Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Team to Beat

The last time the Phillies were in the playoffs, I was in sixth grade, Walker, Texas Ranger had just debuted, and Meat Loaf was would end up having the best-selling single of the year.

Needless to say, it's been quite some time. Hopefully I'll be able to get used to it.

Weekend You-Tubery: Power in Numbers Edition

Feist - 1 2 3 4 (live on Letterman)

Spoon - The Underdog

The Avalanches - Frontier Psychiatrist

Kylie Minogue - Come Into My World

Friday, September 28, 2007

An Open Letter to the Philadelphia Phillies

Come on, Phillies, what are you guys doing? It's late September. You're the freaking Phillies. This is the point of the season where you're supposed to be playing just well enough to give us all hope that maybe you'll tie for the wild card or something, only to have us trudge into work on Monday disappointed and trying our hardest to remember what we were doing in 1993. It's a tradition.

You're certainly not supposed to be on top of the NL East. Sportswriters are certainly not supposed to be using the words "historic collapse" to refer to a team from New York.

I don't get it. Is this some cruel new way of toying with our emotions? Because that wouldn't be funny. I haven't stopped believing, though; you guys still aren't mathematically eliminated from sitting out the post-season. If anyone can pull this out, it's you.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Here's Your Fortune: "Your Dearest Wish Will Come True"

This is, without a doubt, the most promising fortune I have ever removed from a cookie. No sayings from Confucius, no bland generalities, just a straightforward promise that my dearest wish will become a reality.

And yet, I'm less than optimistic. I've seen enough Twilight Zone episodes to know that getting your dearest wish is often just the preface to your horribly ironic comeuppance. Like that guy who finally had time to read all his books after humanity was wiped out by nuclear war, but then stepped on his glasses (wouldn't he have been too busy trying to survive in a postapocalyptic wasteland to be kicking back with a good book in the first place?). Also, they don't give a time frame for this dream-fulfillment; what if it takes place . . . an hour before I die! Then Rod Serling would appear and talk about Joe McCarthy or something. In addition, I'm not an extraordinarily decisive person, so I'm not sure I could tell you what my dearest wish is. Is that a prerequisite for it coming true? Or will I know it when it happens?

My final quibble is that I got this fortune in a Chinese buffet that is closing at the end of the week, so I really have no recourse if things don't pan out. Maybe they pulled out all of their pie-in-the-sky fortunes, like "World peace is just around the corner" and "That cute barista is totally into you," knowing they would face no influx of outraged patrons with their dreams still unfulfilled.

But aside from that, wow! My dearest wish. I can't wait.

My New Goal in Life...

is to gain entrance to the All Candy Expo, a convention that I previously assumed was made up for that Simpsons episode. The candy lingerie is probably one of the least erotic things I have ever seen, and the candy grillz and candy bottle cap make my teeth hurt just looking at them.

Also, Lauren Graham's father is a candy industry lobbyist? That must have been an awesome childhood. But does the candy industry really need lobbyists? I mean, everyone loves candy. It's delicious!

On the Road, Again (and Again, and Again...)

I finally got around to reading On the Road just in time for the book's 50th anniversary. The book didn't really do much for me (I'm either too old, too dull, or too averse to travelling to get into it), but I was struck by this original (and unused) book cover, drawn by Kerouac himself. I thought it was interesting that the way Kerouac set the title on a diagonal, as though moving into the distance, anticipated a design element that would appear in several later editions.

While I was tracking down those images, though, I came across this sizable collection of On the Road front covers from around the world. Some are pulpy (this one from Britain, or this one from Germany), others are artistic (such as this Italian cover or this British one), and others look like they should be the cover of an S.E. Hinton book. Editions in the Netherlands seem to be big on upside-down American flag imagery.

Beyond that, things get kind of weird. This Dutch cover has a nice photo, but the font, placement, and color of the title are all too ultra-modern and sleek in ways that the book is not. A Ukrainian cover flirts with satire, while this one from Croatia seems to have borrowed an image from the cover of Revolver. And the less said about this Chinese cover, the better; is this how the world's most populous nation envisions America?

