The Fly (1986)

Veronica (Geena Davis) is a reporter for a science magazine, scoping out a party for up-and-coming scientists. There she meets Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), an eccentric yet strangely charismatic guy who invites her back to his place to reveal an invention that will change the world as they know it. Upon arriving at his apartment, Veronica learns of Seth’s Telepods, devices that allow the user to instantaneously transport something from one place to another. At first they use an inanimate object, but the plan is to move living things, and then eventually Seth himself. Hilarity ensues.
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Blood Simple

Blood Simple, the directorial/writing debut of the Coen brothers Joel and Ethan, is a sticky, sweaty, clammy picture about deceit and confusion, set in the heart of Texas. Marty (Dan Hedaya) runs a bar, and is the boss of Ray (John Getz) and Meurice (Samm-Art Williams). Distrustful of his wife Abby (Frances McDormand), Dan has hired private investigator Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to look into what she does with her time. It transpires that Abby is sleeping with Ray, so Marty hires Loren to kill them both whilst he is away on a fishing trip. What with this being a Coen film, things don’t necessarily go to plan, but it is the direction the events took, and the motives involved that I found both interesting and compelling.

Tonally, this is probably most similar to Fargo or No Country For Old Men amongst the Coens’ oeuvre. There’s not a great deal of humour surrounding the violence and devious plotting going on, and the location of Texas adds a great deal to the setting, just as Minnesota did for Fargo and Texas again for No Country. I found this lack of comedy to be a bit jarring – there are some moments of Coen-esque quirkiness certainly, and a couple of jokes in the script, but for the most part this is played dead seriously. The brothers can do serious very well, but personally I prefer their lighter efforts.
Had I not known this was a Coen film (and had it not starred Frances McDormand) then I don’t think I’d have immediately associated it with them. If anything, the structure of the narrative felt far too linear and ordinary, with the exception of perhaps missing an opening and closing scene most directors would have felt obliged to leave in. We’re fed the plot in dribs and drabs, discovering who each of the characters is and their relationships to one another just a couple of minutes after we need to.
Though he isn’t necessarily amongst the lead trio of the film, I would class Walsh’s performance as the greatest in the movie. His Visser is the human embodiment of a lizard, a slimy, oily gumshoe with a malicious streak and a rasping laugh that still haunts my dreams. He plays the part so well that I can’t believe I haven’t come across the actor in much else. For my sins I only really know him from Wild Wild West (he was the train driver). Can anyone recommend any of his other work?
I loved the musical choices in the film, especially Ray mopping up blood to the sounds of The Four Tops’ It’s the Same Old Song, an almost Tarantino-like retro song choice. The camerawork too was at times inspired; the marriage of lighting and camera movement revealing Visser’s cigarette lighter on a table, and the oppressive close shots inside the bar intensifying the humid atmosphere.
I can’t imagine this film cost very much to make – the biggest set pieces involve a car and a shovel, and a gun, knife and a window – yet it’s easily as gripping as many other big budget blockbusters. It reminded me of the likes of Glengarry Glen Ross or Reservoir Dogs, neither one which involves a lot of spectacle, but they have great characters and dialogue, which really is in my opinion more important. I’d have liked a last shot of Meurice – one of the coolest characters in film, check out his bar-top shuffle – but other than that the ending was pretty well contained and executed. Whilst by no means the Coens’ best, this is still definitely worth a watch.
Choose film 8/10

Zodiac

Amidst the 4th of July celebrations in California in 1969, two young romantics drive out to a secluded spot the locals refer to as Lover’s Lane. The mood is of anticipation; anything could happen as the other kids drive away, our lovestruck pair left alone. There’s a spark of romance, playful glances, touches, the gentle ribbing of one another as they become closer. And then they’re shot in cold blood and left for dead with no word of explanation by an unseen killer. This murder, along with the many that follow it, dramatically changes the lives of many people, but our focus here is a select three; Mark Ruffalo’s cop, Robert Downey Jr’s journalist and Jake Gyllenhall’s cartoonist, as they each set out to catch the killer. Their motives are different – Ruffalo’s David Toschi wants justice, RDJ’s Paul Avery is out to further his career and Gyllenhall’s Robert Graysmith is obsessed with the puzzles the killer sends to the local papers, but all three will suffer in terms of careers, personal lives and sanity at the hands of this killer.
Based on the real life Zodiac killer (the influence of the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry, here namechecked when Toschi can’t sit through a showing), the case remained unsolved when the lead suspect died some years ago, and it’s this sense of inconclusiveness that runs throughout the film – you know there will not be a satisfactory ending. Plaudits should be laden for the realism of the film – not since All the President’s Men has so much paperwork been completed – but unfortunately the dreary, depressing side of catching a killer rubs begins to rub off onto the film during its overlong running time. Director David Fincher (Benjamin Button, Seven) is usually so adept at keeping interest, even when Morgan Freeman went to a library, but here not even a cast including Elias Koteas, Philip Baker Hall, Brian Cox, Anthony Edwards, John Carroll Lynch, Adam Goldberg and Clea Duvall can raise this above tedium. There’s a good film in here somewhere, and a good edit could bring it out. More Downey Jr. and Brian Cox couldn’t hurt though, they’re the best parts of the film and are criminally underused.

Choose life 7/10