+ "Zodiac": David Fincher‘s highly anticipated chronicle of the Zodiac Killer, who haunted the San Francisco Bay Area and its surrounding areas in the late 60s into the 70s, does not disappoint the critics (we’ll post our own review shortly). Amongst the film’s biggest supporters are Nathan Lee, who, by his own admission, geeks out with one of the longest reviews we can recall running at the Village Voice. "As a crime saga, newspaper drama, and period piece, it works just fine. As an allegory of life in the information age, it blew my mind," he writes, calling out three particularly skillful shots and the film’s relationship to Fincher’s best known film to date, "Se7en." At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis points out the film is an "unexpected repudiation" of that earlier, flashier serial killer film. She also writes that Fincher’s "polished technique can leave you slack-jawed":
There is mystery in this minutiae, not just virtuosity, and maybe, to judge from reports of his painstaking process, a touch of madness. Like his detectives and journalists, Mr. Fincher seems possessed by the need to recreate reality â€” to revisit the scene of the crime â€” piece by piece.
Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly dubs the film "[a] procedural thriller for the information age," and suggests that the film’s unending investigation is "an analogue of the post-9/11 world, where the enemy is specific yet, by virtue of his self-projection, omnipresent, and therefore impossible to pin down." "Zodiac is the sort of vast, richly involving pop epic that Hollywood largely seems incapable of making anymore," sighs a blissful Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, while Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club is one of several critics to writes that this "feels like [Fincher’s] most personal and accomplished work to date." Nick Schager at Slant salutes the film’s "portrait of obsession run amok, and of the multifaceted influence of the mediaâ€”and the cinemaâ€”on society."
Of the few voices of dissent: David Edelstein at New York finds a lot to admire in the film, particularly the opening scene ("among the most brilliantly cruel sequences Iâ€™ve ever seen") but finds the "the movie itself feels like an unfinished puzzle." Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader writes that "I’m not convinced this had to be 158 minutes long, so it’s all the more annoying when essential material gets elided"; Armond White at the New York Press (who dubs Fincher "the brainless Kubrick" â€” we’d disagree, but still: hah!) claims:
Fincherâ€™s technique distracts from a resolved mystery or narrative closure; it encourages apathy that suggests resolution and absolution are impossible. Zodiacâ€™s ending is a shocking let-down, not because itâ€™s gruesome but because it nullifies itself. This time, Fincher puts everybodyâ€™s head in a box.
And Stephanie Zacharek at Salon writes that
Bits of the picture are fascinating to look at, but eventually, exhaustion kicks in, to the point where we’re not sure what we’re looking at, or why. And Fincher can’t stop himself from portraying the murders (in one case, in extremely graphic detail), as if addressing them more obliquely might possibly dilute their horror — as if their horror could be diluted. His approach, and his coldness, may be some kind of point-of-pride demonstration of artistic objectivity. But is there any such thing as an objective artist? And if so, do we want, or need, one?
+ "Black Snake Moan": Craig Brewer‘s third film, with an even more outrageous premise than his last, "Hustle & Flow," opens to mixed if often bemused reviews. Writes Roger Ebert (!) at the Chicago Sun-Times:
"Black Snake Moan" is the oddest, most peculiar movie I’ve seen about sex and race and redemption in the Deep South. It may be the most peculiar recent movie ever except for "Road House," but then what can you say about "Road House"? Such movies defy all categories.
He’s quite fond of the film, though he does writes, apparently meaning it as a complement, that Christina Ricci‘s "work defines the boundaries of the thankless." "Brewer knows how to guide his leads through this improbable story, and he kept me interested in spite of everything," shrugs Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader, while a fonder Nick Schager at Slant calls the film a "B-movie with an A-list cast, it’s an audaciously confrontational, button- and boundary-pushing work, marked by a sharp wit and a gleeful desire to see just how much it can get away with."
Dana Stevens at Slate has some problems with the boundaries that are being pushed, and doesn’t mince words:
I’m sorry, but in the age of Abu Ghraib and Alberto Gonzales torture memos, it seems important to say it again: Chaining people and holding them against their will is not the right thing to do. By that I don’t mean, simplistically, that Jackson‘s character is "bad" and should be punished at the end of the film. I mean that the questionsâ€”ethical, sexual, racial, whateverâ€”that are raised by this initial act of violence are never addressed.
Armond White at the New York Press has other issues: "Black Snake Moan is so full of bad ideas and misrepresented ethnicity that people who are ignorant of black Southern culture, or feel nothing for it, will misread the filmâ€™s blunders as daring provocation."
At New York, David Edelstein calls the film "outlandish, hilariously overripe, and possibly sexist," but adds that "I loved the pictureâ€™s tabloid energy and heart." At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek, who likes the film quite a bit, calls Brewer "a humanist in wolf’s clothing"; Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, who less impressed, calls him "an old-fashioned guy," writing that "Black Snake Moan is, at its core, a fairly straightforward variation on George Bernard Shaw â€” Pigsfeetmalion, if you will."
A.O. Scott at the New York Times suggests that the Samuel L. Jackson character is nothing but "a tried-and-true Hollywood stock figure: the selfless, spiritually minded African-American who seems to have been put on the earth to help white people work out their self-esteem issues." He writes that underneath the provocative surface of the film is "a heart of pure, buttery cornpone"; Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly cautions that one should "be prepared to collapse into a hoot and a howl of hilarity at all the wrong moments." Rob Nelson at the Village Voice suggest that halfway through the film, "the filmmaker begins to direct his grindhouse fantasy of female enslavement as if it were Our Town." And Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club agrees that "it’d be nice if the execution matched the startling audacity of its premise.
+ "Into Great Silence": Monks. Doc. Three hours.
At the New York Times, A.O. Scott observes that "you surrender to ‘Into Great Silence’ as you would to a piece of music, noting the repetitions and variations, encountering surprises just when you think youâ€™ve figured out the pattern." He concludes "I hesitate, given the early date and the projectâ€™s modesty, to call ‘Into Great Silence’ one of the best films of the year. I prefer to think of it as the antidote to all of the others."
An impressed Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE writes that "It’s almost as if Groning, having lived alongside the brothers and participated in their rituals for six months, was left by the experience disinclined to hew to any standards of linear narrativity when constructing his film, drifting instead towards an impressionistic wash of images and, yes, sounds that are often impenetrable, but always seductive." At Slant, Keith Uhlich suggests that as one falls into the rhythms of the film, "The monks still maintain their unique distinctions of self, but are now united (as are we) in common purpose and singular pursuit. Pursuit of what exactly? Call it God. Call it Cinema."
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon acknowledges the challenging nature of the film: "GrÃ¶ning’s film asks you to do, in miniature, the same thing that the Carthusians ask their novices to do: Give up the outside world. That’s a devilishly difficult thing to manage, at first, but a delightful release once accomplished." And Michelle Orange at the Village Voice allows that "the point, however, is solidly made by the two-hour mark, and epiphany fatigue sets in; the more gimlet-eyed may turn to thoughts of heresy, or at least tire of exalting the supposedly pure existence of a bunch of men playing house on a hill, oblivious (and useless) to the world of need and suffering beneath them."