Psycho (1960) – Short Review

This article is written in tandem with my contribution to HCMovieReview’s Halloween List [When It’s Uploaded, Link Will Be Provided Here]

Your inability to control what happens to your life is a universal, philosophical nightmare. The path taken may not be the one you intended to travel. Your time is precious and finite, and making a true choice of how you spend it is a scarce luxury. I’d argue that this is why the twisted consequences of ‘Psycho’ may feel so profoundly understandable. At the core of ‘Psycho’ is a study of autonomy in ostracisation, either by intention or external effect. Life for Marion and Norman is reinless and uncontrollable, despite them always making choices.

Norman and Marion’s success is measured by how lonely and singular they become. Only when either character is alone do we see them appeased. They’re miserable in company. Norman’s narrative briefly overlaps with Marion’s; they share tales of misery and then Marion is murdered. The morning after Norman cleans her body and the evidence, he wanders around the motel as though cleansed of his torments. Afterwards, civilisation pollutes Norman’s world again in the form of Detective Arbogast, Marion’s sister ‘Lila’ and partner ‘Sam’, and so, once again, the narrative becomes a struggle to rid one’s self of unwanted people. Norman’s tragedy is that he cannot flee from the distractions to his solitude with Mother. In fact, our two protagonists share notably similar narrative motivations. Marion seeks to restart her life too, far away from society with her significant other.

Strangely, the film’s happiest ending (well, an ending of a sort) comes near the middle of the film. Most of Marion’s narrative is her evading the authorities, and the only time she smiles is when she escapes the police, her boss, her job and is alone with the $40,000. And when the film ends with the famous smile of Norman and Mother alone in solitary confinement the narrative has been truly reversed. I find it interesting that Marion starts miserable and becomes happier, freer and singular as her narrative evolves, then when she decides to restart her story by returning to society she is killed; while Norman starts/restarts happy after killing Marion but becomes distressed as his narrative devolves and society eclipses him, yet in the climax he’s entirely free from normal society, though his Mother’s psyche eclipses him, smiling with victory.

Yet, for as ostracised a life as these two desire, neither one finds ownership of self. In their final moments, neither lives the life they wished for. Motivated by the desire to escape to something better, the decisions that most affect their lives are taken out of their hands and instead are given to literal or psychological strangers. The major conflict of ‘Psycho’ is that desire always comes at a cost to someone else’s life. Norman and Marion’s lifelines were always in conflict, doomed to end in tragedy, even before they met. It’s Norman vs. Mother vs. Marion – each fighting their own battle for autonomy – and Mother wins above all.

So, that’s what I love about ‘Psycho’. The horrific reality that pushes ordinary people to do such terrifying horrors to one another. Perhaps, without the decision to build the highway, without Marion deciding to steal $40,000, or without Arbogast, Sam and Lila searching for Marion and even without the policeman’s decision to follow Marion down the highway, maybe Marion, Arbogast and Norman would have survived the horrific tragedies of ‘Psycho’.

Your road to freedom may be a shortcut to your coffin. Happy Halloween.


Wonder Woman (2017) – Review

Fourth try is the charm.


First up, a small prelude to the review. Perhaps five times in my life have I seen a comic book adaptation with substantial dignity, intelligence and grandeur. I have seen the beautiful Road To Perdition, the grizzly Logan, the delightful Spider-Man 2, the slickly inventive X-Men: First Class and the poignantly candid and complex The Dark Knight. Disregarding a handful of other adaptations (A History Of Violence, Sin City and perhaps even Captain America: Winter Soldier), the rest in the superhero genre have not been so impressive. In the fatigue of non-stop Marvel egg salad sandwiches, something more emotionally nutritious comes our way, something worthy of the bite.

