Thursday, December 13, 2007

***1/2: No Country For Old Men: Joel and Ethan Coen's "Pulp Fiction"

Brought to you by Miramax (now 100% Weinstein Free!*) and Paramount Vantage (and NOT Vintage!!! That's what I thought at first... Not that it's not vintage...)

Or as I think of it, the Fargo of our times. Although, as a Coen Loyalist (CL) I demand more flamboyance from their Opening Credit Sequences (OCS); for instance, Fargo just screamed Academy Award noms, didn't it? Something more comical like the complex computer animation involved in Lebowski's opening sequence, or even The Ladykillers; the Gilliam Monty-Python-esque opening for Intolerable Cruelty; the stark simplicity of Raising Arizona's opening lettering ... I think that's all of 'em. (oh yeah, the seriocomic nature of 'Man Who Wasn't There" 's lettering with their own (slightly off-axis) shadowing. To divert from my chain of thought briefly to better include the non-Coenheads out there: you may be asking yourselves, why Joel and Ethan? Because some combinations just sound better in a certain order, like Siskel & Ebert, Complaints & Grievances, and Seals & Croffts. Don't mess with what works. (DM3W?) At least, that's what Ethan says... E8-)> (beatnik Frankenstein)
Anyway, I never thought I'd find myself saying, blogging, or even contemplating this, but you nkow what? Three and a half stars from me! And I come to this decision with a heart that is clearly heavy for those of you who can see it (as long as you can't smell it or touch it, we'll get on just fine.) This is coming from a guy who gives (all the movies in) their collection 4 stars, a guy who OWNS their entire collection (except for certain bullshit re-packaged collections just because the latest and greatest studio, like Universal, recently bought 'em ... anyway, you get the idea [YGTI] ). I'm not really concerned about peer pressure on this decision, unlike my disastrous review of Clerks... Man, I'm still opening fresh hate mail 'bout that one. Passion of the Clerks, indeed!
And I hope Deakins gets the Oscar this year, if only for Robert Ford; nothing new to him, same as in 2001 when he could've gotten two concurrent noms for A Beautiful Mind and MWWT, but as chance or fate would have it, LTR had to have it. Course, it made like a zillion dollars more than either. 2001 was an interesting year for cinematography in general, (and what in particular????)
So, if you have any doubt left about Fargo being a comedy (it's a drama), or The Man Who Wasn't There being a comedy (MORE of a drama), believe it or not NCFOM dials down the humor even further if such a thing is possible; dials it right down to the opposite of 11, if you can imagine that. The biggest laugh is probably when Brolin goes back into the clothing store. But I just love that Chigurh vs. Convenience Store scene: what makes it great is that Chigurh thinks the guy is not worth killing, or even worth his time, but will give him the benefit of the coin-flip doubt nonetheless... Now THAT'S intimidation! Not your Pulp Fiction Hyperactive Time... (PFHT) (favourite single line: "You're kinda deaf, aren't you? I said, what time do you go to bed?")
Incidentally, allow me to use this platform to take a slight detour and advance my Coen-Corbin Casting Theory (CCCT). For instance, the guard that busts Brolin's stones about getting back into the US reminds me pitch perfectly of Barry Corbin at the height of his WarGames days. Also, Trey Wilson in Raising Arizona is apparently Corbin's understudy; they also wanted Kevin Costner in the Nicolas Cage role, a role still consistently cited by people I talk to: "Well, I liked Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona! ... Deadfall, not so much." And finally, FINALLY... at long last, they get to work with Barry (Corbin), and he's a guy in a wheelchair! Whazzup w/'dat? Would WTF be appropriate here? I didn't think so, just checking.
Which brings me to the great dialogue, courtesy of novelist and author and novelist Cormac McCarthy (known simply as C. McC in the Crystal Meth circles... not just MY Crystal Meth circles (MCMC, or MCx2)) I mean, the Coens already got the great dialogue thing down (just try Hudsucker or I. Cruel for lines you really need a knife and fork to get through ... Ladykillers! Everyone picks on Ladykillers! LISTEN TO THAT DIALOGUE! Who else can come UP with that kinda shit?!), and McCarthy's knack for dialogue and character backstory, basically, brings a whole new, refreshing level of intimacy to the proceedings.
Which brings me to Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). And unlike everyone else I tried real hard not to mention the haircut. It's just a racist haircut; it's just the same old Mexploitation we see from the Coens every year, but that's just me: I got some real unusual opinions on things. The best scene in the movie for me is the convenience store scene. Still, I couldn't help but think, what would Tarantino do with that? He'd probably want to be Chigurh if he were directing. OR, what would happen if Billy Bob were Chigurh in just that scene? Do kind of a Palindromes kind of experimental thing, or like I'm Not There: it just seems unfair that only one actor gets to play a great part like Chigurh. (Hint: something like "Whon't yu shut yer god damn trap and just gimme some gas and some god damn peanuts for m'car?" ;)
The reason I deduct a half a star, as opposed to all the other movie critics in the world, is that I'm kinduva real stickler about movie adaptations of novels. And my main gripe is that Chigurh in the novel is a dialogue-heavy character, and he makes it absolutely clear that he is a man of destiny who takes no chances, which makes it all the more satisfying when he gets his arm almost knocked off in that TOTALLY RANDOM car crash! That was at least one thing he didn't see coming!...
I wasn't even going to mention this, for fear of looking like a prude, but I mean think about it! The very first scene where Chigurh kills the cop with his handcuffs... I mean, that's a very violent scene! Meaning it was done well. I just don't know now if the look on Bardem's face balanced out the scene enough. I'm starting to think not. I think the Coens told Bardem: "The character is making a very specific amount of effort to choke the guy to death: no more, no less. Try and look like that." How about it, Eth? Something like that? ;) [My close friend whose opinion I trust, probably because it's dangerously close to my own, still thinks they shouldn't of opened the movie with two extremely violent scenes, and I couldn't help but agree. Thankfully, they build on this later by developing a kind of Chigurh shorthand - SPOILERS, i.e., cutting right to him hosing down the chicken truck.]
But, I'm a loyal Coen Completist, and I've rambled on quite enough for some I'm sure, and I'll watch No Country For Old Men again sometime down the road. I mean, I'm not one to complain (at great length, anywho) and I will get the NCFOM DVD yesterday. Damn those fesky Prench! They got it already, I know it. As for the films the Coens produce; for example, I'm going to wait on The Naked Man, Johnny Skidmarks et alia. I mean, what the hell, I'll probably never get to meet them anyway, and they probably won't be impressed when I ask them to sign J. Skid and ask about W.P. Robertson, am I right? P.S. The first thing I'll ask 'em: Make better trailer moments! In your movies AND your scripts!! These guys work hard enough, now they have to splice AUDIO CLIPS together with a freakin' razor blade? You konw what I'm talkin' about! ;)
That's about all I got on that one. Better stop ball-spittin' while I'm behind. ***1/2
-so decreed the Movie Review Hooligan (MRH), Whereas it brings me some Great Grief (GG, as opposed to Charlie Brown's Good Grief (GG) )... meet me at the next three 'Whereas'es...
* - just like the Oscars. Oh, snap! Speaking Oscar noms: NCFOM should probably sweep everything it gets. Best pic (Ethan gets that one), best director (Joel gets that one). Tess Harper might not get nominated, but you've got all the acting awards set up: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress. Best Costume, Best Music Score, but you know what? (YKW?) Best editing for Roderick Jaynes, and here's why...

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