Wednesday, November 28, 2007

C.A.R.: No Country For Old Men



(Capsule Arthouse Reviews are my attempt to better myself and practice movie snobbery by watching less mainstream movies and more independent films. Not a true review, they're mainly my thoughts on various small run films. I still give an opinion about whether the film is worth watching or not, but keep in mind my cinema taste is janky at best. You can also expect mild spoilers so beware.)

No Country For Old Men fills me with a lot of conflicting thoughts. On one hand, this film is currently one of the highest rated movies over at IMDB. It's definitely a good film, but I'm not sure it warrants the 9.0 or so it currently has over there. (Keep in mind that I have not read the book this film is adapted from.)

Like Lust, Caution, this film does a great job at transporting the viewer to a different time and place, namely 1980s Texas. It actually took me a while to realize this film is even set in the past, due to the fact that I have never been to modern day Texas. The film is set in what appears to be smaller town/cities located near the Mexican border.

What I found particularly interesting about this film is how (like American Gangster) it encourages the audience to emphasize and root for individuals on the wrong side of the law. I suppose you could argue that the protagonist of the film, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) wasn't truly on the wrong side of the law. However in taking the drug money he clearly crosses the line. The assassin, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is portrayed as a strong, virtually unstoppable force in clear contrast to the aging, increasingly powerless Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). On a certain level you have to admire Chigurh for sticking to his (twisted) ideals of fate and murder. He is the only character in this film who refuses to compromise.

Texas slang and accents aside, there are several times during the film in which I felt pretty lost. Chief among them is the motel confrontation scene when Ed Tom Bell may or may not have been in the same room as Anton Chigurh. I guess I could chalk this up to not having read the book, but I feel a good adaptation should not require reading the source book. The Harry Potter series of films are excellent in this regard, but they do not revolve around adult themes like No Country For Old Men.

One thing I found surprising about this film was the high body count. I suppose I'm stereotyping arthouse films, but the body count in this film easily reaches the double digits. While certainly not a focus of the film, the weaponry Chigurh uses adds to his appeal. Most of his victims fall to a silenced shotgun, something I have not seen in films for quite a while, though the film IS set in the 80s. In a super cool and original touch, Chigurh also uses a captive bolt pistol to not only kill people but blow out deadlocks to gain entry to rooms.

A lot of people are complaining about the ending to this film, but I think it's fitting. The whole point to this film is that there's really little to no point in life and getting old only highlights that. Ed Tom Bell discussing his dreams at the very end reveal the central themes of the movie though I felt his conversation with another old guy was more poignant.

Would I recommend seeing this film despite my doubts about its IMDB rating? A resounding yes; this is a good film. It may be over hyped, but that doesn't mean it's not worth watching. A friend of mine pointed out to me there is no soundtrack to this film, and that alone is amazing because I certainly never noticed this during my viewing. That this film can convey its characters and theme without any music whatsoever speaks volumes about how highly crafted it is. I can totally see why people are fans of the Cohen brothers now.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pacific Media Expo

My article on Pacific Media Expo is up at Flippersmack. It's shorter this time around because I only went for one day and PMX is a smaller con.

Friday, November 9, 2007

C.A.R.: Lions For Lambs

(Capsule Arthouse Reviews are my attempt to better myself and practice movie snobbery by watching less mainstream movies and more independent films. Not a true review, they're mainly my thoughts on various small run films. I still give an opinion about whether the film is worth watching or not, but keep in mind my cinema taste is janky at best. You can also expect mild spoilers so beware.)

I recently attended a free screening of Lions For Lambs because several scenes were filmed at Pitzer College. It's been a while since I've seen a film that has left me so conflicted. Lions for Lambs has a lot going for it, but it also has some serious flaws. I'm not sure what to make of the finished product.

Lions for Lambs is political thriller that ties in with the War on Terror. It's about three seemingly separate story lines that end up interweaving with each other. Journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) interviews up and coming presidential hopeful Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) on a new offensive in Afghanistan. We see the results of this military plan firsthand through Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Michael Peña). Meanwhile, college professor Dr. Malley tries to convince a slacker student to be more politically active like Arian and Ernest (his former students) did.

Robert Redford directs, stars, and produces this film based upon his belief that college student activism is in a state of crisis. The film definitely reflects this idea, with the central theme essentially boiling down to "You may not change anything, but it's better to try and fail that not try at all." The realist in me finds issue with this, but upon thinking about it more I find it quite profound.

