Annie finds out secrets about Eddie. She's also still getting the run around from Welland. All the while she talks to the mysterious Riddler on her own.
Memories of Candle Cove return as Mike investigates in his hometown
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (Birth, The Game, Last 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.
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.
Season 2, Episode 2: “Before the Law”
Directed by Noah Hawley
Written by Noah Hawley
* For a review of the previous episode, “Waiting for Dutch” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus” – click here
After the incredible opening episode, Fargo moves further into Season 2 with “Before the Law”.
This episode begins with more of the stylistically awesome editing, loving the splits-screen and how they use it at various intervals. Nice montage to start with Bobbie Gentry’s “Reunion” playing over top. We see glimpses of almost all the characters here and I thought it was a good way to start things off.
Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) is dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s stroke. A Gerhardt nephew, Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) – whose father is Bear (Angus Sampson) – helps his grandma out with “the bank“. Out in the barn, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is viciously interrogating some poor guy with his partner in crime Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon). Meanwhile, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) have also come in from Kansas City to see the Gerhardt clan.
Plenty of things happening. Seems there are troubles within the family, let alone anything else outside of their ranks. Dodd wants to be the boss of the family now that patriarch Otto (Michael Hogan) is temporarily – and most likely permanently – out of the picture as figurehead. However, even his brother Bear believes their mother is the proper candidate. A tense little scene where we see how there’s not much real love in the Gerhardt family, it’s all about politics and hierarchical structure. Not saying they don’t love one another, but more that their family is built around an empire. It’s more a business than anything.
Dodd Gerhardt – with his right hand man Hanzee – is not letting his mother’s newly found leadership get in the way. They’re plotting something, planning. We’ll see exactly what that is sooner than later.
Floyd: “That’s what an empire is – it’s bigger than any son, or daughter.”
One big pot of jumbo going on here. So many complexities happening. I haven’t even mentioned the fact of Rye (Kieran Culkin) having been killed in the last episode by Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). The rest of Rye’s clan think he’s off either getting laid or doing something else just as trivial, in their eyes. I keep wondering how this is all going to come together, a big SNAFU of epic criminal proportions.
Heading away from the Gerhardt home, Bulo and Milligan have a conversation about their job. Seems they’re going to try divide and conquer among the Gerhardt boys. The first suggestion from Milligan, Rye, is obviously not going to work out.
Usually I find Ted Danson sort of… tedious. I’m already loving him in this season of Fargo. This character has a good deal of depth off the bat. Hank Larsson (Danson) and Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) are very believable together as father-in-law/son-in-law buddy cops. Added into that situation is Lou’s wife, daughter of Hank, Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti). I think the three-way dynamic between these actors and their characters is beginning very strong. Look forward to seeing more of them with each passing episode.
I feel bad for Ed Blomquist. Peggy really did him dirty with the whole accident and not telling him. What did she think would happen? What was Peggy planning on doing? Very clear Ed loves his wife, if not he wouldn’t stick by her so closely. Her transgression has really put them both in a terrifying place. Not only that, Ed has to deal simply with the fact he took another man’s life. Regardless of how it happened, what went down, he still killed someone. Cannot be easy to live with.
Really, though, I’m sure Peggy will be the downfall of them both. At least in terms of public image. She is so nervous looking and her disposition is totally off when around others, so I can almost see it coming right now. She’s too edgy while Ed appears level headed and focused on making sure they don’t get caught.
Milligan pays a visit to the shop where Rye had previously been conducting his business with Skip Watson (Mike Bradecich). He’s tracking down the youngest Gerhardt. A real great scene here, which shows the solid acting abilities of Bokeem Woodbine; an underrated actor. He pulls Watson’s tie into one of the IBM typewriters, looking for information on the Judge killed over at the diner in “Waiting for Dutch“, then follows up with a little story about writing a letter to General Electric and some questions. It’s such an expertly written scene, something I’m coming to expect from Hawley.
