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Weekend!Movies: Southern gothic, Argentine war crimes and Bugs Bunny's voice
by: © PARAMOUNT CLASSICS,

Edited by Anne Marie DiStefano

'Black Snake Moan' (R)

Writer-director Craig Brewer ('Hustle and Flow') sucks you in with the exploitation-flick promise of this Southern gothic gem, and then seduces with a story that's dark, funny, touching and never less than compelling, about two damaged souls who find healing in the course of their seriously bizarre relationship.

Samuel L. Jackson is the best he's ever been as Lazarus Long, a hardworking Christian man whose wife has left, leaving him bitter and defeated.

When he finds the town hussy, Rae (Christina Ricci), half-naked and unconscious in the road near his home, he takes her in and patches up her wounds. Delirious with fever, she runs from his house - so he chains her to the radiator, partly to keep her safe but also so he can cure her of her wickedness.

What follows is one of the most delicious screen pairings in years, and a surprising testament to compassion as Rae finds the father figure she's never had in Laz, who not only grows to love this trashy little white girl, but picks up his guitar again and returns to playing the blues.

The acting, the music and the cinematography are superb - this is a film that shouldn't be missed.

- Dawn Taylor

Fox Tower, Lloyd Mall, Division Street, Bridgeport

'Cautiva' (NR)

A 15-year-old Buenos Aires girl (Bárbara Lombardo) is abruptly removed from the upper-middle-class home she has always known. She is told that she is actually the daughter of a couple who were among the tens of thousands who 'disappeared' during Argentina's military dictatorship of the '70s.

After being placed in the custody of a woman who claims to be her grandmother, she attempts to find out the truth with the help of another girl whose mother survived a 'disappearance.'

This Argentine drama, whose title translates as 'captive,' deals with the same subject matter as the 1985 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, 'The Official Story,' only from a child's, rather than a parent's, point of view.

Director Gaston Biraben's approach is subdued and matter-of-fact, but strongly felt, relying largely and successfully on the touching performance of Lombardo as an after-the-fact victim who awakens to a nightmare that still haunts her country.

- Pat Holmes

Hollywood

'The Dead Girl' (R)

As flicks about murder go, this one takes a refreshingly unusual path - it shows the ways in which the discovery of a young woman's body affects the lives of several people connected to the discovery.

The wimpy spinster (Toni Collette) who finds the corpse takes hesitant steps toward extracting herself from the clutches of her abusive mother (Piper Laurie).

A morgue assistant (Rose Byrne) thinks the body might be that of her once-abducted sister, and hopes that this will bring some peace to her parents (Bruce Davison, Mary Steenburgen).

A bitter housewife (Mary Beth Hurt), written like a character in a Stephen King novel, suspects that her husband (Nick Searcy) is the killer, and the dead girl's mother (Marcia Gay Harden) tries to figure out just where her daughter's life went wrong.

And, finally, we see the events that led the victim (Brittany Murphy) to her doom.

The cast is first-rate, and while the story doesn't sizzle, it does quietly intrigue. If nothing else, it's a showcase for some marvelous acting.

- DT

Fox Tower

Also new this week:

Mel Blanc, who grew up in Portland, gave voice to many of the most memorable cartoon characters of all time - Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, just to name a few. See a sampling of his work projected in 16 mm glory as part of Dennis Nyback's animation marathon, now in its second week at Disjecta. The Mel Blanc show is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 3, with other shows 7:30 p.m. nightly through March 14, 230 E. Burnside St., $6, www.oregoncartoon institute.com.

Mystified by experimental filmmaker Matthew Barney? Perhaps the documentary 'Matthew Barney: No Restraint' will clarify things for you … or perhaps not (Hollywood). 'Where's Molly?' tells of an Oregon man's search for his developmentally disabled sister, who disappeared into an institution when she was only 3 years old. The special screening is a benefit for advocacy group the Arc (7 p.m. Saturday, March 3, Living Room, $30).