Archive for the Z Category

Zabriskie Point (1970) Michaelangelo Antonioni

Posted in Z on December 27, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $7 million

Worldwide Gross: $1 million

Antonioni achieved success in the Italian Neorealism movement with his trilogy of L’avventura, La Notte, and L’eclisse.  He then received international success with his first English release Blow Up.  Zabriskie Point was to capitalize on the success of Easy Rider and be a further statement on American counterculture at the time.  Production was problematic from the start.  Due to the politics of Antonioni and of the film, protests followed the shoot everywhere.  The police attempted to shut down shoots due to the disturbances and shooting at Zabriskie Point was halted because of the infamous orgy scene at the location.  There were even the possibility of charges being brought against Antonioni from the Mann Act which was a statute about transporting women across state lines for sex acts.  The film was released about five years after first conception which meant it was already past its time and received scathing reviews by critics.

I’m really at a loss for what I can say that can be of substance here.  Usually that is the hallmark of a great Antonioni film.  It is easy to say nothing happens but they are about deeper issues.  L’avventura and Blow Up are about a woman disappearing and a person being murdered however you never find out what happened to either.  They end up being about the ennui of the upper class and a guy finding passion in his work again.  Now much like Zabriskie Point I’ve long since forgotten what my original point was and am just trying to pretentiously prattle on as if this will have some substance.

I guess my point was that his previous films were more carefully constructed and his subtext was a little more coherent.  Here I don’t know what the fuck Antonioni is trying to do.  It seems like Antonioni is the kind of person who agreed with the sentiment of the hippies he is portraying and was trying to show the counter culture in a positive light.  But that being said, the hippies are portrayed so moronically in this film that it makes you think he hated hippies and all their pretentious bullshit, or like Inception, is trying to go even deeper with some bullshit subtext.  I’m leaning toward the idea Antonioni was trying to be sympathetic, but I clearly have a deep seeded hatred for hippies.

I don’t think it is a matter of portraying hippies negatively but genuinely hating their drug fueled (hate to use this word so much but fuck it) pretentious crap.  I mean I’m a liberal so it’s not like I’m on some political polar opposite from them.  But within the first five minutes of this film I’m stuck in a meeting of protesters bickering about who would die more for the cause and how everyone needs to read Karl Marx and wondering why they even need meetings in the first place because they are so bourgeois and I find myself rolling my eyes and agreeing with Patton Oswalt that “hippies need to die off“.

That’s really the majority of this movie; dealing with annoying hippies.  The first third we are mainly following Mark as he takes part in meaningless protests and then tries to murder police officers (our hero ladies and gentlemen!).  Mark then steals a plane and meets Daria who is on som spiritual journey or some such crap.  They then go to the titular Zabriskie Point where they talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about absolutely nothing.  Most of their banter is on par with Barbara Walters “If you were a tree, what tree would you be?“  They then fuck, and their fucking is somehow pretentious and boring as well.  I could ramble some more but I think you get my main problem with the movie.

I will give the movie the credit where it is due.  Zabriskie Point is beautifully shot as it is the one thing Antonioni can always be relied upon to do well.  The soundtrack is also well done as Antonioni worked with the big bands of the time to capture some of the music of the time.  Plus this movie has one of the best explosions ever.  Yeah, I’m watching an art film by Michaelangelo Antonioni and I am talking about an explosion like it is a Transformers movie but it is that awesome.  In the end Daria has a dream where she blows up a mansion which is some symbol of bullshit materialism.  Let me tell you, this mansion blows…the fuck…up.  I’m not joking when I say they used most of the budget on this explosion.  I’m serious.  Most of Antonioni’s other films are extremely cheap but most of the budget was used in building a full scale mansion and blowing it the fuck up.  You see every dollar as you see it from fifteen angles, multiple times, and in super slow motion.  If it were in any Expendables movie it would surely make you jizz in your pants.

The acting of the film is not any good.  Antonioni hired two non-actors for the lead roles in Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin.  Both have a great look which is why they became sex symbols of the counter culture.  They received a lot of exposure prior to the films release and were on the cover of Rolling Stone.  However having the look is not as important as knowing how to say a line or to be a convincing character.  Despite being icons they could not get much work after as actors.  Frechette  went off the deep end by robbing a bank as what he calls a revolutionary act then died in minimum security prison of a “weight-lifting accident“.  Not really anything to do with the movie but I found it interesting.

Everyone made mistakes in the 60’s from clothes to music to hair so I can give a pass to Antonioni for Zabriskie Point.  ZP is not a good film.  Sure it’s well shot and has a great soundtrack but that’s all there is.  Antonioni tried to be deep but it only seems that way if you are high as the crew was upon making this.  There are other Antonioni films worth watching, and there are other beautiful films with actual content as well.  Skip the film but watch the house blowing up on YouTube.