There are several things I like about this film, chief among them the fact that the film is actually non-partisan. I walked into this film expecting a super liberal, pro-Democratic film that would demonize Cruise's character. Imagine my surprise when this turned out not to be the case. I'll admit the film probably skews slightly liberal, but it is made by Robert Redford so that's probably unavoidable.

Another great aspect of this film was the casting. Streep and Redford turn in good performances but Tom Cruise is perfectly cast as the super slick, charismatic Senator with a possible sinister side. It's a role that really meshes with him due to (unfortunately?) his personal life. (A life that seems to bleed onto every project he gets involved in.) Regardless, he's still a solid actor and his performance here is worth watching.

My problem with Lions for Lambs is that the film feels somewhat disjointed. The plots are inter weaved but it's somewhat jarring jumping back and forth in time and space. Other films such as Pulp Fiction have done this well, but unfortunately Lions for Lambs lacks cohesion.

I also take particular offense in college students being portrayed as "low rent Stifflers" (from American Pie). I'm fairly certain not every Southern California student is like this, but at least the student in this film has "potential". He's easily the most cliche character in the plot.

Finally, the message of this film is downright depressing. For a film that is supposed to inspire people to take action I was actually inspired NOT to take action. The ending, while based wholly in reality, inspires a sense of hopelessness. I wonder whether or not the ending should have diverged from reality. Still, I have to admire a film that has such a bleak message and factual ending.

I suppose Lions for Lambs is one of those films that I feel everyone should watch, even if it's not great. I suggest renting this instead of seeing it in the theater though. I'm fairly certain most of my age group is going to avoid this film like a cinematic plague and that fact alone says a lot about why this film is necessary.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

C.A.R.: Lust, Caution

(Capsule Arthouse Reviews are my attempt to better myself and practice movie snobbery by watching less mainstream movies and more independent films. Not a true review, they're mainly my thoughts on various small run films. I still give an opinion about whether the film is worth watching or not, but keep in mind my cinema taste is janky at best. You can also expect mild spoilers so beware.) The controversy over Lust, Caution (Se jie) which is rated NC-17 for hardcore sex scenes reminds me of the controversy over Manhunt 2. The media is hyping this up way more than the actual movie goers and gamers are. (I don't know anyone who is excited about Manhunt 2 in this crazy holiday season of AAA gold titles such as Halo 3, Rockband, Bioshock and the like.) At the matinée I went to the audience was easily made up of people over twice my age. They didn't seem to mind the sex scenes at all.

I find the whole brouhaha over the sex scenes interesting. I think we all know that if say, Uwe Boll put in such graphic scenes in one of his films there'd be no way he could get away with it. I suppose such is the power of being a "legit" filmmaker. I only wish Ang Lee could have convinced me that this film NEEDED these graphic sex scenes. The whole thing feels like a publicity stunt to me. People say Ang Lee sold out on the Hulk (or even Brokeback Mountain) but I'm convinced he sold out on this film.

Like every Ang Lee film I've seen, Lust, Caution is too long. It's over two and a half hours and the film drags in the middle. It's almost like the sex scenes are there just so you don't fall asleep (people in my theater did anyways). I'm also willing to ignore the fact that the plot is super hackneyed because great films have been made with hackneyed plots (Reservior Dogs and The Departed, both American remakes come to mind).

That being said I did enjoy some parts of Lust, Cuation. The costume and set design is top notch. There are parts of this film that play like a black comedy, one of my favorite genres. It's also one of those great, "Bitch got me again!" films (watch it and you'll see what I mean).

I'm not certain if all these positives can outweigh the one big negative in this film: the rampant misogyny. I'm not sure if this is just because something was lost in translation or if it's because I'm simply too Westernized, but I found the treatment of women, especially the main character really disturbing. Like Saving Private Ryan and Lions for Lambs the message of the film seems counter to what you would think. Apparently, raping a semi-willing woman is the way to her heart. Who knew this film would even up being like an Asian prono? (Remember, it's not rape, it's surprise sex!) Or perhaps I'm just too sensitive and prudish for an NC-17 arthouse film?

All this adds up to a throughly mediocre film. I expected better from Ang Lee and unfortunately I can't recommend seeing this film. Thumbs down indeed.