Tagged Brian Cox

Killer Casanova Wants to Kiss the Girls

Kiss the Girls. 1997. Directed by Gary Fleder. Screenplay by David Klass; based on the novel of the same name by James Patterson.
Starring Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, Alex McArthur, Tony Goldwyn, Jay O. Sanders, Bill Nunn, Brian Cox, Richard T. Jones, Roma Maffia, Jeremy Piven, Gina Ravera, William Converse-Roberts, Helen Martin, & Tatyana Ali. Paramount Pictures/Rysher Entertainment.
Rated R. 115 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery

★★★★
POSTER This is a film that’s always surprised me. It isn’t perfect, but uses its James Patterson roots and lots of excellent cinematic suspense to make for an exciting ride. Further than that, I’m not a Patterson reader, so I’m not sure if he generally has a dark feel to his writing. You can be sure, though: Kiss the Girls, for all its cop v. serial killer trappings, is a macabre crime story rife with mystery and wreathed with elements of horror. Patterson seems more concerned with the crime elements of his stories than diving too deep on the twisted criminals and killers Alex Cross faces. However, this is one of the Alex Cross films that successfully dips into genuinely eerie territory.
When this came out I was about 11. My mom read a lot of different novels and a wide variety of authors, one of which was Patterson now and then (mainly she and I both gravitated towards Stephen King). In turn, she watched lots of different movies. Usually, she, my dad, and I would sit down on the weekend at least one night and watch a movie together. After this came out, we rented it and watched it together. Though it on the surface may look like a typical crime thriller, this is a little better than the mediocre movies you might have seen sitting on the video rental rack in ’97. I’m sure I rented it more than a couple times back then, enjoying both Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, particularly the latter in her role as a tough survivor of the killer Casanova who helps the former in his quest to bring the man down for good. Eventually I bought the DVD, now I watch it a few times a year. Despite its flaws, Kiss the Girls is a top notch serial killer film that does what it sets out to do: chill at times, and always entertain.
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Ashley Judd is the one whose performance carries the most weight. I do love Morgan Freeman, and I love him as Alex Cross. Judd does the heavy lifting. She plays such a strong female character, which in part is the writing. Although Judd is the one that infuses Dr. Kate McTiernan with so much power. Her strength is immediate, as we’re introduced to her saving lives, boxing, and generally being a kick ass, take charge woman. Later following her escape from Casanova’s grasp, Kate becomes even further transformed. In her weakness as a victim she flips the expectations, subverting our idea of victim and becoming someone even stronger than before. She uses her pain not as a crutch, but rather takes it as an opportunity to toughen, as well as to help the police try catching the man that almost killed her. Without Judd, this role could easily be a weak link.
Similarly, despite the criticism of some, I find Freeman does well with the Cross character. I’ve never read the books, so I can’t judge how it is for the readers who come to this film adaptation. But I like this iteration of Cross. He’s a cool guy in terms of his demeanour, rarely getting too excitable and mostly remaining calculated, thoughtful, as if always one step ahead of his own brain, keeping calm to assess each situation. From the first crime scene where Cross has to talk down an abused woman pushed to murder from killing herself. This sort of initiates us into his world, his attitude and way of thinking, how he operates as a detective. And whereas certain critics I’ve seen review this movie say Freeman doesn’t seem like that hardened kind of street cop who’s seen it all, I’m the opposite – he strikes me totally genuine, someone who has seen everything there is to see, every last imaginable horror and still manages to hold onto a degree of optimism.
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For what might look like a run of the mill crime-thriller out of the mid-to-late ’90s, Kiss the Girls breaks through the mould. This is because the plot gets dark, quickly. In fact, from the beginning of the movie we’re thrust into darkness, a macabre story that starts in the serial killer’s perspective and then follows along with a detective and one of the murderer’s potential victims as they try cracking the mysterious case. Along the way, naturally, there are twists. These come as pleasantly surprising, not telegraphed and expected like so many other similar films. Near the end, a huge reveal pays off lots of the expert suspense to which we’re subjected. Some say the reveal doesn’t work simply based on certain voice aspects (you’ll figure it out after watching), and that’s nonsense to me. This is a nice, scary little twist that I’ve always enjoyed, even after seeing it so many times. Before that when we’re treated to a proper red herring, one that ties into the whole voice aspect mentioned previously, and it makes things quite disturbing. At every step there’s something nasty, layered beneath a seemingly typical story about a talented cop trailing right behind a killer. There’s never anything graphic – this film mainly gets its R-rating due to some cursing and heavy adult themes – but still, there are plenty of times the story and certain characters chill me to the bone.
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I couldn’t care less if Mythbusters ruined the ending: the finale is solid, unsettling, and in a way pretty fun. You’ll likely be surprised by the twist, if not I feel sorry for your clairvoyance. Everything which leads to the conclusion of the film makes for a highly unnerving experience. Sure, some portions of the screenplay can feel cliche or too typical of the crime-thriller genre. Still, Kiss the Girls works hard to feel slightly more horror (mainly on psychological grounds) than you’d expect, and for that it surpasses other films of its kind. With Judd and Freeman pulling out solid performances respectively, and the Patterson material used to great effect, this is a 4-star bit of work I’m always willing to throw on when I’m at a loss as to what I feel like watching. Never fails to entertain.