Jesse Plemons is someone I think is also underrated. After his turn on Breaking Bad, playing a very unlikeable character (though he played him well), here he gets a bigger role, as well as one with even more under the surface. Watching him clean up the mess his wife made, first the car and bleaching the garage floor then in his underwear burning bloody clothes at the fireplace, you can tell he’s even come a long way just since Breaking Bad. The Blomquists story is a part of this season I’m already super invested in personally and I’m sure there are going to be more little tragedies for them the further we go.
One of my favourite scenes of the season already comes when Lou Solverson goes over to the diner. He heads inside to have a look at the nasty crime scene. Outside, his daughter and wife play in the snow. Then when the little one picks up a deflated balloon, Betsy ends up finding the shiny silver revolver Rye used in the murders. Sort of a bittersweet moment because it’s awesome she found the gun, also sort of darkly funny the way Lou was inside with all the blood and death, as his wife and daughter are just outside, having fun in the angelic white snow. Perfect sort of Fargo moment of juxtaposition.
Right afterwards there’s an intense scene. Milligan and his henchmen are pulled over by Larsson. There’s a bit of messing about, with Milligan playing games briefly. Honestly, I was completely on edge from the moment Larsson stood in the road and their car showed up. Ted Danson has such an outstanding degree of suspense in his own eyes, such a burning stare throughout the confrontation, you’ll find it very hard not to fall in with how tense things feel. I actually let my breath out slightly once the scene faded into the next. Wow.
Still, I’m most interested in Ed and Peggy. More so Ed, though, as he’s carrying the major brunt of the entire situation on his shoulders. Just watching him smolder alone in his car, at the meat shop, at home, it’s almost unnerving. Because you don’t know how regular, everyday people will be affected by murder. It can lead certain people into a dark descent. Will Ed be one of those? Will he crack under the pressure, or keep it all together in order to protect himself, his wife, his potential family down the road? One thing I know is that it’s totally fun watching the dark drama play out in front of us. The spirit of the Coen Brothers Fargo is continuously alive and well.
Feeling like a broken record, again there is trouble for the Blomquists. Co-worker Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) ends up finding the stolen toilet paper she’d mentioned earlier, to Peggy – in Peggy’s house. The smallest sort of thing, but in these murder cover-up situations, aren’t the smallest details almost most important? Even worse, now more people – Constance – are seeing the car, the damage, so their dirty secrets are starting to filter out. In a small Minnesota town, secrets like theirs, or any secrets for that matter can easily make their rounds through the locals. The more I see Peggy onscreen, the more I feel she’s going to do something even more stupid than she originally did and the secrets will start flowing like waterfalls.
Larsson and Solverson have a nice little conversation nearing the episode’s end. Not only are the idiosyncrasies of these two characters revealed a little more, their talk about “convergence” and “callback” is important. Fargo is a show based around those ideas, that one situation will remind you of another, that things come back to bear on all things relevant; ultimately, the bad keeps repeating, calling back to other bad things, and so on. There’s more to their conversation, mostly concerning the diner crime scene. However, I think a good deal of their dialogue lent itself to the idea of history repeating itself, at least in part.
Larsson: “Sometimes I wonder if you boys didn’t bring that war home with ya.”
Ed Blomquist finally finds himself in a tight situation. About time, really, in terms of this season’s plot; may as well get things going full steam. As Ed chops and grinds the body of Rye Gerhardt at the shop, putting it through the machinery like he might a bunch of sausages, et cetera. Amazing shot where he chops fingers off, they roll to the floor and one slips under the door out into the shop! I couldn’t believe it, such a gnarly moment. Plus, the suspense goes up with Lou Solverson out at the door, knocking away. Extremely tense – Lou wants bacon (get it?) for when Betsy wakes up, so naturally Ed invites him in while he cuts off a few pieces. Two excellent actors here bouncing off one another. Great writing. This is typical – and awesome – Fargo type fare, with the music really riling things up, the acting on point and a hairy situation playing out. Kept me on edge for the entire few minutes of the scene.
“The Eve of the War” by Jeff Wayne begins to play over the final shots. So fitting and beautiful and dark at once.
Cannot WAIT to see and review the next episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus”. Stay tuned, fellow Fargo-ites!