One thing that didn't surprise me is that the vast majority of covers (except those with only text or an author photo) has some sort of car-related images. Interestingly, I only saw one reference to music in the whole set of covers, and bebop is certainly more central to the novel than any mode of transportation. It almost seems like Kerouac and car culture just got wrapped up in some post-war American mythology which may never get untangled in my lifetime.

Why the Good Lord Make Bike Lanes

As someone who gets nervous even when I have to drive past slow-moving bicyclists on wide roads with good-sized shoulders, watching this video filled me with a combination of grudging admiration and sheer abject terror. I'm sure the world would be a better place if more people rode bikes rather than driving everywhere, but come on . . . these guys are just assholes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Yep, I'm Still a Week Behind

Judging from recent stories about Pitchfork, American Apparel, and Wes Anderson*, I'd say that the Onion is now devoting itself full-time to the tearing down of hipster darlings.

In loosely related Pitchfork-bashing news, this headline at Gawker (via Pandagon) says it all: Pitchfork Has Way More Reviews Written By Guys Named Mark Than By Ladies With Any Name. Maybe that's what drove one female writer to throw around terms like "tampon rock": the only way to get noticed is to draw accusations of misogyny.

*Personally, I like the fact that Wes Anderson flicks are so formulaic. I got into them waiting to see the shot of people diving into a pool, the slow pan over all of the cast members near the end, the slow motion part right before the credits, and the cameos from their usual stable of players.

"Anyone who requests this drink should also get a T-shirt that says 'I am an asshole, please take my money.'"

Anthony Bourdain is pretty much awesome, even if I don't know what he's talking about most of the time.

I'm so glad I'm not a molecular gastronomist right now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Comments On Week-Old A.V. Club Pieces, Part II

The idea behind "Random Roles" (actors comment on various projects, big and small, in which they appeared) is a little disappointing in execution; most actors seem far too reluctant to admit that they've done some really crappy movies and TV shows. Another problem: with features on Steve Zahn, Jeff Garlin, and Kevin Nealon, I'm starting to think that the writers at the A.V. Club are actually compiling a massive archive on the making of Daddy Day Care.

I must say, though, that Kevin Nealon's description of a movie musical based on his and Dana Carvey's "Hans & Franz" sketches sounds surprisingly watchable, due largely to the involvement of Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel. And also that it would be a musical.

Well, This is Reassuring

It seems with all the commotion over shoe bombs and liquids and suspicious T-shirts, the TSA has cut back on checking for box cutters.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Was There: An Oral History of 1997

I have once again fallen hopelessly behind in my RSS reading, so I'm only now delving into this AV Club list of the landmark albums of 1997. While I appreciate any attempt to deflate the current wave of boomer self-congratulation, I must voice one objection to this look back: it makes me feel really old. On the bright side, though, now I think I'm old enough to gather the young 'uns around my rocking chair to hear my stories of the way music was when I was their age. So join me as I look back on my personal memories of the Onion's picks:

1. Radiohead, OK Computer - I loved "Creep" but didn't much care for The Bends, so it would seem that my interest in Radiohead would have been nipped in the bud. "Paranoid Android" was such a shock to my senses, though, that I instantly became a fan of the band. While I didn't technically listen to the whole album until I was in college, I had prematurely decided that it would be one of my favorites. Turns out I was right!

2. Modest Mouse, The Lonesome Crowded West - Who? I may have been faintly aware of the existence of a band called Modest Mouse prior to the unexpected success of "Float On," but certainly not this far back. No music geek points for me.

3. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out - Back in the day, my only real outlet for music criticism was the record review section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That's where I first heard of Sleater-Kinney, when I read a rave review of Call the Doctor. Dig Me Out got four stars, and I thought to myself, I should probably check these gals out. Nine years later, Sleater-Kinney was going on hiatus, I still didn't own this CD, and I desperately snatched up a ticket to one of their final shows to assuage my guilt at sleeping on them for so long. It was a great show, but I still haven't bought this album for some reason.