Zodiac: The Dark Reality of an Uncaught Killer

Zodiac. 2007. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by James Vanderbilt, based on the book of the same name by Robert Graysmith.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, John Lacy, Chloë Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John Terry, Candy Clark, & Elias Koteas.
Phoenix Pictures/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.
Rated 14A. 157 minutes.
Crime/Drama/History

★★★★★
POSTER In terms of people who’ve been making movies since the ’90s, David Fincher is one of those whom I’d consider as an auteur. He doesn’t necessarily tackle any abstract subjects – perhaps The Game and Fight Club are closest to being abstract – but he definitely has his own style, a look and feel all his own. His hand is on every last portion of the finished film. He’s plain and simple an auteur.
So even Zodiac, which is part procedural and part dramatic thriller, has all the earmarks of his genius on it. Everywhere. Not to mention the loaded cast, right down to spectacular character actors such as John Carroll Lynch filling out the back end. There’s enough intrigue in the Zodiac Killer case from real life to fill out a dozen movies, and it certainly has over the years with actual people like SFPD Inspect Dave Toschi having served as inspiration for other films like Bullitt, as well as both he and the Zodiac inspiring Dirty Harry. What Fincher does, using a solid screenplay from James Vanderbilt and based upon the identically titled book by Robert Graysmith, is create a dark, compelling piece of crime cinema that weaves through the enigma which is the Zodiac Killer case with a slick flow.
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July 4th, 1969: an unknown man shoots two people in Vallejo, California, with only one surviving. A month later, someone calling himself The Zodiac starts writing encrypted letters in a strange code to the San Francisco. Soon, political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts to get interested in the case, as big shot crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) is set to cover the case. At first, Avery thinks Graysmith is foolish. But soon he realizes the young cartoonist may actually know a thing or two.
A couple week laters, a San Francisco taxi driver is killed in Presidio Heights. Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) are assigned to the case, and it becomes Toschi’s personal mission to track the sick bastard down. But the Zodiac keeps on killing. And when he threatens school children, other citizens, even Avery directly, things get very serious.
Though we know how the story ends, or has kept going on, the darkness of the Zodiac and his story is all too engaging, as his grip on the city of San Francisco remains a still existent shadow to this day.
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The Zodiac was a scary genius. Assuming it was intentional, he killed across jurisdictional lines, which in turn landed all the various police departments scrambling trying to keep themselves coordinated. Zodiac‘s screenplay by James Vanderbilt is surprising. He hasn’t really done anything else that I’m personally into, though he has done a ton of successful stuff. This script does a great job of laying everything out and even while it is complex, intricately laying out a bunch of characters and major players in the search for the Zodiac, as well as casting doubt and questions over the identity of the killer himself. A story and plot such as this runs the risk of getting tangled up at some point, but Vanderbilt keeps it well on track. The pacing is solid, the character development is extremely solid and well fleshed out. In particular, the main two characters of Graysmith and Toschi are written to near perfection, as we start to see how they sort of became victims of the Zodiac, in that their lives were dominated and ultimately determined, in a sense, by his crimes and the pursuit. Another thing is that the ending comes at the right time. This is a long film at almost 160 minutes, and it’s never boring. But certain writers might not know how to, or when to, cap things off. Vanderbilt manages to cauterize the story at the appropriate time. As there’s a natural mystery to a case we all (should) know is unsolved to this day, the way the plot finishes is just right.
