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.
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.
No Country For Old Men is indicative of both how good its directors are and what a phenomenal year for movies 2007 was. This is a film that has it all: memorable characters, quotable lines, thrilling setpieces, a coherent worldview, the perfect amount of humor to leaven the darkness, and something to say about how we view history and justice and cause and effect. It’s all those things, while also being arguably Joel and Ethan Coen’s sixth or seventh best film and barely cracking my personal top 5 for 2007 releases. That this near-perfect film is relegated to those kinds of finishes makes me want to watch Fargo or Ratatouille again, but we’re here to praise No Country first.
Of the South Korean directors who have entered Western orbits, Lee Chang-dong lacks the genre experimentation of Bong Joon-ho and the over-the-top melodrama of Park Chan-wook, and therefore his unflashy films have probably been seen by the least amount of people. His work is dense and cerebral in a way that Park or Bong often are, but Lee lacks the sexy hooks. The universal praise and Netflix availability of Lee’s Burning will hopefully change that. A far more accessible film than his previous, also excellent film Poetry, Burning is instantly recognizable first as a love triangle and then a thriller, a film tied to its country of origin but not so much that it becomes foreign to a non-Korean viewer. Burning can be taken in on its surface as a compelling tripartite potboiler or one can dig deeper and find a consideration of class, gender, resentment, and entitlement. With so much to offer, it’s a towering work of international cinema and not something to be overlooked.
The trope of the detective whose mental irregularities manifest as brilliance has mostly been a part of recent television, since it provides an easy way into the protagonist as anti-hero, another preferred path for ‘prestige’ TV. House, The Good Doctor, Sherlock, Monk, even my beloved Hannibal are all examples, and Kenneth Branagh provides a cinematic equivalent in his adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. A story that has many versions, I don’t know if earlier ones needed to find a reason for star detective’s Hercule Poirot’s forensic genius, but it’s 2017 on this version’s release, so Poirot is portrayed as being crippled with the burning need to have everything in its right place, which therefore makes him adept at finding irregularities. Whether or not this added depth of character makes Branagh’s version better or worse is an open question, and one the film doesn’t spend enough time caring about. As much as Branagh attempts to update Agatha Christie’s mystery for the present, there doesn’t seem to be much to justify its existence beyond a popular taste for true crime stories.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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