March 05, 2007

Zodiac and Little Miss Sunshine


So, I caught this Saturday night. I'm a waining FOF (Fan of Fincher - the director of Fight Club, Se7en, The Game, Panic Room). I say waining for two reasons. 1. I'm getting smarter 2. His films are getting dumber. That may be an oversimplification, but it is true that I feel my tastes are maturing and I feel his films (certainly his last two) have been seriously flawed.

Fincher was an important part of the Tarantino-edgy-dark-crime-mess-with-the-narrative genre of the 90's. He was considered a peer with Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects), Christopher Nolan (memento) and, of course, Tarantino.

His films were hard to watch, but powerful and he was known as a magician with his lighting. (A common trait among those who got their start in music videos.)
Lately, however, that genre of film has done some growing up, and most of the directors have as well. Tarantino has become the savior of vulgar trash-pop, making art out of camp, and Singer has made some of the best superhero movies ever (and Superman Returns). Nolan's continued to make good films, perhaps a bit too commercial. I thought Fincher had vanished from the list. It's been five years since Panic Room fizzled both in its third act and with critics.

I had hoped Zodiac would show me he was more than just a three-film fluke. It didn't. In truth, this film had the potential to be quite good, but it desperately needed a more cohesive vision of which story it was going to tell and even more desperately needed an editor.

The cast was amazing, which tells me that I wasn't the only one excited to see Fincher directing again. Gyllenhaal, Downey and Ruffalo are some of my current favorites and, in truth, they did the best they could under the circumstances. Downey was especially interesting, but his character just drifted into the background.

The film felt like a 20/20 Mystery on TV, that makes you stay up one hour longer than you planned, and then ends with an unsolved mystery that is extremely unsatisfying. It makes you want those 50 minutes of your life back. However, Zodiac takes 2 1/2 hours to not satisfy its audience. There were several characters who seemed important early in the film, but drfited into the background, and there were tension-filled moments which ended up meaning nothing by the end of the film.

The film's main character becomes obsessed with the case and loses his bearings on his own life. And one can't wonder if the same thing happened with the filmmakers. Did the writer and director get so caught up in the details of the case that they lost sight of the narrative line? Perhaps. It brings to mind JFK. A film with a star-studded cast and a great director, but a storyline that's too much for them to handle. It's like Simon Cowell always tells the 15 year old girls who try to sing Aretha Franklin, "That song swallowed you up." This film swallowed up Fincher.

I'll give Fincher one last try. He's tackling an F. Scott Fitzgerald story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with the help of Eric Roth (The Insider, The Good Shepherd) and with an amazing cast. If he messes that up, he's done.

Little Miss Sunshine

I realize I'm late to the table on this one, but I was laregly very pleased with the film. Primarily, I loved the performances. Alan Arkin was good, although, I felt his role was too small to win the Oscar. Breslin was fantastic and deserved the nomination. In truth though, I thought the best performances were put in by the men who weren't nominated, Greg Kinnear and Steve Carrell. Kinnear had the unenviable job of making us care about a guy who most would consider a prick, and he did it well. And Steve Carrell had to go understated, which we hadn't seen him do before.

Overall, I very much liked it. Pleased it was nominated, but agree that it wasn't BEST Picture material.


Edison in a moth-eaten ghillie suit said...

Although I haven't seen "Zodiac" (I never planned to), I agree about "Sunshine." Especially with the part about Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell. I think the latter should try similar roles in the future instead of comedy because he is good at drama.

Matt Oquist said...

I, too, love Fincher's early stuff but I haven't bothered to follow him of late. I'll wait to hear from you about his next outing...

LMS was a treat, though I couldn't help but be distracted by the tiniest bit of sympathy I couldn't help feeling with the flustered super-anal mom...she's got a point. That was terrifically inappropriate behavior, even if it is, in turn, a comment on the inappropriateness of the entire charade in general. Still, a gem of a film.

Lastly, I'm sure you meant "waning" instead of something related to farm carts... :)