What’s fantastic about Wonder Woman is how it isn’t a post-comic-book picture. Plenty of times modern comic book adaptations have had an unfair sentiment of mourning for their source material and medium. You can feel the pang of yearning in the film as it refuses to let go of its hold on the pages of it’s ancestry. It’s not a hard feeling to understand; I get it. However, you can’t recreate ink on film, motion pictures don’t work that way. It’s been said a million times before, and will be said a million times again, and studios will still not listen to a single word of it – unless this is about to change. Here, Wonder Woman’s awareness of its medium is emotive in a way beyond the basic means of post-comic-book production; this idea that a film is only the comic book in a new form. Logan had the integrity to be stylistic in the fashion of a western. Wonder Woman has the immensity of a true superhero movie. This one feels how I want being a superhero movie to feel like – to be a champion in a valorous battle against mighty powers, a brutality that you must survive to win; to fight with all your heart, and to have the whole screen express the ferocity of your might. Wonder Woman embodies the raging fire in the heart of a battle and the impact of a tremendous crushing force. Most of this is a created by a wonderful mixture of rib-cage trembling sound design and extravagant eye watering visual styles.

What comes to mind when thinking about particular scenes: Bombastic pictures, moving volumes of sympathy and empathy, a discovery of ones self and the nuance of good and evil in reality. I could list endlessly, but the point is that each moment is loaded with big ideas, truths, emotions and introspections. Not only is this a golden moment for grandiose action cinema, it’s a feast of thematically intelligent, rich and perceptive thoughts within the atmosphere of that time in human history – a broken society in the midst of the mindless, inhumane anarchy of the first world war. There’s a tapestry of inspirations behind the film, and it’s evident in how it gets you feeling exactly how Wonder Woman wants you to feel. Super heroic, a guardian.

There’s a bulky bombastic American style in the camera, none of the clichés of the standardised braggadocio contemporary cinematography; the blocking is nearly as chunky as Ludendorff’s jaw (Danny Huston), unless it’s making a break for the glorious superhero shots – you know the ones, yes, the admitted clichés – the slow motion rise from under the horizon; that pose Batman does atop the Chinese building in The Dark Knight, the contemplation of one’s journey; and a handful of a few others – oh, and the Jesus symbolism, of course (mind you, it’s fairly ungaudy in execution). Admittedly, the film isn’t without the staples of its genre.

Otherwise, we have texturally deep grains that progress the closer to war Diana (Gal Gadot) gets. As we’re introduced to Diana’s home island, Themyscira, the screen is rich with saturated greens and blues, hardly an impurity. Then, Britain, the colours drop. In the middle, the war, here the grain pops in (not too much, mind). The dirt and shrapnel of the wasteland stick to the frame. A miring pollution of subtle impurity. The perils of war are felt, the dirt is in your eyes, it is more than a backdrop for you to champion her heroism, it is a reality that begs for her heroism. Our sympathies are her sympathies; the trauma in the trenches stand to hurt you, then we can hope that our hero can fix it better. Her value is tangible.

Experiencing Wonder Woman is to have your heart and the jaw pulled at the same time, one does not exist without the other. Every action piece is prefaced with sombre moments of contemplation and empathy; after then, Diana’s reaction in that moment determines what she feels is necessary to save the people, and thus the action ensues. It is not simply that the characters move from location to location slaying bad guys. They fight onward because this is their best response. Diana witnesses the bloody, severed men returning home from war; the look on her face expresses an infinite sympathy and sorrow for their pain. For Diana, she believes Ares is the god behind the violence; as a young girl she was told the story of Ares, God of War, and his bidding to start battles among the Gods, until one day he was struck down by Zeus, where he fled into hiding. As she goes deeper into the battlefield, her anger with Ares grows stronger with her sympathies for every wounded, fearful soldier that meets her gaze. The film is without restraint of harsh truths and reality. We see her simply looking at the terrors of war. The civilian fear, the cold eyes of soldiers nearing death, the cries of orphaned boys and the constant desolation of life and faith. It’s all there in front of Diana; and Gal Gadot gives a wonderful performance of a woman in this ongoing turmoil – she hopes to end the suffering, she knows she can, but she’s constantly being told to leave the victims to die for they are beyond help. True to her character, Diana doesn’t have any of it, she came here to help and that’s what she does. There’s hopeful justice within her. She’s not fighting “The Germans”, she’s fighting for the hope that the living have lost, she’s fighting to save the innocent people from what they do not deserve. She believes in fighting for their innocence.

