Wednesday, November 28, 2007


No Country For Old Men is the latest movie masterpiece by the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. Though I haven't really loved their last two movie Intolerably Cruelty and The Ladykillers their past films like Blood Simple, Millers Crossing, Fargo and The Big Lebowski are staples of indie genre gold.

"NCFOM" is about a welder named Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who, while hunting near the Rio Grande, stumbles on a botched drug deal and finds a case filled with two million dollars. He of course grabs the money and hightails it back to his trailer home and long suffering wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald), but in a moment of consciousness, goes back to give one of the dying drug dealers a drink of water. This seals his fate when Anton Chigurh (Javier Bordem), a psychopathic killer, shows up with a device usually used to slaughter cattle and an unlucky coin that determines the destiny of many characters.

But "NCFOM" isn't really about Lewelynn at all. It's about ageing Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). Who is privy to Llewelyn's plight and who's main preoccupation is to lament the passing of an age when using Sir and Ma'am was a sign of good character.


I did not read the Cormac McCarthy novel. But from all I've read the movie follows it pretty faithfully. Which can be a blessing or a curse depending on your view. A lot of people seemed to have a problem with the Llewelyn character dying off screen. Which goes against conventional wisdom. I was fine with it because in the end it wasn't really his story. It was Ed Tom Bell's story. His voice can be heard over the sparse landscape at the beginning and his recounting of a dream he had bookends the film. He has the biggest character change throughout the picture and the title speaks directly of him. He is the old man who finds it hard to find a place in this new country.

This is one of the most un-coen like movies they have ever made. Their surreal tendencies are submerged so much that at first look a casual movie goer might not recognize it as a Coen brothers movie. Yet they still manage to slip in coen-esque touches like vomiting, voice over, hats ( Texas T type here) and weird haircut.

Also of note is the almost total lack of music. Which actually works to increase the tension especially in the shoot out between Llewelyn and Chigurh which is milked to great effect.

The only thing I really have issue with is the last 20 minutes of the film. I had the same complaint with The Big Lewboski. Both these movies seem to squander all the great movie making that has gone on for the last 100 minutes and leaves us with a so-so ending that tastes lukewarm. There are two parts I want to talk about.

First everyone seems to be confused with the scene when Ed Tom Bell goes into the hotel room and Chigurh appears to be hiding in there and then isn't. Why is Chigurh there? We don't need him except to add tension to a discovery scene that might not have any. But I think the discovery that Chigurh found the money Llewelyn hid in the air duct is a discovery enough to warrant the scene and so it feels like pumped up tension for tension's sake. Apparently in the book the Ed Tom Bell character doesn't enter the room. Instead drives around the block to a pay phone to call the police. Did the Coens change this so that the Ed Tom Bell character and the actor Tommy Lee Jones didn't look weak/afraid. I don't know, but it fits so much better with his character arc when he goes to see his brother and tells him why he retired.

Which brings me to the point that when he goes to see his brother that's the end of his story. You don't need anything more. His character arc ends there. This is the resolution scene. You don't need to see him talking with his wife about a dream he had. That last scene takes all the energy out of the movie because it really doesn't add anything to our knowledge of the character. He already said everything you need to know to his brother. At least combine these two scenes if you want to him talking about the symbolic dream he had and what it means to him.

The Coens didn't seem to have a problem changing the hotel sequence but they stayed true to the book which has the two scenes separate in it. A mistake I think.

After Llewelyn dies he talks to the sheriff, goes to the hotel room and then sees his brother. End! All the tension is sucked out ofter the llewelyn narrative ends. It's time to run for the end and get out. Ok. You want to stay true to the book and still kill the wife? Have the scene where she buries her mother. Comes home and Chigurh is waiting for her. They talk and then he flips the coin and says, "Call it". FADE OUT. End on the coin toss. That's a memorable image to go out on. Plus it gives just a smidgen of hope to a bleak movie. Although it's off screen we definitely don't need to see the aftermath of that scene or the scene where he is in a car accident. We already know he's impervious to pain. Again we loss tension and momentum seeing all those moments tacked on at the end. It's the only thing keeping this from being a perfect movie.

A last minor thing for me was the (Woody Harrelson) character dying of so soon. I wish he was around more so you could have invested more in his character before he was killed. All said it's still pretty damn good anyway. And better than most everything out there this year. I guess I just like to nitpick when it comes to the Coen's because I want them to be perfect every time out because they are one of the last great filmmakers we have left.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Director Commentaries...

Director commentaries abound on DVD's nowadays and not just by directors anymore. It seems everyone from writers, producers, film critics and actors are getting in on the fun. Unfortunately most are forgettable filler only interesting to those involved with the production. But occasionally some prove to be informative as well as entertaining. Here's a quick list of some of my favorites.

