the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Location: Washington D.C.

Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Good Shepherd

I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

“I have some real problems with this whole thing, despite how much we need it. I’m concerned that too much power will end up in the hands of too few. It’s always in someone’s best interest to promote enemies whether real or imagined. I see this as America’s eyes and ears — I don’t want to see it before its heart and soul.” – General Bill Sullivan

A few weeks ago I spent several intoxicating hours at The International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. The museum chronicled spycraft from the beginning of civilization to today, introduced the visitor to the most masterful spies ever to engage in espionage, and displayed hundreds of the actual gadgets these spies used to fulfill their missions. (Highly recommended for any visitor to our nation’s capitol!) Still reveling in that visit, I came to The Good Shepherd with a rich background of cloak and dagger history and an eager yearning for more. What I got was admittedly rich in detail but woefully short on emotion.

The Good Shepherd is a slow, deep and methodically paced look at the birth of the CIA. Rather than being a semi-documentary historical account, the film is strongly character-based. It tracks the agency’s vanguard missions through the eyes of the man who would eventually become her Chief of Counter-Intelligence, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon). We first meet Edward at Yale where he is playing Little Buttercup in drag during a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore.” He is jovial and quick-witted, a WASP college student enjoying a life of privilege and amusement. So his stark transition from carefree poetry major to “serious SOB without a sense of humor” is a bit hard to reconcile.

The sea change occurs when Edward is initiated into Skull and Bones, a secret society that counts many of America's ruling elite (including our current president) as members. After a homoerotic, pagan induction ceremony, the young men pledge their eternal brotherhood to one another. Their secretive organization – white boys from the very best families – is the perfect breeding ground from which to recruit for another, even more clandestine organization — World War II's Office of Strategic Services (which would morph into the CIA following the war). It isn’t long before General Bill Sullivan (Robert DeNiro) comes to Edward with a job offer.

Just a week after his shotgun wedding to Margaret (Angelina Jolie), the sister of one of his fellow Bonesman (and the women for whom he has to abandon his true love) Edward is dispatched to England during the blitz, where he hones his spycraft and learns the cardinal rule of intelligence: trust no one. To say he quickly rises through the ranks would be a misnomer — he creates the ranks in the first place. This is a world of secret codes and dead-drops; a world in which a gray hat on a park bench is never just a gray hat on a park bench.

From England, Edward finds himself in Germany after the surrender, ferreting out Nazi scientists that the West wants to recruit before the Soviets have a chance to get ahold of them. It is a deadly game of cat and mouse one minute, a chess game of cunning and guile the next as each side dispatches the other’s players with ruthless efficiency and wrestles to stay one step ahead of betrayals, double-crosses and fluid allegiances.

Edward is surrounded by spies from his fellow Bonesmen, his professor at Yale (Micheal Gambon), an FBI agent (Alec Baldwin), his stalwart second-in-command (John Turturro), a dapper British agent (American Billy Crudup in a great if terribly accented performance). The closest person to a friend that Edward has is his nemesis, the Soviet spymaster Ulysses (Oleg Stefan). Theirs is a relationship built on begrudging respect and barely submerged menace. No one understands or sympathizes with Edward more. In a very real way, both men feel as if they, and not their leaders, are running their respective countries.

When Edward finally returns home, he is a stranger in his own house — the son he’s never met is six-years-old and his imbalanced and unstable wife is a baffling mystery. If Edward was detached before he left, he is ice-cold and impenetrable now, a man utterly detached from his emotions. That Margaret would ever have found anything remotely attractive about him is a stretch the filmmakers ask us to accept; that she no longer feels anything whatsoever toward him is an easy bridge to cross. If any of thise bothers Edward, he doesn’t let on. Seemingly nonplused, he begins the second half of his life managing the CIA’s counter intelligence operations from Washington D.C.

The longer Edward stays in his job, the harder and more paranoid he becomes. When an almost certainly innocent suspect exclaims, “We Italians have our families and the church, the Irish have the homeland, the Jews their tradition, even the niggers got their music. What about you? What do you guys have?”

Edward replies without emotion, “We have the United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.”

The Good Shepherd charts the evolution of the CIA against the march of Wilson’s life. Both begin infused with patriotic idealism and end in distrustful, isolated brutality. The cost of living in a world of lies is Wilson’s very soul not to mention the souls of all those around him. After affairs and betrayals on both sides, Edward’s marriage implodes.

