Monday, November 26, 2007

No Country for Old Men

Filmmaking duo, Joel and Ethan Coen have been captivating audiences since their profound, neo-noir debut, Blood Simple. Their fan base is so large due to, in part, their unique ability to create engrossing films from wildly different genres. They can be zany (Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art There?) period-gangster (Miller's Crossing) cult classic (The Big Lebowski) and thrilling brilliant (Fargo) at the drop of a hat.

It is hard to live up to the Coen hype. No Country for Old Men does it with ease. The brothers' latest venture into the unknown is a breathtaking spectacle of money, crime, passions and male dominance. The Coen's make a smart move by staying loyal to Cormac McCarthy's poetic novel, allowing the viewer to be taken on one hell of a wild ride through the warped minds of a pair of truly original filmmakers.

The intricate plot kicks off when regular guy Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong in the deserted Texas desert. Using his Vietnam War instinct, he finds a satchel with over two million bucks in it. Soon enough Moss has a calculated, homicidal maniac (Javier Bardem) after him and the local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) looking for them both.

There's the first ten minutes, and that's all you're going to get because it’d be a sin to ruin anymore of this flawless film. The attention to detail resonates in every single frame of the picture. From the clanking sound of a crappy, hotel room fan, to boot scuffs on the ground, the Coen's play off of McCarthy's keen eye for detail.

Josh Brolin has done it all this year. He’s contributed scene-stealing roles in Grindhouse, In the Valley of Elah and American Gangster. His performance in No Country for Old Men is the best work he has ever done, not to mention some of the best in all of 2007. He gives Moss a sick desperation to live a better life, dwelling deep in the spoils of greed at the expense of losing everything.

From the first moment you meet Anton Chigurh, you will not be able to shake him. Javier Bardem's stone cold, bloodshot eyes will haunt your dreams. You’ll forget there’s a handsome, Spanish, Oscar nominated actor behind that incredibly disturbing face. Going beyond serial killer stereotype’s, Bardem invests his credible acting into a man so morally corrupt, he will engage in lengthy, eloquent conversations before blowing your head off. A scene at a gas station is the single greatest exchange of dialogue from a movie this year. With the fate of an innocent clerk decided by a coin toss, you’ll feel bad for smiling at the way Bardem plays it. Twenty years from now, people will be talking about this performance. Anton Chigurh is matched with Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates as one of the greatest movie villains of all time.

Tommy Lee Jones, so good earlier this year in The Valley of Elah, contributes his familiar, Southern drawl as a small town sheriff, trying to make sense of madness. Often funny, his Ed Tom Bell is a man sick of the world he has seen, wondering why God hasn't entered his life. Look for a two-time Oscar contender. Supporting turns from Kelly Macdonald (as Moss's fragile wife) and Woody Harrelson (has he been better?) affirm the film's genuine intrigue.

Once again, cinematographer Roger Deakins (see reviews of In Valley of Elah, and Assassination of Jesse James) stuns us with shadows and landscapes. I cannot think of a better eye for gritty detail. Whether it's establishing shots of an isolated desert, or the reflection of a gun in an empty key hole, Deakins (a Coen vet) presents some of his finest work. His hat-trick of 2007 is now wonderfully complete.

It took me longer than usual to write my review of this film, for two reasons. I wanted a second viewing and I wanted to finish the book. As a culture that is spoon-fed its entertainment, be aware that No Country for Old Men divulges itself at being different. You’ll think there are plot holes. There aren’t. You’ll begin an endless game of who’s and how’s and why’s that you won’t be able to win. The film will inspire weeks of dinner-table discussions.

Reasons and motivations (and actions) do not need to be disclosed in order to make a compelling film. I can only offer a bit of advice, and that is to listen. I'll never tell just what to look out for, but after my first viewing, I wished that I had listened more carefully to the beautiful exchanges in dialogue. Much of it taken directly from McCarthy’s metaphorical words, it is essential to contribute your senses to the characters (namely in the third act) in order to walk away with some form of notable coherence.

