Archive for June, 2010

Zodiac (3.5 of 4)

David Fincher’s 2007 crime docu-drama Zodiac gives a detailed and specific look at the pursuit and murders of the Zodiac killer beginning in 1968.  This is a long movie, but it really needs to be. The book-length treatment of a script isn’t heavy-handed but careful and meticulous about every important detail and well-educates anyone unfamiliar with this U.S. tragedy.

The Zodiac killer writes letters to three San Fransisco area newspapers and demands they front page them or he will kill twelve random people over the weekend. This is the beginning of the Zodiac letters. They continue as detectives, played by Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards, try to piece together the clues based on the killer’s handwriting and circumstantial evidence.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. play a cartoonist and crime reporter, respectively, who try to crack the Zodiac’s code themselves. Everyone involved in the case, or hunt, for the murderer becomes slowly obsessed as they leave behind job duties, families and personal health in pursuit of the villain.

The movie quickly becomes a window into the minds of a group of people driven to near insanity in their quest for justice. It’s nothing less than a mesmerizing study of both criminal and law enforcement and the psychological damage that people take when hunting and hiding from one another.

The ensemble cast is spot on. Ruffalo stands out as he displays an honesty in his portrayal of Inspector David Toschi. Gyllenhaal is convincing as the outclassed cartoonist in a world he can’t control or understand, but desperately wants to. Downey Jr. plays himself (I’d say nothing special, but I like Downey Jr. even if he plays himself). Anthony Edwards, Toschi’s partner, gives a solid performance and brings in an emotional bond to both detectives.

John Carrol Lynch plays the Zodiac killer. He’s positively stupendous. Inside he’s scary, disturbed and brutal, but outside he appears sympathetic and subdued. This was the best casting in the film. When you see him for the first time, you know he’s the guy, the cops know he’s the guy, shoot, even he knows he’s the guy! But for some reason, you doubt it and Fincher lets you explore those doubts right along with the detectives and police of the mid 70s.

Fincher is really a master of moods (notice the consistency in the color scheme of the three screen shots). When I think of Fincher I think of Fight Club and Se7en with their identifiable lighting and the grungy feel. Or more recently The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the holy glow about the characters. Zodiac is no different. There is a feeling throughout the films 2 1/2 hour timeline. A dark, rainy, frightening and cold feeling. But Fincher has an ability to turn the typical noir feel that he presents visually into something different instinctively. Something less cinematic and more emotional–more personal, and in this case, it worked.


a crime spree and some jail time

The last few days I’ve been on a crime/penalty movie binge. I watched two good ones back to back, Zodiac (David Fincher) and Felon (Ric Roman Waugh). Reviews are coming soon.

Anyone know another good, recent crime/penalty/detective movies?

Criminal (2.5 of 4)

Netflix Instant Play

Long time Hollywood assistant director Gregory Jacobs made his directing début in 2004 with this underrated gem known as Criminal.
Criminal tells the story of Rodrigo (or Brian), played by Diego Luna, a small time con man trying to save $75,000 for his father’s heart transplant. His personality is innocent and charming think of a Mexican Aladdin.

But Rodrigo isn’t the best con. Rodrigo heads to a Vegas casino to attempt a simple scam on a few waitresses. It works on one. He heads to the next table, this one is smarter, she starts yelling for security, he panics, she screams, police begin to walk up when–enter Richard Gaddis (John C. Reilly) an older, smarter, smoother con. He roll-plays as a cop and casually “arrests” Rodrigo. Once outside at Richard’s car, Richard explains that he’d like to take Rodrigo in as a partner for the day teach him some tricks and educate the young criminal on proper lying.

So the two team up and meander around Vegas grifting whoever they can. $100 here $300 there diamond ring over there. Until they catch up to an old friend of Richard who has a counterfeit bill of one of the most valuable bills the US Treasury Department has ever printed. Now for the big swindle–sell it to a money collector for $750,000.

For the movie’s next 45 minutes the story, acting, direction are great. It looks and feels not only believable (like all good con-man movies need to) but also important. The stakes continue to get higher and higher as your trust of the characters rises and falls.

What most impressed me about the movie was John C. Reilly. See, I thought he was just a clown, but the man can act. There is an incredible dialogue shootout between Luna and Reilly, as I watched it I was thinking–but that’s the guy from Walk Hard! It’s so good I couldn’t believe who I was watching.

The pacing and direction are excellent. Jacobs’  first movie as director proves he had a hand in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11,12, and 13 films. His execution is smooth, the transitions are invisible and the acting (verbal and non-verbal) is well-covered. Sadly, Jacobs also tried to do too much and literally ruins his movie in the last 3 minutes. I liked this movie, but goodness gracious the twist at the end, if you can call it that, is horrendous!