“I don't know what you do!” Margaret screams at him one night. “You leave at five, you're home at ten, seven days a week! I live with a ghost! I don't know anything about you!”

His grown son is terrified of him, and he has isolated himself from anyone who ever cared for him. So consumed with protecting his country, Edward sacrifices everything — his family and his soul — for his job. He possesses a sense of noblesse oblige that is stronger even than his own humanity. In the end, one must wonder if the former poetry major ever viewed himself as one of T.S. Elliot’s hollow men?

(Edward Wilson is based on the real-life spy, Jesse Jesus Angleton. Angleton, in his latter career became a man crippled by paranoia and fear. He speculated that Henry Kissinger, various members of Congress and at least two American presidents were compromised by the KGB. He suspected that the anti-war and civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s had communist support and illegally compiled tens of thousands of case files on American citizens. He believed the Soviet Union planned on staging its own demise in order to lull the West into a false sense of security. A growing embarrassment to the CIA, he was eventually forced into retirement.)

Though The Good Shepherd is situated in the 20th century, its philosophy is nonetheless very contemporary. Without being overtly disparaging, it questions the intelligence gathering capabilities of the CIA (abilities called into deep question the past several years) and takes dead aim at political fear mongering. During a violent interrogation of a KGB agent, the Russian breaks down and utters, “Soviet power is a myth…nothing is working…it’s nothing but painted rust…but you need to keep the myth alive to maintain your military industrial complex. Your system depends on Russia being perceived as a mortal threat.” It is a chilling indictment of our time as well as their’s.

Though the film follows Edward for more than 35 years, he and his fellow actors barely seem to age, creating awkward moments especially in the interactions between Damon and his grown son. One thing the film does exceptionally well is its framework story. The film actually begins in 1961 as the American-supported Bay of Pigs operation to dislodge Fidel Castro from Cuba ends in disaster. Heads are going to role and Edward finds his on the chopping block. With little time to discover who leaked their plans to the Cubans, Edwards embarks on a mole hunt. The “present day” scenes in which he and his analysts unravel the clues are completely fascinating.

Directed with even-keeled expertise by Robert DeNiro (only his second film) from a script by Munich’s Eric Roth, The Good Shepherd is an ambitious film whose reach ultimately exceeds its grasp. Clocking in at just shy of three hours, The Good Shepherd feels, in many ways, like the Godfather films — an examination of the personal and the business — and the lives of those who are destroyed by one man’s rigorous compartmentalization of his life.

It is a shame then that the film takes on the temperament of its unappealing leading man. Edward’s cold-blooded nature is so impenetrable that it keeps everyone in the film (and in the theater) at arm’s length. Too detached to be completely effective, this austere and anti-septic film isn’t for everyone. If you prefer your spy stories to be the sort of fantastical universes of gorgeous girls, double-entendres, arch villains, clever gadgets, fast cars and huge explosions, rent Casino Royale. But if you want a serious look at the torturously slow and agonizing numbing life of real intelligence work try The Good Shepherd.

Just be warned that you will probably come away from it impressed but unmoved.

To read the full review, click here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I'd Kill For Showtime Right Now!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Heroes Have Always Been Journalists

Last night on MSNBC, reporter Richard Engel profiled his four years in Iraq with clips from a video diary he has been keeping since before the war began.

Richard is a personal hero. NBC News' Middle East correspondent and Beirut Bureau chief, Richard achieved international acclaim and respect after he bribed his way into Iraq before the “shock and awe” campaign so that he could cover the war as a freelancer. When the attacks began and the various news organizations withdrew, Richard stayed, one of the only games in town. As a result, NBC hired him and almost overnight, the man with next to no experience but with plenty of outrageous chutzpah became our window into this war.

His program last night, “War Zone Diary” is the horrific, inspiring and shockingly brutal glimpse into the maelstrom that is Iraq. We see first hand how close he’s come to losing his life on numerous occasions; and the dozens of his fellow reporters who were not so lucky. We see sickeningly graphic images of hundreds of slain Iraqis. And we linger up close and personal with the American soldiers desperate to make a difference, survive to come home, and make sense of their country’s growing discontentment over their mission.