4. Elliott Smith, Either/Or - As far as I was concerned, Elliott Smith was the guy who sang that song from Good Will Hunting. I rooted for him to win the Oscar because I was at least sophisticated enough to know that he was a lot better than Celine Dion.

5. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One - Take the anecdote behind Dig Me Out, only replace references to Sleater-Kinney with Yo La Tengo. Yo La Tengo are still together of course, and I did acquire this album last year. Sometimes I wonder how my life would be different if I had actually gotten into all of the hip bands of which I was vaguely aware at the time. Probably nothing would be different except for an annoying habit of trying to work Yo La Tengo into as many conversations as possible.

6. Spiritualized, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space - Didn't these guys have a song in a Volkswagen commercial? Cool album title, though.

7. Company Flow, Funcrusher Plus - El-P was in Company Flow, right? I own I'll Sleep When You're Dead but I fear it might be another ten years before I have really gotten into that album.

8. Björk, Homogenic - You know, I can't really remember when I became aware of the existence of Bjork, but I'm fairly sure that I would have hated her at that point of my life.

9. Belle And Sebastian, The EPs - I really, really wish I'd been into Belle and Sebastian when I was 15; it's hard to think of another band that can appeal equally to gawky adolescents and sophisticated rock snobs.

10. Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death / Wu-Tang Clan, Wu-Tang Forever - I was just getting out of my "Rap's not music! They don't play instruments!" phase, but wasn't far enough along that I was, you know, listening to the stuff.

11. Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Supa Dupa Fly - I didn't get it. Was she wearing a garbage bag in that video? Somewhere between "Get Ur Freak On" and "Work It," I finally realized how awesome Missy was.

12. Erykah Badu, Baduizm - Now this, I liked, at least as far as the one song I knew. If I'd only bought the CD, I could have probably gotten into the Roots a good four or five years early.

13. Mogwai, Young Team - I'm still not quite sure what "post-rock" is. Do you think my adolescent self could have figured it out?

14. Daft Punk, Homework - Boy oh boy, I would have hated Daft Punk, not being able to see the difference between their house music and the generic dance-pop I was forced to listen to at school dances. The duo didn't show up on my radar until 2001, when "One More Time" was all over MTV2. Based on the video, I just assumed they were Japanese.

15. Helium, The Magic City - Oh, sure, these guys! Um...did they have an album called No Guitars or something? (Yes they did.) I think I read a review of that once.

16. The Promise Ring, Nothing Feels Good - OK, I've seriously never heard of this band. This is getting quite embarrassing.

17. Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind - Finally! An album I actually owned in the year 1997! (OK, it was early 1998. Close enough) I bought this with the prize money I won in a writing contest (the featured speaker that day, incidentally was the editor of a now-defunct music magazine, my first glimpse of a real-life record snob.) It was the first Dylan album I owned and, in retrospect, not the best place to begin one's appreciation of Mr. Zimmerman. Still, it did the trick, even if it took me a few more years to fully catch up with his career.

18. Other essential 1997 listening: Oh, who cares at this point? It turns out I shouldn't be depressed that it's been 10 years since these albums were released; I should be depressed that my musical taste ten years ago was so lame, and I still haven't finished my remedial listening.

I can only hope that this won't become a recurring feature. If so, I guess I have a year to prepare myself for the shame of knowing that when In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star were in stores, I was busy talking up Rebekah to anyone who would listen.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weekend You-Tubery: Equinox Edition

Bob Dylan - Summer Days

Van Morrison - When the Leaves Come Falling Down

Yo La Tengo - Autumn Sweater

Fair-Weather Fandom

Well, this is certainly more like it.

Over the past few seasons, I've come to the conclusion that it's much more enjoyable to follow a sports team when they are playing well than when they are sucking like lampreys.

