Thursday, November 15, 2007

Black Snake Moan (2007)

* * *

How often does a film's soundtrack completely overshadow its plot? Aside from an entertaining performance by Samuel Jackson and a wild turn by Christina Ricci, the soundtrack is unfortunately all Black Snake Moan has to offer. The story of a down-and-out young sex addict who is taken in and nursed back to stability by a Bible thumping former bluesman is so over-the-top that even those who are attracted to it for being different will be overwhelmed. Scenes involving a girl chained to a radiator and violent sex driven flashbacks reminiscent of the Exorcist will chase away 90% of the potential audience, and the chance that that remaining 10% will find this film worthwhile due to a remarkably well chosen and executed soundtrack is slim. For those who do stick around for the ride, Christina Ricci is somehow both scorching hot and repulsive as a trailer-raised southern girl on a sex-spiked spiral after her boyfriend leaves to fulfill his service commitment. Justin Timberlake, who plays her boyfriend, seems to have been cast due to his name and not his talent. He doesn't fit into his role at all, takes most scenes beyond where they need to be without any nuance, and overall sticks out like a sore thumb in this dirty, gritty film. Written and directed by Craig Brewer, Black Snake Moan is an entertaining follow-up to Hustle and Flow, but not nearly as good. Where Hustle and Flow surprised many by being an excellent film, Black Snake Moan takes an intriguing premise and brings little substance to the screen. For those looking for a freak show, Jackson and Ricci are more than a good time, but for most the film goes too far in terms of content and time, running at least thirty minutes too long. Buy the soundtrack and fill in the blanks yourself.

Good for: blues fans, Ricci fans, people who go to carnival freak show tents

Bad for: the easily offended

The Gallery
The Surfer: * *

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

* * * *

There is no mistaking a Wes Anderson film. His signature style of dark humor and emotional button-pushing is omnipresent in the Darjeeling Limited, and is put to its best use since Rushmore. Anderson wrote the Script for Limited, but Jason Schwartzman, star of Rushmore, subsitutes for Owen Wilson as his screenwriting partner. Wilson is involved, however, as one of the co-stars alongside Schwartzman and newcomer Adrien Brody, who play three brothers reunited in a quest to meet their estranged mother on a revelatory trip through India. Only Anderson could make a good film based on such a bizarre premise, and he has made a solid career out of turning absurd family and personal hardships into comical and revealing stories. Limited is everything the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou wasn't; laugh-out-loud funny, emotionally accessible, and not over most people's heads. The three stars occupy the screen for most of the film, and bring the script to life just as Anderson would have hoped for. Wilson and Schwartzman are veterans of Anderson's films and portray their characters as one would expect, but Brody is the pleasant surprise. As Peter, the middle brother, he is funny, violent, selfish, pathetic, and sympathetic. Sri Lankan actress Amara Karan plays supporting character Rita in her first major film role and delivers a noteworth performance that is both sexy and troubled. The setting of India itself becomes a character and is captured brilliantly. The contrast of the three financially spoiled but emotionally deprived brothers against the spiritual atmosphere of India and the authenticity of the Indian characters maintains an awkward but entertaining tone against which the odd circumstances occur. Unlike past Anderson films, Limited never seems too long or drawn out and will keep newcomers to his style interested. Although he has made yet another film in the same mold as all of his past works, he is still the only one making these movies. The script is so distinctly fresh and so unquestionably different from anything else that it is hard not to enjoy the films. The combination of humor and tragedy presents a film experience with something for almost everyone. And Anderson's use of slow motion, multiple frames, and repeating soundtrack's add even more unique style to already good dialogue and plot. Darjeeling is not groundbreaking, and it may be more of the same, but every two or three years you get a new version of the same successful formula. The approxiametly ten minute short that preceeds Darjeeling entitled "Hotel Chevalier" includes Natalie Portman in what may be her most sizzling performance.

Good For: Wes Anderson fans, someone looking for something new and different, fans of dark comedies

Bad For: people who don't like unconventional movies, people who are bored easily, people who enjoy comedies for the jokes only

The Gallery
The Film Maker: * * * *
The Writer * * * *