No Country for Old Men (2007)

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No Country for Old Men

Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.

One of the best movies I have seen in quite a while. From the story to the setting, everything here works.

I was unsure going in whether the choice of Josh Brolin in the lead role was wise, but he seemed custom fit as hapless protagonist Llewelyn Moss. There was no question Tommy Lee Jones would deliver, he always gives solid, understated performances. I had heard (who hadn’t) that Javier Bardem gave a stellar performance as contract killer Anton Chigurh – what an understatement. The guy took creepy to a whole new level.

There were several other wonderful performances, but a huge standout for me was Kelly Macdonald as Llewelyn’s wife. Her portrayal of the loyal, and seemingly meek, Carla Jean was every bit as impressive in it’s ‘smallness’ as was Bardem’s. Their inevitable meeting was one of the classic moments in film.

There were two casting errors to my mind; Beth Grant as Carla Jean’s mother was a bit over the top, and Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells, one of Chigurgh’s rivals, was glaringly out of his league.

However, the choice to forgo a musical score was genius. Rather than directing our emotions and reactions via orchestration, the Coens allow the silence to increase the tension. It was a Hitchcockian decision that makes for some edge-of-your seat moments.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 96%; Users 87%

There Will Be Blood (2007)

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There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood

A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.

Bill Goodykoontz says on AZ Central:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s instant classic features a performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as an early 20th Century oilman as brilliant as any you’ll ever see. A bleak study of the capitalism and religion, the film is a masterpiece. (R – 158 minutes)

He gives a more detailed review here, and a perfect 5 star rating

This did not strike me as a movie about capitalism & religion, rather it examines greed & corruption. The only untainted characters in this character study are the children. The ‘religion’ is a perversion of some sort of ancient revivalism. Plainview’s quest can only be a study of capitalism if you buy the rhetoric of the left, who would have you believe anyone who sets out to make a better life (and more money) is this type of ruthless, irredeemable monster. But, let’s skip away from Goodykoontz…

Also in The Republic (the old media, printed version of AZ Central) was a review from Marty Richelsoph, a moviegoer in Surprise, who gave it 2 1/2 stars:

…It was nearly painful to watch, with an overwrought musical score and visual set ups to scenes that left me feeling empty. Part of the problem is that the main character is irredeemable as a human being. He is an ambitious sociopath whose actions seemed based solely on ego and avarice…

I agree. Certainly the score was not well conceived. Where the complete lack of music in No Country For Old Men contributed to the tension and overall creepiness of that flick, the overwhelming and ill-fitting music chosen here takes you out of the film.

Day-Lewis gives a fine performance, as he always does, though early on I was wondering what sort of vocal affectation he was working on. As he descends deeper into madness, his skill as an actor becomes more evident. I have often said that playing crazy amid the sane is easy, while playing sane amid the crazy is hard. Here, Day-Lewis’ Plainview is both. The full scope of his derangement always threatening to break through his tenuous facade of ‘normalcy’.

There Will Be Blood was also overlong, incorporating plot lines and characters we have no interest in. This was an adapted screenplay that could have benefited from a bit of judicious editing.

In spite of these flaws, it was still a good movie. Perhaps not the “great” movie I was expecting, I imagine it suffered from too much hype. It may have scored higher on the Word of Mouth Scale if more of my circle were into the type of story told here.

Rated R for some violence, though I don’t recall anything worse than you could see on prime time TV.

Rotten Tomatoes: critics 91%; users 82%

Enchanted (2007)

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Enchanted

A classic Disney fairytale collides with modern-day New York City in a story about a fairytale princess who is sent to our world by an evil queen. Soon after her arrival, Princess Giselle begins to change her views on life and love after meeting a handsome lawyer. Can a storybook view of romance survive in the real world?

This movie is very aptly titled; I was enchanted, indeed.

The casting here was very important, and Amy Adams delivers as Giselle, our heroine. James Marsden, too, is well suited to the role of the bumbling, yet lovable, Prince Edward. Absolutely spot on, I can’t imagine anyone who could have done either of these roles better.

Patrick Dempsey and Susan Sarandon were fine, though nothing special, in their roles as Robert and the evil Queen Narissa. The characters were well written, and well played, but neither actor brought anything extra to the performance. Contrasted to the prince and princess, I can imagine many other performers who could have pulled off these two roles.

I loved seeing Disney gently poking fun at their history, and found it even more touching when I read the trivia and found all the ways they honored the “princesses past”. In fact, it seems they amused themselves finding ways to wink at the audience.

I saw this movie with D, and it took a while to convince him to go. As the movie began, in full on animation mode, I could tell he was not thrilled (I was laughing already, being familiar with the movies they were echoing). He came around, though, and was laughing out loud as the story unfolded.

Definitely something for everyone. Take your kids, take your parents – good, clean, fun.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 93%; Users 91%

To Sir, with Love (1967)

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To Sir With Love

This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Great message presented in a pleasant, and entertaining, package.

