THE ROAD: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE ROAD (Dir. John Hillcoat, 2009)

Your eyes may roll when once again reading the phrase “set in a post apocalyptic world” and that this film’s release was pushed back several times (it was originally set for Dec. ’08) may be discouraging, but hold on because this film is an intensely moving and towering piece of work. While on the surface its bleak depiction of an ash covered world in ruins with death in every direction may be for many a grueling experience, in all the darkness a tiny light shining off a glimmer of hope can be seen.

That light is almost impossible to see at times for a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), only credited as “Man” and “Boy”, in rags making their way through the rubble with a grocery store shopping cart and a gun that only has 2 bullets in it. We’re never told how this all happened, we’re only given a few flashbacks from before the devastation that present the Man’s wife (Charlize Theron) sacrificing herself for her family as the world seemingly comes to an end.

Mortensen gives a career best performance as the Man, a desperate but ferociously protective father tuned into every threatening tick of movement on the terrain surrounding him and his shaking but just as driven son. Every element they encounter might as well have “from Hell” attached to it. They hide in the woods off the road from groups of hunters or hoards of cannibals, they look for food in battered houses, they share dwindling provisions with a grizzled old Robert Duvall (the only character in the film given a name – Ely), and they just keep on heading towards the ocean.

This sprawling epic is the third film adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel (the others being Billy Bob Thornton’s ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and the Coen Brothers’ acclaimed Oscar winning NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). Save for the expansion of the role of the wife, THE ROAD is extremely faithful to its source, retaining its scary tense tone with almost all of the spare spoken dialogue verbatim from the book.

It’s maybe the anti-“feel good” movie of the year (or the decade) but its strengths as a tale of survival and its powerful emotional pull will linger for a long time. The Man tells his son that they’re “the good guys” and that they will live through this. The Boy believes it and somehow in the face of the complete breakdown of society and all the anarchy of the wilderness we believe it too. THE ROAD may be a long tough one, but it does get to that glimmer and it really got to me.

More later…

BURN AFTER READING – The Film Babble Blog Review

BURN AFTER READING (Dirs. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2008)

You cant get any more A-list than the cast of this movie. George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton are Oscar winners, John Malkovich has been nominated more than once, and Brad Pitt is, well, Brad Pitt (yes hes been nominated too). Mix in a couple of the most acclaimed character actors working today -Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under, THE VISITOR) and J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson in the SPIDERMAN series, JUNO) and you’ve got as rich and tasty an cinematic ensemble soufflé that could be served today. Coming off the ginormous success of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (yes, more Oscars) it seems the Coen Brothers needed to blow off some steam just as RAISING ARIZONA was the silly satirical followup to their dark debut BLOOD SIMPLE and THE BIG LEBOWSKI came right after FARGO, this is the ice cream to NO COUNTRY‘s full steak dinner. Okay, Ill get off the food analogies.

Seems somewhat pointless to try to recount the plot but Ill still have a go at it. Malkovich is a boozing low level CIA agent whose files and memoirs are copied onto a disc by his wife (Swinton) after he is fired and she plans to divorce him. The disc is found at the gym Hardbodies where McDormand and Pitt work who, the money-grubbing schemers that they are, plan to blackmail Malkovich with. Meanwhile Clooney (also an idiot) who is having an affair with Swinton meets McDormand on one of his many misadventures with online dating. Misadventures is the right word for all of this as we see these pathetic people go through a series of sloppily handled escapades. The disc is, of course, a MacGuffin as its contents are unimportant and, as anyone in the film who studies it confirms, worthless. The conviction of McDormand, who wants the money to have extesive cosmetic surgery (Ive gone just about as far as I can go with this body) coupled with Pitt’s badly bleached blundering makes for a lot of laughs while Clooneys wide eyed doltish womanizing brings his fair share of funny too. Malkovich’s jaded jerk of a foul mouthed (his most repeated phrase throughout is what the fuck?!!?” I think) failed spy wont win him any awards but its among the finest comic acting of his career or at least since BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Swinton seems to be the only one that is ill at ease with the material though that’s probably because her character is so ill at ease with these situations.