It was a very personal and candid piece. Richard knows that he could be killed any day and yet he stays year after year of his own volition, battling massive personal danger, psychological trauma, compassion fatigue and the disintegration of his marriage. It is a story that must be told and he cannot help but tell it.

(If you missed “War Zone Diary,” you can watch it on iTunes. To read more about Richard Engel’s story click here ).

Of no less inspiration and astonishment was “To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports,” which aired on ABC a few weeks ago. Woodruff, who only weeks into being given the coveted job as ABC’s co-anchor of the Nightly News, was reporting from Iraq when the convey with which he was embedded hit a roadside bomb, critically injuring him.

Woodruff sustained grievous shrapnel wounds and was rushed into surgery where a large portion of his skull had to be removed to reduce the damage from brain swelling. He was in a coma for weeks, and when he awoke, had to relearn how to speak, walk, etc. That he lived is nothing short of a miracle. That he is back at work again is unbelievable.

Both of these specials hit me like a punch in the gut. It’s not that I don’t respect and admire the military men and women engaged in conflict in Iraq. God knows I do. But there is something about these reporters who risk everything, voluntarily, to tell a story we need to hear. Men and women who can and should get the hell out of there but stay so that you and I can understand our world that much more.

Our soldiers aren’t the only heroes in Iraq.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Monday, March 19, 2007

Blood Diamond

I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

While diamonds are the obvious subject of Blood Diamond, they are also meant to be a symbol representing all of the coveted resources of Africa’s abundant fertility, raped by Western powers over the centuries. Yes, Blood Diamond is preachy, but it’s a sermon we need to hear.

Much has been written about the value of so-called “message movies” since the release of Blood Diamond. Some feel that films should carry the burden of explicit moral invectives while others want their entertainment unmolested and significance free. Blood Diamond is a symbiosis of the two opinions, a film with an ethical center that, for some overwhelms any sort of entertainment value.

Part encyclopedia and part U.N. report, Blood Diamond is certainly bellowing from atop a very large soapbox. And yes, it does, at times, sacrifice its worthy story and narrative velocity for spreadsheets and facts and figures. However, to relegate it to a simple “message movie” is to also miss out on an all-out action picture. Edward Zwick channels Phillip Noyce’s Clear and Present Danger in crafting scenes of anxiety-ridden peril. Not since the terrorist attack on the American SUVs in Noyce’s Tom Clancy adaptation have I seen such a bold sequence of imminent catastrophe staged in such a claustrophobic space.

The acting in this film is superb. Jennifer Connely, who is finally getting the sort of recognition every 30-something year old guy who fell in love with her in The Rocketeer knew she’s always deserved, is convincing as a sassy, ideological driven reporter on the edge of burnout. But the real credit goes to the film’s Oscar nominated actors. Djimon Hounsou is terrific as a fisherman thrust into a conflict beyond his comprehension. All radiant anguish, he discovers a colossal diamond only to be caught in a crossfire between vicious militias and a greedy smuggler. The greedy smuggler is Leonardo DiCaprio who has finally grown into a man. As with his character in The Departed, DiCaprio is self-assured and confident, easily carrying the film on his broad cinematic shoulders. His South African accent is unassailable as are his acting chops as a charismatic yet brutally unsympathetic diamond smuggler out to get his cut no matter who gets hurt in the process.

Blood Diamond is full of the sort of sweeping vistas and melodrama that Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai) does so well. While not a great film, Blood Diamond is a very good one — equal parts history lesson, political diatribe and action blitz. And though it may preach to a fault, its story of an Africa riddled by civil war, genocide, the abduction of child soldiers and the consumption of indigenous resources is a story we all need to hear more, not less, of.

To read the full review, click here.

Not Again!

Dumbstruck by not one but two films in development chronicling the life of Charles Darwin, my screenplay suddenly felt very flaccid. While I’m nowhere near abandoning it, the thought did cross my mind that perhaps I should shift gears and move on to one of the other ideas that have been floating around in my head for years.

When I worked in Washington D.C. (now over a decade ago!) I used to ride the train into Capitol Hill from Virginia where was staying. The 45-minute commute gave me ample time to read. After plowing through biographies of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, I turned to “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”

I fell in love with the master sleuth and realized immediately that aside from a smattering of BBC and PBS productions, Holmes had been all but ignored on the silver screen — at least in recent years. Someday, I told myself, I will write the definitive Sherlock Holmes screenplay. I even had the perfect Holmes in mind: Jeremy Irons.