Ideological changes in post-Civil Rights movement America were at the heart of legendary African-American actor Sidney Poitier’s films in the late 1960s. One such film is this powerful drama, which stars Poitier as Mark Thackery, an unemployed engineer who applies for a teaching job because he needs the paycheck. He lands a job at a school in London’s East End that’s full of unruly teenagers who are profoundly uninterested in learning. After several failed attempts to reach the students, Thackery abandons the textbooks and conventional teaching methods and, treating them as young adults, he prepares his students for the job market. His unorthodox style is effective–the students begin to respect Thackery and absorb his lessons. But his substantial accomplishments are weighed in the balance when he is finally offered the engineering job he had been waiting for.

Poitier’s proud, defiant figure stands tall against the rowdy, aimless swinging-sixties London teens, but one of the film’s strengths is the respect that is paid to the disruptive students as human characters worthy of a better future. Lulu, who delivers a strong student portrayal, also sings the popular theme song.

One of Poitier’s greatest strengths is his ability to command respect in his roles. Neither he, nor any character he portrayed, demanded respect as a black man – he made it clear he deserved respect simply as a man. And he got it. He was truly a role model for all young men of the time and this movie was a wonderful accompaniment. Add a great supporting cast and you have a movie I recommend to everyone in my circle.

Amazon.com essential video
Novelist James Clavell wrote, produced, and directed this 1967 British film (based on a novel by E.R. Braithwaite) about a rookie teacher who throws out stock lesson plans and really takes command of his unruly, adolescent students in a London school. Poitier is very good as a man struggling with the extent of his commitment to the job, and even more as a teacher whose commitment is to proffering life lessons instead of academics. The spirit of this movie can be found in such recent films as Dangerous Minds and Mr. Holland’s Opus, but none is as moving as this one. Besides, the others don’t have a title song performed by pop star Lulu. -~-Tom Keogh


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 100%, Users 89%

Reign Over Me (2007)

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Reign Over Me

Reign Over Me

Tagline: “Let in the unexpected”

Alan Johnson has everything he needs to get through life: a good job, a beautiful and loving wife, and their wonderful children. Yet he feels isolated because he finds having a hard-working job and managing a family too much to handle and has no one to talk to about it. Charlie Fineman, on the other hand, doesn’t have a job or a family. He used to have both until he lost his family on the fateful day of 9/11, and the grief he felt caused him to quit his job and isolate himself from everyone around him. As it turns out, Alan and Charlie were roommates in college, and a chance encounter one night rekindles the friendship they shared. But when Charlie’s problems become too much to deal with, Alan is determined to help Charlie come out of his emotional abyss.

I am going to point you to the review by babubhaut, an IMDB user, which sums up my feeling of the movie nicely.

I am not quite sure why Sandler went with the Bob Dylan impersonation for this role but, that quirk not-withstanding, his performance is quite moving. Don Cheadle is always great. Jada Pinkett Smith is generally irritating, but her role here is small enough that I didn’t mind her.

Yes, it’s a message film – and it’s predictable. But it is still lovely and I know my family and friends will enjoy it.


Rotten Tomatoes: critics 63%; users 86%

Casino Royale (2006)

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Casino Royale

Casino Royale

In his first mission as 007, James Bond must win a poker game at The Casino Royale, in Montenegro, to stop a criminal who works as a banker to the terrorist organizations of the world, from financing crime and terrorism across the globe.

I must review this only as an action movie – not a Bond film. Though I enjoy Daniel Craig as an actor, he is no Bond. He is too “common” and rough, not a smooth bone in his well-toned body (at least not in this first outing) There are, of course, the usual Bondian staples; breath-taking chases, women falling into bed with Bond, then falling dead… But they don’t quite hold up in Craig’s hand.

The rest of the casting is strong enough, particularly Mads Mikkelsen (as the villainous Le Chiffre), Giancarlo Giannini (Rene Mathis), and Judi Dench (M).

I believe many in my circle will enjoy this one, despite the faults I find with it, so it tilts higher on the Word of Mouth Scale One can only hope that Craig can learn to be a bit more refinied in future installments.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 95%; Audience 87%

The Professional (1994)

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The Professional

The Professional

As visually stylish as it is graphically violent, this thriller directed by Luc Besson concerns Mathilda (Natalie Portman), a 12-year-old girl living in New York City who has been exposed to the sordid side of life from an early age: her family lives in a slum and her abusive father works for drug dealers, cutting and storing dope. Mathilda doesn’t much care for her parents, but she has a close bond with her four-year-old brother. One day, she returns from running an errand to discover that most of her family, including her brother, have been killed in a raid by corrupt DEA agents, led by the psychotic Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Mathilda takes refuge in the apartment of her secretive neighbor, Leon (Jean Reno), who takes her in with a certain reluctance. She discovers that Leon is a professional assassin, working for Tony (Danny Aiello), a mob kingpin based in Little Italy.

Not for everyone. As the synopsis says, it is quite graphically violent. It is also…oddly sweet. Damaged souls who find each other and form a new family, a plot device that has been used often – though not often so well.

The story is engaging, the direction is beautiful, the performances are absolutely top notch. You may find Gary Oldman’s turn a bit much, it seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it bit of overacting. I found it deliciously psychotic.

And there is simply no way you could watch this movie and not see the future stardom in store for a young Natalie Portman.

It loses a bit on the Word of Mouth Scale because of the violence & language. But, if you can handle a fair amount of blood and cussing, this movie should be on your list.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 79%; Audience 94%

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