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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

March 6, 2007
The Oscars are exhausting for those of us who obsess about films - weeks of predictions and nail-biting, followed by a few days of scoffing and/or gloating. I've even put together a formula for how to predict Oscar winners. It involves biopics, real-life portrayals, dramas, and Jamie Foxx, and it rarely fails. What I'm saying is, the weeks after the Academy Awards are usually a nice breather for me. Usually there's a dearth of good movies in theaters, and I can catch up on my DVD-watching in my own living room, where I'll be spared trailers for The Namesake, a film who somebody spent millions promoting by sticking the preview before every single film released during the six months before it comes out.

This year my little break was cut short prematurely by Zodiac, a film so long and talent-packed that, combined with its superior editing and eerily funny suspense, it will easily become this year's The Departed. Like that 2006 Best Picture-winner, Zodiac's director (David Fincher) has put together some good ones, namely Fight Club and Se7en, and luckily so, because if you form your preconception of this film solely from its publicity, you won't want to go see it. Trust me, good people. I was like you. I thought I was going into a weak thriller that was going to end in a predictable twist involving some gross-out bones found in a closet or something. But when I realized who Zodiac was directed by, I thought I'd give it a shot, and I found myself enjoying every second of it.

You'll hear a lot of "I found myself enjoying every second of it" and "not one part of this film could be omitted" when you hear what people have to say about Zodiac, and that's because it's almost three hours long and spans a narrative time of something like 25 years. Based on the book by Robert Graysmith, one of the main characters, the film is a modern quest narrative, only instead of finding treasure or destiny, the characters in this film are consumed by their need to solve a mystery.

In San Francisco in the 1970s, the "Zodiac" killer made a name for himself by sending letters and ciphers to various newspapers in the area, outlining his own crimes, making threats, and taking credit for various crimes it was later found he did not commit. The film points out again and again that, in the scheme of things, this one man does not deserve the enormous amount of effort and manpower put towards his identification and arrest. But manpower he gets, and the film emphasizes just how many lives and careers were affected by this investigation. There's Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr., who confirmed my suspicion that he is brilliant), and Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal): cops, journalists, and cartoonists.

Instead of a neat, concise murder mystery such as we've seen hundreds of, Zodiac presents a sprawling mess of red herrings, trails gone cold, false alarms, paperwork, districts, due process, and frustration. Fincher takes a risk, and as a result, a lot of people will not like this film. There are no easy answers, and nothing is glossed. Years into the famous case, the characters watch themselves portrayed in a movie based on their story, only that film conveniently ends things with a bullet in the guilty man's chest. In real life, according to Zodiac, it's not that simple. How do we prove this man is guilty, and what if he's not? Evidence doesn't necessarily add up perfectly, and just because you want a man to be guilty and this harrowing search to be over, that doesn't mean it'll happen that way. The screenplay (written by James Vanderbilt) doesn't leave anything out - we're privy to the very unsensational phone calls Inspector Armstrong has to make between cities, coordinating information between police stations and the frustration of Inspector Toschi as a handwriting expert deliberates between samples. We're led in wrong directions as suspenseful music and other traditional cues lead us to believe that Robert Graysmith is finally about to have the expected climactic scene with a guy who we think (or hope?) is the killer, just because he's creepy. That climax never happens. All of the evidence amassed by various characters doesn't point to anything but their own obsession with finding out the truth, as Graysmith says, the ability to be able to look in the killer's eyes and know that it's the right man.

Fincher does a superb job at creating that feeling of drawn-out frustration while still keeping us as hooked on the mystery as Graysmith and Toschi, otherwise we'd give up long before they do. I'd be willing to bet that the Academy won't forget this truly unique film come nomination time next year, although the seriously amazing acting by Ruffalo, Gyllenhaal, and Downey will most likely be overlooked in favor of someone impersonating a well-known public figure, so I won't nail-bite over that one. But now, seriously, I'm going to watch some TV shows on DVD until TMNT comes out, and I don't want to hear, think, or talk about the Oscars for at least another six months.

SEE ALSO: www.zodiacmovie.com

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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