Has David Fincher settled down? After a longer wait than ever between movies, Zodiac is almost a classical Hollywood film, not as showoffy as his others. Only showoffy bits were a Grand Theft Auto 2 perfect top-down cab follow, and some text-in-the-scenery which is just repeated from Fight Club’s Ikea catalog scene. Not that I’m complaining – he’s gone and made a great movie without tricky editing or twist endings or cameras flying through banisters.

We see most of the suspected Zodiac killings as they happen, and see the newspaper’s and police department’s reactions to the letters he sends, but since Zodiac was never caught, the movie doesn’t stop, barrelling forward in time all the way to the 90’s (starts in summer 1969). So it’s long, but it has a lot to cover and never drags.

Movie’s not “about” the Zodiac events so much as three characters surrounding it… newsman Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr, using both his physical comic acting and his drunken depraved acting in one meaty role), detective David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, harder to track without the Eternal Sunshine beard) and cartoonist turned Zodiac obsessive Robert Graysmith (Donnie Darko, our central character if the movie has one).

Most impressive opening credits since A Prairie Home Companion. The three stars, then Anthony Edwards and Dermot Mulroney, whoever they are, plus Chloe Sevigny as Donnie’s wife, Brian Cox and Philip Baker Hall as guest experts, Elias Koteas and Donal Logue as cops, and Mr. Show’s John Ennis in one scene. I was too distracted by seeing Ennis in this movie to even realize who he was playing.

Based on the book by Robert Graysmith himself – probably the only Zodiac movie you’ll ever need. Funny, this coming out within a year of The Black Dahlia, a movie that starts with the facts, follows the same trajectory of the cops refusing to let the case go, working on it to the point of their lives falling apart, but then goes into fantasy territory with them finding a ludicrous resolution to the still-unsolved case. De Palma’s boasts a more inventive script and more inventive shooting style, but Fincher’s, sticking close to the facts and presenting them straightforward, is at least that movie’s match. I think most critics far preferred the Fincher to the De Palma, because they have no imagination or sense of fun.

Ozu’s final film, released less than a month before he died. Only my second, after Tokyo Story. Another film about family life, with emphasis on the play between generations in the same family and neighboring families. I know, that’s what they say all of his films are about.

It again stars Chishu Ryu (star of most late Ozu films, who lived through the 90’s and appeared in Kurowawa’s Ran) as a father (Hirayama). His wife died young, oldest son is married (and having money trouble), younger son lives at home, and daughter is marrying age but stays home to take care of her father and brother. Hirayama’s friends tell him that he should marry her off before she gets too old, and learn to take care of himself. He soon sees the wisdom in this, and tries first to pair her with a boy she has a crush on, the older brother’s friend. But when the boy turns out to be engaged already, the father goes to a guy his friend had in mind (who I don’t think we ever see).

Some post-war bits (we find out Hirayama was in the army when one of his former soldiers recognizes him in a bar). Oh, and he goes to the bar because the barmaid looks like his late wife when she was younger… would be a sorta sad scene, him drinking alone and gazing at this woman, if not for the soldier distractingly (comically) playing battle hymns and marching/saluting along.

Apparently this was the part of Ozu’s career when he had started to sympathize with younger generations, instead of showing them to be lazy and disrespectful (see: Tokyo Story). Didn’t sympathize TOO much though, as the oldest son is spoiled and irresponsible, taking money from his dad and blowing it on golf clubs. Even only having seen one of Ozu’s films before, I was startled when the movie began because it was in color… I think of him as a black-and-white filmmaker. So happy to see that Ozu is the Master everyone says he is, that his movies are so heartfelt and wonderful to watch. I get that Jean Renoir feeling of well-being afterwards, even though Tokyo Story (and The Lower Depths) was mostly depressing. Looking forward to his other 40+ features!

Don’t know why I saved this one for last… guess being based on a Clive Barker story made it seem like a safe bet. Might be my least-favorite episode in the series, though. I mean, “dance of the dead” was awful, but it had its apocalyptic rain scene to recommend it, and Robert Englund I guess. This one’s got mediocre actors speaking awful period dialogue in service of an awful script, and McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Wild Things) doesn’t seem to be trying too hard, treating this as the low-budget TV episode it is, instead of aiming for something better like nearly every other director did. At least he got Jon Polito.

Dude pesters old woman necromancer to raise his beloved wife from the dead, she tells him the horrible story of Ernst Haeckel, a science student who once pestered necromancer Jon Polito. Ernst spends the night at an old man’s house. The man discloses that he keeps his young, beautiful wife by paying off Polito to reanimate her dead lover some nights so she can have a graveyard orgy. Ernst fouls everything up, the old man dies, Polito gets the high hat, and back in the “present day” the old woman reveals herself to be that young woman and she’s learned the necromancy art herself and has undead sex with Haeckel, yuck!

A slog to get through, mostly because of the dialogue… if Clive is smart he’ll want nothing to do with this one. Ohhhh, I see that George Romero was supposed to direct, but dropped out due to scheduling problems. Probably either his upcoming Stephen King movie or his upcoming zombie mockumentary. Between those two and this MoH episode, it’s hard to say which is the worst idea for Romero.