Hopefully, those hideous 1933 uniforms won't be credited for the team's turnaround.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ya See, Black People Ask For Iced Tea Like This...

Today on Bill O'Reilly's Adventures in the Real World, our intrepid hero ventures into the wilds of Harlem, where he is shocked to discover that the people there do not talk like they are characters in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Later, he took a bus to Chinatown and was disappointed that no intricately choreographed kung-fu fights broke out, then took a stroll through Little Italy where, to his surprise, nobody offered him a spicy meat-a-ball or fitted him for cement shoes.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Adventures of Frat Boy Mumia*

I have to say, it's really hard for me to get worked up over the tasering of young Andrew Meyer.

I should start with all of the usual disclaimers: of course I don't think people should be subdued and arrested for asking questions at a forum. Even if that person is screaming and running around and causing a disturbance, it doesn't give the police the right to overreact the way that they did. And while I think that tasers can serve a useful purpose, they can also pose a danger in the hands of overzealous officers (see here for a similar, but vastly more disturbing, case). And it certainly shouldn't matter how obnoxious (or self-promoting) the victim is, or that he's turned himself into an internet celebrity with the hottest catchphrase since "Leave Britney Alone."

Honestly, though, do these sorts of stunts prove anything besides the fact that privileged people who try really hard to be arrested are usually successful? I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I'm guessing that the majority of our country's massive prison population is not composed of white college kids who disrupted a speech by a U.S. Senator (or people who refused to show their receipt as they were leaving an electronics store). The real miscarriages of justice are generally aimed at people who weren't trying to get into trouble so they could prove a point, and who didn't have the foresight to videotape or blog their experience.

It was one of those strange coincidences that the night the story first hit the internets, I happened to read this post at the Group News Blog, inspired by the case of the Jena 6, and I suppose that's why I'm a bit sensitive to the essential inanity of the taser story. There is enough injustice in the world to go around, from racism and overly severe drug laws to extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay. I don't need Andrew Meyer to convince me that some douche being tasered is the greatest threat to our liberty.

*Title blatantly stolen from TBogg.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

So, How 'Bout That Local Sports Franchise?

A few days ago, this was just satire. After the events of Monday night, however, it's starting to look more and more like conventional wisdom.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weekend You-Tubery: Traveling Without Moving Edition

Jamiroquai - Virtual Insanity

OK Go - Here It Goes Again

Feist - My Moon, My Man

Friday, September 14, 2007

Not the Bees! They're In My Newspaper!

The Philadelphia Inquirer is trying to pimp its gorgeous building as advertising for the upcoming animated Bee Movie. Logically, this involves enormous inflatable bees. Considering that the building is up for sale, you'd think that they wouldn't want people to think that it was infested with freakishly oversized insects.

Hey, Nicholas Cage, what do you think of this story?

Never Underestimate the Power of Geeks With More Money Than Taste

Via Mental Floss, I learn that a movement is afoot (groan) to make Nike produce the shoes from Back to the Future, Part II. Kind of depressing that in a movie featuring flying cars, a flying skateboard, and presumably a lot more cool future stuff (OK, I've never seen either of the Back to the Future sequels), the most we can hope for is a pair of ugly, ultra high-top shoes that tie themselves.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I Recognize Kazaam, But Who Are Those Other Guys?

I was walking through the mall one day and passed one of those kiosks that sells portraits of famous people, where they had a large painting depicting Tony Montana, Don Corleone, and Tony Soprano sitting around a table. "Wow," I thought to myself, "I wonder if it's possible to make that even more kitschy?" It turns out the answer was yes, and all you had to do was add Shaquille O'Neal and put it on the side of a giant bus.

The Lessons of Hipstory

The city of Philadelphia continues its fascination with portmanteau words by declaring the Old City District "hipstoric".

Say what you will about the Gayborhood and Benergy, but at least they didn't look like typos.