One may call Diana naive, that she is in a position where she has a lot to learn. Mind you, this position doesn’t render her useless either. Having to learn something is not the same as stupidity. Script wise, her naivety is not in trade with her convictions; more so, this conviction to taking righteous action is the saviour of hundreds of soldiers lives and the lives of the town’s people. And perhaps I say that she is naive since cynicism is my default setting, maybe her naive understanding of how earth should be suggests to us the way things ought to be more often. She’s uncompromising in her will and badass in battle, yet funny, likeable and constantly wholesome. In fact, that’s what I’ll call Wonder Woman: enwholesomed badassery.

Firstly, this plays as two halves of a fish out of water story; after Steve Trevors (Chris Pine) discovers and then fights to protect her land, Themyscira, she protects his by way of killing the God of War, Ares. We see a fair amount of him coming to understand her world, and her coming to understand his, before we see how both put their sensibilities to the test in the great war. Right down to the tiniest bits of dialogue, everything Diana says tells you of who she is and what she believes. In a seemingly throwaway titbit of introductory dialogue, she asks what Trevors’ watch is, and after he explains that it tells the time, and that he does whatever he does by whatever time it is (wake up, eat breakfast, work), she laughs at the concept that a ticking clock tells you what to do. Diana doesn’t see the sense in waiting. She does what she feels is right, and that’s it. She simply does. A lot of the discussions about what to do in the war come down to waiting for ‘this’ and not doing ‘that’, and following ‘this’ protocol. She considers their approach impractical when trying to do good for the people, that actually fighting the enemy would serve more purpose (obviously not in the real war, this only applies to the context of a superhero being present on the battleground). Her notion of taking immediate action, and saving real lives now, is a noble cause indeed – and it is felt more so when the reality of the war surrounds the audience as we see through her eyes; as she sympathises, we feel an empathy, then the motivation behind the action delivers a greater potent shiver down your spine. Wonder Woman’s best asset is its feeling of raw, illustrious heroism – something a movie hasn’t really captured for me until perhaps Logan, and now this – it’s the sense of struggle and the worthiness of the battle. Simply put: it’s terrific dramatic action.

Furthermore, for all of the power delivered, as the audience’s spine collectively shivers with the satisfaction of mighty PG-13 violence, there’s plenty of time dedicated to this examination on the cost of human lives. It’s not too hard to imagine Come and See taking place too far away from here. Though the reality of Come and See is inescapable, as it moulds non-fiction with its production until the facade of story and storytelling becomes indistinguishable, Wonder Woman is a more audience friendly depiction – it’s somewhat comparable to if Richard Donner’s Superman and Joe Johnson’s Captain America: The First Avenger took themselves seriously, and without compromising on levity in character.

In a surprise delight, for a movie so heavy in theme and tone, there’s a complete range of humours, most with insightful purpose. As discussed, there’s the ridiculing of the watch and how we humans live lives by the arbitrary measurement of time. In addition, in the first 40 minutes, there’s a plentiful amount of gags straight out a comedy of errors, mainly Diana in London cooing over babies or divulging to Steve about the evidences that men are irrelevant to the pleasures of sex (perhaps a bad choice of film to watch with my partner). My favourite kind to see was the humour of comfort. Steve would often tell jokes to cheer things up in darkened times – bright smiles in dark places. In Steve, at all times, is a sense of trying to do good. Though Wonder Woman technically outshines him in the capabilities of fighting, Steve never feels defeated or frustrated by her power, instead he takes her opportunity to do good. And whenever possible, he is by her side to share his warm heart and comfort. Unlike Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, where men are belittled and condemned to stereotype; this is a story about how Wonder Woman did great things by her own determination, to offer help for those whose lives are ruined by the God of War. Nothing here is about belittling, or making any overt statement to feminism, that “women are better than men”. To the audience (of either gender, though more prominently to females), it’s empowering for sure, and the film itself is never critical or antagonistic against either gender, there is simply a positive focus on demonstrating the mighty power of Wonder Woman. There is no statement within the film, only one of the film. Empowerment by way of watching powerful women, not by way of bullying the audience.

