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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.