And so it was, as I began contemplating the new screenplay this month, that Variety today announced:

“It's elementary, my dear Watson -- reimagine Sherlock Holmes as an action-adventure sleuth and you may uncover a new film franchise.

Warner Bros. Pictures is teaming with producer Lionel Wigram to adapt Wigram's upcoming comicbook "Sherlock Holmes" for the bigscreen.

Exact storyline is being kept under wraps, but creative execs at Warners say they are looking for the "Sherlock" team to reinvent the sleuth and his loyal No. 2 Dr. Watson in much the same edgy way that Christopher Nolan has reimagined Batman for Warners.”

Not again!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

24 Hours Too Long

That's it. I'm outta here.

I listened to all the hype. I gave you a chance. But you're simply not worth another hour of my time, much less the remainder of the day.

You are blatantly and unrepentantly unwilling to stay within the constraints of your own real-time premise to say nothing of the fact that you are colossally melodramatic, nauseatingly sensationalistic, shabbily written, and you consistently subvert realism — both dramatically and in your narrative.

I know you like killing off your main characters. Might I suggest Jack. Put us all out of our misery already.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Not that it didn't abandon any shred of its legitimacy a couple years ago, but what I saw tonight when I switched on American Movie Classics put the final nail in the coffin for me.

Catwoman. Yes, that's right, universally regarded as the worst movie of 2004, Catwoman is now on par with The Godfather and Citizen Kane according to the suits at AMC.

Say it with me: American. OK so far. Movie. Got it, sure. CLASSICS! Ohhhhhhh...

Friday, March 09, 2007


300 is an orgy of gore, a blood-letting on a titanic scale, a ballet of butchery in which half-naked men and the torrents of blood they elicit move in perfect, slow-motion choreography to a thunderous soundtrack.

And I loved every minute of it.

Like all good Greek stories, this one has a chorus. Dilios (The Lord of the Ring’s David Wenham), a Spartan warrior with the gift of storytelling, narrates the action. The tale is simple; this is not a film you go to for intricate plots and nuanced storylines. The year is 480 B.C. and the colossal Persian army descends upon the Greek city-state of Sparta, a region of Greece renowned for it fearsome warriors. Though King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) knows war is the only option, the priests and other throwbacks from Greece’s pagan past (this is Greece on the cusp of becoming the nucleus of reason, logic and democracy we know it for today) forbid the war on account of an upcoming religious festival (a Greek Sabbath, if you will). Leonidas, who is torn between saving his people and obeying their laws, decides to leave his army behind and gathers only 300 of his finest soldiers to meet the enemy. His hope is that while he is away, his stalwart queen (Lena Headey) can muster support from the naysayers led by the malignant, appeasing politician, Theron (Dominic West).

These reinforcements, of course, never come. It is not a spoiler to say that each and every one of the 300 perish in battle. If you didn’t know that, don’t blame me. It merely means you weren’t paying attention in high school world history when you covered the Battle of Thermopylae. Though the 300 are lost, their sacrifice emboldens the other Greeks, and in a closing scene reminiscent of the final moments of Braveheart, they take up their arms and push the Persians back into the sea.

Many have read a throbbing political subtext into the film, extrapolating their particular ideology and coming out on the other side with a film either in support of or in condemnation of America’s war in Iraq. 300 is drenched in language extolling the audience that freedom is not free and that in defense of that freedom sometimes a nation’s most precious blood must be spilt. Others see the valiant Spartans as the insurgents. Brave and vastly outnumbered, they continually obliterate tidal wave after tidal wave of an enemy a mad king continues to order into battle without regard for the catastrophic loss of life.

Whatever your interpretation (and both are plausible), the demarcation line between good and evil is vibrantly clear. The Spartans, fighting against the enslavement and eradication of their people, are the ultimate examples of manhood — as naked as an R-rating will allow, musculatured like steroid-enhanced GI Joe action figures, devoid of feminine sentiment, with beautiful women and virile children hovering in their shadows — while the camera looks upon the sexual and physical deviants of the Persian army, led by the towering god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) with an indisputable queer-eye. His armies are a Borg-like assimilation of various conquered cultures, each as wildly debauched as they are exotic.