Spoilers ahead. Only read on if you have seen the film or want to ruin it for yourself, but you’re not a cretin, so why would you do that? Otherwise, skip to the last paragraph for the conclusion.

Now, there are a few minor gripes I have with the film – they’re not crushing, but I feel like I owe it to you to be as outright as possible. Here goes: Someone explain to me why Ares is shooting lightening out his fingers. He is not Zeus; what’s he doing with his powers? Why the costume reveal for Wonder Woman in No Man’s Land? We’ve seen her costume in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, we know what it looks like. Perhaps Patty Jenkins (director) was determined to treat this like a stand alone film and we’re to pretend that BvS:DoJ doesn’t exist – possibly, but for anyone familiar with Dawn of Justice, this was a pointless reveal (except for that it’s still badass). That said, this reveal does address some attention to her agency as the hero. By indulging in this sequence, her moment of stepping into action by her own initiative associates her costume to the initiation of her as a fully realised superhero. She is Wonder Woman, her actions say so, and therefore so does her costume. It’s like seeing the crown of the Pope and knowing he’s a catholic; you see the gauntlets of Wonder Woman and you know she’s here to save the day. To another note, the moment is greater for having Wonder Woman realise herself as a warrior again. After being masked and clothed in traditional English women’s attire for several, long periods of time, here she rejects the normalcy that has been put upon her, opting instead to do as she pleases, however she sees fit. The last place she fought was Themyscira, now she regains her sense of origin. This isn’t hyperbolic symbolism for feminism, it’s simply the moment where Peter Parker accepts the responsibility to become Spider-man, or when Clark Kent endeavours to apprehend the criminals of Metropolis and quickly changes into the iconic Superman costume, Wonder Woman’s scene is becoming of the equal glory of those other films.

I found it interesting that Wonder Woman doesn’t embody ideology like other superheroes do. Where Captain America was created as pro-American propaganda during the war, to which he arguably still perpetuates that same propaganda, and as Superman upholds the law and order of Metropolis, Wonder Woman stands to tackle something far greater than upholding a country’s ideological values; Wonder Woman fights the philosophy of human nature – almost literally in the final showdown. Remarkably, the film deters from blaming “The Germans” entirely, it’s paints with themes with a much broader brush. Diana believes that all humans are under the mercy of Ares, that he controls their violent self-destruction. In the final reveal, she was wrong, Ares simply gave them the rope to hang themselves, and they jumped at the opportunity to do so. Now, discussing the complexity of Ares’ plan is a discussion in need of a much larger space (perhaps for a later date). For the time being, I found his philosophy of action quite morally complex, especially so for a superhero film. Most villains of a franchise tend to be obviously flat in the way that Red Skull wants to kill all people by blowing them up, or that Ultron wanted to kill all people by blowing them up, or that Loki wanted to kill all people by blowing them up, or that Enchantress wanted to kill all people by… you get the point. Here we have someone who has not manipulated or outright attacked anyone on the human race; he allowed them to prove who they really are – a species that will easier destroy than make peace. Ares is a surprising breath of fresh air – and to boot, the fight between him and Wonder Woman was evocative of strong sweat inducing fist clenching. I mimicked every punch and knock landed, I adored the vibrancy of the action.

In a true albeit sad way, Ares’ point isn’t hard to argue for (as is the case with good villains), some may defend and agree with his reasoning – admittedly, I was considering it. To my initial observation, this is the first superhero movie that seemingly lacks in a fascist antagonist (for the most part; all debates around hierarchal dictatorship are a rabbit hole). Other than how Batman imposes his law, and the law of America, upon the criminals of Gotham – by “imposing” I mean straight up murdering them in BvS:DoJ – the rest of the genre is full of them (see quotes: “kill all people by blowing them up”); to some credit, Captain America: Civil War does bring attention to the idea that The Avengers’ potential perception of they being fascists is plausible (yet, sadly this comes to no intelligent debate and instead triggers a round of fisticuffs between a pouting couple who take no consideration to their position into account when fighting their counter-protagonist). Needless to say, when Ares gives all the power to the people, he’s defies the archetypal role of dictator as villain. Elsewhere in the superhero genre, the villainy of conventional evil typically lies upon the villain itself; the villainy of Wonder Woman mostly lies on us, the humans, the most dangerous and self-destructive animals of earth. This creates a far more interesting dialogue between the film and the audience – Wonder Woman showcases a model of ourselves, where we can observe our own behaviour. However, the battle of good is still in Diana’s court; Ares is too simplistic in his understanding of humans. In reality the war did stop, without Wonder Woman or Ares, and sure we had another, bigger world war – and who knows where we’re headed now – but Ares was ultimately wrong. We did stop fighting. And having Wonder Woman fight for that, makes for a worthy showdown in the end. Of course humanity is worth fighting for, we know because we’re still alive – and there’s so much more to us than war. This is an idea worth remembering more often today. Maybe this is why I was so passionately embraced the final fight. It’s a fight for the philosophy of our nature, one who stands for all our evil and one who stands for all our good.

