Friday, March 23, 2007

Zodiac, Hollywood, and Me

I hate going to see commercial movies.
My being a snob has nothing to do with it. I love movies. I love being entertained by movies. It's true that I chose my apartment based on proximity to the Cinematheque - but the Paramount Vancouver is even closer. I went to see Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong five times there. Snobs wouldn't do that. Or what about Constantine? I saw that about five times, too, and a couple more times on DVD. Hell, I even saw Hellboy twice. I can even admit to having truly enjoyed a romantic comedy recently, if you're comfortable with my thus labelling Stranger than Fiction.

That I can think of, these are the only big-budget, relatively high-profile Hollywood films that I've actually liked in the last few years. None of them are great works of film art; I would be embarrassed to even mention them in certain circles. The thing is - from offensive, morally bankrupt idiocy like Borat to mediocre messes like The Number 23 (which, having gone through a post-Illuminatus year of 23's myself, I was predisposed to at least want to like) - there really hasn't been much competition; for all the movies I've gone to, I've seen little evidence of any great love of cinema of late, or even any particular respect, coming out of the cultural quagmire of Hollywood (okay, I suppose Pan's Labyrinth deserves a nod for effort but it's arguably not even a Hollywood film, for one, and really, a couple of months after viewing it, I find I don't care about it much. I'm sure I'll feel the same about Children of Men a few weeks from now). Films that have been lauded as great - The Queen, for chrissakes? - have been yawn-inducing, trumped up TV fare at best. That Apocalypto gets 66% positive on Rotten Tomatoes says something, but not that it's a pretty good film. Craft, attention to detail, belief in the power and value of stories - they've been mostly replaced with hype and image and noise, often in the service of reprehensible values (Hostel, for example, which I don't reject because of its sadism but because it presumes at the current time to vindicate America for the crime of torture, framing it instead as a victim and displacing that guilt onto the Europeans) or at least highly questionable ones (The Sands of Iwo Jima). Even exploitation cinema can't be counted on anymore - witness Hannibal Rising. And Jesus, don't get me started on the few canonized directors still out there. The Departed? Don't make me laugh. I enjoyed Miami Vice more (and I didn't enjoy that very much).
It's not that I'm totally hard to please, either. I mean, I'm probably going to watch A Scanner Darkly for a fourth time sometime in the next few months because I still can't figure out if I like it. I'm willing to give a movie a chance, if it has potential. This is really quite remarkably kind of me, considering how badly I've been disappointed by certain films lately (I mean, I actually got excited when I heard that Brian de Palma was adapting James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia - any cinephiles who've seen it know how that must've felt. I'd actually made time during my Toronto vacation to see it the week it opened. Sigh.)

Feeling as grim as I do about the state of things, when I realized that David Fincher's Zodiac was playing at the Paramount - I guess it opened last week, relatively unhyped - I didn't allow myself to hope for anything at all.

I just got in from watching it, and I wanted to tell y'all that it is a great work of film art (will I feel comfortable about that bold declarative statement a week from now...? Hmmm). It is a beautifully crafted police procedural movie, a fine treatise on the nature of obsession, a richly observed portrait of San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s, a gripping thriller, and a finely scripted, perfectly acted drama. The cast includes Mark Ruffalo - who I kind of liked in Jane Campions In the Cut, but like more now that Fincher has wiped the grease off him from he wore in that role; the ever-enjoyable Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, to you); the excellent Elias Koteas (didja ever see Hit Me? Great, underappreciated Jim Thompson adaptation - it's based on A Swell-Looking Babe, and as far as I know, is his only star turn); Chloe Sevigny, who is sexier as a nerdy bespectacled 60's librarian-geek type than in her last film role I saw, which I will resist the urge to say anything cute about; even an okay turn from the almost redeemable Robert Downey Jr, who carries over just a bit too much of the manic quirkiness of A Scanner Darkly into this film, tho' he has his good moments). It will reward multiple viewings, like Fincher's Se7en (which is nowhere as mature, though equally beautifully crafted). It doesn't require my description - if you're sensitive to violence, it might be upsetting at times, but other than that detail, I think the less you know about it, the better off you will be. I have nothing at all to say about this film, but: Go See It.

Oh: make sure to void your bladder first, since it's a tad long. If you really need more writing on it to convince you, Tom Charity does the film justice here. (Hi, Tom).


ammacinn said...

It's just me, leavin' a comment on my own blog. Had my second viewing tonight, two days after the first. Wanted to see if I could fairly describe the film as being about the pleasures of work - you see men at work throughout; police procedurals are one of the few genres of movie that really focus on the rewards and frustrations of being on the job. Also wanted to check in and see how the very disturbing first murder sequence sets you up for the rest of the film; the volume of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" gets cranked at a key point, inviting you to take pleasure in the "excitement" of the murder, which you then have to try to come to terms with (exorcise, as it were) by finding the real killer. Cleverly, your main points of identification is with men who are somewhat eccentric, themselves, all of whom are at times suspected of wrongdoing - a cop with a fixation on animal crackers, a drugged out hipster crime reporter, and a cartoonist with an obsessive streak (I'll let you guess which one Robert Downey plays). I enjoyed it, but in a somewhat detached way; unlike Se7en, which can be turned over and over in your mind like a puzzle, the narrative pattern is pretty straightforward, and without the element of suspense, of discovery, there's not that much to keep the mind working. I still admire it - but I don't actually think I need to see it again; it's JUST a good cop movie. Still, like I say, given the rest of the movies in the Cineplex, that's nothing to be belittled.

If there's a theatre near you with a big cardboard display for Grindhouse, be sure to check the little poster on the front for Machete, starring Danny Trejo. I love Danny Trejo - it's too bad that the movie doesn't actually exist.

ammacinn said...

Hey, check it out, Machete is actually in pre-production!