Startlingly violent, smart, witty, frequently humorous and wonderfully paced, No Country for Old Men is the best film the Coen’s have ever done and quite possibly, the best film of the year.
One final contribution needs to be given, and that is to remarkable editor, Roderick Jaynes. Much like he did with Fargo, Jaynes uses a type of free editing that jumps from one main character to the next. The trick to the film is that each move is brilliantly calculated. Janyes (another Coen vet) presents a collection of scenes, usually with just one of the three lead characters, to make a remarkably cohesive film. No movie has been put together better this year. I can't wait to see a picture of Jaynes sitting in his seat come Oscar night. If not for their directing and writing, the Coen's should walk away with an award for editing, they have worked under the pseudonym of Roderick Jaynes for years. A+

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

If the first scene of Sidney Lumet's breathtaking new film doesn't get you stirring in your seat, then check your pulse. Don't worry, I'll never tell what it is, but it sets one hell of a marvelous tone.

1970s film auteur, Lumet (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network) brings us his best film in years. The kind that reels you in quick, and fights hard to keep you. Sneaky, sly Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) decides to bring his young brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) in on a crime caper. Andy plots to knock of a jewelry store, "Just a mom and pop kinda place," Andy assures the hesitate Hank. Little does Hank know that the jewelry store is none other than his actual mom and pop. Both the brothers need money, the store is insured and Andy promises no one will get hurt, so hey, why not?

It doesn't take long for things to go wrong, and for the whole family, including father Albert Finney, to be fatally affected.

The trick of the film is that Lumet, working with a brilliantly daring script from newcomer Kelly Masterson gives us the climax early. From then on, the events leading up to and after the robbery are seen from every major character's point of view. Lumet chooses an inspired path of nonlinear, narrative storytelling that echoes Tarantino.

Once tragedy strikes, the actors put on their A-games. Hoffman, so good, in well, everything, is mesmerizing as a corrupt sole who can't seem to please anyone, least of all himself. Two memorable scenes deserve all the praise Hoffman can get. I couldn't dare reveal them, but you have never seen just how shattering a decorative bowl of stones can be, until you see what Hoffman does with them. In a career full of accolades (including an Oscar for Capote), this is Hoffman's best work. So fierce with angst, yet so reserved with his guilt, you won’t be able to shake him.

Ethan Hawke, far better here than in his Oscar nominated role in Training Day, is equally as good. He gives Hank a uniquely aloof demeanor that asserts that he is in no way ready for the crime, let alone its aftermath. Hawke doesn't get tested much as an actor, but he strives here, reaching a career best performance that the Academy shouldn't dare turn its back on.

Finney and Marisa Tomei (as Hoffman's feisty wife) contribute to the film's power. But it is Lumet who is the real hero. At 83 years old, he is the most recent director to prove that he still has great films to make, age be damned. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a remarkable throwback to Lumet's finest work. Surely one of the year’s best. A movie that will grab you before the opening credits and trouble you long after the closing credits are through. Just like the good ‘ol days. A

Friday, November 23, 2007

Beowulf

Seldom do I question why the MPAA gave a movie a lower rating than it deserved. Watching Robert Zemeckis’ new adaptation of Beowulf, I was amazed at what snuck into its PG-13 rating. As entertaining as this film may be, believe me, it is not for the whole family.

Here Zemeckis masters his computer animation technique that he introduced with his dull Polar Express. Remember that story you read back in high school? Didn’t think so. A giant, ruthless monster attacks a village and its king (Anthony Hopkins) sends for a hero to slay the demon Grendel. Beowulf (the always fabulous Ray Winstone) travels the seas with his men to take on the challenge.

What follows are exciting battles and utterly jaw-dropping special effects. As Grendel's scheming mother, Angelina Jolie plays the role with a seductive prowl that you will enjoy. Her lack of clothes (and Winstone for that matter) defy the film’s rating. But it makes for one hell of an exciting ride. At the risk of ruining the adventure, I'll stop there.