The Amityville Horror. 1979. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. Screenplay by Sandor Stern; based on the book by Jay Anson.
Starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton, John Larch, Natasha Ryan, K.C. Martel, Meeno Peluce, Michael Sacks, Helen Shaver, and Amy Wright. American International Pictures. Rated 14A. 117 minutes. Drama/Horror.
When it comes to the haunted house movies that go for the possessed angle – the house driving someone crazy or literally possessing them – I still think The Amityville Horror is near the top of my favourites. Different than The Exorcist where that’s a demon, I love this even without all the true story aspects of it, which are likely a hoax as far as I’m concerned. But that’s a discussion for another time.
This movie just creeps me out. I mean, when the priest is in that room with the flies covering his face, then all of a sudden you here it softly first – “Get out” – the priest looks around in awe and it says once more, louder and raspier this time – “GET OUT” – every time I see that part, I know it’s coming, and consistently it freaks me out. Love it! Always enjoy a movie which continually scares me any time I watch it over the years.
Plus, there’s something about the idea of a house’s history affecting the people who live in afterwards that gets to me at my core. Because, although I don’t believe in any life after death, I’m forever sceptical at the same time. I’m always questioning. So, I can’t fully discount that there may be something we don’t know about yet, something that could be proven eventually. For me, watching horror movies is not always about realism. In this type of film, you have to try and remove yourself a little from reality, but at the same time you can still stay slightly grounded. Just imagine, what would you do if a house started driving you crazy? What could you do, really? When I watch horror, I’ll usually try to put myself in the shoes of the characters involved. That’s one reason this movie scares me because if I were in that house with James Brolin going slowly mad, I’d probably have been terrified right to the bone.
The Amityville Horror is based on the, supposedly, true events which transpired in the house of George (James Brolin) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder) – where years before, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. murdered his family in cold blood as they slept at night. Moving in with their children, the Lutz family find a great new home; spacious, a boathouse out back with a small dock, good land. Once moved into their house, strange things begin to happen. George begins to wake up every morning at 3:15 AM on the dot. The young daughter starts talking about an imaginary little girl named Jodi who actively becomes more and more involved in her life. Even a priest comes to the house trying to bless the place when Kathy sends request, but he is driven from the premises by some evil force, screaming at him, sending him away by any means. Things get worse and worse, and slowly George seems to be sucked into whatever terror lays beyond the veil between the living and the dead.
I think a part of what makes The Amityville Horror work is the family dynamic. When considering the real supposed story, George Lutz (Brolin) is the husband of Kathy (Kidder), but the children are his stepchildren. Apparently he was not exactly the perfect stepfather and he was a bit tough on them. He’s running a business and everything is on him, so while the house exerts its evil influence over George his business begins to suffer. Then Kathy is of course concerned about him, trying to figure out what’s going on. There are so many things at play within the Lutz family. It’s as if the house feeds off any already negative energy or presence within its walls, it uses that to generate more of the negative energy still left over from the past. That’s what makes this movie real interesting for me.
In the early scenes as Brolin and Kidder stroll through the house, there’s some really excellent editing which truly caught me off-guard. I didn’t expect the quick cuts to, what ultimately are, the murders of Butch DeFeo Jr. These are the murders of course that happened in the now haunted house. I love how they’re incorporated here. As I said, some spot-on editing. Great stuff from editor Robert Brown, whose work includes Damien: Omen II, Brubaker, The Pope of Greenwich Village, The Lost Boys, and Flatliners. Kudos to him for the stuff in this film. He has a real touch for the horror genre, as far as I’m concerned.
All the little touches are creepy. Such as George’s waking up at exactly 3:15 AM. This is supposedly the time when Butch DeFeo killed his family in their beds. So even though the supposed hauntings are inspiration for this, and I don’t believe the real story in so far as I’m concerned, I still find the whole thing utterly unsettling. The movie stands well enough on its own for me.