So, to conclude (finally) this massive, slightly admittedly rambly review. I found Wonder Woman to be a feisty yet compassionate superhero movie made richer by the complexity of its story’s ideas and Wonder Woman’s muscular, taut, corporeal fighting style that blows the feeble excuse for punchy-punchy-ouch-ouch in contemporary actions films. Wonder Woman fights like a blend of John Wick on a handful of hallucinogenic steroids. For those privy to complaining about the CGI overload, I got one thing to say, tell me you’ve experienced action one tenth as incredible as that. There’s a fair littering of CG throughout the movie, partially in all action scenes, but the heaviest freight comes at the end. Until the dial is turned to eleven out of ten, it’s used lightly enough, the illusion maintains, then comes Ares and the screen turns from a dark knight to searing orange. There are moments that will kill you come the finale, and how Patty Jenkins and cinematographer Matthew Jensen express Diana’s pure agony is excruciatingly excoriating; everything on screen screams for Diana fury; I’ve never seen aggression look this real (except for Whiplash and Mad Max: Fury Road). Having a director this capable of discharging a collective of soulful emotions throughout the frame, atmosphere and aesthetic is what makes film and film-making so extraordinary to enjoy on the big screen. I can’t endorse Wonder Woman highly enough.

Thank you for reading.

If you wish, you can fight me on Twitter @JoeFilmJourno.

Buster’s Mal Heart (2016) – Review

At this point in Indiewood cinema, this is utter trite.

Director/Writer/Editor: Sarah Adina Smith
Starring: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Toby Huss

I was intrigued to hear the term Y2K; I’ve always thought there would’ve been great dramatic potential in such a historical blundering moment of our time, but, sadly, as was the conclusion of Y2K, Buster’s story is just one long build up to a big wet fart. In fact, there’s a lot of vapid stuff in the empty void of Buster’s Mal Heart; a sprinkling of neat, albeit under-developed ideas; a handful of conventionally superficial shots – though most were overly simplistic, uninspired hand held recordings of drama with no emotional substance whatsoever. Oh, and the tree porn was good… lotta trees up in them mountains… that was neat. And the science elements were slightly interesting, despite being tragically suffocated by the “character study” of the borderline cliché, totally not Jesus, Johan (Rami Malek). And, well that’s about it. Underwhelming, I know.

As slow burners go, this is stagnancy at its longest. Sarah Adina Smith, the director, tries to be the millennial indie cinema’s version of Stanley Kubrick. His influences are plentiful, most prominently recognised in the bar scene between Jonah and The Terminator(?). Since The Terminator’s part in the film is so easily predictable, we’re already ahead of the reveal that he’s not really there, he’s imaginary. Here, they trade in paranoias for a while and it plays like a textbook from The Overlook Hotel. Oh, did I forget to mention that Johan also works in a hotel? Yep, it’s that on the nose. Had the scene done anything at all, besides saunter smugly in its artistic fraudulence, I might have enjoyed the homage. But it’s barely a homage, I’m close to accusing Smith of plain theft. Truth be told, the film reeks of The Shining, in atmosphere and its slowly stirring narrative – and the carpets! Can’t forget the carpets. They’re positively direct out of the Overlook Hotel furniture catalogue. Buster’s Mal Heart is the worst case of identity theft I’ve ever seen in independent cinema. I am truly hard pressed to believe how this isn’t someone’s film school project. I guess anyone can make a surrealist drama now and pass it off as “artistic”.