I had the pleasure of seeing Beowulf in 3-D, glasses and all. And I must say, that feature made the movie. I can't vouch for the regular, flat screen version you're used to, but I imagine it isn't nearly as thrilling. In 3-D, the images literally jump off the screen and into your lap throughout the entire film. It is some of the most fun I've had at the movies this year, which doesn't necessarily credit the film's content. Forget the cheesy 3-D you've seen before. Zemeckis has created a movie that will stand as a landmark in the next phase of cinema.

See this one in theatres. If you can, see it on one of the 100 3-D screens that it's playing on. This won’t nearly be as good on DVD. You'll miss out on a massively breathtaking ride that will leave you in a permanent state of joy. This is the future of cinema, people. B+

Dan in Real Life

If I can think of one genre so tired, so worn out in today's cinema, it's the romantic comedy. Good news everyone, Dan in Real Life is different. Dan writes a successful newspaper column and has his hands full with his three young daughters. Having lost his wife some years ago, Dan bides his time, doing the best he can at keeping his family happy. But it's home for the holidays as Dan and his girls head to his parent’s house for Thanksgiving.

The movie is amusingly set up with various realistic antics caused by each of his children. Dan takes each barrel of teenaged angst with a nod and smile. Once at his parent’s house (Is this house real? I mean how big is it?) Dan feels like he'll be cut a little slack, with his daughters busy in family tradition.

Soon, Dan is in a book store and meets Marie. They engage in a memorable conversation that he cherishes. Once he gets home he realizes that his new love interest is, you guessed it, his brother's girlfriend.

That's the set up. From then on, Dan and Marie fight what they feel, and believe me, their battles are real and often funny. Several things help to make this picture good. The first is the introduction of Dan's brother, Mitch, played by the hyperactive Dane Cook. When we first meet Mitch, we barely see his face, we just hear a few words from him off camera. It is nothing short of refreshing to NOT have someone as bland as Cook immediately thrown in your face. Instead, Cook gives a controlled performance that previews that he may have more to offer than his typical, gross-out humor.

Another wonder is the casting of Juliette Binoche. Usually thrown more heavy-handed work, Binoche shines as Marie. She brings her reserved sexuality and tenderness to a role that is usually riddled with formula. Binoche gives Marie a heart and more importantly an adult conscience capable of making adult choices.

While the film does suffer a few clichés, it remains as entertaining a romantic comedy as I've ever seen. Steve Carell is a brilliant comedian, but here he stretches like he did in last year’s Little Miss Sunshine. A sit-down chat with his daughters affirms the fact that this is the best work Carell has ever done. He leaves his trademark quirkiness aside (don't worry there is still some) and replaces it with need.

In a genre usually reserved for twenty something characters who have no life worries except for themselves, Dan in Real Life succeeds at being different. The beauty of the film is that you get to see two adult people in adult situations that take rationality into account, but still make a lovingly amusing mess for themselves. B+

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Favorite Scene: Brokeback Mountain

Warning: Critical plot details will be divulged in this post. The ending will be spoiled.

In the third act of Brokeback Mountain, director Ang Lee stages one brilliantly poised scene after another. The first of which is the last encounter between fated lovers, Ennis and Jack. Once Ennis tells Jack he won’t be able to see him again for months, Jack bursts into a jealous, tormented rage. The most popular scene in the film (it dawned the now parodied line “I wish I knew how to quit you”), demonstrates the emotional arch that actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal feed their characters.

After a bitter screaming match, Ledger’s rough-neck Ennis finally breaks down, falling to his knees in agony, blaming his lover for his troubled life. As the two men hesitantly embrace, the film reaches an emotional climax.

