San Diego The big question that hovers over Zodiac is not, Who's the Zodiac Killer? Nor is it, How did he elude capture? Nor, What ever became of him? None of the above. The big question is, Why does a movie about him have to be two hours and forty-five minutes long? Without a doubt, the movie has a subject of interest, the unsolved serial murders that gripped the Bay Area throughout the Seventies, and it has also an angle of interest, the differing degrees of obsession with the case on the part of a team of homicide detectives (Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, unsuitably lightweight and skittish, both), a substance-abusing crime reporter on the San Francisco Chronicle (Robert Downey, Jr., smirkingly typecast), and a moonlighting political cartoonist on the same paper (Jake Gyllenhaal, suitably lightweight), and it has finally, as the cherry on top, a person of interest, if you will, a demure Chloë Sevigny in the evolving role, over the years, of the cartoonist's blind date, steady girlfriend, wife, and ex-wife. Neglect of Chloë Sevigny earns him top honors for obsession.
Nevertheless, two and three-quarters hours are a lot of time to spend on red tape, red herrings, and dead ends. Just as it was hard in Breach to drum up suspense when we know beforehand that the prey is in the bag, it's still harder to drum it up when we know he'll never be in the bag. (A police benefit screening of Dirty Harry, a fictionalized treatment of the case, will serve as an internal rebuke, and the lead detective's rueful, wistful invocation of "due process" will be a feeble rebuttal, a poor excuse to have not got his man.) Since we know from the opening credits, if from nowhere else, that the movie is based on a book by this selfsame cartoonist, Robert Graysmith -- and in essence the real story of the movie is the story of writing a true-crime best-seller -- there is not even any suspense over whether his mountain of research will ultimately make it into print. The book, to be sure, puts forth a theory as to the killer's identity, and its author mouths a catch phrase which might well be the movie's own: "Just because you can't prove it, doesn't mean it's not true." (As catch phrases go, not quite the equal of Dirty Harry's "Do you feel lucky?" or his subsequent "Make my day.") David Fincher, the director previously of Alien 3 and Seven and The Game and Fight Club and Panic Room, relishes a couple of the killings, as well as one near-miss, in a way that seems to violate the point of view of the movie; but he has thinned out his customary pea-soup atmospherics, and toned down his trendy stylistics, and gone very light on the period detail (a few pairs of sideburns here or there, not a squiggle of psychedelia nor a whiff of flower power), giving the case a creeping and creepy timelessness. These were wise choices. A movie this lengthy did not need to be any thicker.
The Host is a South Korean creature feature, a tad overlong and a bit wavery in tone, yet very well made on the whole, and especially well made in its computer-animated creature, a two-legged, amphibious, carnivorous, whale-scale fish, with a toothy Venus-flytrap mouth. (Blame it on the Americans, Scott Wilson specifically, dumping toxic chemicals from a U.S. Army base into the Han River.) The first sight of the beast, hanging batlike from the underside of a bridge, is as real as unreal can be; and director Joon-ho Bong mixes up a marvelous variety of views of the thing, far enough in the squinty distance to defy belief, and close as an express subway hurtling past the platform a few feet in front of your face. The shot of the beast vomiting up a pile of bones in its sewer lair is a certifiable highlight. There are curious touches of pratfall comedy, from which the fish itself is not immune, slipping and rolling on unsteady land legs. And the narrow focus on one family's search for a carried-off little girl (there's scant evidence of a widespread hunt for the monster) threatens the movie continually with sentimentality, and at the end, when all surviving family members must get in on the act, threatens it with silliness. You might wish you could take the movie a little more seriously, but you can be quite content to take it playfully. It is booked for the next week exclusively at the Ken Cinema, the multiplexes' loss.
Wild Hogs, directed by Walt Becker, is a middle-age-crazy road comedy about four Cincinnati suburbanites who head out for Los Angeles on their recreational choppers, hoping to reclaim their freedom as well as their manhood, coping along the way with weak prostates, a gay cop (horrors!), an angry bull, and an angrier gang of pseudonymous Hell's Angels. None of the four is crazier than the matchmaking chemist who put together as bosom buddies Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, John Travolta, and William H. Macy, respectively bearing the imprint of the TV sitcom, the comedy club, the Hollywood mainstream, and the idiosyncratic "indie." Their common bond on this occasion boils down to their evident interest in a paycheck and their evident uninterest in whatever they have to do for it. Travolta works cheerfully, and Macy works hard. Fans of the latter in particular (I count myself among them) can safely take a pass. Fans of Allen and Lawrence, on the other hand, will be better prepared for the level of entertainment. The belly-crawling level.
Days of Glory, a vague renaming of Indigènes, or Natives, has a point to make about the debt of the French to the North African volunteers who, despite second-class treatment, helped liberate their "motherland" from Nazi occupation, a debt ignored at the time and still today. The point is made frequently and clearly ("We're changing the destiny of France. Things must change for us, too"), but seldom entertainingly. Filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb, of Algerian descent, depends overmuch upon current social and economic inequities to add piquancy to the routine troop maneuvers, on and off the battlefield. He exercises tighter control only once the Arabs have been whittled down to a final four, trying to hold on to an Alsatian village till the arrival of reinforcements. All throughout, Patrick Blossier's cinematography is exemplary, keeping the wide-screen image clean and tidy while working in near-monochrome, normally a slippery slope into mud and mush.
Miss Potter update: just in the past week, in separate announcements, the rescheduled release date was confirmed as Friday the 9th, then postponed, then reconfirmed as the 9th, then postponed again. (Always great doing business with the Weinstein Company.) The new date is either the 23rd or the 30th or don't hold your breath. I might find this really, really annoying if the movie mattered to me. In the meantime, let me remind you that the San Diego Latino Film Festival gets underway tonight, the 8th, at Hazard Center. You can count on it.