With every pawn introduced, the film convinces itself more and more that it’s teasing you. It isn’t. You see the nameless weirdo and you know he’s the other half of Jonah’s dichotomy. After seeing Jonah alone in the wilderness, you see the wife and kids and you already know that they’re already dying at some point. You hear the prophecy about the universe imploding up its own arsehole and you know the writer probably will too. And sure, there’s probably some Primer like explanation for all the scattered bullshit, but who gives a fuck. Primer was fascinating by the snowball of confusion that spirals from the unexplored depths of casually discovered time travel. Buster’s Mal Heart wants you to believe that it’s obvious symbolism is harder to predict and deconstruct than it really is. It’s almost offensive.

Adina Smith, doing the age old trope of movie cross-comparison, referred to the film as Bad Santa meets Donnie Darko. Fuck. Right. Off. What part of this is Bad Santa? The pseudo-intellectual jibberish, that’s Donnie Darko all over – although, Smith has clearly missed what makes Richard Kelly’s masterpiece so masterful, but nevermind. With the Bad Santa remark, I have no idea other than it being severely bland and disengaging (which worked for something as ironic Bad Santa, but not here). What’s worse is that Buster’s Mal Heart works best when it’s daring to be original, when it slips into re-run territory then it begins to ache with flatness. When thinking about the review, I felt dreadful with the idea that the director is unsure what her inspirations are, and how to use them – perhaps this could have easily been a great film, had she gambled within the genre more often.

As it stands, Buster’s Mal Heart plays like a writing prompt on some creepypasta forum site. r/creepypastaprompts or something around the idea.

If you’d like, you can fight me on Twitter @JoeFilmJourno

Get Out (2017) – Review

I will likely forget to mention that this film is hilarious.

Director/writer: Jordan Peele
Starring :Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener
Music by Michael Abels
Cinematography Toby Oliver

Journeying to his girlfriend’s parents house, a white police officer asks to see Chris’ driver’s licence – a completely unwarranted action, based on needless prejudice and suspicion – on his way out, his black TSA agent arrives in a police-like vehicle to save the day. Of all the embedded analogies to racism, this sidenote police behaviour towards black civilians is Get Out at its subtlest. No massive statements. Instead, a hyperbolic narrative is bookmarked by the fears that black people go through everyday: wrongful accusations. Just as Chris makes it out the house, we’re all thinking what they’re thinking, ‘a black guy strangling a white girl…’ – this wouldn’t look good for two white people, nevermind for the fairly muscular strangler. Thankfully it’s a fake-out, but the point remains: no one would believe Chris (obviously because a story about hypnotism is insane) – because ultimately it wouldn’t matter, just like when he wasn’t driving before.

Do something. Liberal ignorance and self ignorance are two highly destructive forces at this moment in time. As a young boy, Chris sat at home while his mother died in the street after a meaningless, irresponsible car accident – a hit and run. What good did it do Chris to just sit at home watching Tv when he could have done something to save his mother. Get Out is primarily a movie about the neo-liberal’s guiltiness, but it is in part addressing the guilt of the black bystander, doing nothing as they watch Tv, unmotivated to do something that may save needlessly lost lives.

Get Out works like a psychoanalysis, not of an individual, but of a large particular part of society. Discussions regarding genetics are put under the microscope. The selfishness of the Armitage family supposes that the “genetic superiority” of black people are put to better use with the white Armitage brain. And I love the hypocrisy that Peele weaves into the narrative: as the big twist reveals that the blind man Jim Hudson (Stephen Root) intends to take over Chris’s body in order to see through his eyes – “I want your eyes, man, I want those things you see through”.

I left the cinema shouting to myself, “If only! If only the hypocrites would try to see through the eyes of the black race” ‘#alllivesmatter and all that business’. I’m in no way putting myself on pedestal as a saviour – I haven’t done anything to help. But, this movie certainly got me angry enough about the inequalities, to the point where I felt what must only be a slither of what the minority might feel like. I wouldn’t expect anyone to apologise for being a certain skin colour, white or black, and Peele wouldn’t want you to either, rather he would ask that we understand that certain behaviour surrounding the discussion of race is destructive to achieving equality – the prejudice; the double standards; the systemic problems with the law and society; so on and so on.