That is all but forgotten moments later, when Ennis goes to Jack’s childhood home, talking with Jack's parents about his sudden death. Ennis is invited to Jack’s room, where he finds a pair of shirts, hidden in Jack’s closet. The shirts, resting one over the other on a coat hanger, were worn by the men when they first met on the mountain. Hidden in Jack’s closet for decades, Ennis tenderly holds the shirts to his chest, taking in the reminiscent fumes of his dear friend.
But it’s in the film’s final scene, when Ennis is visited by his daughter in his lonely trailer, that remains the most memorable. His grown daughter announces her plan to marry her boyfriend and then leaves her father in his solitude. Having forgotten her jacket, Ennis caringly folds it up and places it in his closet. Hanging on the closet door are the shirts he found in Jack’s room, along with a sole postcard-picture of Brokeback Mountain. Ledger’s eyes fill with tears and he manages to let out a few solemn words, “Jack, I swear.” Gustavo Santaolalla’s pivotal, Oscar-winning, musical score booms on the soundtrack as we fade to black.

In his recent Screen Actors Guild acceptance speech, Daniel Day-Lewis called that scene one of the most moving things he had ever seen. It’s hard not to feel nostalgic while watching the supremely talented Ledger, knowing that he will never again be able to pierce through our hearts with his eyes. It’s a marvelous scene that encapsulates a wonderful, yet all too short career of one of the best actors of a generation.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Lions for Lambs

Welcome to this week's Iraq war film. But this time around, we give you only a little action and a whole lotta talkin’. Gifted Hollywood veteran Robert Redford starts and directs this tale of three different yet connected stories which are all told in real time. The film covers about 80 minutes of lengthy battles in offices and on war zones.

Tom Cruise plays a senator who has asked that a renowned journalist, Meryl Streep, come in for an interview involving a new military plan currently going on in Afghanistan. Two soldiers simultaneously carry out the plan, which goes wrong quickly. All while the soldiers’ old poli-sci professor, Robert Redford, coaches a promising, new student on the lessons of life. Get it?

The film cuts away often, in an attempt to keep things fresh. Action buffs will want to get back to the stranded soldiers (played by two always-reliable actors, Michael Peña and Derek Luke) who lay helplessly in the snow, awaiting rescue. Others will come to watch the big-name showdown between Cruise and Streep. But the real treasure is in Redford’s story. As he talks with one of his smart, lazy students, his eyes are full of regret as he remembers hopeful students he had years ago. Flashbacks help tie everything together as Luke and Peña display youthful ambition in their classroom discussions. Redford sees that ambition again in his new pupil and he be damned if it goes to waste.

If there is one thing Tom Cruise can do, its play a cocky, Republican senator, who preaches what he has been told to preach. Streep matches Cruise’s every word, wit for wit. Their interview becoming a fruitless, polite argument that neither are bound to fall from. I was amazed how modern the snappy dialogue was, it seemed like it was covering headlines from last week. The films capability of remaining vividly contemporary is one of its greatest feats.

The movies carries a few flaws (I never knew you could jump out of a moving helicopter hundreds of feet in the air) but it remains a notable piece of filmmaking, without ever really becoming important. Redford isn’t worried about conservative criticism; he made his über-liberal film how he wanted to. At times engrossing, at times preachy, Lions for Lambs, carries a bold message. The hard part is trying to figure out exactly what that message is. B

Lust, Caution

Ang Lee, master of the unconventional, has crafted yet another powerful piece to add to his eclectic resume. The Taiwanese director has brought us 70s family melodrama (The Ice Storm), mesmerizing suspense, fused with whimsical romance (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and unusual, bold, beautiful love (Brokeback Mountain). His new feat is the magnificent Lust, Caution. Set in a Japanese-occupied Shanghai during Would War II, Lee brings a daring short story to the screen in a startling adaptation.

College student Wong Chia-Chi (Tang Wei, in her acting debut) is an aspiring actress with an uncanny ability. After getting raves at her first play, she is recruited by fellow schoolmates/actors to divulge in their biggest production yet. The group has foiled a plan to assassinate Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). Yee is a Japanese collaborator who tortures captives for information. It is soon developed that by getting close to Yee, Wong Chia-Chi will have to seduce him.