On Bands That, Depressingly, Still Exist

The Mental Floss blog is one of my favorites for a simple reason: every day I read it, I learn something that is usually (a) utterly fascinating, and (b) completely useless. I especially enjoy their looks back at the first time certain notable people, places, or things were mentioned in The New York Times; this week, they look back on the first time Aerosmith made it into the paper of record, in a 1973 review of a Kinks concert:
Aerosmith, the opening act, played loud, derivative rock, distinguished only by Steve Tyler’s fawning imitation of Mick Jagger.
34 years later, the only difference would probably be the position of the bands on the marquee.

While I'm on the subject of music that irritates me (which is quickly turning into a dominant theme on this blog), how the hell are we not even halfway through September and I'm already hearing commercials for the Trans-Siberian fucking Orchestra? Are there people who camp out months in advance for those tickets? Is it going to be just a couple more weeks until the radio stations switch their format to "all Christmas music all the time, to the point where you're ready to join Jimmy Stewart on that bridge"?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Left of the iPod

So my cubicle neighbor at work, whose previous musical tastes were heavy on reggaeton and Kelly Clarkson, has now discovered rock music. Or, more specifically, she has discovered crappy post-grunge. As a result, my day is now set to a soundtrack of Creed, Staind, and Nickelback. Lots of Nickelback.

A few years ago, I put together an iTunes playlist called "Antidote," the idea being that whenever I had to spend time in a bar or a store or a vehicle where I would be subjected to music that I found unbearable, I could later listen to some left-of-center artists to counteract any ill effects caused by exposure to Scott Stapp or Fergie. Yes, it was elitist and snobby, and my idea of what constituted an underground artist hasn't aged well (hey, has anyone heard of this Arcade Fire band?). But these past few days, it's come in really handy.

Trivial Shortcomings of the Media

"Dick in a Box" was pretty funny, but this AP article's attempt to explain the sketch without using any naughty words is a piece of comedy gold:
"(Blank) in a Box," last December's fake music video performed by Timberlake and "SNL" cast member Andy Samberg, is about wrapping a part of the male anatomy and presenting it to a loved one as a holiday present.
What can I say? Some people just can't tell a joke.

On a related note, Amanda Marcotte points out that, even if Chris Matthews is just describing the action in a Peanuts comic strip, he still probably has no idea what he's talking about.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I Think Something's Wrong With My TV . . .

Um, could someone explain to me why Nike apparently thought that Rainn Wilson should be the face of the U.S. Women's Soccer team? Because I'm pretty much stumped.

Vanity of Vanities, Sayeth the DMV

This was published a while ago, but on The Smoking Gun there's an entertaining list of complaints to New York's Department of Motor Vehicles about obscene vanity plates. Some of the examples are pretty creative, but it seems that whether you use numbers instead of letters, put it in a foreign language, or write it backwards, someone out there is going to be offended by your suggestive plates. My favorite is the letter to Gov. Pataki, arguing that the writer's plate should be permitted: "In this war on terror, USKIXBUT is needed now." Yeah! That'll show Osama if he's stuck behind you in traffic!

As for me, the worst license plate I ever saw was GOATSE. Why anyone would put that on their car is beyond me, but I imagine the advantage is that any nerds who understood the reference would be too jaded to complain to anyone.

This sort of plate, on the other hand, is simply disgusting.

Weekend You-Tubery: Robot Rock Edition

(Because typing words is too much work)

Spoon - "Don't You Evah"

Beck - "Hell Yes"

Bjork - "All is Full of Love"

Flight of the Conchords - "The Humans Are Dead"

Vanity Fair Assaults My Eyes

Whenever I'm feeling low, I can always tell myself, "Well, look on the bright side: at least you've never seen a photo of Christopher Hitchens in the shower." At least I used to be able to tell myself that, but then I made the mistake of reading this post. If you don't want to share in my unhappy fate, please don't click that link.

