Monday, April 19, 2010

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Zodiac Killer

As I previously mentioned, this week was a bit of a cheat. I’ve already seen Zodiac and was pretty sure I would like Sherlock Holmes. But then again I had not watched “Zodiac” with a reviewer mindset and I had not actually watched “Sherlock Holmes” yet, so it’s fair. With all that being said, I must admit I still have not finished Lawrence of Arabia or had time to watch “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (which is just as long as its name). I still have both movies from the library, so I should have them for next week. I will say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the first half of “Lawrence…” and I have seen “Assassination…,” but once again not with a reviewer mindset. Since I only watched two movies this week and enjoyed them both, I will write (and recommend) an extended review for both.

Zodiac – (5 Stars)
There is something that draws people into true crime stories. Turn on the news and you will probably find out about someone who committed some crime. More often than not you will also be “treated” to the details as well. But if the general public wasn’t interested in them, they wouldn’t be on television. I guess it is just human nature to be curious about the happenings of those around us. What crime really gets our attention better than that of a mysterious serial killer? “Zodiac” tells just that kind of story, that of the infamous Zodiac killer, who had California buzzing in the late 60’s and early 70’s. But where many true crime movies have failed, “Zodiac” succeeds in making the movie interesting and engaging, without being voyeuristic.

 “Zodiac” is a thoroughly fascinating, visually stunning movie. David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) directs a great ensemble cast in this distinct three act crime procedural. The first distinct act of the movie follows the initial crimes of the Zodiac killer and his lust for attention, sending letters and ciphers to newspapers. We are introduced to the various law enforcement agents who will be investigating, as well as the hotshot newspaper writer (Robert Downey Jr.). On the outside looking in is Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist at the paper. The second act of the movie explores the criminal investigation into the Zodiac killer and the third, and final, act follows Graysmith as he sets about writing a book about the identity of the killer and his own investigation that leads him to do so.

 The movie stands out in all the little things it does right. The movie is about a serial killer, but the murders are never shown in an overly graphic way. The murders are shown, but aren’t the focal point of the movie. The characters are all extremely interesting, especially when you think about the fact that they are real people. Some of the relationships between the characters are fictionalized, but this is used more as a way to bridge the narrative. Finally, the pacing of the movie is just right. The movie covers a long period of time, which can sometimes doom a movie to being more of a montage, but “Zodiac” never misses a beat while it moves throughout the life of the investigation. It is this combination of skillful direction, on target acting, and attention to detail that makes “Zodiac” a cut above the rest when it comes to true crime dramas, and many other movies. (Netflix) (157 minutes - Rated R for Some strong killings, language, drug material and brief sexual images - 2007)

Sherlock Holmes – (4 ½ Stars)
Sherlock Holmes has the distinction of being the most portrayed character in film. Despite this fact, a lot of people have probably not seen a Sherlock Holmes movie but still have various preconceptions as to how he should be portrayed. Enter Guy Ritchie’s aptly titled “Sherlock Holmes.” Advertised as a new spin on an old character, Ritchie enlists Robert Downey Jr. to take on the mantle of the World’s Greatest Detective. Along for the ride is Jude Law as Watson, the straight man to Holmes’ eccentricities. While the case Holmes’ works could have been better, the atmosphere, characters, and intricacies of the film more than make up for it.
One of the biggest fears I had going into watching the movie was that they would “modernize” Holmes and Watson. The trailer only exacerbated this with its quick cuts, fast music, and pithy remarks. Once I was able to sit down and watch the movie, my fears quickly subsided. Downey plays Holmes with a fantastic wit and energy with Law’s Watson playing off him perfectly. Many envision Watson as the fat, bumbling sidekick to Holmes’ stiff, intellectual detective. However, as evidenced in the source material, Watson was a trained, fit army doctor and Holmes definitely something of an eccentric. The movie does have a bit of a “modern” feel to it in little touches here or there, but not to the extent portrayed by the trailers.
Sherlock Holmes’ latest case pits him against an aristocrat who delves into the mystical arts in his quest to unite and strengthen London under his power. The case itself is probably the weakest aspect of the movie. In the end the character story as a whole is satisfying, and the mystery is wrapped up well. This take on Sherlock Holmes is not for everyone, but most will probably at least enjoy it as a very good action/mystery. (Netflix) (128 minutes - Rated PG-13 for Intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material - 2009)

Don't forget to get your opinion heard in this month's poll and check out the previous post about changes to the blog.

Movies for this week:
Lawrence of Arabia (for real this time)

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