Even if Fincher were as empathetic as Jonathan Demme, though, it’s possible that Graysmith’s escalating serial-killer fixation (which onscreen makes Chloë Sevigny decamp with the kids) wouldn’t have the kick it would have had ten or twenty years ago. Spending one’s life in a quest for justice by poring over forensic files and exhuming cold cases might once have been abnormal behavior, but now it’s grand escapist entertainment for the masses. As Mel Brooks would say, it’s Abby Normal.
At the multiplex in my progressive little fairy-tale kingdom of Park Slopia, the trailer for Black Snake Moan—in which big black Samuel L. Jackson chains little white nympho Christina Ricci in her shorty-cutoffs to his radiator—drew dark murmurs and even a few boos. What the hell—had Tarantino remade Mandingo?
We’ll see how the movie itself plays. It’s outlandish, hilariously overripe, and possibly sexist: You’d expect no less from Craig Brewer, the writer and director who made the passionate case for how hard it is out there for a pimp. But I loved the picture’s tabloid energy and heart. At bottom, Black Snake Moan is an old-fashioned feel-good, Sunday-schoolish kind of parable about a broken, bitter ex-alcoholic who’s spiritually reborn by, uh, chaining a little white nympho in shorty-cutoffs to his radiator. But it’s not how you think! Wouldn’t you have chained Anna Nicole to your radiator if you could have saved her? Wouldn’t you chain Britney to your radiator?
Okay, it is pretty sexist. But Ricci’s character, Rae, isn’t a predatory she-devil. She’s an abused and profoundly damaged young woman. She needs therapy—or an exorcism.
Jackson’s character, Lazarus (I know, I know), is a former blues singer, and the Deep South of Black Snake Moan is a world of bottomless blues—and bottomless greens and reds and pinks and yellows and browns. It’s a very colorful movie. Ricci’s flesh tones jump out of the screen; you almost forget how much weight she has lost. Those eyes were huge to begin with; now they look like something popping out of a shrunken head. (It’s still a big head in proportion to her body, though.) In any case, no one can win a staring contest against Samuel Jackson. “God seen fit to put you in my path,” he says, incinerating her with his gaze, “and I am going to cure you of your wickedness.” Basket cases saving other basket cases: If that’s not a design for living …
Jackson and Ricci are marvelous. So is the bucket-of-blood blues soundtrack, especially the song that goes, “I love you/Love them chicken heads, too.” Justin Timberlake doesn’t sing, but he gives a fine, sensitive performance as Rae’s fiancé, who suffers from his own uncontrollable spasms. Brewer directs as if his actors make him high. There is balm in Gilead.
Linda Hattendorf’s The Cats of Mirikitani won the audience-favorite prize at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, and it was my favorite, too. It’s one of the best kinds of documentaries—not calculated but serendipitous. An accident. A miracle. As you see in the opening scenes, Hattendorf becomes fascinated by a homeless, rather dotty 80-year-old Japanese-American artist named Jimmy Mirikitani, who lives and sleeps in the vicinity of her apartment near Washington Square Park. She buys some pictures from him and thinks, Hmmm, maybe he’d be a good subject. Then, on September 11, planes crash into the World Trade Center, and Hattendorf rushes to find Jimmy. She lets him sleep in her apartment—where together they watch reports of violence against Arab-Americans. Bingo! It turns out that during World War II, Jimmy was a prisoner in a California internment camp—and the aftermath of 9/11 brings up traumas long buried. By the time Hattendorf and Jimmy make their way to California for a reunion of internment-camp survivors, you’ll feel your own narrow vision has been liberated.