I must say, though, that the cover of the magazine is really a masterpiece of bait and switch. It's all, "Oh boy! Nicole Kidman is taking off her shirt! And by the way, we've got shirtless pictures of Christopher Hitchens in an article that sticks you with the mental image of him having his balls waxed. Let's take another look at Nicole, shall we?"

And apparently this is a multi-part story. The subtext of everything Hitchens writes is that he's an asshole, but a feature involving the relative hairlessness of his own asshole is just too much.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Even Better: Abraham Lincoln's Ghost / Optimus Prime 2008

The editorial page of the New York Sun play another game of "Hey, wouldn't it be awesome if..." and fantasizes about their dream presidential candidate. The last time we went down this road, they were singing the praises of an imaginary Dick Cheney '08 campaign.

These editorials lead me to believe that the New York Sun's offices are actually a gateway into another dimension, one in which the American people are clamoring for the war in Iraq to go on forever and Dick Cheney is a modern day John F. Kennedy. Also, cats routinely chase dogs up trees and hamburgers eat people.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Jonathan Franzen vs. the World

Wondering if novelist Jonathan Franzen has mellowed much since his infamous spat with Oprah Winfrey six years ago? Considering that he's now dusting it up with the Broadway musical Spring Awakening, I'd say the answer is "no." It seems, to paraphrase Norma Desmond, that he's still a big jerk; it's the opponents that got smaller.

While I'm on the subject of Mr. Franzen, I should mention that one of my favorite Matt Taibbi put-downs (and there are many from which to choose) is this: "If there is a worse way to spend a day than being locked in Abu Ghraib prison reading Jonathan Franzen, I'm not aware of it."

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bohemian Like George

So the big story on the ironic-confluence-of-literature-and-history beat is the fact that MI5 spied on George Orwell due to his "advanced communist views." The story itself is not as shocking as it could be; the agency determined that Orwell posed no threat and allowed him to work as a journalist on a military base, certainly a far cry from being sent to Room 101.

The highlight of the story is the report that Orwell "dresse[d] in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours." It's hard to imagine it now, but it seems that there was a time that going into work looking like a slob was cause for suspicion.

Any by the way, kudos to the BBC's editors for their enticingly pulpy headers: "'Bohemian dress' . . . 'Bit of an anarchist' . . . Toilet spy . . . Naked women." If that were a movie, I'd sure watch it.

Here's Your Fortune: "You Will Soon Be Crossing the Great Waters"

If you're reading it literally, this fortune cookie is telling me that in the near future I will be embarking on a transoceanic voyage. If you're reading it as a metaphor, it sure sounds like I'll be dead soon (and if that's the case, those smiley faces bookending the prophecy of my doom are pretty damn morbid). Also, this fortune makes no more sense when you add "in bed" to the end of it. Am I crossing the great waters in a bed, like the caulked-up wagon in The Oregon Trail? Or are the great waters in the bed itself? If so, ew.

Of course, it's some comfort (or perhaps not) that no matter what bizarre, hilarious, or profound fortune came in your cookie, there were many other people who got the same slip of paper after their meals. After all, a Google search for my creepy fortune turns up 2,200 hits, and those are just the internet-savvy people who thought it was worth their time to write about.

If everyone else is doing it, though, I might as well join in. Think of this as the blogging equivalent of Chinese takeout: quick and requiring no preparation, but with very little nutritional content and likely to leave you unsatisfied an hour later.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

It's a Strange Condition

I was hit unexpectedly by a Proustian moment today when, as I was listening to Pete Yorn at work, I suddenly had a vivid memory of eating an individual pizza, as I did way too frequently when I was in college. I guess musicforthemorningafter loomed larger in my dorm-room listening than I remembered.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

What I've Seen: Zodiac

There are several reasons why Zodiac should have been a disappointment. It a mystery story about a case which is still officially unsolved, meaning there's not going to be much closure by the time the credits roll. It's a David Fincher movie that is more low-key than his magnum opus Fight Club (or even his comparatively smaller follow-up, Panic Room). It's a true-crime period piece, which is typically a license for screenwriters to take a real-life story, infuse it with cliches, and then pass it to a director to add some obvious period details and lame music cues.