The high hat, the fake mustache:
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The nudity:
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Another angle on that:
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The gang’s all here:
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So the final Masters Of Horror Season One evaluation:

GREAT:
Cigarette Burns (Carpenter)
Homecoming (Dante)

GOOD:
Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (Coscarelli)
Dreams in the Witch-House (Gordon)
Deer Woman (Landis)
Fair-Haired Child (Malone)
Sick Girl (McKee)
Pick Me Up (Cohen)
Imprint (Miike)

OKAY:
Jenifer (Argento)
Chocolate (Garris)

BAD:
Dance of the Dead (Hooper)
Haeckel’s Tale (McNaughton)

A nice ratio, better than most X-Files seasons. On to season 2!

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Virgin Tara isn’t very popular at school or home, gets kidnapped by “warlock couple” (IMDB’s phrasing) Anton and Judith (Lori Petty from Tank Girl and Prey For Rock & Roll), and locked in basement with Johnny. Tries to get free with friendly Johnny’s help before whatever monster comes after her, till she realizes he’s the monster. See, he’s sorta dead and has gotta kill 12 girls to be resurrected by whatever dark powers, and she’s the twelfth. Well he finally gets her, but he makes his own deal: Tara’s life back in exchange for his parents. Gotcha!

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Fun, pretty good movie from director of Fear Dot Com, Haunted Hill remake and upcoming Parasomnia. Writer Matt Greenberg just did silly John Cusack hotel horror 1408. Neither, obviously, is a MASTER of horror, but it’s a good enough title for the series. That fast/slow-moving thing used to creepy effect in Haunted Hill gets used here when Johnny turns into the creature… I love that stuff. Must be the lowest body count of all the MoH episodes I’ve seen.

MoH trademarks: don’t remember any naked women, didn’t see any familiar-looking actors, but someone’s eyeball did pop out.

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Oops, I thought this Bujalski dude was our indie cinema saviour or the new Wes Anderson or something. Nothing more than a grainy portrait of a few young white people in new york, one of ’em trying to be an indie rocker, and mutually attracted to his best bud’s girl [best bud is played by the director]. Manages not to be annoyingly quirky, situations seem pretty real and characters have a non-fakey awkwardness about them, but also not much to recommend the movie and doesn’t feel very memorable.

AV Club said it first: “All this intrigue sets up a romantic encounter between Rice and Clift, and a serious rupture in their relationship with Bujalski, but nothing in Mutual Appreciation goes according to the usual script. The scene in which Rice and Clift finally vocalize their feelings for each other is the perfect example of what Bujalski does so well: Any other romantic melodrama would have them bubbling over with passion, but these characters are painfully tentative and believably so, given that they’re both betraying someone they care about. What ends up happening between them is completely unexpected, yet entirely true to who they are and to how most caring people would act. But such things rarely happen onscreen, and Bujalski’s willingness to follow through makes him a singular talent.”

I guess after reading the AV Club bit and some Indiewire articles I can appreciate the thing more. Still don’t know whether it’s an authentic new york indie rock scene document, or a comedy/mockery of that scene. Given the levels of irony involved in the “scene”, is there a difference?

Bunnies – quick, great, 30 seconds long.
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Guard Dog by Bill Plympton, the beginning of his new period of good stuff (also: Guide Dog, Fan and the Flower) after a long tiring stretch of mediocre junk.
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The FEDS by Jen Drummond. I think she talked about this one at the atlanta film festival a few years ago. Not that there’s anything to say. She’s a roto-animator on the Linklater films and in her spare time she made this little doc about her crappy job at a grocery store. Not exactly Clerks, but good enough for what it is.
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Pan With Us by David Russo, director of POPULI and one of my favorite animators ever. Watched this about ten times. Stop-motion with highly controlled animated foreground and wildly variating backgrounds… so animation without a set, in a live environment. Uses giant rolls of animation paper, cut-outs, translucent slides, metal sculptures, everything. Best short of this bunch, probably of the surrounding few years.
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Ward 13 – awesome claymation action flick about a horror hospital, so impressive. Director’s doing live-action horror next, I guess.
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Hello – Tape deck gets nervous around hot CD player, gets advice from old gramophone. Cute, neat sound effects.
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Rockfish – tiresome indie 3D action sequence about hard dude and pet jarjar in badass moon rover fishing beneath rocky planet for giant dune sandworm.
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Magda – stop motion puppetry where a contortionist and her biggest fan fall in love, then commerce turns romance into ritual and they fall back out. Pretty neat.
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Fallen Art – by the guy who made Cathedral, and a strong improvement. The 3D is less serious and arty and dreamy this time, whole feel is cartoonish. Big soldier pushes little soldiers off a cliff, photographs are taken and sent to mad fat scientist who projects the photos to form a dance, and dances along. Surely some political commentary on the futility of war, but I just liked the dancing.
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When The Day Breaks – one of those serious/sad shorts that’s always gumming up the otherwise fun/ny presentations. Since it’s hand-drawn and not intended to make kids squeal with glee, it’d probably be one of my co-workers’ favorites of this bunch. I thought was alright. Lady pig sees uptight rooster hit by car, goes home and thinks about it.
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Fireworks by PES
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The Meaning of Life by Don Hertzfeldt, big ol’ WTF here. So glad I saw this after his redemptive Everything Will Be OK. He worked 4 years using only handmade effects and 150 voices to form a film with no meaning of its own. Maybe the filming of this dull short was a performance art piece about the futility of life, hence the title?
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Starting with the twist-ending back-story… Lesbian entomologist Ida (see, it’s already unique) can’t find a date because her bugs scare people, cute girl sits in her office lobby stalking her for years, cute girl is daughter of Ida’s ex-prof super bug guy who ships scary bug from brazil or someplace to infect brain of Ida and lay eggs in her so daughter won’t date her, but they start dating first, then bug gets daughter, and finally bug gets ’em both, kills Ida’s male friend, and they are happy and pregnant with 1000’s of bugs together. Sort of like that episode of Creepshow except instead of an unappealing dude there’s two girls kissing… a marked improvement.