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Zyzzyx Road (2006) John Penney

Posted in Z on December 5, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $2 million

Gross: $30

You read that right.  This movie is the record holder for lowest grossing movie of all time with a whopping $30 dollars.  Now you may naturally think this movie sucks a big one if it only made $30 dollars.  After all, my parents spent more pity money on my marching band than John Penney could scrounge up for Zyzzyx Road.  But really, I found something like this to be inevitable.  Okay, maybe not $30 dollars bad but something like it.  The movie industry is in such a state that so many movies are being released some big budget blockbusters are forced out in a few weeks.  What chance do many indie movies have in this kind of market?

This movie never even had aspirations of hitting it big at the box office either.  Zyzzyx had to be released per SAG contracts so it was limped out for six days at one small theater.  It was never intended to do well, but the producers probably never figured it would be now legendary for it.  But now to actually talk about whether this movie is good or not.

The movie is about Grant (Leo Grillo), a bland accountant who was having an affair with Lolita like prostitute Marissa (Katherine Heigl).  Marissa’s jealous boyfriend Joey (Tom Sizemore) attacks them and Grant kills him.  Grant and Marissa are taking the body to Zyzzyx Road to bury the body in the middle of the desert.  However it appears Joey was not dead and is harassing the couple.

Probably the first big red flag that pops up for Zyzzyx Road is that it is not a straight ahead horror movie about Joey attacking this couple but a kind of mind bending thriller.  Within the first five minutes we see our lead Grant, has a bump on the head and is hallucinating things.  So immediately we know we can’t trust our storyteller and that the movie is building to a bullshit twist.  That is not a good start because at that point I also lost interest. Why should I be invested in these characters and what is going on when I know the writer is just stringing me along to pull the rug out from under me?  Although, its not like much happens in the first third of the movie anyway.  Joey pops out of the trunk and the couple lock themselves in the car to avoid being attacked.  So for about 25 minutes we have to endure the horrible banter of these characters as the movie wastes our time.

In the second act you may be partially tricked that the twist has already come.  Grant finally (FINALLY) runs into Joey.  Joey explains though that he was not trying to kill Grant but Marissa because (get this) Marissa is a demon who lures its prey with sex then drains your life force.  Temporarily my interest is piqued as I rather like the concept of Tom Sizemore as a demon slayer who is fighting sex demon Katherine Heigl.  Throw in Mel Gibson as Sizemore’s partner and you have the makings of one of the funniest buddy movies ever.  So the second half is spend with Joey and Grant hunting Marissa.

But then the final twist comes.  Instead of an interesting movie like the one presented in the second act, it turns out Grant is just crazy and everything we know about the movie is completely wrong.  So, in actuality, our movie starts properly in the third act of the movie.  I say that because nothing in the story before hand can be trusted.  Nothing.  Even Heigl’s character undergoes a serious change.  In the first act Heigl is this bumbling blond who’s only contribution to covering up a murder is to constantly suck on Ring Pops.  In the third act she is seemingly a strong independent woman who can survive against both the desert and psycho Grant.  I don’t even think Hitchcock would have the balls to sack our main character two thirds of the way through the movie.  Maybe he did but Hitchcock’s brains finally overrode his balls.  So yeah, after all that time wasted we just get Grant chasing Marissa through the desert like a low budget slasher film.  Although I also liked the comic potential of a movie where a mild mannered accountant has a crazy Vegas weekend with Tom Sizemore.  Tell me you wouldn’t pay to see that movie!  Throw in a cameo with Ben Affleck and you have the next Hangover.

This film actually reminds me of those DTV cash ins at the video store.  It is one of those films made prior to somebody making it big which is then re-released to cash in on their success like Going Overboard.  Either that or it would be some BS sequel to a franchise like Jeepers Creepers 3 or something.  This movie is bad although I didn’t find it legendarily bad.  The movie is built on a BS twist which means the rest of the movie will either be boring or plain suck until it is revealed.  Honestly, this movie needed to be a straight forward horror movie from the start.  Psycho Tom Sizemore killing people may not have been the most inventive idea in the world, but it at least would have been more entertaining.  There is no reason to see this movie though.  Zyzzyx Road is a dull movie and doesn’t even rise to the level of being a so bad it’s funny type bad movie.  Well, at least it is funnier than The Ugly Truth.

Zero Effect (1998) Jake Kasdan

Posted in Z on February 10, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $5 million

Domestic Gross: about $2 million

The story is about the world’s greatest private investigator Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) who is helped by his aide Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller). A shady industrialist (played by Ryan O’Neal) hires Zero to investigate who is blackmailing him but gives no details of why he is being blackmailed. Zero finds out who is doing the blackmailing, but he wants to find out what is going on.