Zodiac, however, is far from a disappointment. This retelling of the Zodiac serial murders that struck the San Francisco area in the late 1960s owes a lot to its excellent cast. Robert Downey Jr. is, as usual, a joy to watch, stealing almost every scene as gonzo, alcoholic crime reporter Paul Avery. Mark Ruffalo takes this opposite tack for his character, Dave Toschi, a soft-spoken detective with a Columbo raincoat and a taste for animal crackers (Ruffalo has more scenes eating than almost any actor since Brad Pitt in Ocean's 11). Jake Gyllenhall has the central role, though, as Robert Graysmith, the cartoonist turned amateur investigator. Gyllenhall's perpetual youthfulness works for him here, as it underscores his character's inexperience compared to his colleagues in the newsroom and the police he turns to for assistance. Rounding out the cast are the ever-reliable character actors Brian Cox and Philip Baker Hall, as well as Anthony Edwards and Chloe Sevigny.

The movie, shot on high-definition video instead of film, looks phenomenal. Fincher has (save for one montage) toned down the stylistic tricks of his previous work, but this is probably a good thing: his trademark shots of a virtual camera zooming through buildings and objects has become so co-opted by CSI and its clones that he's better off letting it go. The visual effects are still there, though; they just don't call attention to themselves. An overhead shot of a cab driving through the city, a breathtaking shot from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, and a great time-lapse shot of the Transamerica tower being built are just a few of the special-effects shots that most people won't even notice. (Check out this site for some more information on the subtle use of visual effects in the film.)

I was also impressed by the way that Zodiac avoided the cliches of the serial killer genre. This isn't the typical "we have to stop the killer before he strikes again" movie. In fact, by the time Graysmith gets seriously involved in the case, the killings seem to have stopped, and the few people still investigating the case are doing so simply out of a need to find the answer. Throughout the film, captions supply the time and place of the action. The glut of captions in the first half-hour or so of the movie made it feel like an episode of Law & Order with ADD, but as the plot moves forward and the gaps between scenes stretch to months and years, it gives a palpable sense of the trail going cold.

For a serial killer movie, there is surprisingly little violence. The killings themselves are disturbing to watch, but they are of a completely different tone from the rest of the movie, which is frequently humorous (in earlier scenes, at least). There is one scene that juxtaposes the moods, as a young couple confronted with the Zodiac tries to talk their way out of the situation. I was laughing at it until the violence suddenly broke the mood. In addition, most of the violence is confined to the earlier section of the movie. There's not a car chase or shootout to be found here, although there are plenty of scenes of cops in several counties arguing over jurisdiction and trying their best to share information. At one point, Toschi walks out on a screening of Dirty Harry (a film loosely based on the Zodiac) and complains about the unrealistic vigilante cop. I guess this is the sort of movie to which he'd give his approval.

The film isn't perfect. Although the ambiguous ending is true-to-life, it's still unsatisfying (although that's probably the point). In the category of "Jake Gyllenhall movies where he ages 20 years over the course of the film, this one is disappointing compared to Brokeback Mountain (as far as I can tell, all he did was grow a couple of days of stubble). And has there ever been a film in which a man becomes obsessed with finding the truth and/or catching a criminal and it doesn't end up destroying his marriage? They could have included a scene where Graysmith carves a bust of the Zodiac out of his mashed potatoes and it would have gotten the point across just as well.

Despite those few flaws I was able to find, Zodiac passes the core test of worth-seeingness, namely that I was unable to tear myself away once I started watching it. Time will tell if it will stand up to repeated viewings (I plan to check it out at least once more, perhaps next year when the director's cut DVD drops), or if the Academy Awards are aware of its existence in a few months (may I suggest Mr. Downey and Harris Savides for the cinematography?). The fact that I've now written an epic blog post based on the film, though, strongly suggests that this will be something I keep coming back to.