The mystery’s in the minutiae (review: SerialThePodcast, Zodiac)

My favourite episode of Law & Order is the 2007 David Fincher film, Zodiac. Less gruesomely arresting Se7en, less bombastic than Fight Club, Zodiac is unlikely to go down as a Fincher classic, but it’s my favourite – precisely because it’s not gruesome, it’s not bombastic. It’s a true crime story, with all of the minutiae that goes along with true crime.

Zodiac, based on cartoonist Robert Graysmith’s hunt for the San Francisco serial killer of the same name, is a narrative filled with personal biases, dubious evidence and unreliable testimony, forcing the audience to follow the case’s detectives (both professional and amateur) down a series of blind alleys. It’s not the type of crime story anyone would write as fiction: it’s too messy, too fragmentary, too frustrating. But it’s exactly this messiness that makes it compelling. It’s this messiness that makes it the best episode Law & Order never made.

In some ways, Zodiac could be an episode of any TV crime procedural – albeit an exceptionally well-shot, well-acted one – but what makes it different is the amount of screentime devoted to what Serial’s Sarah Koenig would probably term stupid shit.

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Movie review: Move On (2012)

Is it a movie? Is it an advertisement? No, it’s a… movertisement! Move On (2012) is a strange beast. Funded by a phone company, a car company, and that corporation that locked a poor girl in a shipping container after she was gang-raped, its (non-existent) storyline has seemingly been crowd-sourced. Like any movie-by-committee, the result is a camel. A camel that’s trying to flog you a car.

That said, it is by no means an unpleasant way to spend 90 minutes. (You can watch the entire thing for free at the official website.) Move On follows a jaded everyman spy as he travels across Europe on a non-specific covert-ops job. The resulting movie blends together indiscriminately all the classic action movie clichés. There’s beautiful scenery (from the grit of Alexanderplatz in Berlin to the sweeping coastline of Montenegro); fraught car chases; hand-to-hand combat; and of course a sexy love affair that goes wrong.

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Movie review: The Hunt (Jagten)

The Hunt (Jagten, 2012) is a deftly-constructed portrait of small-town hysteria. When nice-guy Lucas, a nursery worker who has an easy rapport with his young charges, is accused of paedophilia, the resulting fall-out is queasily compelling and acted to perfection by Mads Mikkelsen (because, yes, this is another one of my “this summer, I’ll watch Mads Mikkelsen’s entire filmography!” movies).

Taken purely as a piece of film-making, The Hunt is undeniably well put together. Seemingly throwaway scenes, such as Lucas being charged with taking a young boy to “do number two”, are cleverly revisited – the same scene later being used as evidence that Lucas had means and opportunity to abuse children in his care.

There’s enough detail to give texture and realism to the film. I loved the dog who barks every time someone says the name of Lucas’s ex-wife. And young Klara’s OCD fear of stepping on lines is a thread that deftly pulls the movie’s beginning and end together. The Hunt also makes masterful use of Chekhov’s gun in a truly thrilling ending.

Taken purely as a piece of film-making and out of any cultural context, The Hunt is great. Unfortunately, it was very hard for me to watch and not think about Operation Yewtree. Because, the fact is, the chances of a good man being wrongly accused of paedophilia are utterly dwarfed by the chances of a paedophile getting away scot-free with abuse because no one believes his victim(s).

Yes, mass hysteria about paedophilia happens (even in the face of no evidence). But, ultimately, I didn’t feel The Hunt made much of an effort to unpack the white male privilege at the heart of its premise. As a result, it’s difficult not to view The Hunt as a paranoid fantasy fuelled by the white male expectation that everyone should believe everything you say, always.

Movie review: A Royal Affair

Open secret: I’ll watch any period drama involving a noblewoman having a hot, tortured affair with a man of lower standing.

A Royal AffairFortunately, A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære, 2012) manages to take this old chestnut of a trope and wrap it up in some interesting historical drama centring around Denmark at the time of the Enlightenment.