This has been a personal fav of mine for quite some time. This is a small project but everything fires on all cylinders and I love it. What is especially odd is I usually rag on movies being bipolar in their tone but for some reason it works here in Zero Effect. They handle both good comedy and drama and you never feel the same whiplash you would with say Hancock. I guess it could be because the comedy is not so goofy odd ball campy. The comedy is a little more grounded so when they make the switch to gripping drama it is not so drastic. But still I have to give the writers credit.

Daryl Zero is like a little Sherlock Holmes mixed with some Monk-ish quirks and some agoraphobia thrown in for good measure. When he is on the job he is the man but off hours he is a nervous wreck. We can chuckle when he and Arlo have a covert conversation on two public phones sitting right next to one another and at the same time feel bad for Zero when he opens up as to why he is so private.

This is a very funny movie though. I can’t really go into big jokes cause there are none. There are just a lot of good dialog that goes on you enjoy all the way through. For example there is a running joke about Zero doing research on Stark and finds a poem he wrote in college. Zero gets fixated on the fact that Stark screws up and how the words “towards” and “birds” don’t rhyme. Or how Zero is writing his memoirs and he gives little pearls of wisdom like “ Now, a few words on looking for things. When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them. “

The main plot is also very well written and interesting all the way through. A nice idea is finding out who the blackmailer is almost right off the bat and having the mystery be the motive. There is no bullsh*t twist ending or some lame reveal. Instead we are shocked by the character’s actions and drawn into the motivations. Gloria is a completely fleshed out character we care for and what we come to find about Stark is shocking. This is usually the part of the movie that falters but it is one of the stronger traits Zero Effect has.

The acting is all around great. Pullman does a good job playing both the smooth detective and the manic person. Kim Dickens is forgotten for doing a great job as the kind of Irene Adler role. Ryan O’Neal is no longer wooden and gives a really intense performance. And this movie is a constant reminder of how good Ben Stiller was and how much he pisses me off now. In this movie he is so subtle yet so funny I get so mad when I see him bouncing off the walls for some piece of sh*t.

This review was probably very boring because it is boring to hear someone gush about a movie. I just can’t help it though; I really like this movie. This is one of those gems that you find when you do a project like this bomb thread. It is a movie I revisit again and again through the years. Check it out.

Zodiac (2007) David Fincher

Posted in Z on January 27, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $65 million
Worldwide Gross: $84 million

I don’t know why, but writing this review was so hard to do.  I’m not even sure you could call it writers block because if you were to come up to me I would probably talk your ear off.  But to actually put it all down on paper and organize it was so hard.  Production wise, there is not a whole lot to really say.  Originally Fincher wanted to do Ellroy’s Black Dahlia book but it was given to DePalma when Fincher wanted to do a 5 hour miniseries with it.  Instead, Fincher picked the Zodiac killer since it was a more personal story and he remembered growing up with all the buzz in the city he grew up.  He actually did his own research for the movie by interviewing old witnesses and having two of the Zodiac victims be consultants on the movie.  Fincher was thought of as a perfectionist director and Gyllenhaal was upset that he would have to do upwards of 70 to he sometimes says 90 takes of a scene.   Zodiac was a flop and Fincher (and I actually agree) blames the failure on audiences expecting a Saw or a Se7en slasher flick and being the most vocal trolls of the movie.  Zodiac did receive great critical praise and has done better on DVD sales.

Is it any good?  Yeah I really like this movie.  What I like is that even though its called a thriller, it is not just a thriller.  This is a thriller, a true crime story and a character study.  And I think a movie is really great when it can transcend the normal genre conventions.  This movie can appeal to a lot of people depending on what they want.  As a crime story, you can tell that Fincher is very passionate and has done his homework on the subject.  We get pulled into the minutiae of the case and we are just as interested trying to reconstruct who the Zodiac is.  As a thriller it is very atmospheric.  The scenes where the Zodiac is stalking his victims is very creepy and scary.  There is also a scene near the end with Gyllenhaal that is one of the scarier moments in a few years.  The part I probably like the most is the character study portion.  We get a look at people where curiosity consumes and almost destroys their lives.  Even the tagline on the poster is “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer”.  Its natural to be curious and to wonder about some of these unsolvable mysteries like Zodiac and Black Dahlia.  But there is a point as with anything where it becomes unhealthy and you have to ask “When will it be over?  Why do you have to know?”  Also to put things in perspective.  How many murders occur in a year and how many people die in other countries around the world?  Why do we devote so much attention and anguish to a person like the Zodiac?

Zodiac is a long movie.  Zodiac is a very long movie.  So this is not a movie I will watch often.  However there are a lot of elements and they are all perfectly executed which should bring people to watch it.  This will cramp your ass, but it is worth it.  Zodiac is a great movie.