese a worthy spokesman for American film, especially when he has the goods to back up his talk. The Irishman places Scorsese as the driving force behind one of 2019’s best films, though anytime he makes something new, it’s likely to be in that conversation. What’s surprising is how viciously fanboys have attacked Scorsese’s eminently fair arguments. What’s unsurprising is that one of the medium’s best creators has once again made a masterpiece.
Marriage Story isn’t the first time director Noah Baumbach has taken instances from his life and slapped them onscreen. In The Squid and the Whale, a literary NYC couple divorces just as Baumbach’s parents did and the teenaged kids have to deal with it. Subsequent films of his like While We’re Young and The Meyerowitz Stories are surely infused with Baumbach’s relationship to the younger generation that he’s surrounded by in Brooklyn or with the rest of his family. I’ve seen most of Baumbach’s filmography, and while there’s always some sense of the man himself, especially in the non-Greta Gerwig collaborations, Marriage Story is the one that feels the most raw and real. Baumbach divorced actor Jennifer Jason Leigh in the early 2010’s, and there was likely a point in that three-year process that he pulled out a notepad and started making observations. By engaging in such intense self-examination and writing characters that do the same, Baumbach does that old thing of making the specific into the universal, of finding one couple’s peculiar problems and distilling them into broadly relatable fears and insecurities that most people, married or no, likely have.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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