Clichés… but enjoyable ones

At its outset, Affair seems content to wade through the most shallow waters of cliché. There’s the fragile English beauty, Caroline, who has been married off to Christian, the crazy and callous King of Denmark. Sinister clerics and pompous noblemen rule the country for the good of themselves, while the King’s evil stepmother bides her time, waiting for the right moment to make a coup.

Yet, while some of these story aspects never rise above the level of cliché, Director Nikolaj Arcel does manage to breathe life into the central love triangle. Johann, a secret radical, is hired to babysit the mad king. Johann and Christian forge a surprisingly touching friendship, but Johann also falls in love with Caroline, leading to the aforementioned illicit affair.

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Movie review: West of Memphis

I watched West of Memphis a.k.a. celebrities lavish praise upon themselves for singlehandedly freeing the West Memphis Three.

As far as I can see, the only thing this documentary added to Paradise Lost’s version of events was a degree of polish. It’s a neater documentary than the Paradise Lost trilogy and, as a newcomer to the case, you could watch and enjoy (‘enjoy’) it as a solid film.

(That said, the point of Paradise Lost is that it’s gritty and raw and in medias res. I love Paradise Lost. Watch Paradise Lost. Yes, even the bonkers second movie.)

I can’t really criticise West of Memphis as a piece of film-making. I can only express disappointment at what it wasn’t.

How on earth do you have Damien Echols as a producer on your movie and not choose to frame the story from his perspective? Okay, maybe Damien didn’t want to sit down and do a whole bunch of long, let’s-dig-up-your-trauma interviews. But I still maintain that, with just a small amount of narration from Echols, you could have framed the movie as ‘weird goth kid gets falsely imprisoned’, rather than showing the whole first half-hour of the movie from the conventional ‘small town struck by tragedy’ angle.

In general, there was a dearth of references to what Echols et al’s lives were like in prison (what, Damien getting raped in prison was too dark for your shiny Hollywood movie?) and little sense of the sheer length of time that they were imprisoned. When your movie exists alongside an already very well established trilogy of movies, surely you have to work hard to make yours distinctive.

Sure, there were some interesting new interviews in West of Memphis. (Though Stevie’s drug-addicted sister and Chinese whispers about “the Hobbs family secret” felt more queasily compelling that genuinely revelatory.) But all West of Memphis really added to make itself distinctive was… a bunch of celebrities talking. Hm.

P.S. Also, I know Echols is the cult hero, but I have nothing but love for Jason Baldwin. I would watch a whole documentary of Jason eating salad with cheese in it and proudly showing off the first suitcase he’s ever owned.

Movie review: Katy Perry: Part of Me

Confession: I watched the Katy Perry documentary and I liked it.

My feelings on Katy Perry range from apathy to antipathy on any given day, but Part of Me is a well-made, uplifting movie.

She has a genuinely interesting story (I love stories about repressed religious girls discovering the world). And, though I don’t think there was ever an evil conspiracy in place to stop her from becoming a STAHHH (which is what the movie suggests), it certainly seems like Katy faced a fair amount of adversity on the road to success, which makes for an interesting look at the music industry. I definitely didn’t know that Katy spent years writing Alanis-Morrisette-inspired chick rock. Or that she wrote at all, in fact.

Mostly, though, I loved the doc because it’s about FANDOM. It’s really a love letter to Katy’s fans – and to fans in general. I’ve never been to a Katy Perry show, but I could fondly recognize my own music-fan experiences in the doc. The fact that Katy’s PA apparently has her own cult following made me chuckle as I thought about the way I’ve variously obsessed over bands’ crewmembers (RIP MCR/Brian Schechter :/).

Plus, for reluctant celebrity relationship rubberneckers (like me), the snapshots of Katy’s relationship with Russell Brand are, alternately, adorable and heart-rending. The scene that will probably stay with me is Katy finding a necklace that Russell gave her that she thought she’d lost. The desperation with which she puts it on – as if the necklace is an amulet that might magically save her marriage – is so terribly sad.

In conclusion: BABY YER A FIYAHWERK!~