I’m almost afraid to keep going, in fear of giving too much of the 158 minute movie away. It’s that good. The quiet, slow-paced film is set to entice you. Its tedious movements and vivid look (thanks much in part to the breathtaking cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto) instantly attracts the eye. Things never go as planned. And as the story progresses, Wong Chia-Chi is forced to stay in character, no matter what the situation may bring.

Let’s talk about sex. Most everyone knows that the prudish MPAA has branded Lust, Caution with a dreaded NC-17 rating. Don’t let it stop you. If you can handle a little public hair and pelvic thrusts, then allow yourself to be compelled by a work of art. The frank sex scenes in the film show the pain that Yee carries with him. He takes out the anger and aggression from his job, through his carnal desires. I don’t usually feel that sex scenes are needed in a film, but believe me, here they serve a great, metaphorical purpose.

The actors, notably Leung and Wei, deserve all the accolades they can get. Wei gives as startling a debut as I have ever seen in a film. A devastating scene in which she describes the physical and emotional pain that she is going through is one of the most gut-wrenching moments from any film this year. Her courageous performance is the best any actress has shown us in 2007. It echoes Rinko Kikuchi’s stunning performance in last year’s Babel. Nothing short of brilliant.

Ang Lee is one of the most respected filmmakers in the business. He makes the films he wants to make, the way he wants to make them. He didn’t cut the film to get an R rating, he stuck with his art and the payoff is huge. He even called the film “a little too Asian” for American audiences, proving that he isn’t necessarily concerned with what the majority wants. He presents unconventional stories in captivating ways, tricking you with his keen sense of how to convey real passion on the screen. A

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

American Gangster

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe are two of the best, most accomplished actors around. Like every great match-up in film, if done right, the interaction can be classic. Pacino and De Niro lived up to the hype, and then some, in Heat. Each word chosen carefully, each phrase spoken better than the one before. Washington and Crowe get their heavyweight scene. Although I’ll never tell exactly how it goes down, the actors exchange in a witty battle that will surely exceed your expectations.

American Gangster is director Ridley Scott’s new, powerful venture into drug-filled madness. Washington plays real life Harlem, heroin kingpin Frank Lucas. After Lucas’ father-figure boss dies unexpectedly, Lucas begins to build an empire. While the Vietnam War rages on, reports keep airing on the high level of soldiers becoming addicted to drugs. Lucas decides to skip the middleman and travel to Vietnam, getting his product from the source. He manages to get it back to the states (with some devilishly sneaky tactics) and starts to sell his untouched product for cheap.

Most of Harlem gets addicted to his Blue Magic and soon the money starts to roll in. Lucas brings his whole family up from North Carolina, giving his beloved mother (a fantastic Ruby Dee) a brand new mansion and hiring all of his brothers to work for him. But you’ve seen enough gangster-drug movies to know that no one stays on top forever. That’s why Lucas is being hunted down by Richie Roberts (Crowe), the last honest cop in New York.

Roberts is too good to be a cop, no one on the job trusts him after he turns in a million bucks in drug money. He desperately tries to maintain a sense of loyalty in his work, while is personal life crumbles. When Roberts is assigned to head up a new drug enforcement division, the hunt for the Blue Magic supplier begins.

American Gangster is filled with all those classic elements from the 70s mob movies. In fact, it feels like several of them mixed together, but with Scott’s own, gritty touch. Washington can play one hell of a villain. He gives Lucas a swagger, a walk and talk that will leave you on edge. You never know when Washington is going to turn, like the flick of a switch, from that cool smile, to blowing someone’s head off. Like his Alonzo Harris from Training Day, Washington is in good, evil form.

Crowe plays Roberts with that signature scowl. A man immersed in his work, eating crappy sandwiches and tossing women around like newspaper. He ferociously commands his scenes in the film. He enters a suspect’s home with a brilliant ease that will keep your heart pounding. After giving us his villainous soft side earlier this year in 3:10 to Yuma, Crowe is affirming his position as one of our best leading men.

