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Zodiac is an elusive subject to capture

25 Sep


Director David Fincher makes an attempt to capture the most elusive and mysterious figure in law enforcement history. He is no stranger to serial killers, but his interpretation of Zodiac by Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) gives audiences a front row seat to Graysmith’s obsession with the infamous case that terrorized Northern California and frustrated investigators for decades.

Fincher’s visual style and attention to detail are impeccable. He takes his time with the characters and attempts to replicate these events as accurately as possible from Graysmith’s perspective, but it does lead to a slow pace and a long run time. The cast is formidable, however, Gyllenhaal’s performance isn’t nearly as strong  as Mark Ruffalo as Detective Dave Toschi and Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery.  It is difficult to satisfy audiences with such an ending, but Fincher remains true to the story and keeps “Hollywood” out of it as much as possible.


Adam’s Grade: B+

Chuck’s Grade: B

Only God Forgives is a polarizing acid trip

8 Aug


Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to Drive felt like a polarizing acid trip. You either love or hate his approach to filmmaking. It is stylistic with substance to back it up. Only God Forgives is no exception, but I found the stylistic side dominating the substance in this film. The symbolism and metaphors mix with the spirituality as audiences follow Julian (Ryan Gosling), a drug-smuggler living in Bangkok is compelled to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s death.

Unfortunately, the plot is thin and its pace is uneven. However, Larry Smith’s cinematography is beautiful and his distinct color pallet collaborates with Cliff Martinez brooding score to help Beth Mickle achieve her dark and dangerous production design. This film will surely divide audiences because Gosling appears lost at times and is not technically equipped to carry out the martial art requirements of this role. The sublime succumbs to the ugly underworld and the film cannot recover.


Adam’s Grade: B

Chuck’s Grade: N/A

Kill Me Again and again and again

23 May


I first saw Kill Me Again on VHS in the early nineties and thought it was an entertaining thriller with a modern film noir twist. Unfortunately, the movie was not called Live on Forever because it was found in the $1.99 DVD pile with other forgotten titles from 1980s featuring notable actors. Watching it again twenty-three years later gives me an opportunity to re-evaluate the film from a different perspective. I still think the story is good, but its execution is clunky at best. Val Kilmer’s acting is above par and his then wife Joanne Whalley-Kilmer is a serviceable femme fatale, but Michael Madsen’s limited range has become comical over the years to the point I cringe every time he takes a moment to wince his eyes and speak. Besides Madsen’s one note performance and Kilmer’s button down shirt tucked into his jeans the film still has some value. It’s worth at least $1.99.


Chuck’s Grade Twenty-Three Years Ago: B

Chuck’s Grade in 2013: C

Adam’s Grade Twenty-Three Years Ago: NBY (Not Born Yet)

Adam’s Grade in 2013: D

Dark City is out of this world

31 Mar


In 1998, I remember Roger Ebert exclaiming to Gene Siskel that Dark City was one of the best films he had ever seen ever. I was more shocked than Siskel when Roger gave such a definitive statement. My interest was aroused and I immediately sought out this neo-noir sci-fi film mentioned in the same breath as Metropolis. Since then, I have probably watched Dark City twenty times and still have not grown tired of this stylistic thriller, even though I know the film’s juicy secret it continues to entertain my imagination. Rarely, do films have this affect on me, but director Alex Proyas creates the right balance of style and substance that keeps the film interesting and something I would recommend to others. Rufus Sewell’s unfamiliar face helps Dark City keep its authenticity while Hurt, Sutherland, and Connelly provide credence. There are many memorable moments, but the Strangers and their purpose for being there is what pulls audiences into their world.


Chuck’s Grade: A

Adam’s Grade: B

Sin City is a nice place to visit

22 Mar


Robert Rodriguez realizes Frank Miller’s dark and violent world of Sin City with a visually exciting film that truly captures the graphic novel’s aesthetic strengths. The combination of modern cinema technology and film noir storytelling successfully entertains audiences, even though at times the violence can be excessive for those unfamiliar with Miller and Rodriguez’s tastes.

The script integrates three storylines from the novel. First, “The Hard Goodbye”, where Marv (Mickey Rourke), muscular outcast looking for the person responsible for killing his true love Goldie. Second, “The Big Fat Kill”, where Dwight (Clive Owen), a man who takes the law into his own hands against the city’s corrupt law enforcement. Lastly, “That Yellow Bastard”, where Officer Hartigan (Bruce Willis), a cop who risks his life to protect Nancy (Jessica Alba) from a pedophile (Nick Stahl). All three stories are engaging and the actors green screen performances are top-notch.