Effects are silly, plastic bugs and full-body bug-suits, but all well used. Ida is May from the movie May, has a cool voice, and stalker girlfriend is softcore porn star Misty Mundae. Fun flick, not bad at all.

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Yaaaay, a good funnyish movie starring the guy from Dream On (Brian Benben, who I haven’t seen in too long) as a burned-out detective. He accidentally killed his partner years before, got depressed, wife left him, now just handles cases involving animals. Gory deaths apparently caused by deer trampling in strange locations (inside a truck, a hotel room) lead Brian and his makeshift partner Anthony Griffith (Charlie’s Angels 2) stumped. Brian tries on many theories (funny bit where he imagines ridiculous scenarios then mutters “stupid”), meets a native in a casino who tells him about the Deer Woman, beautiful woman with hoofs who seduces then kills guys. Partner gets trampled, Brian finds he can’t kill her with his gun, so takes to the car and runs her down, with obvious in-the-headlights reference.

Landis was great in the 80’s, with Twilight Zone, Coming To America, Spies Like Us and American Werewolf In London (fat reference to that movie in this episode), didn’t realize how he has disappeared since then. Looking forward to his next MoH episode.

Co-written with Landis’s 21-year-old son, awesome.

Who you callin’ Martin Tupper?
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Your nudity:
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Your fantasy sequence:
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Your gag ending:
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An amazingly good movie. Can’t recommend to anyone or they’ll laugh at me (tried a few times already).

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Plot is too convoluted to go through. Crockett is sad-faced Colin Farrell and Tubbs is determined Jamie Foxx. Gong Li is on the drug lords’ team, falls in love with Crockett. Tubbs has a lovely wife who is inevitably kidnapped by neo-nazis. Supposedly our heroes are rooting out a mole in the FBI / DEA / System but get sidetracked by so many other things. Shot on crazy-looking HD by Dion Beebe, guy who did Collateral and Holy Smoke.

Didn’t really know what to say about this one until I read an article about it in Senses of Cinema (see below). I loved the movie, loved the unique beauty of the images and the out-of-control propulsion of the plot, but hadn’t thought about what, if anything, Mann was trying to express, what deeper meaning lay behind all the gunfights and high-tech drug deals. The article (written by a french M. Mann biographer and translated by Sally Shafto) brings a lot to light. Reading it feels like I’ve been given permission by a film scholar to love a big-bang action flick that even the general public didn’t like (or just didn’t see).

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From Jean-Baptiste Thoret’s analysis in Senses of Cinema:
Miami Vice is above all a great film on the human condition in a time of flux. Everything progresses at top speed (the meetings, the love affairs, the reversals, the cars) but essentially nothing really moves forward. … In the blurred passage from the cop’s face to the re-framing of the camera on the flow of the traffic, the man has thrown himself under a truck, leaving only a scarlet stain on the pavement. To become integrated in the flux is also to lose oneself therein. … The film closes as abruptly as it opened: Isabella escapes from the flux by the sea (the eternal utopia of Mann’s characters), Sonny turns his back on the sea and returns to the flux. And loses himself therein. Life suspended on one side, perpetual flux on the other. No dead time or respite: the system runs at full speed but on empty, and possesses no other end than that of its own stability. … In the world in flux that Miami Vice follows, the human is only an event, a lost atom in the multitude, similar to the one described by the hired killer in Collateral. It is either arrogance and/or naïveté of the couple, Sonny-Isabella, to have believed that the human could be stronger than the flux. … The men of Miami Dade only conform to the programs that pre-exist them, to respond to the electronic stimuli (a telephone call, a reaction). They turn out to be incapable of taking control of a disarticulated narrative. … The disappearance of the human, its dematerialization in the heart of an urban universe governed by technology, and thus its capacity for resistance, constitutes one of the central themes of Mann’s cinema and finds in Miami Vice its most accomplished extension.”

He also talks convincingly about women being “the only ones to possess the power to divert the narrative”, about flux being technology “and technology is death”, and sums up the ending with Isabella (Gong Li) driving away from Sonny in the speedboat, Sonny’s returning to the flux: “The world rediscovers its balance but loses a little more of its humanity.”