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DID YOU READ

“Black Snake Moan,” “The Wayward Cloud”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Black Snake Moan,” Paramount Vantage, 2007]

“Black Snake Moan”

“Y’all ready for some shit?” a bald, bearded Samuel L. Jackson bellows near the climax of “Black Snake Moan.” Brother, you ain’t kidding. Not because Craig Brewer’s latest film, the highly watchable, highly curious, highly unclothed “BSM,” is shitty, but because, as Jackson’s character, an old farmer, bluesman and self-styled faith healer named Lazarus, implies, there is some crazy crap going on in it. Whatever criticisms we may level against Brewer, there’s no denying “Black Snake Moan” is unlike any other film made recently. You can boil it down to a logline — it’s sort of “Misery” meets “The Exorcist” meets “A Dirty Shame” — but even that doesn’t do justice to the passion of the filmmaking or the authentic wackiness of the story. Brewer’s “Hustle and Flow” may have felt an awful lot like a hip-hop version of “Saturday Night Fever”; “Black Snake Moan” is wholly original.

Set in a Deep South, deep poverty milieu like that of “Hustle and Flow,” the story begins in a small Tennessee town where the denizens are more likely to drive a tractor than a car, and where everyone knows the town floozy, Christina Ricci’s Rae. When her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) leaves her to serve in Iraq, Rae goes on a sex, booze and drugs bender of astonishing proportions and, through a mixture of bad luck and worse luck, winds up unconscious and seminude at Lazarus’ doorstep. After Rae refuses to lie still amidst raging hallucinations and coughing fits, Laz decides to chain her to his radiator until he can “cure” her of her “wickedness.”

Lazarus is a former blues singer, and “Black Snake Moan” (itself named for an old Blind Lemon Jefferson tune) works as a lesson about the blues and as a sort of blues itself. An opening narration informs us there is only one kind of blues, and that is between a male and a female. Lazarus and Rae have that sort of relationship between them, one defined by sex and need, but really their story is about their failures as lovers and mates. We meet both characters as they are left by their significant others, Rae by Ronnie, Lazarus by his wife, now sleeping with his brother. While Ricci rarely wears a single article of clothing that covers the flesh below her middle thighs or her navel, and spends most of the movie writhing and/or crawling on the ground gripped by a sexual fever, the movie is more about the struggle to fill the emptiness in our lives than about how sexy Ricci is.

And yet there’s no denying or ignoring the way Brewer lingers on Ricci’s slim, half-dressed physique. Though “Black Snake Moan” is ultimately a redemption story, it doesn’t seem to mind delighting in its sins before it’s time to get redeemin’. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call some of the scenes exploitative — hell, even the marketing sells the film as an exploitation picture.

But like many of the unappreciated filmmakers who made some of those old exploitation pictures, Brewer has legitimate artistic chops; a good ear for dialogue, a talent with actors and a knack for making films with really good soundtracks. At times his visuals are as saucy as his subject matter: a shot that captures Rae’s stupor by dragging the camera at a ninety-degree angle to the ground might just be the best approximation of drunkenness ever recorded on film.

Ricci is fearless and surprisingly touching, Jackson is fun (though at times his “SAY IT AGAIN MUTHA FUCKA!” shtick gets a little too close to “Pulp Fiction”‘s Jules) and Justin Timberlake looks remarkably naïve for a guy who most recently was seen bringing sexy back. The ending might be a little too pat, but I think that comes from the blues, too, which take on an increasingly important role in Rae’s (and Lazarus’) rehabilitation. “Ain’t not better cure for the blues than some good pussy,” someone says in “Black Snake Moan.” Rae’s story suggests that the reverse may be true as well.

“The Wayward Cloud”

It’s been over a year since I’ve seen it (as part of BAM’s once annually, now presumably defunct, “Best of” series programmed by The Village Voice), and the details are a little fuzzy, but I still give “The Wayward Cloud” a hearty blanket recommendation for anyone old enough to legally watch people have sex with bulbous fruits and then sing and dance about it. Yes, it’s a mondo-apocalypto-musical(o) romp from Tsai Ming-liang, whose previous picture, “Goodbye, Dragon Inn” was a nearly silent film about a group of people (and, perhaps, ghosts) haunting a decrepit movie theater in the midst of a driving rain storm.

In “Dragon Inn” there was water everywhere; in “The Wayward Cloud,” there’s none to be found. A horrendous drought sends the characters in search of hydration wherever they can find it — including the inside of a watermelon, which in turns becomes an object of desire both for the stomach and unmentionables as well. Rather graphic man-on-woman-on-produce sex ensues, as well as Tsai’s trademark long takes and, yes, minimal dialogue.

I recall not entirely following what was going on, and not particularly caring while I was completely enthralled by Tsai’s unusually frenetic pacing and camerawork (for him, anyway). I do remember wondering how different “Goodbye, Dragon Inn” would have been if “The Wayward Cloud” had been playing on the screen in its theater on that fateful night. To crib a line from “The Naked Gun,” you can learn a lot from something if it’s awful wet, and, in this case, you won’t come up dry.

“Black Snake Moan” opens wide on March 2 (official site); “The Wayward Cloud” is playing at the Anthology Film Archives in New York until March 4.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.