Still, the part that has always gotten to me the most is the scene when the babysitter gets locked in the closet. Damn, does it ever work on my nerves. I always feel so bad for her because I don’t like closed spaces, so I think if I’d have been locked in there – by a child or a ghost or whoever – I would lose my mind eventually. Plus, the blood on her knuckles, rapping on the door, beating against it; such a vicious image. Then the light goes out, and to this day, no matter how many times I’ve seen it my spine will chill. From bottom to top and back again. Great, spooky stuff!
The reason my love for this movie endures is the atmosphere. Time and time again I’ve said it: atmosphere and tone, these are things which work for me. If a movie has those and can keep up relatively nicely with a bit of solid dialogue, add in some decent characters and you’ve sold me!
Stuart Rosenberg, as far as I’m concerned, is a classic director. Not everything he did was perfect, but I think he has enough wonderful pictures under his belt we can look back on his career to say it went well. He did some great ones – Brubaker with Robert Redford, Cool Hand Luke including the classic performance of Paul Newman, and The Pope of Greenwich Village featuring Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke in maybe the performances of their careers or at least close to it. So, I’d throw this film on the list. He’s good at crafting tension and suspense, in everything he has done. Most certainly here. There are a ton of moments that have me held close to the screen each time I see the movie. Some of the shots of the Lutz house are downright ominous and foreboding, I absolutely love them. That iconic red filtered shot of the Lutz house from the outside is KILLER! Dig that one, so much.
A particularly favourite shot of mine is at almost the 40 minute mark. George (Brolin) is putting wood in on the fire. The flames are crackling and licking up. You can barely see his features, but the fire casts on his face in a reddish glow; his beard/goatee looks as if it were the devil himself. Then, as he leans back, the glow leaves and he looks like a frightened man, losing his mind. Perfect stuff.
Not only do I love the shot, we get to see a great bit between Kidder and Brolin. The look in Brolin’s eyes is insanely perfect. He is one great actor, man. I’ve always thought that, anyways, aside from this movie. But there is something in his face, a great gift of expression, which works like a charm for the character of George Lutz. While I love a movie like The Shining, I’ve always agreed with Stephen King when he says that Jack Nicholson sort of starts off crazy; I mean, you get that typical Nicholson feel right from the very beginning in the opening car scene. Here, with Brolin’s depiction of George Lutz, it gives the genuine feeling that he is a man who is going crazy. At the beginning he’s definitely a sombre guy – I attribute that mostly to the fact he’s a bit of a serious guy, lots of stuff going on with his business, buying the house, probably how a lot of people might be in the situation. There’s something, however, which changes as time goes on, and as opposed to something like Nicholson’s performance – which I do enjoy – there’s that honest feeling something is going seriously awry in the Lutz house.
Margot Kidder is no slouch either. Ever since seeing Black Christmas and the under-seen/under-appreciated Brian De Palma horror-thriller Sisters I have been in love with this woman! Wonderful, talented actress. She is a true great. Her performance here matches the intensity of Brolin at the right times and we really get the feeling this is a woman who loves her husband, as she tries so hard to help him hold onto reality, but also works to the bone trying to protect her children.
Oh, and Rod Steiger – bad ass. Constant bad ass. I love him in this and I could watch it a hundred times just for his scenes because they’re enough to make you stand up and shout. He’s a classic actor and this is one role that will always, always come up when I think of his name. Solid stuff out of him, as is to be expected. He plays a typical role we’ve seen, a million times since, yet it’s one I would rank up there with Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist. Absolutely.
While I love this horror movie, tons, I’ll only be able to say it’s a 4 out of 5 star film. There are a few points of dialogue I’m not too keen on, mostly when it concerns other characters outside of the Lutz’s themselves. I think at times the script in general could’ve been tighter, mainly to compact things a bit more. Great film, in spite of its dubious “true” roots – still, I tend to find it’s a little longer than it needs to be. I think with Brolin and Kidder, with Steiger thrown in for good measure, this movie didn’t need to be close to 2 hours long. A solid hour and a half would’ve done the job quite proper.
Either way, it is a classic of the genre and will forever be a favourite of mine in the haunted house genre. Near the top. Great performances are what drives the best bits here, as well as good atmosphere and quality editing. Always recommend this to anyone who has to see it.