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Fincher and Vanderbilt together never glorify the violence. Yes, there’s a slow motion moment near the beginning as two people are shot, and we see much of the violence in a fairly upfront, raw manner. However, Fincher handles it so that there’s no glorification. It is most certainly stylized, just never put on show as violent erotica. I’m a horror fan, but have an appreciate for all film, especially anything that’s well executed, well composed. And Fincher manages not to make a spectacle of The Zodiac. Rather, we get deep into the psychological territory of the crimes getting drawn into long, dark takes that make us feel as if we’re right there with the victims, the near victims, and those hoping to catch the killer. For a movie that’s stylized, it also has a realism to it. Because it’s not played off like some serial killer of the week. The Zodiac is real, frightening, and the mystery of his true identity is played out impeccably via intelligent writing and, as usual, classic directorial choices on behalf of Fincher.
The soundtrack is amazing, everything from Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” to Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Vanilla Fudge, to Three Dog Night, Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher”, and a bunch more. Great period specific soundtrack that helps give authenticity to the era, alongside all the excellent costume and set design, the locations, and so on. Great stuff. In addition, there’s an eerie piano score which comes in now and then to punctuate dark moments: one of my favourites is the terrifying moment an unseen Zodiac tells a woman he’ll throw her baby out the window of his car before he murders her, then everything goes quiet except for a dreadful pounding piano note. Just everything at play comes together in a spooky tapestry to make this an unsettling film disguised as a crime procedural. Combined with the directing, the soundtrack and score, cinematographer Harris Savides (BirthThe GameLast Days) captures everything in an almost classic sense, as he and Fincher craft things in slick, rich frames to give things a gritty yet pristine look. What another filmmaker might process into mediocre fare Fincher turns into a masterpiece of crime cinema.
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This movie is built on good performances, solid directing and writing, as well as an interesting, enigmatic story of a real life serial killer. The Zodiac murders will linger on in the collective memory of Americans, particularly those in San Francisco, even the world. Because of the mystery involved, we’re often inclined to wonder exactly how he slipped away. David Fincher’s Zodiac doesn’t so much try and answer that, so much as recreate many of the events surrounding the case. Again, as I mentioned concerning the lead characters, much of this has to do with how it wasn’t only the dead left in The Zodiac’s wake. Toschi, Graysmith, all of them to an extent were sucked into the undertow of his unsolvable case. Maybe it was nobody’s fault, or maybe a big part was because of jurisdictional breakdown between departments and precincts, the stubbornness of cops, the bureaucracy of the law, so many things. Perhaps it was all due to the scary fact The Zodiac was smarter than anybody trying to stop him. Regardless, Fincher’s film is a contemporary classic in the crime genre. Many might expect further focus on the actual serial killing, as a lesser project might try (see: 2005’s The Zodiac starring Justin Chambers and Robin Tunney which actually felt all around like a lesser version of Fincher, or Ulli Lommel’s atrocious Curse of the Zodiac). Instead Fincher gives us little bits and pieces, then fills the rest of the film with a thrilling crime investigation, the odd real life characters involved in the case, and much more. This is definitely one of Fincher’s great films, as they’re all pretty impressive. But if you want a creepy serial killer flick that isn’t full-on horror and focuses more on real life, atmosphere, story, then Zodiac is always a safe bet.