Do not go to 300 if you are interested in an accurate history lesson. This is a film in which history is subservient to aesthetics. 300 is based more on the Battle of Thermopylae as mythology than as fact. 300 takes place in an alternate, hyper-stylized world in which mutated humans — more monster than man — do the bidding of their masters like giant trolls at the command of Orc armies; in which the world is divided into the breathtakingly beautiful and the retchingly grotesque. Everything here is bigger, scarier, uglier, deadlier.

300, based upon Frank Miller’s (Sin City) graphic novel (comic books for the uninitiated), is a film shot in an entirely CG environment. Director Zack Snyder and his CG artists have crafted a feast for the senses and the result is an undeniable technical achievement. Here, actors perform against blank screens on which backgrounds are later painted to represent the distinctive look and motion of comic book panels.

Every pixel has been manipulated to create a world of heightened, accelerated reality. Mountain vistas and ocean-battered shorelines like these exist only in the minds of master animators. The images have been drained of their color, reduced to browns and rusts and, of course, the vibrant crimson of flowing Spartan capes and geysering Persian blood. Some have said that 300 plays like a video game. I didn’t see it. 300 is the lovechild of graphic novels and 21st century cinema utterly in lust with its computerized toys and the worlds they’ve wrought. As spectacle, 300 is nearly impossible to beat, rivaling, at times, some of the best The Lord of the Ring’s animators could come up with.

Do not even remotely consider this movie if you are repulsed by violence. 300 is violence as pornography. Blood-drunk, the film revels in its body count. To watch it is to be baptized in gore. If the sight of blood, much less gushing torrents of it pinwheeling from impaled chests, amputated limbs and decapitated heads makes you squeamish, do not set foot in this theater.

That said, most of the brutality in 300, lovingly lingered upon though it may be, is the sort of over-the-top violence that blunted the more traumatic aspects of such films as Kill Bill. By taking things to such excessive, Kurosawaesque extremes, the filmmakers moved beyond genuine revulsion (the sort one might encounter in a brutally realistic film like Saving Private Ryan or The Passion of the Christ, for instance) and into a realm usually reserved for cartoons.

Because of this, 300 never really touches our emotions. It works on our eyes but never our hearts. I don’t think the filmmakers see that as all that much of an indictment. Fanboys (and let’s be honest here, men in general) will still find it irresistible. After all, this is a film crafted for the sheer enjoyment of our baser pleasures — the modern equivalent of an ancient Roman coliseum show in which we cheer the blood-soaked carnage and tell ourselves that was money well worth spent whilst dabbing blood from our clothing.

I am, however, left with one nagging question: what does it say about me that I enjoyed it so much?

Thursday, March 08, 2007


There is a God.

Evidence: Antonella Barba is finally going home.

There is no God.

Evidence: Sundance Head is going home and Sanjaya is sticking around.

I'm with Simon on this one. America, did you watch with your volume turned down?!

It's not that Sundance was going to win the thing. Melinda Doolittle or LaKisha Jones have that one sown up. But the day when Sundance loses to Sanjaya makes me lose faith in the Idol electorate in this, my first season of ever seriously watching the show.

At least I got to see Carrie Underwood. I predicted her magnificent reign from her first audition.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

Making a film about a saint is fraught with danger.

On the one hand, many people think the subject is too vaulted for the likes of a mere movie. Others decry the representation, feeling it doesn’t do the subject justice. Still others find the portrayal too worshipful — a sort of cinematic idolatry.

How Richard Attenborough managed to sidestep each of these landmines and craft one of the most moving and inspiring epics of all time is a thing of deep mystery and triumph.

Many epics swallow their heroes in massive landscapes, undulating throngs of people, or narrative canvases so large as to obliterate any sense of intimacy or individuality. Not so with Gandhi. No matter how big the story or colossal the vistas, we never lose sight of the fact that this is a film first and foremost about a man. And what a man.

Convincingly spanning over four decades, Gandhi is a reverential yet completely authentic examination of the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi who began his adult life as a lawyer in England and ended as “the little brown man in a loincloth.” As the father of nonviolent resistance, Gandhi stood up to the superpower of his day, Great Britain, and won independence for his native India. His pacifistic philosophies were unassailable and continue to reverberate down through time. But Gandhi is not simply a story with a happy ending. The complexities of independence are given full expression, including the tumultuous division of the country into India and Pakistan, a rift still felt today.

