Saturday, March 3, 2007

Black Snake Moan Review

Director Craig Brewer's most recent serves a fine taste of the south, a hearty taste of the blues, and the occasional taste of brilliance.

Black Snake Moan is a film that isn't easily lumped into any specific genre. The movie shares elements found all over the world of film and lumps them all together, creating unique picture that's inevitably quite interesting. For starters, Craig Brewer decided to shoot a large portion of this film as a character drama, letting the performances dominate many of the shots and making sure that his film making didn't distract the viewer. That's only a portion of the film though. Black Snake Moan is unorthodox because it incorporates aspects from dramas, musicals, and psychological thrillers to create the the feeling and mood found in the film.

The premise for the movie is fairly simple. A nymphomaniac simply known as Rae is found unconscious on the side of the road by a withering bluesman named Lazarus who takes her in, hoping to cure her of her addiction to sex. Lazarus, who is played by Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Snakes on a Plane), finds the only way to help the girl is to chain her to his radiator, preventing her from leaving his home. Now, this act seems barbaric and harsh but it works well in the film and you understand what would motivate Lazarus to do such an obscure thing to a woman.

The performances from Sam Jackson and Christina Ricci (Prozac Nation, Sleepy Hollow), who plays Rae, are pretty amazing and keep you gripped throughout the duration of the flick. Jackson does an excellent job playing an often firm yet gentle man and you can see that his character has made sacrifices earlier in his life without the film going into any detail. Ricci is also top-notch. She plays an extremely intense character who seems to have a soft side hidden beneath her shell that she's afraid will leak out. Some of the scenes with Rae are downright scary as her addiction takes over and she's on the verge of exploding. Justin Timberlake is also in the film, playing Rae's boyfriend who's initially shipped off to Iraq. He does an alright job but is nothing spectacular, although I couldn't stop thinking "bye bye bye" whenever I saw his face.

Another highlight of the film was Brewer's use of music. As I mentioned above, a large portion of the film relies on music to get its point across and the scenes where tunes took the forefront were easily the best in my opinion. Sam Jackson did all of his own music for the film, both guitar and lyrics, and it fits extremely well and feels gritty and raw. I'm really contemplating picking up the soundtrack for Black Snake Moan just because the music was so powerful and well done.

The only complaint I have about Black Snake Moan is that I feel it could have been wrapped up in a better fashion than it was. The film leaves a little bit of the story open for interpretation, which I enjoy, but I felt as if the ending was a bit cliche. It worked fairly well with the film but I would have loved to see it interpreted in a fashion with a little less cheese.

Black Snake Moan
was well worth the price of admission and I can't wait until it hits DVD so I can take it all in again. Both Jackson and Ricci's performances were top-notch and the music in the film really struck a chord. I can't wait to check out Craig Brewer's next film as he has really been striking up quite a career for himself.

One Sentence Review: You'll go for the story but stay for the music, Black Snake Moan is worth checking out.


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Thursday, March 1, 2007

D'Airain Adventure #1 Review

Ashley Wood's new comic series' first issue is something completely different, extremely unusual, and surprisingly excellent.

I picked up the first issue to Ashley Wood's D'Airain Adventure completely blind to what I was going to find inside. I had heard a few things about it on the net leading up to the IDW Publishing release, and I knew I was going to buy it, but I hadn't really taken to time to investigate what the series was really about. When I sat down to read the issue I was pleasantly surprised but a bit taken back; the format found in this book is something most comic fans probably haven't seen before.

Instead of the usual one linear story told over the course of 32 pages, the D'Airain Adventure series features four or five overlapping stories and vignettes per issue, ad free. Basically, you get a new story every few pages, some lasting for almost half the issue while others are only two pages long. This is an ongoing series though, so while one story might only be three pages in the first issue, it will continue in the next installment of the series.

I think that this format really fits the type of book Wood and his co-writer wife T.P. Louise are doing. Keeping the stories as short little samples per issue keeps them fresh and interesting. While a boring story found in a book with more popular characters (Batman, Spider-Man, etc.) will retain most readers, IDW knows that a bad issue of D'Airain Adventure could kill off a large chunk of their fan base. This is why the multi-story issue works; If you run into a sequence you don't like then it's no big deal, it's only a page or two.

I'm also looking forward to seeing what kind of art Ashley Wood will pump out in this series. His work in the first issue is spectacular and diverse as he uses different techniques and styles throughout while retaining the unique style that defines him. Some pages are rough and quick, but interesting, while others are vividly fleshed out. No matter the style he chooses to use, all of his panels are very well composed.

Another thing to point out with this issue is the quality of the paper it's printed on. D'Airain Adventure is published on extremely thick and smooth stock, something even thicker than what's found in most current graphic novels. It also features a nice and solid matte cover with cover flaps on the front and back which display even more of Wood's art.

The first issue of D'Airain Adventure is a great read and I can't wait to see where this series is going to go. Hopefully the second issue doesn't miss a beat and that the stories are able to progress smoothly with only a few pages devoted to each on per issue.

Did any of you guys pick up this book this week? If you did, what did you think of it?


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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

VIDEO GAMES: Call of Juarez Announced for Xbox 360

Ubisoft has announced that the western shooter that was thought to be a PC exclusive will also hit Microsoft's 360.

So far the only Western released for the Xbox 360 has been Activision's pitiful GUN, which released with the console a year and a half ago. Ubisoft has plans to stir another wild west shooter into the mix and will release Call of Juarez for the console at the same time as the North American PC release.

The game is set in Texas during the late 1800s. You play two characters: Billy Candle, an outlaw accused of murder, and Ray McCall, the gunslinger who's task it is to hunt him down. Yes, this means you'll be playing conflicting sides of the story. While playing either of these characters you'll have a vast array of historically correct pistols and rifles at your disposal as well as your fists if you want to eliminate your foes nice and dirty like. The game also has a stealth engine and sneaking around takes up a decent chunk of the gameplay. Call of Juarez will also feature a large selection of gametypes for matches on Xbox Live.

