Thursday, October 7, 2010

Zodiac/American Beauty reviews



In Australia, we have some of the most horrific crimes we ever heard about. Some examples include the Melbourne gangland war from 1995 to 2004, the assassination of John Newman in 1994 and the backpacker murders by serial killer Ivan Milat.

But in America it is less slightly horrific than here. The most horrific crimes I've heard about were Charles Manson and his killings near Hollywood and the assassinations of famous figures like John F Kennedy and John Lennon. But the most horrific crime I have heard of was the Zodiac Killer.

Zodiac is based on the most unsolved case in America of several murders by a serial killer calling himself the Zodiac. When a couple get killed by him in the late 60s, then another afterwards, the Zodiac sent letters to the San Fransisco Chronicle telling them who he'll kill next. It's either in two ways: one is by using several codes encrypted by everyday symbols, the other is in his handwriting.

Here you got three people covering the story - the Chronicle's writer Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), political cartoonist and single father Robert Graysmith (Jake Gynlenhal) and San Francisco detective David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo). In this movie, it follows the case of the Zodiac killer and each of the three characters investigating it and not to have come close to solving the mystery that has been almost more than 30 years old.

Zodiac is a film noir directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, S7ven, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and it is immensely dark. To tell that it's a film noir, Fincher gather all of the elements of that certain genre including minimal lighting, the cynical attitudes of characters and the recurring motifs such as the gunpoint symbol. Fincher directs this so boldly, many fans of him including me would be impressed.

The plot is instantly clever given how the Zodiac killer gives clues like letters with ambiguous symbols and handwriting characters find it hard to solve. And it goes around putting around twists nailed.

And yes, Fincher has a gift of putting dialogue that's almost idealistic. In one scene, you might hear people talking on a radio and commenting about the media publishing articles that boasts crime and promoting it.

The plot divides itself into three parts. One is the killer's instincts on how he would do such murder, the second was based on David Toschi investigating and then Robert Graysmith getting huge interest on the case, he wants to write a book about it. However it would take two and a half hours to figure out the case and the dialogue can be indigestible to comprehend.

Performances are tops. The three actors Gyllenhal, Ruffalo and Downey Jr. all deliver huge charisma. I'm not quite sure what was Downey's purpose, but as a hard cynic crime reporter, he is fine.

This was 2007's most underrated movie and sure it may not have been Fincher's masterpiece since Fight Club, it is an instant thriller. Zodiac might have been better if it has a different target audience.

PS - I'm looking forward to seeing Fincher's latest movie The Social Network.

American Beauty


Well, I just discovered my favourite movie that everyone loved. My all time favourite movie was a little movie starring Anne Hathaway called Rachel Getting Married. This time it's American Beauty

It seems fair that 1999 is a great year for movies to end off the 20th Century. We seen The Matrix being released and we actually enjoyed it as well as other great movies like The Green Mile, Being John Malcovich and the sequel to Toy Story. Let's hope 2010 was better than 1999.

In American Beauty, Kevin Spacey (is awesome!) plays Lester Burham, a middle aged husband who is totally despised by his wife, Carolyn (Annette Nenning in her sublime performance) and his daughter Jane (Thora Birch). Burham suffers from a mid-life crisis often working at a cubicle of an advertising agency where he get shunned. To succumb his depression, he has sexual fantasies of Jane's best friend Angela (Mena Survari) in which both girls has absolutely nothing in common. Jane gets uncomfortable with this while Lester's marriage with Carolyn is about to collapse. When Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) and his father (Chris Cooper) move in as neighbours, attitudes towards Lester changes as he about to face death (which he just said at the beginning).

IF there was a film so risque and provocative that had crossed many boundaries of sex, American Beauty is it. This flawless movie that is blackly funny describes how the life of the American is not what it seems to be when you look at him in the face. It is part of his image so he cannot embarrass himself with other people when he's having troubles in his life around him.

The rest of the movie is beautifully directed by Sam Mendes. Mendes usually give out symbolism in this movie so we can understand the underlying themes of the movie. Almost every shot has like a motif that we can learn from. The first shot of American Beauty establishes a part of what the flawless American suburbia looks like. The dialogue and plot written by Alan Ball is incredible, clever, original and analytical as it is so engaging to the audience for a first time screenwriter doing his bit for film.

The characters are almost vivid as we look into a family whose lives are miserable because they couldn't fit in or just bored with their lives. Performances are the career best for both lead actors as well as the whole cast including Thora Birch who are ridden with angst over the people who surrounds them. Mena Survari kinda reminded me of a dream projection I had with of Scarlett Johansson, but her role is almost provocative as her character of a hypocritical schoolgirl lying about her sexuality so she can get the attention.

Lester Burnham is a prisoner of his own life. He hates his job, a falling out on his marriage and is almost manically depressed. His personality is almost tragic as he attempts to liberate his life, in which his wife wouldn't allow as he tries to be open with him, forever with unsurprisng twists. Spacey nailed that character so perfectly and Burnham sound honest and pessimistic about his existence. His wife Carolyn has a thing in common with Lester. She is also manically depressed and also hates her job as a real estate agent that leads to an affair with her competitor. And Annette Bening is really nuance in this role.

The music and art direction of this movie is almost sharp. The setting looks so quintessential, it makes the film's imagery believable at first but then comes to a point where it was the opposite because of the characters.

American Beauty focused on the attitudes and fears of each character. And you will learn something in this movie. But the main moral of this movie is that you can't count on anyone but to yourself.

This movie is inspiring, entertaining and is a movie that defines a generation.

What a genious!

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