In a cast of standouts (Trevor Howard, John Mills, Sir John Gielgud, Edward Fox, Ian Charleson, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen, Saeed Jaffrey, Geraldine James, Alyque Padamsee, Roshan Seth, and Rohini Hattangady), Ben Kingsley gives a performance for the ages, not merely acting, but rather channeling the spirit of the late spiritual leader. Kingsley's Gandhi is as authoritative as he is soft-spoken, a picture of quiet strength and unshakable moral resolve.

Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley. A labor of love that took decades to make, Gandhi acts as both a history lesson and a sermon — a living, breathing testament to sheer moral force and the unconquerability of right.

To read the full review, click here.

Darwin Strikes Again!

Shesh, when I tap into the zeitgeist, I do it right. Now there is not one, but two films being made about the life of Charles Darwin. And I haven't even had a chance to touch my script since Christmas. Hmmm, I wonder if I'm falling behind...

According to "Variety":

"Producer Jeremy Thomas is planning a movie about Charles Darwin, to be written by John Collee and directed by Jon Amiel. The project is based on 'Annie's Box,' a biog of Darwin by Randall Keynes, the great-great grandson of the Victorian scientist.

It focuses on the period when Darwin was writing 'The Origin of the Species,' his ground-breaking treatise on evolution, while living a family life at Down House in Kent, near London.

'It's about his relationship with his kids, and also about the extraordinary controversy that his ideas caused. With all the current talk about creationism, this is something I'm very interested in,' Thomas said.

The 'Annie' of the title is Darwin's first daughter, whose death aged 10 left him grief-stricken. With his scientific discoveries leading him toward agnosticism, he was unable to find consolation in belief in an afterlife, but coped with his loss by plunging into his work.

Thomas plans to have the movie ready for release in 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin's birth. With Collee ('Happy Feet' and 'Master and Commander') currently working on the script, Thomas expects to shoot next year, on location at Down House."

Monday, March 05, 2007


Strike two for David Fincher.

Seven was a phenomenal and twisted noir thriller and Fight Club was one of the seminal films of the 90s—a post-modern masterpiece. But something happened after those two gems. Panic Room didn’t suck, to be certain, but it was hardly a great film. And now we’re given Zodiac, marketed as a thriller though it has far more in common with All the President’s Men than Silence of the Lambs but with only a smidgen of the former’s tension and suspense.

I came to Zodiac with high hopes. After all, this was familiar territory for Fincher — grisly murders, a serial killer, police procedurals, obsessive cops. From the first few moments of the opening credits with the studio logos circa 1970, you can almost taste Fincher back at the helm. His distinctive style — wide, fluid tracking shots, characters wreathed in shadow, incessant rainfall — was in abundant supply.

The film starts with a bang. After randomly assassinating several young couples, a killer calling himself “The Zodiac” begins taunting the police by sending ciphered letters to the newspaper. Try as they might, the police can’t seem to get traction on the case. An intrepid and dogged reporter refuses to let it go, fighting government bureaucracy, office politics, familial disapproval, his own fear and the march of years to unravel the mystery one piece at a time. Zodiac showcases three terrific and hugely entertaining leads in Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. to say nothing of a slew of mesmerizing supporting players.

The problems with the film begin somewhere around the halfway point, when the Zodiac killer ceases his crimes. Though the characters continue in their obsessive quest for the truth, as the nearly three-hour film unfolds, the audience is not brought along for the ride. Zodiac cannot possible sustain its tension once the antagonist — and hence the conflict — vanishes. Zodiac is not about a murderer, but about a man obsessed with catching him. Though the film wants you to identify with the protagonist’s fixation, it becomes nearly impossible. Add to this fact that despite all this effort, there will ultimately be no resolution and it is not hard to pinpoint why Zodiac never gets off the ground. This film is an exercise in the absence of dramatics.

That the killer is never caught shouldn’t be a spoiler, though some people may not be aware of the well-publicized, based-on-a-true-story account. That a film plays with audience expectations and intentionally does not deliver on the supposed promise of its genre is to be praised. Yet it is not its lack of resolution that makes Zodiac a poor film, it is in its stupefying dull progression.

