Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Five blockbusters and a controversy

In recent days, and indeed nights, I have watched the Xmen triology (excellent blockbusting value); the first two Bourne films (superior spying lark, I can't wait to see Ultimatum; and Black Snake Moan. I would heartily recommend all six to anyone looking for a fun, light movie to while away an evening. They are all well above average. In the case of the two series, I wouldn't want to see any of them without having seen the previous episodes, particularly in the case of Xmen. However, the second Bourne film and second and third Xmen films are that rare breed: sequals just as enjoyable as the original film.

But it is Black Snake Moan that surprised me. It is not excellent. Justin Timberlake is a notable weak link in the otherwise very strong cast. The plot suffers from improbable reactions from some of the characters (which I couldn't go into without giving away bits of the plot). And the ending is unsatisfactory, unless you believe, and I suppose you might, that blues music has the ability to heal the deepest wounds of the soul.

Much of what I had heard about the movie was formulaic. Christina Ricci half naked chained to a radiator...misogynistic...unsensitive play on sexploitation movies...the frustrations of the male libido glorified through the showcasing of blues; the frustrations of the (dangerous) female libido 'cured' in a self-satisfied gender power-play...

Some reviewers who liked the film have accused its critics of not having watched it. I can see why. Much of the criticism, dressed up as intellectualising gender theory, seem either to give audiences far too little credit, or (which seems more likely) have read the themes of the film in an extraordinarily naive (or faux-naive) way.

That the 'affliction' from which Rae, played by Christina Ricci, needs redemption is extreme nymphomania, should not, I think, be taken too literally in thinking about the 'message' of the film. It is shorthand for hedonism. The film adopts the cinematic conventions of a sexploitation film, and tells a morality tale speaking to the present, not to the past. I will not give anything away, but I would definitely recommend this film, and not just as an object lesson in bad film criticism.

I repeat that this film is not excellent. This seems to have been the verdict of all the positive reviews, perhaps in reaction to the trenchant critics. It is, however, very very good, and contains perhaps the best performance from Samuel L Jackson that I have seen. It also has one of the most enjoyable soundtracks since the film that brought his other great performance, Pulp Fiction. Now that is saying something.


At 10:34 PM, Blogger UK plc said...

I had never got around to watching X-Men, until I saw a Russian-dubbed version on TV a couple of weeks ago. I don't know whether it says more about my undeveloped Russian language skills, or my undeveloped cinematic literacy, but I couldn't really follow (what is going on is clear enough, but the reasons behind it are rather obscure).
The Bourne Identity passed the time, but didn't inspire me to seek out more.
About Black Snake Moan (which I haven't seen) - there is an interesting question about why (most) critics will laud a film like Blue Velvet, but this kind of thing is intolerable. (Not that I think there was anything wrong with Blue Velvet). It's kind of like the whole project of Cultural Studies: taking control of this set of issues and setting out the boundaries in which they can be explored, in the name of a democratization and 'popularization' of culture. (Not, again, that I think Lynch was particularly playing in to or playing a part in this, but it's something which has been appropriated subsequently).


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