Toy Story 3 (4 of 4)

I smiled leaving the theater. I am smiling now. I didn’t like Toy Story 3, I loved it. Toy Story 3 brings back its all-star voice-acting cast to live another adventure born in the toy box. Not everyone is there, but that’s okay. Buzz, Woody, Rex, Slinky, Hamm, Mr. Potato Head and company are all back. The storyline is similar to the other Toy Story movies, I’ll admit.

But Toy Story has always been about the message and the theme takes over again. See, the characters–the toys–they worry about being loved and played with and being important, about growing old and being lonely, they worry about breaking and needing repairs, about each other and their “family”. That’s what all good stories are about.

So, Andy is going to college, he’s 17. He’s smart, creative, a good son–but too old to play with his toys. He sorts them out, Woody is going to college with him the rest into the attic. But his mother throws them to the curb when she mistakes the black-bagged toys for trash. After barely escaping, the toys climb into a box headed to a day-care where they believe they will be loved forever and played with all the time by the children.

Once at the daycare, they meet Lotso, a purple plush bear, he charms them. And then reveals himself as a warden type character when the day-care turns from paradise to nightmare-prison for Buzz and the gang, as they try to reunite with each other and get back to Andy before he leaves them forever.

The adventure is nearly indescribable (I say nearly because I know there must be a script somewhere). There are daring rescues, high-flying stunts, exhilarating escapes all surrounded with family and romance and comedy. I’m not exaggerating when I say Buzz and Woody make Indiana Jones look boring. The entire movie is vibrant and full of life. You’ll forget the heroes are plastic in ten minutes.

This is an absolute must see. The characters are heartfelt, the heroes are heroic, the jokes are clean, and the adventure is timeless. Go see this movie. Hands down the best film I’ve seen all year.

I love to say: Pixar has done it again! Because I really couldn’t be more pleased. Even if this ends up being the end of the Toy Story series or simply the next installment (since it sets up a fourth film). The last thing I want to say is may the sentimental be warned–its nostalgia and passion is heartbreaking.

Favorite Moment: Spanish Buzz Dance

The Invention of Lying (2.5 of 4)

The Invention of Lying is a half-interested look at a world where people are unable to lie. Ricky Gervais plays Mark Bellison who discovers one day at a bank that he can “say something that wasn’t.” He must phrase it this way because, truth and falsity don’t exist. I guess, they have no words for them.

Women tell friends their babies are ugly, men tell women: “Yes, that dress makes you look fat.” And relationships are very open. What all this does is create a world of very hard-hearted people. Everyone is used to hearing truths whether positive or negative. And because of this when you say something–you are believed, period. No matter what you say, the person you say it to will take your word for it. Now imagine one person can lie. Really interesting right?!

So we set up a romantic comedy in this creative world. But…

It slowly turns from a funny script filled with dead-pan jokes and romance to a theological mess.

Ricky Gervais is an atheist. He has been an atheist since he was eight years old and “really started thinking about it.” Yes, EIGHT years old the time period when this very funny and creative man “really started thinking, about God.” Gervais once said after becoming an atheist that he “no longer needed a reason for his existence, just a reason to live.” This truly breaks my heart, and I intend to pray for Gervais as often as I think about him. He’s an incredible comedian and talented actor/writer/director I’d love for him to have a reason for his existence and his life.

In his movie, The Invention of Lying, his character in an effort to comfort his dying mother, tells her that she won’t go on into nothingness, but rather go live with all her friends in a giant mansion in a beautiful place. The doctors overhear everyone believes (cause they have to via the premise) and word gets out FAST that there is some sort of after-death experience.

So Gervais tries to create God and the afterlife. And at first, it’s funny. He writes commandments on two Pizza Hut boxes and does his best to create an ethical system based on his fiction. And of course it leads to chaos. He becomes a world-wide celebrity and continues to lie to keep it going and profit.

It’s an insulting film, I think that’s why I didn’t like it. It tells me that religion can’t work if it’s conducted honestly. That faith is meaningless, and that deception is the true king. And that is dangerous. Actually, I think the film is dangerous. Gervais is probably proud of that. The movie is funny, memorable, well-acted, mostly well-directed (I have some complaints with background images that kill the true/false non-existence premise that might have been avoided…); it’s really clever, and has some of my favorite actors in cameos–these things are what make it dangerous.

The Invention of Lying is subtle and deadly. It’s good for a laugh and if you like Gervais it’s a must, but watch out or you’ll get lied to.

Dances with Oil? Kevin Costner and BP

--image from

No, I’m not making this up. Actually very interesting article. Apparently, our beloved cinema hero helped his brother fund an ocean water and oil separation machine thingy. It purifies the water at a faster rate than any other invention out there. And the kicker is, BP and Congress want his help!

Read the full article here:


I saw The Invention of Lying this past weekend, and will be writing a review soon. It actually made me think a lot. Not expecting the theological mess that it ended up being. I had only wanted to laugh…