Sin City is nice to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.


Adam’s Grade: A-

Chuck’s Grade: A-

Memento is a memorable revenge story

6 Feb

Picture 39

Christopher Nolan assembles a psychological thriller that is unlike most films. Based on a short story by his brother Jonathan, Momento uses non-linear editing style along with two timelines, one in black-and-white and the other in color. The black-and-white scenes are in chronological order while the color sequences are in reverse. At first, it is confusing, but once the structural device is understood, the film reveals its unique story of revenge.

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), is looking for his wife’s killer, but he has anterograde amnesia, which doesn’t let him store new memories. He has developed a system of recollection using hand-written notes, tattoos, and Polaroid photos. Audiences are drawn to Leonard’s character because he is heroic and tragic at the same time. Nolan puts the viewer into Leonard’s shoes and you cannot help but feel his frustration. The cast gives everything they got to produce one of the most “memorable” films of all time.


Adam’s Grade: A

Chuck’s Grade: A


22 Jan


Chinatown was director Roman Polanski’s last film made in the U.S. before returning/fleeing to Europe. This film is a neo-noir classic written by Robert Towne and is one of the best movies ever made.  Towne’s clever writing captures the voice of a Los Angeles detective story filled with betrayal, greed, and murder. Polanski direction guides Jack Nicholson (Jake Gittes) and Faye Dunaway (Mrs. Mulwray) through a masterful drama filled with suspense and surprise. The two leading actors have an intoxicating chemistry together that creates a sense of danger every time they share the screen, but one of the most memorable scenes (besides the ending) is when Polanski makes an appearance as the unforgettable Man with a Knife. The combination of stylish direction, adept performances, powerful writing, and a mesmerizing soundtrack places Chinatown at the top of my list of great all-time films.


Adam’s Grade: A

Chuck’s Grade: A+

Gangster Squad shoots itself in the foot.

20 Jan


The Gangster Squad was called in to clean up the streets of Los Angeles during the late 1940s, but what was really needed was a detective that could find out why such a talented cast of actors could not do this film justice. Sean Penn stars at the ruthless LA crime lord Mickey Cohen, but his make-up and his demonstrative demeanor reminded me of a character in a dime novel. I will admit at times he was entertaining when he was trying to kill someone, but my tolerance for gratuitous violence these days is waning thin. The good guys aka the Gangster Squad is a one-dimensional unit of crime fighters that do not add anything special to Sgt. John O’Mara’s (Josh Brolin) assignment. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were the biggest disappointments. Their relationship was not developed and seemed only there to conveniently show up when the script began to unravel. Gangster Squad shoots itself in the foot.


Chuck’s Grade: C

Adam’s Grade: N/A

Se7en is so good it could be a sin

18 Oct

David Fincher’s Se7en is one of the most visceral and visually captivating films I’ve ever seen. Darius Khondji (Director of Photography) and Fincher collaborate to create an urban environment that is almost unlivable. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is a detective preparing for retirement and his replacement, Det. David Mills (Brad Pitt) is a hot-head transfer that doesn’t understand Somerset’s city. The detectives become involved in a sadistic serial killer case known as John Doe, whose murders methods correspond to the seven deadly sins.

Andrew Kevin Walker’s brilliant script uses some standard crime-thriller fare, but overall writes a unique screenplay that focuses on the aftermath of the murders. His genius is keeping the killer a mystery, until the final thirty minutes, not to mention devising one of the greatest endings of all time. Fincher and Walker have created a dark and unforgettable masterpiece that seduce people into repeated viewings. Se7en is so good it could be a deadly sin.


Adam’s Grade: A

Chuck’s Grade: A+

Brick is a neo noir classic

28 Sep

This film caught me completely off-guard when I watch it on DVD a couple of years ago.  Here was a neo-noir film set in a contemporary high school where an underground drug ring was somehow connected to Brendan’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) ex-girlfriend’s murder. The film has all the classic noir characteristics that make up a great 1930s detective story: noir vocabulary, femme fatales, mysterious characters, unique names, double crosses, and an honest “detective” that methodically gets to the truth.

Brick is writer/director Rian Johnson’ s debut feature film, which earns him several festival awards and nominations in the process.  It puts him on the map as a talented and up and coming director. Gordon-Levitt gives a convincing performance in the leading role, but Lukas Haas as “The Pin” steals the scenes with his character’s quirky nuances. Nora Zehetner and Meagan Good play the roles of the femme fatales perfectly, and the film’s twists keeps the audiences guessing  until the very end.


Chuck’s Grade: A

Adam’s Grade: B+