We dont really know what anyone is after J.K. Simmons as Malkovichs former superior says in an indifferent whatever manner at one point and I bet many critics will say the same about BURN AFTER READING. After the powerfully astute NO COUNTRY… this may seem merely a funny throw-away. A high class but trivial piece that treads water between more ambitious efforts Im sure some will remark but I believe there is a lot more going for it than that. Sure, it would be easy to conclude that this is a silly statement on our current technology driven paranoia and that everybody is stupid, glib, and completely out for themselves but I think that would be dumbing it down considerably. With their patented low angles, wide interior shots, and the overall free for all spirit that they appear to instill in all the films participants, the offbeat world we are presented could only be Coen created – this is a view of their private sector, to use some Washington D.C. jargon. Like many Coen Brothers movies this will take repeat viewings to fully appreciate and to formulate more of a take on where it stands in their canon. Right now I can only say that BURN AFTER READING is consistently hilarious with a host of A-listers at the top of their game and Im looking forward to seeing it again. Its an enjoyable and extremely silly sector that Im glad they don’t keep so private.

More later…

Woody Gets His Groove Back! VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA – The Film Babble Blog Review


Woody Allen’s 43rd film as director is lush, absorbing, and easily his best film in 10 years. The 4th in his series of films that abandon his long-time cinematic comfort zone of Manhattan for the splendor of a European escapade, Allen is reunited with his most recent muse Scarlett Johansson but this time with terrific not abysmal results. After the traditional Allen white on black credits (now with Spanish guitar and not big band jazz accompanying) we join Johansson and best friend Rebecca Hall as they get off a plane in Barcelona – they are the Cristina and Vicky of the title.

A narrator (Christopher Evan Welch), a device that evokes memories of the docudrama style of HUSBANDS AND WIVES, tells us about our leading ladies’ temperments – Johansson is romantically impulsive while Hall is stable, analytic, and most importantly engaged to be married to a buttoned-down reliable but bland Chris Messina. While dining one night a smooth Spanish painter (Javier Bardem) approaches them and proposes that they join him for a romantic weekend in Oviedo: “We’ll eat well, we’ll drink wine, we’ll make love”. Hall is immediately cynical and put off by Bardem, having heard troubling gossip about his ex-wife, but Johanssen is giddily enchanted which wins over and we’re off and running!

Bardem’s ex-wife, the sultry and simultaneously sulking Penélope Cruz, is trouble indeed; she shows up after getting out of the hospital asking for vodka with daggers in her eyes aimed at Johansson as she storms into their life. Possible Spoiler!: both Hall and Johansson have fallen for Bardem by this point which threatens Hall’s marriage and makes murkier the matters of the heart between all of them. What’s never murky is the photography with gorgeous shots of the temples, landscapes, and luxurious patios of Spain framed by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe. The dialogue is crisp and wittier than Woody Allen has given us in ages with even subtitled lines (Cruz and Bardem exchange many private asides in Spanish) stinging as the pace never drags with many expertly crafted uncut tracking shots flowing as the characters themselves flow through the beautiful scenery. Great naturalistic acting from all the principals abounds with supporting turns by the always charming Patricia Clarkson and the underused Kevin Dunn filling out the most colorful Woody Allen movie so far.

With Cruz, the Spanish locale, and Aquirresarobe (Director of Photography on TALK TO HER) it could look at first glance that Allen is aping Aldomovar but the pessimism, views on art and forbidden love, as well as the neurotic behaviour (can’t write a review of a Woody Allen film without some use of the word “neurotic”) is all classic Woody Allen. If you only know Bardem from his role as the cold blooded killer Chighur in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN his role here will be a revelation. Johansson does her best work since LOST IN TRANSLATION fully inhabiting her character with flare and much moxie. All the promotional material for this film (the poster, trailer, etc.) for a large part excludes Rebecca Hall (pictured at the top of this review) which is odd because it’s her tortured entanglement that really gives the film its narrative thrust – I suppose she wasn’t enough of a name for the publicity department.