So what’s wrong with it? At over two and a half hours, people may get restless waiting for a showdown. Also, Crowe’s story is given an equal amount of time to Washington’s. Some of this could be left out (a tired child custody battle) to tighten the movie and give people more of what they really came for, Denzel. The supporting cast is phenomenal, but unfortunately, most are underused. Chiwetel Ejiofor, shamefully, isn’t given much. Other players like Cuba Gooding Jr. (who knew?), Josh Brolin (it’s his year), Armand Assante (loving his Italian mob boss character) and rappers T.I., RZA and Common all make the best of their scenes. But it’s ol’ Ms. Ruby Dee who steals each of her powerful moments on screen. She is given a great speech which should earn her a seat come Oscar time.

American Gangster is a great, wild ride. With an excellent screenplay that gives us just as many smarts as it does action escapades. A climatic scene in a project housing complex is one of the best staged, most thrilling sequences in a film so far this year. The movie is only heightened by the two acting titans. Stick with it for the big payoff, once Denzel throws a cup of coffee across the room, you’ll know that this is what you came for. A

Friday, November 2, 2007

2007 Thus Far...

The first 10 months of 2007 have been enough. If the year was to end now, my movie going needs would be fulfilled. Crash and The Departed were already out by this time the year’s they won best picture. So the question is, have we already seen the best movie of the year, or is the best yet to come? If you ask me, we’ve seen enough. And then some.

So far:
The amount of memorable writer/director films has been astonishing, all with terrific lead actors.

In the Valley of Elah, written and directed by Paul Haggis- Haggis was the first guy in Oscar history to write two back-to-back best picture winners (Million Dollar Baby, Crash). His coming home from Iraq film resonated with audiences and contained Tommy Lee Jones’ best acting performance. Not to mention a powerful Charlize Theron.

Michael Clayton, written and directed by Tony Gilroy- Gilroy’s first time behind the camera produced one of the most riveting films in recent history. An excellent throwback to the greatest era in cinema. Clooney gave a career-best performance as the title character. Great supporting turns from Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Sydney Pollack.

Into the Wild, written and directed by Sean Penn- Penn gave a great effort in telling the true story of Chris McCandless, who gave up everything to gain all that life had to offer. Young actor Emile Hirsch gave a flawless and raw performance. An excellent Hal Holbrook shines above the impressive supporting cast.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, written and directed by Andrew Dominik- A magnificently paced exploration of the West. Tabloid sensation Brad Pitt proves his acting chops by delivering a mesmerizing Jesse James. But the standout is Casey Affleck who not only matches Pitt scene for scene; he’s the one that stays in your head.

Other mentions:
--David Fincher’s Zodiac
--Grindhouse (Tarantino’s section Death Proof, pictured)
--the multiple-short epic Paris, je t’aime
--Michael Moore’s Sicko
--James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma
--David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises

Memorable performances not mentioned include:
--Robert Downey Jr. in Zodiac
--Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart
--Don Cheadle in Talk to Me
--Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, and Armin Mueller-Stahl in Eastern Promises
--Keri Russell in Waitress (pictured)
--Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in 3:10 to Yuma
--Siena Miller in Interview
--Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone
--Benicio Del Toro in Things We Lost in the Fire

Technical Mentions (because this is a film-buff website):
The cinematography in
--Zodiac
--Death Proof
--Sunshine
--In the Valley of Elah
--Michael Clayton
--Into the Wild
--The Assassination of Jesse James...


Plus, the musical score in
--Elah
--Clayton
--Jesse James


Saving the best for last…
I have purposely left one film out that shines above all the rest in 2007. My favorite film of last year was Babel. The first time I saw that picture, I didn’t know how to feel. I was deeply disturbed yet moved. After multiple viewings, I recognized it as a masterpiece. Every aspect of Babel is seemingly flawless. It contained the best direction, writing, acting, camera work, score and editing of the year.
I was similarly touched by this year’s Rescue Dawn. Iconic, visionary filmmaker Werner Herzog has crafted a perfect picture. Out on DVD November 20th (a special DVD review will follow), Rescue Dawn has all the elements of a classic film. Christian Bale gives his best performance, among many great ones, in the true story about Vietnam POW Dieter Dengler. The film is haunting, humorous, tragic, heartfelt and most importantly, real. Klaus Badelt’s score is some of the best music I’ve ever heard in film, I find myself listening to it over and over, desperately trying to regain some of the emotion from the powerful film. Herzog is a masterful filmmaker and his Rescue Dawn is 2007’s masterpiece.

