Blu-ray Movie Review June 25, 2007

Blu-ray Disc movie releases for the week of June 26, 2007 include Samuel L. Jackson in Black Snake Moan and Terrence Howard in Hustle & Flow.

Black Snake Moan (Paramount)
Featuring: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina “Exploit Me” Ricci, Justin Timberlake and Kim Richards

This lurid title, redolent of the old miscegenation fallacies of the old American South is actually a morality tale whose title is taken from a blues song written in 1927 by Blind Lemon Jefferson. Other than that, this tale of a sex-addicted young woman named Rae (Ricci, in an shockingly immersive performance) and the religious ol’ bluesman who helps her find herself and overcome her mean demons, is a familiar yet off-beat redemption story told with originality and dramatic heft by the seasoned performers. Director Craig Brewer, of Hustle & Flow fame, continues to fuse his Southern Gothic influenced storytelling sensibilities with gritty, contemporary plotting to come up with engrossing stories that often had me rooting for folks that normally I wouldn’t give an iota of care about. Brewer has a sure hand with actors (including a very good, believe it-or-not, performance from Justin Timberlake) and his deft integration of musical elements (first the hip-hop of Hustle & Flow and now the bluesy roots music of the deep South in Black Snake Moan) proves he’s a major cinematic talent to watch… a storyteller whose sense of classic narrative rhythms and taste for the more lurid aspects of Southern life show flair without flash, and keeps you interested in his characters right to the end. (Off the cuff: this film had one of the BEST billboard advertising campaigns… ever! The kind that causes car accidents as rubberneckers try to get a handle on what they saw.)

The image on the Blu-ray release looks hot enough to cause the plasma on your HD set to bubble and burst. We get a widescreen 2.35 theatrical ratio transferred via 1080p AVC compression and it looks absolutely fantastic. You would think from the ad campaign that you might get a grindhouse-style look for this film, but it’s actually a rather beautiful looking picture with nary a blemish to be found. The audio, on the other hand, is a little lackluster considering the excellent image transfer. We’re offered a (very) standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix (in English and French… subtitles are in English/French/Spanish). No True HD or PCM lossless for this release and that’s just not understandable since the movie is heavy on music to enhance the drama. However, the special features are adequate for a film that performed well in its initial first few weeks of release but then faded from view. There’s actually high-def bonus content here! Included on the disc are:

  • Alternate Scenes – Deleted Scenes (HD)
  • Audio Commentaries – Craig Brewer – Director/Writer
  • Behind the Scenes – “Conflicted: The Making of BLACK SNAKE MOAN”
  • Featurettes:
    • 1. “Rooted in the Blues”
    • 2. “The Black Snake Moan”

The featurettes give some excellent background on Brewer’s inspirations and the issues he faced in making and marketing the film. Worth viewing, especially to see the lengths to which both Ricci and Jackson went through to make their performances physically and emotionally believable. Wow!

Hustle & Flow (Paramount)
Featuring: Terrence Howard, Ludacris, D.J. Qualls, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning and Taraji P. Henson

I was less of a fan of this film on its release, but on video it’s grown on me a bit… I still have plenty of issues in rooting for a pimp who treats women like shit on his show, but then I also watch plenty of Sopranos episodes and find myself rooting wholeheartedly for what boils down to a big, fat murdering thug. In any case, this film was Craig Brewer’s second feature effort (his first was a little seen film called The Poor & The Hungry) and it amounts to his mainstream debut… and it’s a knockout, if you can get past the queasy feeling of rooting for the success of a drug dealing pimp named DJay (an excellent Terrence Howard). The rags to riches to rags story (don’t wanna give away the end, but it’s rather conflicted that’s for sure) frames a high-energy film with a strong hip-hop beat.

The film won the Oscar for Best Original Song for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” Strong on character development, with exciting performances by Howard, skinny-assed D.J. Qualls and Anthony Anderson, the film is definitely worth a look and seems to be part of Brewer’s ongoing fascination (see Black Snake Moan) with the racial and economic issues of the Deep South. The Blu-ray disc from Paramount is similar (but not exact) in transfer compression and encoding quality to Black Snake Moan on Blu-ray. The overall image is excellent: we have a 1.85 widescreen transfer that loses none of the visual impact of the theatrical presentation. But, again, the weakness here is with the audio– an AC-3 DD5.1 surround mix that adds nothing to the music but delivers fine dialog from the center channel and front. Since the music in this film is hardly a trivial aspect, I can’t understand why there’s not a lossless PCM mix here. Subtitles and the DD audio mix are in English, Spanish and French. The features, except for the theatrical trailers, are not in HD. They include:

  • Audio commentary with writer/director Craig Brewer
  • Extended Scenes
  • Featurette: Behind the Hustle
  • Featurette: By Any Means Necessary
  • Featurette: Creatin’ Crunk
  • Memphis hometown premiere
  • “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” – Acoustic performance
  • Character audition and rehearsal segments
  • 6 promotional spots
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD)

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Christian Hokenson

Christian Hokenson

Christian Hokenson enjoys knife throwing, growing exotic mosses, and that warm spot where the sun shines through the corrugated box. Christian also writes for Gadget Review. You can also find Christian on Google+, and Twitter.

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