Zodiac covers nearly two decades (yet none of the primary characters seem to age), often jumping forward months and even years in a few minutes. We watch San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid transform itself from a huge hole in the ground in the beginning minutes to a monolithic sentinel by the film’s end. Each transition is heralded by a title card announcing the time and place. They occur so often that one almost ceases paying attention to them.

Obviously, Zodiac looked good on paper, but when fleshed out on the screen, it becomes just one more uninspired whodunit. The film opens by announcing it is based on actual case files. And if you want to know how exciting it was to read each and every one of them verbatim, watch this film.

First Day on the Job

I begin a new part-time job today at Sony Pictures Television. I'll be working in Ad Sales though I don't know much beyond that for now. I'm sure I'll have a lot more information in a few days.

I'll be working with a fellow classmate of mine (who was also instrumental in getting me the job) who has nothing but praise for the position.

A few extra bucks and a lot more experience. Needless to say, I'm excited.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

TV Sampler

I’ve been trying some new things lately. They say it's good for you. It is an unfortunate reality of my “Television: History and Culture” class that we are not examining any television beyond 1973. Unfortunate, because I really feel we are in a sort of second Golden Age of the medium. My comments below don't begin to scratch that surface, nor do some of the shows I mention necessarily deserve to be a part of this Golden Age reborn. Nor does this list represent all of my viewing habits (hurry up The Wire: Season Five!). I'm just sayin'...

Aside from the usual TV I always watch (I’ll get to that in a moment), I’ve tried out a few new shows this season:

While I did watch its first season, I’ve not watched 24 at all since then. With so many critics and friends raving about it, I decided to give it another try. Frankly, I wish I’d stayed away. Maybe it’s just this season (as many have assured me) but there is little to no reason for me to keep watching. The show repeatedly and flagrantly ignores its real-time premise, it is preposterously unbelievable, it is sentimental to the point of parody, and if one more president is killed or relative of Jack turns out to be Satan’s fifth cousin, I can’t say I’ll be all that surprised. Totally unbelievable, ideologically skewed, and overly schmaltzy—are we talking about the Fox channel or Fox News?

American Idol:
I’ve never watched this hit before. Oh sure, I’d tuned in for some of the early episodes in which they had all the crazies on, but I'd never cared to stick with it. In fact, those early shows always got me angry at the treatment the contestants received, deserved or not. For some reason, I've hung around this time. And a weird thing has happened. I stopped wanting to see the train wrecks and got enthralled by the genuinely masterful auditions. And now that I’ve held out this long, there’s no going back—I’ve got to see some of these guys (said in the gender neutral way) go on to greatness.

The Office:
Here’s one where I should have listened to people a lot earlier. What a consistently great show. It’s pretty rare that a half-hour comedy takes on the traits of a horror film for me—that is, I constantly find myself having to pause the show and walk away for a few moments just because the level of discomfort (always at something Steve Carell is doing) gets to be too great.

I have to admit some of my old faithfuls have really kept me satisfied this season, or at least are coming through in the end:

Battlestar Galactica:
What can I say, it’s still one of the very best things on TV. Constantly rich and nuanced, there is no show during the week that I look forward to more. It’s amazing—this season we’ve had next to no dogfights or interstellar battles or much eye candy of any kind…just rock solid character drama—and I can’t turn away.

After an abysmal first half of the season, Lost has returned this year with a roar. Time travel, fated deaths, meteorites, VW buses, and more frustratingly vague glimpses into the lives of “the Others” make these past handful of episodes the best in ages. I never thought I’d be so happy to be lost again.

How I Met Your Mother:
I love this show more each and every week. Why more people aren’t watching baffles me. Why Neil Patrick Harris hasn’t yet been nominated for an Emmy or Golden Globe is beyond my comprehension. Watch it. Prove me wrong.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:
Poor Aaron Sorkin. Could it be that Sorkin’s heightened reality and linguistics worked in the powerful halls of the While House but fall like duds at a TV studio? Could be. I like the show in spite of myself though. It looks like it might be gone for good. If so, I for one will miss it. But at least that final episode kind of wrapped things up; it actually works to end it where it did.

The Amazing Race:
It’s too early to say whether I like the All Stars Edition of the ultimate reality show or not. I’m just watching giddily waiting for the moment when Rob and Amber come in last place. Oh just admit it, you hate them too.

The Daily Show/The Colbert Report:
What’s there to say? I know of no better way to unwind at the end of the day…well, on TV anyway.