Sunday, March 04, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, I watched most of the film version of Shopgirl on tv, and I must admit, it had me in tears. I found heartbreaking Steve Martin's elegant, bleak, and sad story of a man unwilling to open his heart and life wide enough to find love, and the impact these limitations had on another. I'm now listening to the novella, read by Martin himself, and find that it is unexpectedly perceptive about relationships and life. Martin has a real gift for language, although one can't help but wonder just how autobiographical the story truly is, and whether Martin can not only perceive his own emotional limitations, but whether he can also expand them.

This was a 2 movie (in theaters!) weekend for me - Notes on a Scandal and Zodiac.
Notes on a Scandal is an acting tour de force by its stars, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. The elegance Dench oozes as "M" in the Bond films is completely missing as she plays Barbara, a bitter old "spinster" (read: lesbian) who becomes enamored, and then obsessed, with Sheba, played by Cate Blanchett. Barbara is a long time teacher in a London inner city school for not particularly promising students. One wonders initially if her caustic nature and sarcasm simply are there to hide her deep loneliness. When Sheba joins the school as an art teacher, and extends the hand of friendship to Barbara, Barbara is giddy as a school girl. Only after Barbara discovers Sheba's affair with a student, do we get to see Barbara's darker side . . . and realize the fantasy world she has created in her mind for herself and Sheba. Neither actress won an Oscar for her work in this movie, which makes me wonder just how good Helen Mirren and Jennifer Hudson must have been to take the Oscars home.
There were plenty of moviegoers today at the 1:45 showing of Zodiac. It is 2 1/2 hours long, but doesn't lag, and I very much enjoyed the movie, and the stellar cast. The emphasis in the first half of the movie is on the Zodiac murders and on reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) and detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) - the detective who Steve McQueen emulated in "Bullit" (a very cool movie), and who also formed the basis for Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry - a movie about the "Scorpio" serial killer terrorizing SF. Amazingly, Dirty Harry was released just 2 years after the first Zodiac killing, and while the investigation was still in full swing.
The second "half" of the movie revolves around SF Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith's (Jake Gyllenhaal) ballooning obsession with Zodiac, and his continuing work on the case while researching his book (upon which the movie is based), even after Avery and Toschi have tried - at least on the surface - to move on. Graysmith is a former Eagle Scout who is viewed as a goody two shoes at the newspaper, and nicknamed the "Retard" by the cynical reporters and staff. Gyllenhaal is good in the role, which requires the sort of aw-shucks demeanor that seems to come naturally to him. His interactions with the cynical Avery are fun to watch.
The movie does a fantastic job of re-creating the atmosphere of the last '60s and early '70s. There is a fair amount of gallows humor in the movie, and much of it comes from Downey. His initially dapper (love the cravats!) '60s drug addicted reporter becomes a target for "Z", and his obsession increases until he leaves the Chronicle, and continues a downward spiral into addiction. Toschi is himself removed from homicide, and investigating the case, when another note arrives in 1978 from Zodiac, and Chronicle reporter Armistead Maupin accuses Toschi of writing it himself (he is later cleared).
John Carroll Lynch - I know him as Drew Carey's cross-dressing brother in the Drew Carey show - plays Arthur Leigh Allen - and he is terrifying as the suspect believed to be the Zodiac killer. Allen died shortly after he was finally identified by one of his victims - 22 years after the attack. Because the murders were committed in Vallejo, Napa and SF, there was a tragic lack of communication between the law enforcement agencies; these were the days before the internet, emails, and even fax machines - and possible leads and clues were simply overlooked or not followed up on. There is a running joke throughout the movie that key evidence is frequently derived by simply going to the library. . . .
Both Notes on a Scandal and Zodiac are highly recommended.


Blogger EditThis said...

I absolutely loved the book Shopgirl, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie didn't blow. I highly recommend reading Martin's second novel, The Pleasure of my Company.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

edit - I downloaded it today!

10:00 AM  
Blogger ffleur said...

I think Steve Martin is a very intelligent, well-read man. Having said that, like most comedians, I think he also has "issues". His seem to manifest in relationships that don't last. You could be correct that he was revealing a bit of his soul in the book.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

ffleur - I think you are right about Martin. I also found that I could relate to both of the main characters - Mirabelle who is a bit of an oddball loner who longs to be loved, and Ray, who too is searching for love, but keeps everyone at a safe distance . . . I did really enjoy the book.

10:28 AM  
Blogger sage said...

I'll have to read the Martin book, I remember thinking it sounded good when it first came out. The movie Zodiac sounds interesting--I don't remember much about the killings, but I'd been in elementary/jr. high and on the east coast at the time.

10:54 AM  
Blogger LA said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:16 PM  
Blogger LA said...

I second edit's recommendation of The Pleasure of My Company. It was fantastic, possibly even better than Shopgirl which, ironically enough, is 3rd in my Netflix queue.

I also think both of Steve's books are autobiographical to a degree. His personal art collection was open to the public a few years ago, and there was a single painting from a very unknown female artist that struck me as suspicious for possibly being by the real life Mirabelle.

Diane - Everyone, critics and fans alike, are raving about Zodiac. I have a book by an FBI profiler called "The Cases that Haunt Us," so I reread the chapter about the Zodiac yesterday. Unfortunately, a fresh recollection of the details led to nightmares last night, so I'm going to have to miss this film.

12:30 PM  
Blogger prunella jones said...

I can't wait to see both of those movies. I've never read the Steve Martin but I'll have to check it out.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

sage - give it a whirl!

la - I have been listening to The Pleasure of My Company, and laughing out loud as I walk the dogs with my iPod. Also, Zodiac isn't a really terrifying film - the murders themselves are not lingered upon, and the emphasis is on the reporters and police . . . there is not that much time spent with the likely killer . . .

prunella - both books are really good - Pleasure is funnier - more classic Martin style - Shopgirl is more poignant

8:51 AM  
Blogger M-M-M-Mishy said...

I rented Shopgirl a while ago. Personally, I prefered the book to the movie, but there were times where I found Jason Schwartzman to be a little over the top. It may have just been the mood I was in when I watched it. I have to get The Pleasure of My Company next. Steve Martin is a very talented storyteller.

I have to see Zodiac soon! I've heard only good things.

9:35 AM  
Blogger v said...

I must admit that I was ignorant to the writing prowess of Steve Martin. I thought it was ain to a vanity project like the children's books every other celeb comes out with. And while I haven't read any of his books, I have only read amazing reviews and comments about them. He must be quite the writer. Great post!

6:03 PM  
Blogger GetFlix said...

Diane, I didn't read your Zodiac review as I want to see it!!

7:02 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

i am glad you took my recommendation to heart on "Notes on a Scandal." I saw Zodiac this weekend, and was seriously unimpressed. It played like a bad A&E docu-drama. But Jake was dreamy and hot as hell so that made of for the suckiness of it all.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

ryan - yes, thanks for the Notes recomendation. U didn't even dig on Robt Downey Jr.? I do think the film may have more appeal to someone like me - who is old enough to remember those times - not only surrounding the murders, but just the atmosphere in the late 60s

9:15 PM  
Blogger PixieGaf said...

I had the chance to see ShopGirl a few days ago but I passed on it. Good to know that ShopGirl is worth watching now I am going to have to beg my friend to lend me her ShopGirl DVD.

7:08 PM  
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10:00 PM  

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