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Zodiac (2007)

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Zodiac (click for larger image)Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards

Directed by David Fincher


What are you afraid of? Is it the sound of steel blades across metal? A ghostly face on a hulking body in the shadows next door? That sound in the woods that only seems to arise when you’ve just been separated from friends? For me, first a growing boy desensitized to the world by all the media I was exposed to and now a man interested in how they make the creeps we see onscreen, there isn’t a lot that scares me when the lights go dim in a theater. My true fears manifest themselves as a result of the insanity of the world we live in. You try and go about your day, reacting to people in a logical manner, but more and more the people we face display behavior that is far from logical. At any moment that person standing beside you at the train stop could decide to give you a little shove as the train is approaching. That woman who appears lost in the mall parking lot could be waiting for you to turn around to bury a knife in your back. It’s a little unsettling to think that at any time of the day, someone could ring your doorbell, force their way in and cut your family down in front of you. These are the times we live in, and it’s only getting worse. Sometimes these everyday fears come to light.

In the late 1960’s the citizens of San Francisco were terrorized by a brilliant serial killer who called himself The Zodiac. The most frightening thing about this man was not only the ferocity and coldheartedness with which he carried out his acts, but the seemingly random pattern of his attacks. This could happen to you, at any time.

Zodiac (click for larger image)Our modern film adaptation of this tale opens with a lot of promise. Coded letters are delivered to the heads of three major San Francisco newspapers along with a promise that if these codes are not printed, more people will die. Having an interest in codes and puzzles himself, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a timid cartoonist at one such newspaper, is instantly drawn to this enigma. At the same paper charismatic veteran reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) seems content to milk this sensational story for all it’s worth. Meanwhile, Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner, Inspector William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), are assigned to the case and spend the bulk of the movie sharing information with … well … everyone!

So now you’ve got two groups of main characters: the cops bound by duty to hunt down the horrible killer and the reporters who do their fair share of uncovering clues themselves. A good amount of witty dialogue and a retro setting will remind you of All the President’s Men, but even though amusing on several occasions, Gyllenhaal and Downey fall miles short of Redford and Hoffman. Perhaps it is because the characters are never given the opportunity to gel properly. The inspectors also spend a great deal of time trading quips and engaging in, dare I say it, Jaws-esque moments in which we see that even men hunting down a killer can get tangled up in the bureaucracy of it all. Hour one is brisk. All of this back and forth is quite enjoyable to watch, and I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion … not knowing the terror that waited for me in hour two.

Zodiac (click for larger image)With seriously brutal killings, a solid mystery laid out and some fun conversation between very believable characters, Zodiac seems like a winner. Gyllenhaal plays a Peter Parker like straight man to Downey’s hard drinking, smoking, drug abusing, larger than life established reporter whose only interest in the young cartoonist seems to be his freakish ability to unravel The Zodiac’s clues. Similarly our two detectives, Ruffalo and Edwards, exhibit the same type of relationship, only with far fewer sparks. This leads to trouble as the cops become practically the sole storytellers of the film. Lucky us, there’s still an hour and a half to go. That realization is when the true terror begins.

Eventually the cases against all the Zodiac suspects fall apart, the killings aren’t shown anymore and all supporting characters that provided any enjoyable moments in this film are abandoned. What’s left is a long, tedious look into an obsession more intense than what Jim Carrey spent on The Number 23. As I fought the urge to sleep my way through Gyllenhaal’s paper shuffling and running through the rain, I found myself slipping further down the spiral of extreme boredom and reciting Costner’s infamous quote from a certain movie about JFK: “Back … and to the left. Baaaaaack and to the left. BACK … and to … the left.” While sitting there in my seat, I realized the true horror of Zodiac came in the form of just how numb my ass was getting.

Zodiac (click for larger image)The tag line for Zodiac is “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer.” This is true as I felt the life draining out my ears as I struggled through the last hour, only to be met with an ending so unfulfilling that it hardly seemed worth it. It’s like climbing Mount Everest and upon reaching the top finding a TGI Friday’s there packed with jocks hitting on high-haired Jersey girls. That is what I came all this way for? Bah!

Be assured that the only reason Zodiac can be considered a genre film is because horror fans place serial killers alongside pirates, zombies … and sometimes ninjas and monkeys. The couple of brutal killings and snappy banter in no way forgive the pit of soul-sucking boredom that this movie becomes. On the positive side I can honestly say that every actor was fully believable and you could tell they gave their all, but when the writing isn’t there, it just doesn’t matter, and when the film deteriorates into Gyllenhaal scrambling around for an hour, it matters even less. I give Fincher credit for creating slight moments of creepiness throughout the film, but from the director who gave us instant cult classics like Se7en and Fight Club, I expected so much more. Zodiac’s endless scenes of rain will hardly be mistaken for art in film. Blade Runner took that prize. If Fincher was looking to depart from the slick, high contrast cities he’s become known for in the movies we love, he got his wish.

2 out of 5

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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product

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DesolationStarring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols

Directed by Sam Patton


I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.

The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.

So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”

As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.

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User Rating 2.83 (18 votes)
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political

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Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside

Directed by Eitan Gafny

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.

Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.

Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.

The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.

The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.

So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.

Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.

The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.

Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.

  • Children of the Fall
2.5

Summary

While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.

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User Rating 3.27 (22 votes)
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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User Rating 3.45 (20 votes)
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