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No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country For Incompetent Rural Law Enforcement
Faithful or not to the novel which the film is based on, the one thing the Coen Bros. recent work lacks is a solid narrative. Sure, the movie is seen from 3 characters' POV, but the central focus is supposed to be on Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) an underused and uninvolved character, and extremely awkward to the indisputably gripping premise.
Yes, I understood the film. I got the "evil triumphing over good" symbolism, the Biblical undertones and social commentary on modern society ... how someone on the street - bloodied from shotgun wounds - would only get blank stares from pedestrians, and even a half-finished bottle of beer (for comfort) would come with a price.
Unfortunately this bleakness is the tip of the iceberg when you factor in cold-as-ice psychopath Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who massacres almost everyone in his path while in pursuit of $2.4 million from a drug deal gone bad. Because the film is supposed to be "symbolic", little is known about Anton and his connection to the money other than a shady guy in a high rise (played by Stephen Root), but even his motives are never clear. In addition, Anton's modus operandi makes it hard to believe he would associate with anyone. The violent lone wolf prevails at the end, and after the naive man who salvaged the money (Josh Brolin) is killed at a motel, Anton fulfills a perverted deal he made by visiting the man's newly widowed wife (Kelly MacDonald) and informing her of impending doom.
There is no problem with villains who succeed at the end. It has been done before. Whilst not the best example, Aaron Stampler from the novel/movie "Primal Fear". There's a sense of disgust and dread, but at the same time awe at how someone so evil (and yet so smart and clever) could override justice. But so little is known about Anton Chigurh that he comes off as nearly what Bell calls him - a "ghost". He's cunning and skillful, but no indication whether he's a survivalist, ex-Navy SEAL, renegade intelligence operative, etc. Credibility is totally thrown out the door for the viewer.
As for the themes: It has been done before. The vicious cycle of greed was portrayed perfectly in "Fargo", even in movies not from the Cohen brothers; Times have been changing in the criminal world for a long time, longer than Bell admits. Bell disregards the outlaws of the Old West, he disregards serial killers and bank robbers active around his early years, and most of all the national formation of the mob ...
The movie's performances are first rate, as is the sound editing and misleading appearance as a "suspense thriller". While not a bad film, the abruptness, clichés and lack of cinematic cohesion prevent a positive review.
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Lions Gate Entertainment are something of an oddity. Formerly "Artisan Entertainment", the company is known for distributing 2 kinds of cinema: Films by well-known "Indy" directors, or B-grade Hollywood fodder that the larger studios turned down because of financial risk.
"Waiting" strangely doesn't fall in either category.
Supposedly based on a true experience, this misfire follows employee exploits at a casual dining establishment from the lunch to dinner hour. These characters don't like their jobs or the customers, and each one has their own way expressing it - either by contaminating a patron's food, insulting a patron, playing a bizarre exhibitionist game in the kitchen or using vulgarity in every sentence. Oh yeah, there are also two employees who dream about setting their manager on fire. Considering they don't do anything on the job but talk trash and steal whipped cream, I wouldn't be surprised if their boss felt the same way about them.
Humor has to be unpredictable to be funny. Even the "gross out"-kind has fair competition. Look at John Belushi in "Animal House". Pluto belched, spat mashed potatoes on people and urinated on someone's shoes, among other things. But the late SNL star had something future "Lampoon" actor/writers do not - comic timing. In fact, 'Waiting' is not so different from the recent NL movies. If there was a fair share of female nudity, "National Lampoon's Night At The Diner" would be a more apt title for this winner.
At one point in life I had worked at a restaurant, but never saw antics like those portrayed in the movie. Rude customers were laughed off after they left, and there were only 1-2 employees who didn't wash their hands before handling the food. But it was out of laziness, not vindication. Perhaps this "depiction" will ring true for some, but the movie is so repetitive, so juvenile and so predictable that even the most disgruntled food service worker will be bored to tears.
Avoid "Waiting" at all costs.
The Pianist (2002)
Excellent documentation of Jewish musician's survival in Nazi-occupied Poland
Spanning from Germany's coup of Poland, to the end of WWII, "The Pianist" follows late pianist Wlad Szpilman's (Adrien Brody) struggle to survive in the Warsaw ghetto with no help, other than sympathetic friends and those who knew him from the radio. In the film we see him get permanently separated from his family and even witness his brief brush with death as Germans flamed and bombed down buildings during the Uprising.
Indeed, not the most easy film to watch (very blunt violence, including slaughter of young children) and clocking nearly 3 hours, but superb direction and attention to period detail make it a very rewarding viewing. Adrien Brody won a well deserved Oscar, portraying a man whose love and skill for music was never strained despite extraordinary odds. A truly memorable film.
