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Mar 09,2007
Films in Focus - New and recent releases
by David Elliott and others

NEW RELEASES

 

'300' - From left, Vincent Regan, Gerald Butler and the Spartans stand ready to halt the advance of the Persian army in the action movie '300.' CNS Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. 

300 - Some movies of carnage open our minds to war, death and history in a valid way, like Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima films. And then there are the bloody piles of raw meat for finger-lickin' oafs, like "Apocalypto" and "300." The movie has even more death than Mel Gibson's Mayan epic, a gain that adds up to a minus. Zack Snyder of "Dawn of the Dead" (the 2004 version) filmed Frank Miller's graphic novel, about the brave 300 Spartans who blooded the huge Persian army at Thermopylae in 480 BC. It sure is graphic. And ugly. Shot as a vision of digital mud smeared with frosty whites and spraying spots of computerized blood, "300" is not for fans of Richard Egan in "The 300 Spartans" (1962). There are endless spearings and beheadings, plus dying horses and a whole wall made of corpses. You wouldn't wish to smell this movie, but we nearly can. It is too dumb as drama, even as war spectacle, to be transporting, frightening or sickening. Just numbing. A Warner Bros. release. Director: Zack Snyder. Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, Rodrigo Santoro. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes; Rated R; 1 star.

RECENT RELEASES

RATINGS
4 STARS - Excellent.
3 STARS - Worthy.
2 STARS - Mixed.
1 STAR - Poor.
0 - Forget It (a dog.)
 
BLACK SNAKE MOAN - Perhaps not since Susan George slathered  her body all over Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" (1971) has an  actress achieved such sluttiness as Christina Ricci in "Black  Snake Moan." The title alone should warn off Ricci's early  fans, who loved the moon-faced cutie of "The Addams Family"  (1991). That girl is gone. Now, as sexpot Rae, Ricci is slenderly nubile and runs around clothed in sweat, a skimpy half-top and tiny panties. Old abuse vibes trigger nymphomania  in Rae, who adores bullet-headed lover Ronnie (Justin  Timberlake) but, once he exits, is available to his best  friend and other studs. With less verve, Rae is a waif-eyed  young woman, treated as less than a whore. Director and writer  Craig Brewer wallows luridly with her, while Samuel L. Jackson  steals the movie as Laz (Lazarus). When Laz discovers Rae  bloodily beaten on the road after her latest rape encounter,  he takes her in, charitably. The ruling idea is that Laz,  though full of blues old and new, will deny himself devil lust  and so save them both.  There are facile abortion mentions and  dim stuff about Rae's miserable mother. But the movie snakes  along with an earthy hiss, thanks to music, Jackson and  Ricci's painful availability. A Paramount Vantage release.  Director, writer: Craig Brewer. Cast: Samuel L. Jackson,  Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, John Cothran Jr., Michael  Raymond-James. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. Rated R. 2 1/2 stars.

ZODIAC - "Zodiac," the movie, is a killer. Zodiac, the  killer, is an elusive psychopath who terrorized and taunted  the Bay Area beginning in the late '60s, mocking police and  newspaper reporters who became fixated on nailing him. They  never did. Director David Fincher, noted for dark and  disturbing tales like "Fight Club" and "Seven," has made a  provocative film that is less about the grisly details of the  murders - though they are presented in gripping set pieces -  than what the obsession to find the manipulating maniac did to  the journalists and detectives enveloped by this grim, tough  case. At more than 2 1/2 hours, "Zodiac" is like a deep,  involving book, a page-turner that you can't put down. You  keep reading and, in this case, you keep watching. A Paramount  Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures release. Director: David  Fincher. Writers: James Vanderbilt (screenplay) and Robert  Graysmith (book). Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and  Robert Downey Jr. Running time: 2 hours, 34 minutes. Rated R.  3 1/2 stars.

