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Notes from the Back Row

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Okay, the Oscars are finally done with and it’s time to watch some movies. Beginning with Jim Carey’s latest attempt at a non-comedic role in The Number 23 , which opened last week and is still playing at the Village 8.

Sharp camerawork and compelling intro narration kick things off and Carey plays a dog catcher whose wife gives him a rare book to read about the “evil” number 23 and how it ruins one man’s life. Carey soon finds parallels to his own life and begins obsessing about the “cursed” number as it appears more and more in his existence and history, (dates, addresses, compound fractions, they all add up to 23 dammit!).

Director Joel Shumacher tries his hand at the sort of psychological thriller/mystery that made David Fincher famous but he doesn’t pull it off. Some nifty camera techniques and a few cool highlights (like a dame called “Suicide Blonde”) as well as decent showings by Carey and Virginia Madsen, The Number 23 ultimately fails due to its various plot holes, predictability, and one of those ridiculous, tagged-on endings that actually spoils any kind of momentum the picture had going for it. Basically, it blows.

That’s okay though because there’s no need to watch a cheap David Fincher knock-off when the real thing opens Friday. Zodiac , directed by the actual David Fincher, is everything 23 is not. Starring Jake Gyllenhal and Robert Downey Jr. (who delivers a kick-ass performance) Zodiac is based on a true-life serial killer from 1960-70s San Francisco who would taunt the police and public by writing coded letters to major newspapers about his murders and identity.

It’s an impressive film, with four major characters hunting the Zodiac killer until their obsessions run them into fame and, later, single-minded undoing. Fincher doesn’t rely on the heavily stylized visuals that made Se7en such a recognizable hit, instead he serves up a highly detailed procedural movie about professional commitment and obsession, it’s costs and rewards, all packed into a damn good story. While the 2.5 hour running time might scare some away, Fincher paints a masterpiece and Zodiac allows crime genre fans to have their cake and eat it too. This is the best of the year so far.

Speaking of cake, Marie Antoinette , fresh off an Oscar win for best costumes, is out on DVD. Generally I enjoy the films of Sophia Coppula   ( Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation) and she does inject some new life into the period piece, mainly through the use of contemporary music. The problem, for me was that other than great costumes and set dec there is not a whole lot going on in this two-hour-plus film. Nothing really seems to happen and there’s very little at stake, emotionally or otherwise. Kristen Dunst does a good job and I guess it makes you look at royalty and riches in a new light but ultimately it’s a bit of a yawner.

Back in the theatre, we shift from teenage queens to middle aged kings of the road with Wild Hogs, starring John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy, and everyone’s favorite, Tim Allen. They’re geeky losers with women problems and so they embark on a motorcycle road trip of stereotypes, bad slapstick, homophobia and head shaking. By the time a real biker gang beats the hell out of them at the end the viewer gets at least a little payback for the hour and half they’ve wasted thus far. Wild Hogs, and especially the talentless Tim Allen, is as much fun as getting hit in the face with a rake, except even that would be at least a little bit funny.

AT VILLAGE 8 March 2-8: Wild Hogs; Zodiac; Number 23; Bridge to Terrabithia; Last King of Scotland; Reno 911:Miami; Ghost Rider; Blood Diamond; Astronaut Farmer; Music and Lyrics .

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