Kirk Honeycutt on "Black Snake Moan," (dir. Craig Brewer "Hustle & Flow")
. . . Screenwriter-director Craig Brewer likes to make films about how music can heal people, and he got away with some pretty ludicrous fantasies about pimps and whores in his last film, "Hustle & Flow," thanks to the music and winning performances. The blues music in "Moan" is superfine, but my oh my, what to make of the ripe Southern cliches and this absurd story. The film is so jaw-dropping awful that it just might become a boxoffice hit. The cast certainly is a plus as long as no one minds that Jackson sings and Timberlake doesn't. . .
James Greenberg on "Hounddog," (dir. Lisa Kampmeier)
. . . Occasionally, Kampmeier lays on the southern Gothic too heavily. Snakes are crawling everywhere in the movie, and after Lewellen is raped, she is visited in bed by a bunch of reptiles. The tone of the story veers from the naturalistic to the mythical, but it is sometimes inconsistent, and a couple of plot points are overplayed. Still, in spite of a few missteps, the cumulative impact of the film is undeniable.
Shot beautifully by Ed Lachman, Jim Denault and Stephen Thompson, the darkness and light in the forest conjures up the lair of a fairy tale princess, which is the kind of archetypal power Kampmeier is aiming for. After the incident, which threatens to destroy her life, Lewellen is rescued not by a prince but by Charles, who forces her to exorcise her demons by singing the blues. Her now hesitant and soulful rendition of "Hounddog" is both heartbreaking and life-affirming.
A bluesy score by Me'shell Ndegeocello and period songs, including Big Momma Thorton's original version of "Hounddog," evoke the mournful undertone of life in the South. It is from this kind of suffering that artists are born. Lewellen might not be well or cured, but she is on the mend, which is a start.
Duane Byrge on "Snow Angels," (dir. David Gordon Green, "Undertow")
. . . Told contextually as filmmaker David Gordon Green interweaves the three "romances," "Snow Angels' is unsparing in its depiction of the pain of relationships. While often hard to watch because of its unflinching portrayal of the ugliness that love can take, "Snow Angels" succeeds because of the depth of its well-drawn characters. With no cinematic sugarcoating, it's an organic story that draws us in to these people's lives, as flawed and destructive as they may be.
The portrayals are across-the-board well-realized. In particular, Sam Rockwell is powerful as the addictive, grandiose ex-husband who malevolently clings to his once happy family. As his pressurized ex-wife, Kate Beckinsale is sympathetic as a working woman who bravely tries to endure. On the lighter/younger side, Michael Angarano is appealingly awkward as the love-smitten high-school student. Also, Griffin Dunne is convincing as his self-centered, philandering father, while Amy Sedaris is nicely spunky as a rag-tag waitress. The technical contributions smartly congeal; specifically, the multi-parted storylines are brilliantly connected by William Anderson's lucid editing.
Robert Koehler on "Padre Nuestro" (dir. Christopher Zalla)
The desperate conditions of Mexicans eking out a living in the U.S. is the basis for writer-director Christopher Zalla's contrived "Padre Nuestro." Far from the standard weepy melodrama that might be expected from a Yank filmmaker depicting an underclass that hangs on for dear life, pic is a straight thriller, sending its two morally opposite emigres into a clash of stolen identities and familial dreams. By any measure an unexpected and curious choice for Sundance's grand jury dramatic prize, Spanish-language film will perform well at fests but barely make a commercial ripple. . .