THE ASTRONAUT FARMER -  Heading south from the quirks of  "Twin Falls Idaho," the Polish brothers (Mark, Michael) have  gone to New Mexico, which subs for Texas, and made a sweet,  congenial comedy of dreams. "The Astronaut Farmer" contains no  murderously jealous astronauts. Billy Bob Thornton, looking  more than ever like a Dust Bowl version of Humphrey Bogart, is  the dreamer named Farmer who wants to be an astronaut. Charles  Farmer was once a hot Air Force pilot, but when his father  died (suicide), he fell from NASA training and settled on the  ranch, where cattle deposits and bank debts pile up. So what  to do, stuck with 300-plus acres, a big barn and time to  tinker? Of course: build a mighty rocket, with flight capsule  on top.  This oddball has something beyond root-for-the-roots  sentiments. Thornton, well into his own orbit, is very  genuinely appealing as a guy who wires his big dream machine  to a loose but glowing screw in his head. Rise up, farm bird.  A Warner Bros. release. Director: Michael Polish. Writers:  Mark and Michael Polish. Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia  Madsen, Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, J.K. Simmons, Gary Houston,  Tim Blake Nelson. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. Rated PG.  3 stars.

THE NUMBER 23 - It's supposed to get downright spooky after  a while. Except it doesn't. Animal-control guy - that is,  dogcatcher - Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) starts reading a  tattered little self-published novel called "The Number 23"  that his wife, Agatha (Virginia Madsen), picked up in a used  bookstore. Eerily, the plot of the book parallels his own  life. Eerier still - except it's not - is the book's  fascination with what's known in certain more suggestible  circles as "the 23 enigma."  Carrey for the most part dials  down his energy level, but given that he's calibrated  differently from the rest of us, his Walter is strung taut  enough that even semi-dozing in his doggie van he suggests  oncoming heebie-jeebies.  A New Line Cinema release. Director:  Joel Schumacher. Writer: Fernley Phillips. Cast: Jim Carrey,  Virginia Madsen, Danny Huston, Rhona Mitra, Lynn Collins.  Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Rated R. 1 1/2 stars.

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA - "Bridge to Terabithia" takes us down  the old pike of Disney dreams, out past Norman Rockwell  Estates toward Narnia City. It's a good trip. Katherine  Paterson's prize-winning family novel has been adapted (partly  by her son David) into a fluent, winning Disney vehicle. Set  in one of those cozy, idyllic towns that is partly suburban,  mostly country, never urban enough to feel threatening, it is  a story of youth surviving the puberty years (with mere winks  of sexual interest). Josh Hutcherson is appealing Jesse, son  in a large rural family, quietly artistic but all-guy. He is  befriended by the spunky new neighbor, Leslie, played by  hugely engaging AnnaSophia Robb. Her brisk, captivating smile  is the golden ticket to a fantasyland in the woods that she  names Terabithia. A lot of parents beg, bark and whine for  family fare at the movies. "Bridge" shucks even its corn quota  well, giving those parents (and their kids) what they claim to  want. Folks, don't wait for the DVD. A Buena Vista Pictures  release. Director: Gabor Csupo. Writers: Jeff Stockwell, David  Paterson. Cast: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey  Deschanel, Robert Patrick. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.  Rated PG. 3 stars.

MUSIC AND LYRICS -  First, before the critical "meat" of  "Music and Lyrics" - meat more like a taffy apple - let us  light a perfumed candle for Drew Barrymore. Drew is dependably  darling as Sophie Fisher, aspiring writer turned songsmith in  "Music and Lyrics." She turns because Alex Fletcher (Hugh  Grant), a musician, tells her that she has an innate flair for  song lyrics, which we take at face value because the face is  Barrymore's. Grant is the main but not broad stem of comedy as  Alex, a has-been '80s pop sensation. He was the second-tier  star of a group called Pop, their big hit being (such  inspiration) "Pop Goes My Heart." After breaking away for a  solo career that tanked, Alex is now a winsomely dutiful throb  on the nostalgia circuit, playing venues like Busch Gardens  and Knott's Berry Farm for fully ripened but giddy women.  Grant happily rummages through his role, Barrymore is splendid  with gulps and goofs, and Campbell Scott is an impeccably  pompous author. A Warner Bros. release. Director, writer: Marc  Lawrence. Cast: Drew Barrymore, Hugh Grant, Haley Bennett,  Campbell Scott. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. Rated PG-13.  2 1/2 stars.

Capsules compiled from movie reviews written by David  Elliott, film critic for The San Diego Union-Tribune, other  staff writers and contributors. Copley News Service
1511 times read

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Did you enjoy this article? Rating: 4.80Rating: 4.80Rating: 4.80Rating: 4.80Rating: 4.80 (total 20 votes)

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