guppy's film reviews

Friday, March 09, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher
Notable Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr.
Score: B+
Summary: Solid and well-made semi-documentary about an infamous 1960s California serial killer; structure has a few issues and film runs a bit long.

I've been looking forward to Zodiac since I first saw a preview for it, mostly because it was being directed by David Fincher, whose work I've loved without exception in the past. I'm happy to say that it did not let me down, though I do have a few quibbles. I should note that the Zodiac killer really existed, and is credited, if that's the right word to use, with several serial murders in the San Francisco area. Zodiac is a retelling of the story of his investigation.

SF Chronicle crusader née cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) is more or less the central figure on the story, and while he doesn't do anything wrong, per se, he doesn't really have the screen presence necessary for the role. He is thus upstaged by SFPD inspector David Toschi (Ruffalo) and especially by colorful reporter Paul Avery (Downey Jr.), who are emblematic of otherwise very strong casting.

The script is pretty solid and does a good job of keeping you up with the investigation, but it's full of cuts to later dates and times, and all this jumping around leaves the viewer with a disappointingly poor grasp of time. The cuts are labeled, but when the cut for "four days later" and "four years later" take the same amount of time, things start to run together a bit. There is one well-constructed scene that represents the exception to this rule. Along similar lines, the movie runs long at 158 minutes; I was never bored, but the length did draw me out of the experience a bit. This is largely due to the nature of the story, but the fact is that the meandering costs the film some points.

It took me a while to decide what I thought of the ending, but eventually I decided that Fincher did with it what he was responsibly able, and I think others will draw the same conclusion.

Zodiac's a good film and evidences Fincher's usual high standards, but it suffers some flaws that keep it from making my A-list. The nature of the film and their common director means that it will inevitably be compared to Se7en, and Zodiac's just not at that level. Worth seeing, but not as strong as some of the other entries in Fincher's catalog.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Reno 911!: Miami

Year: 2007
Director: Robert Ben Garant
Notable Actors: Danny DeVito
Score: C
Summary: I have no idea why this is a feature film.

Okay, I'll admit it. I like Reno 911! It's been a guilty pleasure of mine for a few years now; it's inconsistent, but when it's on, it's really on. Unfortunately, I can't be as excited about Reno 911!: Miami.

For those unfamiliar with it, Reno 911! is a Comedy Central show that parodies long-running police tagalong program Cops. It follows the life and times of the hopelessly incompetent Reno Sheriff's department (which doesn't exist, incidentally; Reno has its own full-fledged PD). The interesting thing about the show is that it doesn't have scripts. Each scene has a loose outline of what needs to be accomplished, but the actors improvise all the details. I have been given to understand that each 22-minute episode is created by whittling down about four hours of footage. While this leads to some uneven notes, overall the result is a lot of fun.

The good news is that Miami is more consistently entertaining than the roller coaster of highs and lows that is a season of the show. The bad news is that it's rarely particularly brilliant and there's no good reason that this is a movie instead of maybe a two-part episode of the regular show.

I haven't seen all of the show's episodes, but there is a new (or at least new to me) deputy (Mary Birdsong). She is the focus of only one joke, which is brought up maybe twice. I don't know why she exists.

The only actor whose work stands out this time around is Thomas Lennon as Lieutenant Jim Dangle, and that may be because his role as head of the department is meatier than the rest. The remainder of the cast has phenomenal chemistry, however, so they work very well as an ensemble.

The film has only occasional moments of brilliance, but those are excellent, and the movie is reasonably consistent throughout. It is very short, however, weighing in at only 84 minutes, lending weight to my argument that it should have been part of a regular season. And some of that could have been cut without losing much.

The film has been criticized for having a plot. I can understand the complaint -- I had the same issue with Super Troopers, for example -- but in this case I felt the plot was necessary to hold the movie together.

I don't regret seeing the movie, but I don't know that I'd recommend it to everyone. Give it a look if you're a fan of the show and nothing else catches your eye. It's not bad entertainment, there just isn't enough there to warrant a full-scale film production.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Year: 2007
Director: Billy Ray
Notable Actors: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney
Score: B-
Summary: Decent quasi-documentary on an infamous Cold War intelligence breach.

Breach is a retelling of the story of FBI operative Robert Hanssen, who was convicted of selling secrets to the Soviet Union. While I'm not wholly informed on the subject, I believe that's one of few things that are kept true-to-life; in fact, I'm pretty sure the main character is completely fabricated.

Chris Cooper (The Bourne Identity) steals the show as Hanssen, and is the only particularly noteworthy actor in the film. Hanssen himself was a fascinating guy, and Cooper handles the role well. The others -- Phillipe especially -- are serviceable enough, but do little to distinguish themselves.

Unfortunately, there isn't much else to say about the film; it works more despite its assets than because of them. I can't even remember if there was a musical score, and the cinematography is acceptable but not exceptional.

It's hard to know how to rate Breach. I was interested in it, and I know I enjoyed it, but I think that's because I was interested in the real story. There's nothing standout about the script, the audio, the visuals... nothing, really, other than Hanssen. The film's worth seeing, but don't expect to be blown away by anything.