Mar 16,2007 00:00
David Elliott and others
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.
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