What’s worse is that there’s no specific reason that it has to be black people. As Jim says, (to the best of my memory) “who knows why these things keep going, and I don’t care”. The family’s plan to abduct black people once stemmed from something quite racist into something that is just commonplace. There’s no consideration as to why they’re taking black lives, they’re just targeted them because it’s tradition – and fuck me if that’s not an honest reflection on how this shit gets perpetuated.

Chris is quite an open eyed character, he’s suspicious and rightfully so – the other lambs were drawn to the slaughter, while those like Andre were avoiding the confrontation are getting attacked regardless – Chris and Rod we’re smart, cautious and they just managed to survive (and that’s a damn shame of itself. While the truth is still under wraps, yet to be revealed, you would be right to think that they were crazy for being so suspicious, but it’s the sad truth that they were right all along). Hell! the only reason Chris prevented slavery was by picking cotton and deafening himself to the hypnosis – that’s some fucked up shit.

And, obviously I have to bring up the most tongue in cheek moment of the film: hypnosis with the silver spoon. Sure, a bit on the nose, but, with enough conviction, the silliest of ideas can be interesting. You just know it’s something Peele might’ve considered removing but just couldn’t in his heart. In the end, there’s enough self awareness and devotion to the idea that it pays off well enough. This conviction to the idea is what holds Get Out together, and at bay from being a laughing stock.

As a reviewer, I’m clearly better at discussing the filmmaking side than I am about getting passionately political. I think my understanding of the situation widened a little bit after watching Get Out, and that’s a pretty awesome thing for a movie to accomplish. I fucking love the movie by itself, but when I also factor in how it stirred so much sympathy and empathy, and anger, it made me feel for something outside of the world of the film, that’s pretty fucking incredible.

I didn’t want to overdo the analysis on this film because I just wanted to get to a point of understanding the hidden problems about society that Peele wanted to address. As always, thank you for reading.

The opening title typography really had me chuckling, and then had me worrying – that’s pretty much the whole film, it gets scarier and scarier the funnier it gets.

Zodiac (2007) – Review

Slight ramble-fest…. apologies – I got way too into this review.

Director: David Fincher
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Cinematography: Harris Savides
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Chloë Sevigny, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall

I’d say Zodiac is undeniably a Fincher movie, but, in equal parts, it’s also a Savides movie – because what Fincher wants to achieve, Savides accomplishes. For all the other films that they’ve worked on, their collaboration on Zodiac is the best pairing I’ve ever seen suited for a singular movie. Savides ‘master of natural 70s aesthetic’ lends his talent to the true crime story of the Zodiac killer, his stylish pragmatism combined with Fincher’s cinematic matter-of-fact-ness births our immersion into the surrealant reality and fear of 1970s San Francisco – balancing lulling fluid camerawork with organic freedom, creating a dreamlike reality together, never giving the audience the chance to get a bearing on where this tragedy may turn to.

A humble man’s obsession to find an elusive notorious serial killer, betrayed by the inadmissibility of damning yet ‘circumstantial’ evidence.

That’s what’s so aggravating about Zodiac, it lays all the information bare: you follow the puzzle, your empathy and self interest merge with Greysmith and co. as the puzzle becomes clearer – yet, always incomplete – we only needed one crucial piece of admissible evidence to line everything together – but, alas, we wander in a reality often full of inconclusive narratives. You know in your heart that Leigh Allen did it – he’s stupid enough to give you all the clues, but he’s smart enough to cover his tracks where it counts – and, objectively speaking, there is technically doubt (but you KNOW he did it).

Savides, Fincher and Greysmith put all the pieces out there, through novel, through film, like a ‘cinematic verite’; dialogue heavy but not drably expositional, Zodiac is the cinematic rendition of a case file – which is why the opening text reads ‘based on real case files’, the ‘case files’ are of crucial importance.

