Sunday, 29 July 2007

Black Snake Moan

I'm a bit torn by this interesting movie. It was a different kind of experience. The world it creates has been criticized by some as southern cliche, but it felt like an intriguing and somewhat believable world, even if it's necessary to grant some poetic license. The music helps makes the movie and the casting seems perfect. At the same time, I want to be consistent and point out that it's probably worthy of some of the same criticism that I aimed at Perfume, even though I didn't find it as disturbing.

(Mild spoiler warning). When I first heard about the basic premise of the movie, I wasn't sure how they could pull off such a crazy plot (decent old black man - Lazarus played by Jackson - chains up hot young nymphomaniac - Rae played by Ricci - to save her from herself). But they do work at making it somewhat believable. It's rural enough to believe there aren't eyes watching every move. He feels he's already at risk simply by the fact that he's a black man on his own finding a scantily clad, beat up, spaced-out white girl. They're both crazy enough, passionate enough and impulsive enough to somehow make you think it could happen. In another words, it's not like either character is meant to have much good judgment, so why wouldn't you think they would do something stupid?

What's a bit of a tougher sell is that the chains could accomplish for a sex addict the equivalent of what going cold turkey accomplishes for a narcotics addict. Bringing in the pastor helps provide a little more context for a believable healing. And the pastor is an excellent character - fearless and earthy as Lazarus is, but with a little more good sense.

But I criticized Perfume:Story of a Murderer for combining naked female bodies with murder in a way which could too easily stimulate some sick connections in some viewers. The sensual aspect at least could have been easily avoided. In a somewhat lighter way, Black Snake Moan could be guilty of the same thing. In fact, judging by the poster which I've included in this blog, they're even guiltier of being intentional about using the erotic appeal to sell the movie (based on the layout and the caption, 'everything is hotter down south').

It's hard to applaud the movie-maker's obvious exploitation of the scantily clad girl in chains, even when it's pretty clear that Lazarus is not doing it for his own gratification. (And I think they played his own temptations at just the right level.) Yet, somehow - perhaps because it is so obvious - it comes across as a more forgivable and less twisted exploitation than I felt was true of Perfume.

Maybe, the difference is also that in this film the element of exploitation is over-shadowed by the theme of redemption. As a viewer, instead of being drawn into the darkness of murder, you vicariously experience the resistance of temptation leading to the life-giving possibilities of self-control. Or, maybe I'm just trying to justify enjoying the movie.***

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Keeping Mum

Here’s a kind of movie I haven't seen for a while – a black comedy version of a Mary Poppins story. A somewhat dysfunctional vicar’s family is given a dose of Grace (the character’s name) in a rather unusual form. They pretend to play up the thriller dynamic just enough not to take away from the overall light comic tone. In fact, it could almost work as a family picture for older kids, if it weren’t for some language issues and double entendres that the brighter kids might not miss. Oh, and some nudity. OK – maybe not really a family movie, but at least you probably wouldn’t be embarrassed watching it with friends.

The character of the parents is developed enough to give the story some substance. They are also well-acted by Kristin Scott Thomas and Rowan Atkinson. Thomas really does a great job with her character’s ambivalence and Atkinson mostly restrains his Mr. Bean side in order to play the nice but absent-minded vicar. The kids’ characters are left pretty shallow, which is unfortunate. There probably would have been enough time in the movie to make their stories a little more plausible and less cliché, but they let the opportunity pass by.

As far as the other roles, Maggie Smith is, of course, wonderful, and Swayze is at least in the right kind of role.

The quality of the changes that turn the family around are somewhat questionable, but that’s hard to criticize given that the new housekeeper is hardly an example of perfection. Metaphorically, you could say that it makes the point that niceness doesn't always work and sometimes you have to put something to death to bring some real change. Still, especially for Grace’s intervention in the boy’s problems, one might have hoped for something a little more creative. With plot as with character development, the children just didn’t seem like they were given the attention that the parents’ plot was given.

This movie was not all that widely distributed, and I could barely get a copy in St. Stephen, but it was definitely worth watching. A little better writing for the children’s roles and it could have been wonderful. ***

Monday, 2 July 2007


Well, I'm finally breaking my silence. I'm not sure why I haven't written in so long, though part of it was not seeing anything that inspired me to write. Now, I wouldn't say that Shooter was inspirational, but I did feel like writing a few words after seeing this movie.

If existential comedies are my favourite genre of movie, then revenge movies are just about my worst. Extreme violence is bad enough in itself, but manipulating the viewer into longing for that violence is just plain disturbing and that, of course, is what revenge movies do. There are a few elements of this movie that are cheap examples of exactly this kind of manipulation. Without that element it could have been a good action/fugitive movie to waste a bit of summer adrenaline on.

What I found interesting about the movie was watching it in the middle of the Washington Post revelations about Cheney. Can anyone help but see Cheney's face in the place of the senator in the movie? In that sense, it seems to me that this movie is indicative of the increasingly intense frustration at the powerlessness we feel in the face of corporate and political evil. Is Cheney not a classic example of how they're not even subtle about their evil power anymore? It's right in your face. And, unless one gives in to despair, it makes one desperate to find a way to fight back.

The disappointment of Shooter is that it doesn't even point to any self-awareness of the paradox of this desire to fight back with violence and lawlessness. Could the characters not even have caught a glimpse of how they were becoming the very thing they hated? Would that kind of glimpse really be too much to ask?

So, while enjoying the fugitive vs. evil conspiracy theme, I give it a frustrated **.