The Thing

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell team up on this commentary to give you a unique insight into the down n' dirty way of making a big budget genre film. What is great about this commentary is the infectious fun they had making this film and you get caught up in it. From the personal to the profane they give you how it feel to be on the set and how a practical film maker works. Any Carpenter commentary is good so check them all out because he does one for almost every movie he does and I hope he continues to do so because I will keep listening.

The Usual Suspects

Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie give you another tag team commentary. The unique angle on this one is this was there first successful film and the commentary was recorded at the time of the first Laser Disc home release so you get how jacked they were just to be making films and you get to see them fresh faced and enthusiastic about the future.

Dusk To Dawn

Robert Rodriguez is the king of "diy" movie commentaries. His "El Mariachi" is the standard for them. Quentin Tarantino is the king movie geek who won't shut up about movies. Put them together and talking about the movie they made together and you have one of the best commentaries out their.

Taxi Driver

This one may only be available on the Criterion Laser Disc release. But don't fret his Raging Bull and The Aviator are right up there too. Listening to a Martin Scorsese's commentary is like sitting at the feet of Aristotle while he lectured about his theories about drama in his Poetics. The man has forgotten more about film and film making then most of the directors in Hollywood ever knew. He's a class act and a scholar.

On Her majesty's Secret service.

All of the Bond disc's have decent commentaries. I picked this one because for me the highlight of those commentaries is when Peter Hunt talks about editing them. Since he also directed this film, I included it here. Peter hunt ushered in modern action film editing. You will be amazed at the tricks of the trade he reveals in these commentaries.

Of course this list is not exhaustive but it's a start. What are some of your favorite commentaries? Drop a comment and let us know...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Death Proof !!!

When I first heard about the Grindhouse concept I liked it a lot. So I couldn't wait to see it when it came out. You can make your own posters and trailers on the Grindhouse site at: Here's mine.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Gone but not departed...

I re-watched the DVD yesterday and was remembering that when this movie came out a lot of people giving Jack Nicholson flack for his one-note performance as Frank Costello in Martin Scorsese's movie The Departed. But yet in the same movie Mark Wahlberg was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role. All of which overlooks what I think is the best supporting performance in the movie. And I think that comes from Alex Baldwin as head of the Special Crime unit.

An actor can only play what's written on the page. So it's the screen writers job to make sure that the actor has a fully rounded person to play. An actor's performance has to fit into the whole of the movie so he has to temper his performance under the guidance of the director for the good of the movie as whole. Then the film has to be edited together using the best parts of the actor's performance under the watchful eye of the editor and director as they re sculpt the writers story transforming it from the written to the visual.

OK, so what does this all mean? Well, The departed won the "Best Director, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture at the 2007 Oscar awards. So we must assume that this means everyone was working at the top of their game. So is it Nicholson's fault alone? I think we should ask first what is it that makes a great performance. In my experience it is when an actor pulls out layers of emotion in their performance. When everything they do has two meanings. Especially when both meanings are the exact opposite of each other. Great acting is by nature dialectic. Which is more fascinating? A man holding a gun who looks at you and snarls "I'm gonna kill you" or the same man, holding the same gun who smiles and winks at you before telling you he's gonna kill you?

Baldwin gives a great seething performance as on the surface an the upwardly mobile, corporate manager with a shinny veneer. Perfect smile. Every hair in place. Hitting golf balls on the driving range, while giving Matt Damon advice on how to get a head in the bureau. Contrasted with the out of control maniac he turns into when the sting he's been planning goes arwy and he begins to choke his own man, who he blames for the fiasco.

This is great acting. Unfortunately Nicholson plays Costello more on the one-note "Hey I'm a crazy bad guy". It would have been interesting to have seen him help out DiCaprio. Take him under his wing a bit. Had he a bit of Martin Sheen's character and Sheen a bit of his I think this would have deepened both performances. I can see why Scorsese might have steered away from this having covered similar ground with Gangs of new York but I think it hurt the character development in the end.

Also I think Matt Damon gave a better performance than Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio was always playing a guy under tremendous stress. Again one-note. What if they showed him actually getting used to the lifestyle a bit. Grow accustom to the violence and easy money. Mine some of the same territory as the movie Donnie Brasco did. You would have gotten a more complicated character. Damon to his credit did that. He played a lying, stealing, backstabbing cheat, but you could see how he longed to break free of Costello and rise a bove it. To really better himself but he could not overcome his tragic flaw and succumbed to his fate.
Now I hope all this doesn't give the impression I didn't like this movie because I really do. It's a fun, twisty-turny crime flick. I was just wondering with Scorsese's winning a long over do Oscar for The Departed was it his best movie. And I have to say no. It's not as good as Raging Bull, Taxi driver, Goodfellas or Casino. And I thought why? And it was the proliferation's of one-note character in it that I think makes it just miss it's mark. But It's great fun.