(On DVD, August 2017) Normally, I’m not too happy to report that a sequel is “more of the same,” but given my enthusiasm for 1990’s The Addams Family, I’m almost overjoyed to say that this sequel is, indeed, more of the same. The plot is just different enough to be interesting (as Fester is seduced by a gold-digging, husband-killing new character) but the atmosphere of the first film remains largely the same. Under the macabre humour lies genuine family love (although some early segments do push the limits of sibling rivalry), and the jokes are best when they’re unexpected. (I laughed far more than I ought to have at a simple “I respect that” or “Wait”) The strengths of the two Addams Family movies are the set pieces more than the plot, and this one does have one of the most honest depiction of Thanksgiving put on film, as well as a hilariously juvenile justification (with slides!) from the antagonist. Director Barry Sonnefeld has made one of his good movies here (the rest of his career … hit-and-miss), but much of the credit goes to the actors themselves. Raul Julia is fantastic as Gomez, Anjelica Huston is just as good as Morticia (while her impassible giving-birth scene is great, it took me far too long to notice the lighting effect on her eyes, but then it became hilarious to see it used in all circumstances), Christina Ricci shines as Wednesday and Joan Cusak holds up as Debbie. This sequel clicks in the same ways the original did, and yet still feels fresh enough to avoid accusations of re-threading. At this point, don’t bother seeing the first film if you don’t have Addams Family Values nearby, ready to be watched.
(On DVD, July 2017) There are times when you watch an older movie and it’s so good that you wonder why you haven’t seen it before. I’ll be the first to admit that The Adams Family isn’t a perfect film: As a macabre-themed comedy, it’s not built around a plot as much as gags and atmosphere, so it’s likely to be the kind of film that you find wonderful from beginning to end … or not. As far as I’m concerned, The Adams Family hits the right buttons in the right order. From the opening credit sequence (which features a font similar to Men in Black, also directed by Barry Sonnenfeld), it’s a ride through a darkly funny imagination. But there’s more than black comedy in play here: The appeal of The Addams Family isn’t necessarily in the macabre stuff as much as the solid family unit being demonstrated through the jokes. The lustful relationship between Morticia and Gomez is straight-up #relationshipgoals idyllic, and the film show over and over again that the Addams clan can rely on itself to take care of outsiders. And while the plot is simple, there’s some structural genius in the way it brings in an outsider to show what’s happening in that family, and to allow the intruder to be captured by the family’s charm. Otherwise, the jokes aren’t always obvious and even when they are, their delivery is perfect. (I laughed far too much at “Are they made from real Girl Scouts?”) The Addams Family does have the advantage of relying on an ensemble cast of terrific actors ideally suited to their role. Anjelica Huston has a career-best role as Morticia Adams, perfectly spooky and sexy at once. Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd both get to ham it up as brothers, while Christina Ricci got her breakout role here as Wednesday Addams. The stable of characters works well, but the production design and loopy humour is what sets this film apart. This delight-a-minute visual extravaganza may not work on everyone else equally, but as far as I’m concerned, The Addams Family is a classic that I should have seen much earlier.
(On DVD, April 2011) The marketing of this film scream southern exploitation, but the end result is more concerned with blues music and moral redemption than it is about tough-love cures for nymphomania. Samuel L. Jackson turns in an impressive performance as a retired-bluesman gentleman farmer who sees himself obligated to reform a deeply troubled girl who ends up in his front yard. (Christina Ricci, with a performance that’s both convincing and topless.) The surprise of the film however, is to see to what degree it manages to incorporate music as a guiding theme: Jackson himself is credible as a bluesman, and the soundtrack of the film holds up by itself. But that’s not as much of a surprise when considering that Black Snake Moan (titled from a classic blues number) is written and directed by Craig Brewer, whose previous film was Hustle & Flow: The two films share a number of similarities going beyond southern atmosphere and setting, to disgraced protagonists finding redemption in music. While Black Snake Moan doesn’t have many surprises and seems to move just a bit too slowly at times, it’s a success in presenting unusual characters in desperate situations and making us care for them. Jackson is a force of nature in this film, and the nature of the character lets him show a little bit more of his range than usual. The film isn’t nearly as offensive as the marketing would let you believe, and even if it cuts dramatic corners once in a while (the ending is a bit weak), it does feel a bit deeper than its first few minutes would suggest. A few tonal adjustments may have helped make it a bit easier to consider… but would it have destroyed the film’s voice? The DVD’s supplements (a few documentaries and an engaging commentary by director Brewer) lay to rest some of those questions as they explain the film’s origins in the director’s panic attacks, the weaving of musical and religious themes, as well as the advantages of shooting a film “at home” near Memphis.