Films in Focus - New and recent releases
Mar 23,2007 00:00 by David Elliott and others


'COLOR ME KUBRICK' - John Malkovich plays an impostor of director Stanley Kubrick in the comedy 'Color Me Kubrick.' CNS Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. 
- Here is a double law about con artist movies: Watching a clever person con bright people can be very entertaining; watching a sloppy hoaxer con stupid or ignorant people is only a fool's delight. The first truth will be affirmed by "The Hoax," the coming (April 6) movie with Richard Gere as con wizard Clifford Irving. The second is confirmed by "Color Me Kubrick," a flippant British comedy about the real but implausible hustler Alan Conway, who pretended to be director Stanley Kubrick while Kubrick was still alive (both have since died). Whatever he thought of Conway, a verbose mess, perfectionist Kubrick probably wouldn't have cared much for the film, a less remarkable mess. He might have enjoyed John Malkovich, who gains some relief from being John Malkovich by impersonating the Kubrick impersonator. It's cute when classical music used in Kubrick films is employed here. And Kubie-baby is quite a name-dropper ("The trouble with Marlon is he thinks he's Brando"). The zinger about "Miss Kirk Douglas" is pushing the pedal too far. Never remotely probing, even when Conway cons himself into psychiatric treatment, "Color Me Kubrick" is a goof and a doodle. It can make you pine for John Hurt in "The Naked Civil Servant" or the truly witty faker played by Peter Sellers in Kubrick's "Lolita." A Magnolia Pictures release. Director: Brian Cook. Writer: Anthony Prewin. Cast: John Malkovich, Jim Davidson, Richard E. Grant, Terence Rigby, Luke Mabley. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Unrated. 2 stars.


4 STARS - Excellent.

3 STARS - Worthy.

2 STARS - Mixed.

1 STAR - Poor.

0 - Forget It (a dog.) 
- "Pride" is one of those film titles, like "Victory," "Gold," "Winning" and "Perfect," suited to a movie of very obvious purpose and delivery. Not much thinking required. As with those, so again with "Pride," a sincere and plodding treatment of Philadelphia swimming coach Jim Ellis. Terrence Howard, who came to some fame and justified acclaim with "Hustle & Flow," plays Ellis, again uniting soft-eyed charm with harder textures. As a teen, inflamed by racism at a swim meet, Ellis socked a cop. So he has a police record, and since (10 years later) he can't get the job he wanted teaching math, he becomes a coach at Marc Foster Recreation Center, though its slum dilapidation is sized up by the sign: Mrc Foser Recation Cent. Ellis recruits local boys, a muscular, engaging bunch, plus a slight, sparky girl (Regine Nehy). And there's a shrimpy boy with a stutter, as go-for-it mascot. There is a ghetto thug for tension, and sweaty workouts alternate with urgent Ellis speeches like, "You either work as a team, or you're nothing." Even as the black swimmers improve and become competitive, the movie tends to dog paddle. Not even Howard's genuine appeal, or his can-do kids, can keep "Pride" out of the shallow end of the pool. A Lions Gate Films release. Director: Sunu Gonera. Writers: Kevin Michael Smith, Michael Gozzard. Cast: Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise, Tom Arnold, Regine Nehy. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Rated PG. 2 stars.


PREMONITION - Alfred Hitchcock has been dead since 1980, but he didn't leave his lessons on how to make taut thrillers in an unmarked grave. Somebody, please, get a few of those lessons to the makers of "Premonition." Not exactly a thriller, never quite a chiller, hardly suspenseful, it is, at best, a Sandra Bullock vehicle made of vanishing vapors. As Linda, she goes through the whole movie wondering if husband Jim is dead, or will die, or if she's dreaming, or having a psychic vision, or just having her head bounce as the ball on the script's roulette wheel. Jim, played as a stolid hunk of generic husband and dad by Julian McMahon, is constantly running off to business engagements. Which is, perhaps, a functionally viable definition of death. One day he's dead, the next day he's in her bed (alive?). The only thing carrying this doozy along is the personality of Bullock: sane, honest, stable, warmly sympathetic. That she has evolved beyond the long girlish phase of her career means she needs womanly options that are not patched together from mindless "concepts" like "Premonition." An MGM release. Director: Mennan Yapo. Writer: Bill Kelly. Cast: Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Kate Nelligan, Nia Long, Peter Stormare. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated PG-13; 1 star.

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.

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.

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