Fincher & Savides’ hauntingly immersive style puts you in the lion’s den with the obsession and murders: inescapable, paralysing. In just two shots the link between visual diegetic perspectives and the non-diegetic objective perspective is established and then continued. The film opens simply: a wide establishing shot of San Francisco, flying smoothly, hundreds of feet in the air – cut to: POV shot in the driver’s seat of the car, driving by the homes and people celebrating in the street on July 4th. The driver pulls up to her lover’s house and they exchange dialogue, always in POV. Immediately we have traditional cinema techniques, merging with POV – the non-diegetic camera becomes the diegetic. And the level of attention to putting you in the 1970’s San Francisco period doesn’t stop with camera subjectivity.

Harris Savides famously sets his scenes by lighting the environment first and introduces his characters last. Beauty isn’t cinematic, his light is, beauty comes from his organic feeling in ‘lived in’ environments, unstrangled by Fincher’s penchant for complete visual clarity – to compensate this Savides fills his shadows with diffused light.

No darkness is truly dark. Savides, determined to create authenticity, never touches true blacks, he emulates the smooth fades and contrasts found in celluloid 70’s thrillers, while also conveying the maximum information possible. More than being akin to the eye, this technique creates dark realities, removing the typically non-human cinematic conventions of thrillers and implementing a more horrifying, immersive likeness to the human eye. Who can argue with the basement scene… the cthonic feeling is palpable, like they drenched the film stock in black swampy oil, the grime and claustrophobia permeates through the screen.

Zodiac may be about obsession and darkness but more importantly, as a cinematic exercise, it compels you through the blend of artifice and deconstructive lifeness. It’s organic and neutral, and subjective, we’re helpless to help, defenseless against the fear, like the people of San Francisco, like the Zodiac’s victims, like Greysmith, Avery, like all the detectives, it’s real, there is nothing to be done, despite how cinema-like the story may be. What’s an audience to do?

I think the primary question becomes: is this entertainment? Or better yet, when does the horror in these real lives become entertainment? Pauline Kael once called Dirty Harry a deeply immoral movie (and I agree, despite the fantastic action – please read Kael’s review since I could never do it justice). And Zodiac brilliantly opposes Dirty Harry in every way: no conclusions, no shootouts, no maverick abandonment of the law, no hyper-macho idolic figures. I’m really trying to get to the point that Zodiac is so anti-cinema that it rises to become pure unconformist cinema (the best kind of cinema, keeps the rules whilst breaking them / understanding and excellently mastering the art, while going against everything conventional about it). The reality of the film is disgusting, so what do we watch it? I could justify watching Dirty Harry, it is immoral but is too scintillating, clearly fictional – but that’s why I justify Zodiac, for the lack of entertainment, for the fusion of grueling, obsessive, creatively haunting art — yes, this is a pander piece, you got me (I love this movie). I deny calling Zodiac entertainment, despite Downey Jr’s comedic presence. There’s so much here that will bore an uninterested viewer, and that’s ok because when the film finds its audience, they’ll have something worth so much more than any mass-consumable, throwaway pander-pic.

So, ‘Final Notes’: I love the lack of definite meaning for the symbol of the Zodiac, or the motivations. I love the hints of colour. I love the paranoia in the basement scene. I love the humble performance of Gyllenhaal. (not so in love with Ruffalo’s breathy accent- please stop). I love the little character interactions, the way characters’ lives play out in the background of the main characters – especially the wife and his children that grow up and leave home with little to no screentime – their minimal screentime demonstrate where the Greysmith’s priorities lie, the screen and narrative literally become a demonstration of the character’s mindset, the focus of the obsession overrides the traditional family drama narrative. I may just make a list one day and go crazy since it’s likely to reach infinity. I know I generally tend to maintain an objective, quite distanced approach to reviewing movies, and that’s not changing any time soon, but for films as exceptional as this, I can fanboy towards the end every once in awhile. Please, don’t let my excitement go wasted: if you haven’t seen Zodiac, watch it, and if you have, watch it again, I promise it will still have something more to offer you, it always does.

Greysmith’s infectious obsession will have you wanting to know whodunnit… and what evidence you’re willing to admit.