Birthday Girl (2001)
Bank teller (Chaplin) orders a seductive Russian mail order bride (Kidman) through the internet, and although she only speaks Russian, he decides he wants her to stay. Two men out of nowhere show up and the whole thing turns into one big con, with one man turning out to be her boyfriend (Cassel) and the other his business partner (Kassovitz).
Mean-spirited and sloppily executed film is neither a comedy, drama, or thriller; Why this guy would rob a bank (and his job) of thousands is a little bit stupid since there was obviously more logical (and ethical) means to deal with that situation. Of interest only to see Nicole Kidman play someone with another language, which I thought was done well.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Julia Roberts ruins an otherwise above-average movie
Based on the true story of an attorney and his assistant who blew the whistle and organized a large class action lawsuit against a Northern California-based power utility company for trashing water in a small Southern California town.
Albert Finney is excellent, as always, playing the lawyer. You can still notice a small English accent but those who have not seen his British movies will find it hard to tell. The supporting cast was also good; Marg Helgenberger, as one of the ailing residents, and Aaron Eckhart, who plays the biker who babysits Brockovich' kids.
But Julia Roberts turns the film into damaged goods. Although the title character is not the brightest jane on the block, it seems anything Roberts plays is this arrogant, immature, obnoxious, loud bimbo. Although what she did in the movie could be easily described as heroic, Robert's portrayal often got on the nerves, making the character hard to like.
Unsugarcoated, mostly accurate biopic of the tortured woman artist.
`Frida' documents the life of Frida Kahlo, from the age of 18 to the time of her death caused from a multitude of illnesses and injury she faced during her life.
Although Kahlo may be more attributable to her surreal paintings and dramatic marriage to more popular painter Diego Rivera, the movie focuses on the sex lives and deeply held socialist beliefs of the couple. In the film Rivera loses a sale to John Rockefeller (Edward Norton) with a depiction of Lenin in a mural. The couple even gave refuge to Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) after having been exiled from Russia/Europe. One would like to get a better insight on Kahlo's childhood, as well as her artwork more than anything else, but truly fine cinematography/set design and a festive score make up for that insufficiency.
Shanghai Noon (2000)
Once upon a time in the old west...
Imperial guardsman (Jackie Chan) in China must get to 1880s America to rescue the princess from a greedy expatriate; he accidentally gets associated with an outlaw and is soon implicated as one himself.
Predictable, but balances comfortably between Kung Fu action and comedy (The Indian marriage, the obedient horse, and the hilariously sarcastic bounty hunter played by Xander Berkeley) Anachronisms out-of-the-way (this is only fluff) the only blemish of the movie is Owen Wilson. No comic timing or personality and too into himself.
One of the worst animated shorts I've seen.
Not under the category so bad it's good, it's so bad it's bad. (Although many would like one to think of it as being the first.) This film came to prominence as being one of the 2000 Academy award nominees for short animated films, among other awards, but that's just because every film festival is juried and selective based on who knows whom.
The director takes a que from the rulebook of Blair Witch Project/South Park filmmaking: Make up a story involving film, show the film involving the story, and trick/confuse the audience into believing this may be true. Herzfeldt wants us to believe that a series of super short films he did were rejected from the `Family Learning Channel', and it turns into an annoyingly repetitive one-joke premise as to why they were. (This is when the South Park material comes in. Any adult who finds this funny has obviously been deprived of a 12-year education.)
Got nothing else to say. AVOID IT.
The Fisher King (1991)
Unique story of loss, guilt, redemption, and Biblical fortitude
Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is a shock jock talk show host whose antics drive a crazed listener to kill 7 people in an upscale restaurant. Some time later, Lucas is depressed and without any hope in life until his own is saved by an eccentric homeless man named Perry (Robin Williams). Perry is convinced that he is on a mission to obtain the Holy Grail and that everyone around him is part of some fairy tale. What Lucas discovers is that one of the lives lost in that restaurant was Perry's wife, and Perry was present at the time. Lucas is then determined to make the wrong things right.
It doesn't quite decide what it wants to be, at times it is comical and other times it is deadly serious, but the result is certainly engaging, and judging by the Camera work/hyper paced performances you could see how this would come from the same guy who directed `Brazil.'
The Crow (1994)
Simplistic, yet dark, rewarding.
Goth rocker (A half posthumous Brandon Lee) and his fiancé are murdered, one year later he comes back to life by the power of a crow to seek revenge on the gang of junkies, tweakers, and coke-snorters who were involved with the killing.
Since this was based on a comic book one could understand the nature of the performances and the character design (Michael Wincott resembled a comic book villain, a kind of `my devious plans will rule the world' bad guy, which was difficult to take seriously at times.) But the direction by Alex Proyas was first rate, depicting Detroit as a rainy, grungy, anarchial wasteland like the city in the comic book. Had he turned to working on the sequels they would have turned out much better.