Now, Call of Juarez may seem like your run-of-the-mill shooter, and I'm pretty sure that's all it'll be, but the western perspective has me really interested in this game. It appears that the Polish development team, Techland, has really nailed the western period. I'm sure just strolling through some of these historic towns will be a treat in their own right.

Check out the gameplay trailer:

Call of Juarez is already out for the PC in Europe but will hit the North American market in the summer, along with the Xbox 360 version.

What have you heard about Call of Juarez? Do you think it'll be a worth a buy? A rental? Or should I skip it altogether? Post a comment and let me know.


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Monday, February 26, 2007

The Prestige DVD Review

Does the single-disc release of The Prestige contain enough substance to be a worthwhile DVD?

The Prestige is one of those films that has all the right pieces to make it work. For starters, it's directed by one of my current favourites, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins), and is shot by the two-time academy award nominated cinematographer Wally Pfister. It also features the very well cast performances of Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, David Bowie, and Scarlett Johansson (who isn't as spectacular). I thoroughly enjoyed The Prestige and have been waiting eagerly to add it to my DVD collection since I caught it in theatres back in October.

Unfortunately, The Prestige DVD is only a one disc affair. This means that there isn't much extra content to be found on the DVD and while there is some top notch substance, there just isn't enough of it.

A large chunk of the bonus content is something called The Director's Notebook. This is a collection of interviews with the cast and crew of The Prestige about many of the elements that went into the creative process for the film. We hear Christopher Nolan talk about the effect of the film's Victorian setting, his fast-paced shooting style, Nikola Tesla, and the use of magic as a form of faith, as well as other subjects. It's a very interesting watch but it's too brief and only runs for roughly 15 minutes when it could have easily been stretched out to an hour or two.

Another feature found on the DVD are the production galleries. These show stills from the film, pictures from the set, and the different costumes and locations used. There is also a gallery of all of the painted magician posters found in the film which are worth a second look.

Unfortunately, just like Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins DVD, this disc is missing a director's commentary. I would have loved to hear Nolan's take on the film and it's too bad that it wasn't included.

I can overlook The Prestige DVD's lack of features because it's such a great film but it's really disappointing that this wasn't a two-disc release. Who knows, maybe a special edition might hit the shelves if this DVD sells well, but I wouldn't count on it.


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

COMICS: Marvel Announces Halo Ongoing Series

Superstar writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev will kickstart the series based on the hit Xbox videogame.

Marvel has announced that, after the success of the Halo graphic novel they put out in the summer, they have plans for a monthly Halo comic book. Not many details have been dropped as of yet but it's official that writer Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers) and artist Alex Maleev (Daredevil) will handle the first few issues of the book.

I'm really interested to see what Marvel and Brian Michael Bendis can do with this title. I'm a huge fan of the Halo universe and have been hoping for an ongoing title since I read the graphic novel Marvel put out a few months back. How will Bendis handle the title though? Will the focus be on Master Chief? Maybe they'll decide to chronicle the life of a UNSC soldier. They might even decide to focus on the Covenant perspective. Whatever the case I'm sure Bendis will pull through with this title. I can't wait.

Nothing was mentioned about when the first issue would be released.


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Reno 911!: Miami Review

Reno 911!: Miami may lack character progression, a central theme, or a plot, but it's one damn fun movie.

Every so often a flick roles around and drags me into the silly little world it creates and fills me with tingles of laughter until I burst. Movies that don't contain much substance other than jokes, cameos, and the occasional plot point that feels like it was thrown into the script during that day of shooting. Reno 911!: Miami fits this description and for a film with almost no direction I can say that I sure as hell enjoyed it.

Before I start this review let me say this: If you can't bear to watch the Reno 911! TV show than this isn't the right film for you. While the feature film may have a few differences from the Comedy Central show it is still the same thing at heart; if you despise it I recommend steering clear. Now, not having seen the show going into the theatre doesn't hurt your viewing experience, so don't worry if you haven't even heard of the makeshift cops from Reno county.

The movie centres on eight clumsy, stupid, and problematic deputies who are called into Miami for the annual Police Convention. They are denied entry into the event but find out that a terrorist has deployed poisonous chemicals into the convention centre and they are the only remaining cops in Miami able to hunt him down. Now, that's about all we get in the way of plot, but don't fret, this isn't the type of movie bent on substance. Instead of a strong, driven narrative we are shown small snippets of encounters and situations that the Reno team must work through during their stay in Miami.

For example, we see two deputies try and manage a drunk citizen who wishes to fight the alligator residing in his neighbour's pool. We also find the whole squad in a predicament as they try and remove a beached whale from a nude beach. The film is made up of these small and hilarious moments of irony and stupidity and they work. It's the areas where the movie tries to progress the plot that fall short.

One problem I did have with the movie though was the lack of a documentary feel. The Reno 911! show is shot as a mockumentary and while some sections of the film utilize that style I feel as if it could have been implemented a bit more. I also wish that there were a few more sketches thrown into the mix to conjure a few more laughs from the audience, but maybe that's just the fan in me screaming for an encore.

If you're looking for a lighthearted film with quick laughs and cheap humour then go check out Reno 911!: Miami. I really enjoyed it. I'm sure I'll forget everything that made it great in a month or two and probably never see it again, but I can say I had a good time seeing it in theatres. It may just be my love for the characters or my appreciation of the TV show but I found Reno to be a hilarious ride.

What did you think of Twentieth Century Fox's Reno 911!: Miami? Post a comment and let me know.


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