Still to come:
--Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (pictured)
--Ridley Scott’s American Gangster
--Joe Wright directing Keira Knightley in Atonement (hopefully as well as he did in Pride and Prejudice)
--Mike Nichols’ Charlie Wilson’s War
--The teen-pregnancy comedy Juno (It’s written by an ex-stripper and stars Ellen Page, a promising newcomer)
--The Kite Runner (based on the book)
--Johnny Depp singing in Sweeney Todd
--Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood
--Sidney Lumet’s (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network) Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
--Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan bio I’m Not There
--and the one I’m most anticipating, The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men (pictured).

If I ran the show, 2007 would be over. Not to say that there aren’t great films to come, if any filmmakers can put Herzog to the test, it’s the imaginative Coen’s. But just like last October, after I saw Babel, I knew that it wasn’t going to get any better. Rescue Dawn is a modern-day work of art that I’m sure will sadly be forgotten by Oscar voters. I only hope that people are as inspired by the film as I am. Remember November 20th, take two hours out of your weekend and let yourself be marveled. You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson, who has redefined the word quirky, is a truly original visionary. Each of his films is undeniably distinguishable. Several aspects go into becoming such a modern-day legend. Anderson is notorious for his brilliant use of indie-rock music, his consistently unique, breathtaking cinematography, and his necessity to re-use his actors.

Anderson’s latest feat, The Darjeeling Limited, is much of the classic-Anderson same. The film begins with a heartbreaking short, Hotel Chevalier, in which a lonely man in Paris (Jason Schwartzman) is visited by his lost love (Natalie Portman). The short is a great prologue for what is to come, with Schwartzman introducing another insightful Anderson character. Once part II begins, we are taken on a whimsical journey.

Two brothers (Adrien Brody and Schwartzman) are invited by their brother (Owen Wilson) to embark on a month-long train ride in India to rediscover their relationships. The three indulge in wondrous conversations and hilarious shenanigans to fill their time.

Wilson has played a part in every one of Anderson’s films (as actor or co-writer), and they are where Wilson really shows his acting talent. The romantic and frat-boy comedies are okay, but only in an Anderson film will you get such delightful antics as Wilson barking polite orders to his brothers, all while his face is almost completely bandaged. Believe me, you’ll love every minute of it.

Anderson newcomer Brody delivers a career-unknown, brilliant comedic performance, as does Anderson vet (and co-writer) Schwartzman (who continues his Hotel Chevalier character). No actor is better than the other; it is a trio of true comedic acting. The characters are all equally well written and equally well acted that it makes for a great ride.

A dramatic turn will keep you engrossed and move you in ways completely beyond your expectations. I’ll never reveal the film’s best scene, which our three heroes are dressed in black. But it is in this extended scene that Anderson’s true talent in character development is apparent.

Anderson’s films are a tough sell. You either love it or hate it. You get them or you don’t. I didn’t get his last film, the overrated Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. But The Darjeeling Limited does a smart thing by going back to the Anderson essentials. With echoes of the mesmerizing Royal Tenebaums, and even a hint of his first, and best film Bottle Rocket, The Darjeeling Limited lives up to any fan’s highest prospects.

Like other film products of the 90s (Tarantino, Fincher, Jonze, Aronofsky, and so on) Anderson is a filmmaker with intense originality, each of his films is an eccentrically beautiful venture into life.

I’m not sure why Anderson chose to go to India, but we benefit from his reasons. The Darjeeling Limited is one of his best films, whose comedic genius holds you, and its dramatic tones keep you. I’d expect nothing less, from such a refreshingly innovative filmmaker. A