The tedious repitition of worn-out plot points (Hello, MATCH POINT) and the lackluster lines of his last several films is replaced by a passionate and vital sense of purpose (and a great screenplay) which makes for a extremely satisfying meal of a movie. The only possible reservation I have is for the inclusion of Welch’s voice-over narration; much of the time I thought the film could do without it but I have to admit it contained some insightful and amusing remarks so I’ll leave it be. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA is a welcome return to form for the Woodman and with his next project, the already completed WHATEVER WORKS with Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood (also featuring Clarkson) here’s hoping he’s on a roll.

More later…

SEMI-PRO – Completely Amateurish

SEMI-PRO (Dir. Kent Alterman, 2008)

Does the Will Ferrell sports comedy genre (epitomized in TALLADEGA NIGHTS, KICKING AND SCREAMING, and BLADES OF GLORY) have a future? Does it deserve one? Well judging by this recent entry – no. Will Ferrell is undoubtedly one of the biggest comic actors right now – just a week ago he came to my area and performed to a sold-out crowd at a local basketball arena (The Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC). I doubt sold-out crowds will show for this because even hardcore Ferrell fans will have a hard time finding SEMI-PRO anything but only fitfully funny. And it’s more fitful than funny.

It’s set in Flint, Michigan in 1976 – why? Because everyone knows the 70’s are funny with their wacky hairstyles and kooky clothing while Flint, an economically troubled crumbling city as Michael Moore has often illustrated, I guess the filmmakers figured also has comic possibilities. We meet yet another full-of-himself Ferrell character – Jackie Moon – a one-hit wonder (with the creepy single “Love Me Sexy” that opens the movie) now turned owner/coach/player of the the American Basketball Association’s Flint Michigan Tropics. His team, of course, is a gaggle of underdog losers who may have to fold because of a merger of the ABA with the NBA. Ferrell makes a deal that if the Tropics finish in the top 4 at the end of the season they can make the move to the NBA. He recruits Woody Harrelson (squandering all the cred he just gained with his measured performance in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) as a former NBA player, and he ups the promotional ante with gimmicks like corn dog night, clown makeup night, and even gets in the ring with a live bear named Dewey one night to put bums in the seats. So far so bad…

It’s all supposed to be in the realm of “outrageous comedy” but very little amuses here. Co-star André Benjamin (also known as André 3000 of the band Outkast) makes the same mistake Harrelson does – they both act like they’re playing real people when they should of cozied up to the cartoon trappings like Ferrell knows to do. The rest of the cast is capable – former Conan co-hort Andy Richter is always likable but given little to do, Maura Tierney (Newsradio, E.R.) plays another thankless girlfriend part, and SNL‘s Kirsten Wiig (as the bear handler) along with Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett try in vain to get some laugh action. An odd appearance by Jackie Earle Haley, (no stranger to sports comedies with BAD NEWS BEARS back in the day) as a zoned-out hippie who Ferrell screws over because he can’t afford to pay him $10,000 Haley won at one of his promo nights, suggests a profound sense of laziness in the screen-writing process but that’s evident everywhere. Especially in the tired jabs at lame 70’s targets like Pong, Shasta, and Fondue sets that seem like rejects from ANCHORMAN. You can’t have Will Ferrell and this cast and not have some laughs – a poker table Russian Roulette scene has its moments and there are scattered lines that may elicit chuckles but this is a wasted enterprise overall. SEMI-PRO is the worst Will Ferrell film I’ve ever seen (and yes that includes BEWITCHED) but I’m hoping it offers some hope that the powers that be recognize it as such and scrap all future Ferrell sports projects. Yeah, as if.

More later…

Oscar Postpartum 2008

So it’s the morning after and I’m looking over my predictions – none of my wild cards paid off and some of my darts didn’t hit the bulls-eye so what do I got? Well, I don’t know whether to feel comforted or disturbed by the fact that I got EXACTLY the same amount right that I did last year – 13 out of 24. So here’s at ‘em:

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – Though everybody was saying this was a lock I was still somewhat scared that this was wishful thinking. So glad that it happened – it is definitely the Coen Brothers time. Seeing them on stage – Joel stoic and commanding with Ethan cutely quietly fidgeting made them look like the Penn & Teller of movie directors.

3. BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day Lewis for THERE WILL BE BLOOD.
4. BEST ACTRESS: Julie Christie – WRONG! – Marion Cotillard for LA VIE EN ROSE – As much as I loved Christie in AWAY FROM HER I am not disapointed here. Cotillard’s performance was amazing and the award is well deserved. Besides Christie’s won before.
5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Hal Holbrook – WRONG! Javier Bardem for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – I knew I’d be wrong about this one but didn’t care. Bardem was excellent and his short acceptance (hard to call it a speech)
6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS : Cate Blanchett – WRONG! Tilda Swinton for MICHAEL CLAYTON – This was a real surprise. Still she did a good job in her role and I liked that backstage afterwards she said winning is often “the kiss of death”. Yeah, just ask Cuba Gooding Jr.
8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins for THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORDWRONG! – Robert Elswit for THERE WILL BE BLOOD – I knew I’d be wrong here but still thought Deakins would win but for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. I loved TWBB so I’m happy it got 2 major awards.
12. FILM EDITING: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLYWRONG!THE BOURNE ULTIMATUMBOURNE surprisingly swept the technical award categories. Maybe I should see it.
14. VISUAL EFFECTS: TRANSFORMERSWRONG! THE GOLDEN COMPASS – I called it a “no brainer” but I should’ve remember the Academys track record on this category. I mean E.T. won over BLADE RUNNER for this 25 years ago!
16. ORIGINAL SONG: “Falling Slowly” from ONCE – A nice moment during the broadcast was when Host Jon Stewart quipped “wow, that guy is so arrogant” after Glen Hansard’s humble as Hell acceptance speech. It got a big laugh from the audience and the folks at the Oscar party I was at last night.
21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: JUNO by Diablo Cody – This was the real ‘no brainer’.
adapted by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: RATATOUILLE

Okay! So I did no better or no worse than last time out. Sigh. Story of my life.

More later…

It’s That Time Again – Film Babble’s Funtime Oscar Picks 2008!

The Academy Awards is one week away so I am finalizing my predictions. I admit that I’m no expert – I only had 13 out of 24 right last year but it is such a fun process for a film fan so I’m game. In Roger Ebert’s 2008 predictions column he writes “as usual I will allow my heart to outsmart my brain in one or two races, which is my annual downfall”. I hear you Roger! That’s why I decided to say “screw it!” and go with my heart. I went against my heart last year and guessed wrongly that BABEL would win over my true favorite THE DEPARTED so I think I owe it.

1.BEST PICTURE: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – My brain agrees with my heart on this one. It seriously feels like The Coen Brothers time as evidenced by my pick for #2 as well but I have to remind myself that 10 years ago I really thought it was their time for FARGO and THE ENGLISH PATIENT won. Heavy sigh. Please JUNO – don’t split the vote and cause an upset! Please – my heart couldn’t take it.
2. BEST DIRECTOR: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

3.BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day Lewis – Again heart and brain are on the same page with just about everybody out there on this – he truly did perform the best acting of the year so it’ll be shocking if he’s not rewarded.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Julie Christie – Most are predicting this one for Christie. Her performance was wonderful and like Lewis she’s won before (for DARLING – 1965) and it just seems right. The wild card would be Marion Cotillard in LA VIE EN ROSE but that’s stuck at “very long wait” in my Netflix queue so I can’t appraise yet.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Hal Holbrook – This is my wild card; my INTO THE WILD card! Sorry, couldn’t resist that. Seriously though he was the best thing in that movie – he’s 82 and he climbed up a mountain! Somebody else who thinks he deserves it is one of his competitors for the title – Javier Bardem. Read Bardem’s touching comments on Holbrook’s performance. My brain is doubting this pick but I’m still letting it stand.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS : Cate Blanchett – Brain and Heart together again. Blanchett is amazing as ’65-’66 era Bob Dylan – actually Jude Quinn – one of 6 different personifications of the said rock star singer in I’M NOT THERE if you haven’t heard. I predict she will dedicate her Oscar to co-star Heath Ledger. Awarding her will honor him so to speak. Also since she was also nominated for Best Actress for ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE this stone kills that bird too. Hey, I’m just blogging out loud here!

