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You Won't Be Harshed
Something of a small masterpiece, Ariel is reminiscent of Robert Bresson's L'Argent and Werner Herzog's Stroszek in its restraint and progressively doleful turn of events. But cheer up! This is not your ordinary mellow harshing Euro fare. Yes, there is unemployment, yes there is suicide, yes there is great injustice and inhumanity. It would be dull to only speak of a film's pleasing, peaceful moments, and they are to be found here too. You get the whole symphony here, handled with a light touch and delivered in a neutral, understated fashion.
This film won't assault your senses, but subtly it will begin to work its charm. This arises through the minimal dialogue, expression, and simplicity of the mis en scene. As with most minimalism, small details and moments accumulate at story's end, which creates a very rewarding effect. Kaurismaki understands the power of evenhandedness and understatement. I hope he charms you as he has charmed me.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Nobody said his movies weren't difficult at times.
This is a film occupied with moments. Wonderful moments. It is not so much concerned with mechanics of plot but for me, it never got dull. Wes Anderson has matured in subtle ways and this film is a well crafted blend of the personal and the pageantry - Powell and Pressburger and Cassavetes. "The Rules of the Game" and "Husbands." "The Last Detail" and "The River."
The "spiritual journey" is used as pretext. Some people really don't like this. There is so much humor in watching three brothers stoned on Indian pharmaceuticals, trying to pray and getting sidetracked by arguments over stolen belts and confided secrets. They are flawed. People are flawed. Audiences tend to like their characters so likable that they are bland stereotypes. People can be privileged and disaffected AND still be beautiful and intriguing.
In the end, this movie is a fun ride. A stroll through various imaginative carts, occupied by compartments of colorful characters and incidents. Wes is further interweaving his "dollhouse" aesthetic with the real world. He is not so hung up on inventing every little thing and I could tell he was finding faces and peripheral details just as they were, waiting for him in India.
Nine bucks well spent for me. This guy's taking chances - some don't work. He's trying to push the medium forward in terms of tone. Some parts of his movies are difficult. Some people will get left behind. But for me, someone whose watched his films grow in scope and daring, I think he's an American treasure who may never arrive at the perfect film, but he'll continue to integrate cinema's history in new and exciting ways.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
This film is a spectacle of sorts. Y'see there's these three soggy sonsubitches by the names of Everett (Clooney) Pete (Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), who escape from a chain gang and embark on a journey acrost the state of Mississippi in the depression era 1930s. Loosely following Homer's Odyssey, they jump from one frying pan into the next fire, and over again. They get lost, get saved (a marvelous baptism scene) and manage to squeeze themselves into the strangest musical renditions and dance sequences imaginable. Clooney gives a classic performance as a character I can best describe as the humanized version of Foghorn Leghorn: a know-it-all who loves to hear himself speak. Then there's Pete played by John Turturro who's a grumpy guy along for the ride. At the bottom of this food chain gang is Delmar played by Tim Blake Nelson. Ole Delmar is a simple fellow with a good heart who's trying to keep a clean spirit in leu of the events these characters become involved in. Woven into this deep South motif are a black blues singer who sold his soul to the devil, two shady candidates for the guvna's office, and a one eyed Bible salesman played by John Goodman. There's so many things to notice in this film. There's a looney tunes quality, but also a very realistic quality, portraying the Depression era politics and poverty to a T. There's also a three stooges quality, and the at the same time a very Preston Sturgess humanist thing. It's the perfect balance for me but quite possibly the coolest thing about this film is the music, topping off that old timey look the film has. It's awesome bluegrass, delta blues, and gospel music and it's a character of it's own in the film. Long live the Coens and O Brother, I will be in line to see this again.