Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No Country For Old Men (2007)

"The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure. It's not that I'm afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He'd have to say, "O.K., I'll be part of this world."

That opening stretch of dialogue I always keep returning to. Taken verbatim from Cormac McCarthy's novel, it lays out the core themes of the film in the first 5 minutes. While this is going on, we are shown wide vistas of Texas. These shots would not be out of place in a Western, which is one of the genres No Country is apart of. Not only that, it shares the themes of the dying old west but at the same time flips them on its head and adds in thriller elements.

NCFOM was adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel. It is rife with material that would seem to suit the Coens: money, random violence and normal people getting caught up in terrible events.

The performances in this film are top notch. Josh Brolin, plays Llewelyn Moss. A gristled country boy who ends up stumbling upon the site of a drug shooting. He ends up finding a satchel of money. A device used in previous works like Fargo & Big Lebowski and as in those films it is used as a MacGuffin. It brings no peace of mind and no prosperity. The specific era the movie takes place (1980) is significant for marking a change of the direction of our country.

Anton Chigur, the cold hearted embodiment of evil played by Javier Bardem, is a contracted mercenary whose bizarre idea of freewill involves flipping a coin to determine whether you live or not. It is the best he can offer to those in dire circumstances. This is executed to great effect in a gas station scene.

The majority of the film focuses on the tense moments between Llewelyn & Anton, but the core character in the middle of the mess is Sheriff Tom Bell, an aged lawman of a simpler day and age where things were less chaotic. It is his story which elevates the material from being a tense thriller to a great film.

Longtime Coen Brothers collaborator Roger Deakins photographed the film and it is his richest work yet. Another frequent collaborator, Carter Burwell is less prominent. His scores have added extra dimensions to films like Barton Fink and Fargo. Here the score and music are almost non existant. In this film the directors take a page out of Hitchcock's book on how to use sound to the effect of adding tension.

The final 20 minutes of the film revolve around fate. "A man can't escape what's coming to him." is a phrase uttered by one of Sheriff Bell's friends. It leads to a haunting ending about the death of the old way of life. To Sheriff Bell violence, is just an outcome of recent moral deterioration. This is the darkness his father was guiding him though in his dream.

It's a theme that runs through many of the Coen Brother films. Most specifically Fargo. As generations progress and the world around us becomes more and more violent, we can only stand back in observation and accept it and say O.K. I'll be part of this world.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

The third and final installment of the Toy Story series shows that Pixar has not dropped the ball yet. They give good meaning to the G rating- you will find film fans and regular moviegoers of all ages in a film like this. Pixar kickstarted its career with the first Toy Story in 1995 and took off on a variety of imaginative films. The third film focuses on Andy going to college and the how the toys are no longer being played with.

Toy Story 3 opens on the right foot, with a sequence that is a subtle reference to the first film and contains imaginative visuals. As with the first two films, the toys mission to do one thing gets them swept up into something new entirely. Here they find themselves being thrown in a box and headed to Sunnyside Daycare. The care may not be entirely there as they soon find out from a purple bear named Lotso and his gang of misfit toys.

The characters that people have come to love- Woody, Buzz, Jesse, Rex, Mr. Potato Head, Ham and those quirky aliens are all presented with solid charcters arcs. In addition to that, we are given new characters- the aforementioned Lotso, Big Baby & Chuckles, three characters who share a storyline about replacing the old with the new. Ken & Barbie are even introduced here.

Director Lee Unkrich takes a darker approach to the material as John Lasseter did with the previous films. The second half of it turns out to be a prison escape film with winks to other films of that genre. This time the action is more up front. That being said, the comedy in the film is incredibly sharp and the scenes with Buzz in Spanish mode are absolutely hilarious.

Rewards for fans of the first film are a plenty. From character cameos (keep your eye on the garbageman's shirt) to visual references right down to the final shot of the film before the credits roll. Doing these types of things as well as balancing out enough material for people interested who haven't seen the previous film is everything a sequel should do. But then again, I know next to no one who hasn'tt watched and adored the previous Toy Story films.

Toy Story 3 aims for many things- laughter, suspense, adventure, nostalgia and it manages to hit each one on the mark. The ending speaks to anyone who had to let go of apart of their past. What better way to use it at the end of one of the best animated series films of all time that thousands of people from my generation grew up on. Goodbye Woody. Your my favorite deputy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gozu (2003)

Gozu, translated as goathead, is Takashi Miike's weirdest film in his vast filmography filled with perversities, subversiveness and quirkiness. Minami (Hideki Sone) mistakenly kills a gangster associate of his named Brother. Almost as soon as the murder takes place, the body of the deceased man is gone, prompting Minami to conduct a search. While looking he finds a mysterious isolated hotel where he decides to take a rest. Not only are the front desk clerks a bit strange, but even the ambiance feels unusual.

Gozu" is fascinating, unsettling, hypnotic, complicated, patently weird and, at times, terrifying and repulsive. This is primarily a stream of consciousness type movie, with an underlying theme of conflicted sexual identity. Stylistically, the film is quite Lynchian and is absolutely oversaturated with sexual iconography. The overall mood of the film is dark, mysterious, and dreamlike. There are 2-3 scenes most people will find highly disturbing. For people new to the work of Takashi Miike, I guess "Gozu" is a good place to start, but I would warn a bit beforehand that the going gets weird pretty quick.