And the rest:

8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins for THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. Deakins is also nominated for NO COUNTRY as well so I hope a DREAMGIRLS-like canceling out doesn’t go down. I will be supremely bummed if Deakins’ amazing work doesn’t get the gold for either film.
10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: NO END IN SIGHT – Because SiCKO would seem to be a shoe-in my brain is still pondering over whether the Academy will let Michael Moore back on their stage. I mean, remember last time? That’s not the only reason I think Charles Ferguson’s little seen Iraq war breakdown will win but it’s good enough for now.
11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: SARI’S MOTHER – Haven’t seen but damnit it looks like a winner!
12. FILM EDITING: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY – Heart again. I mean the editing was really the show on this one so I can’t help but pick it.
13. MAKEUP: LA VIE EN ROSE – Can you believe NORBIT was nominated? Maybe it did have phenomenal makeup but still – NORBIT – an Oscar Nominated Motion Picture?! I may do the biggest spit-take in history if that Eddie Murphy mess upsets this category.
14. VISUAL EFFECTS: TRANSFORMERS – The definition of “no-brainer”.
16. ORIGINAL SONG: “Falling Slowly” from ONCE – This has got to happen. People are crazy about that freakin’ soundtrack and this song seems a sure bet.
17. ANIMATED SHORT: I MET THE WALRUS – Didn’t see it but the trailer (that’s right, a trailer for a short film) is pretty cool.
18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: AT NIGHT – Haven’t seen either so I’m just going throwing a dart in the dark here I admit.
20. SOUND MIXING: THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM – Didn’t see it but it looked like this flick mixed it up soundwise. Yep, another dart.
21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: JUNO by Diablo Cody. Consider this category to be re-named “snarkiest script”.
22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: ATONEMENT by Christopher Hampton
THE COUNTERFEITERS (German title: Fälscher, Die) – I haven’t seen it yet but I read good things about this Austrian war drama on the internets and the Academy seems to love World War II so it seems pretty sound.

Okay! I bet I do even worse than last year but I don’t care. I’m just glad the writer’s strike is over and the show is going on. It was one of the best years for movies so I bet whatever the flaws and surprises it’ll be a blast.

More later…

The Film Babble Blog Top 10 Movies Of 2007

I’ve hesitated making a list of the best of what has been an exceptionally good year because there are still many potential candidates that I haven’t seen yet – THE SAVAGES, GONE BABY GONE, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES…, PERSOPOLIS, and THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY among them. I should be able to see those all fairly soon but then, come on, there will always be 2007 films that I haven’t seen out there. So here’s my Top Ten:

1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)

The Coen Brothers frighteningly faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel is undoubtedly an immediate classic. I’ll refrain from Oscar predictions but there’s no way this goes home with nothing from the pathetic press conference that the Academy Awards ceremony is threatening to be. With incredible cinematography by Roger Deakins and great performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and especially as evil incarnate – Javier Bardem. Read my original review here.

2. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

An uncharacteristic film for PTA and another based on a literary work (Upton Sinclair’s “Oil”) this is a mesmerizing masterpiece with a showstopping performance by Daniel Day Lewis as an evil Oil baron. That this and the Coen Bros. are meeting in the same desert area where both films were shot (the West Texas town of Marfa) for a Best Picture Oscar showdown makes it sadder that for this competition there may be no show. My original review here.

3. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes)

It was wonderful that Cate Blanchett won a Golden Globe and got a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Jude Quinn – one of 6 personifications of Bob Dylan (the others being Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, and Marcus Carl Franklin), because she was the one that really nailed it. Roger Ebert wrote that Julie Taymor’s Beatles musical ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was “possibly the year’s most divisive film” but I think this divided movie goers to a greater extreme. I heard some of the most angered comments I’ve ever heard about a movie in my theater’s lobby and there were many screenings that had multiple walk-outs. To me though these folk were crazy with the same moronic heckling mentality of those who booed when Bob went electric back in ’65-’66. This is a movie as far ahead of its time as its subject: the Fellini, Godard, Altman, Pekinpah, and Pennebaker visual riffing throughout will take decades to fully absorb as well the context of the classic music presented – cue “Positively 4th Street”. Read more in my original review here.

4. ZODIAC (Dir. David Fincher)

An unjustly overlooked new-fangled stylized, though with old-school ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN tactics, serial killer period piece procedural – which I know makes it sound either too scary or too boring (or both), but damnit this is a knock-out of a movie. Fincher utilizes every bit of info available about the original late 60’s to 70’s case about the Zodiac killer through his baffling coded killings to the sporadic nature of his possible identity, through the incompetent technology of the time and the mislaid evidence because of separate investigations. So fascinating, it will take a few more viewings to fully appreciate how fascinating it is – and I haven’t even seen the Director’s Cut! With passionate performances by Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey Jr., Chloë Sevigny and Mark Ruffalo. Read my original review here.

5. 3:10 TO YUMA (Dir. James Mangold)

In this remake of the 1957 film based on the Elmore Leonard short story set in the 1880’s, Christian Bale is a down on his luck handicapped farmer who takes on the job of transporting evil yet poetic outlaw Russell Crowe across dangerous terrain to the scheduled train of the title. An amazing sense of pacing plus the ace performances of the principals help this transcend the “revitalizing the Western” brand it’s been stupidly stamped with. A stately yet grandly entertaining movie with an extremely satisfying ending. Read my original review here.

6. AWAY FROM HER (Dir. Sarah Polly)

Julie Christie is going to be hard to beat for Best Actress this year because her portrayal of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s is as heartbreaking as it gets. Gordon Pinsent is understated and affecting as her estranged husband – lost to her mentally and helpless as she is institutionalized. He’s sadly confined to the sidelines as she falls in love with a fellow patient played by Michael Murphy. My review (based on the DVD) is here.

7. RATATOUILLE (Dir. Brad Byrd)

Flawless animation enhanced by an ace script with embellishment by star Patton Oswalt (he voices the rat) makes this story about a Parisian rodent that happens to be a master chef as tasty a dish as one could salivate for in the proud Pixar present. My original review – of course it’s right here.


Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are brothers who plot to rob the jewelry store owned by their parents. Tragedy ensues – some hilarity too but it’s of the cringe-variety. Read my review here.

9. THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (Dir. David Silverman)

Some may think that it’s funny that in this year of worthy candidates that my choice of this big screen version of one of the 20 year old TV cartoon family’s adventures, but as Homer says “I’ll teach you to laugh at something that’s funny!” This is definitely here because of personal bias but isn’t that what these lists are all about? Original review – here.

10. MICHAEL CLAYTON (Dir. Tony Gilroy)

A surprisingly non glossy legal thriller with a downbeat but nuanced George Clooney. Didn’t really pack ’em in but got respectable business and critical notices. Despite enjoying and obviously thinking it’s one of the year’s best, I was surprised it got a Best Picture Nomination – I really thought INTO THE WILD would get it. Since this is the superior picture I’m happy to be wrong. Also nice to see Tom Wilkinson getting a nomination for his intense turn as Clooney’s deranged but righteous key witness. My review? Oh yeah, it’s here.


The ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title (except for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE which links to its IMDb entry) for my original review.

NO END IN SIGHT (Dir. Charles Ferguson)
(Dir. Edgar Wright)
(Dir. Joe Wright)
(Dir. Billy Ray)
(Dir. Julie Taymor)
(Dir. Michael Moore)
(Dir. Lasse Hallström)
(Dir. Julie Delphy)
(Dir. Ridley Scott)
(Dir. Greg Mattola)

So that’s it for now – I may revise this at some point but I’m thinking it would be better to let it stand.
This post is dedicated to Heath Ledger (April 4th, 1979 – January 22nd, 2008). He, of course, was one of the Bobs (pictured above) in my #3 Film of the year and I enjoyed his performances in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, THE BROTHERS GRIMM, and MONSTER’S BALL (those are the only ones of his I’ve seen so far). As I write this many pundits on cable are pontificating on the cause of his death exaggerating every tiny detail of what should be his private life. I prefer to just look at the work he left behind. His role as the Joker in the upcoming Batman sequel THE DARK KNIGHT is surely going to be the most anticipated role of 2008.


More later…

10 Annoying Anachronisms In Modern Movies

One of the few flaws in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN * (which if it’s not the best film of the year – it’ll do ’til the best film of the year gets here) set in 1980, is that a Carl’s Jr. restaurant with a current day sign complete with cartoon smiley face star logo can be seen in the background. Also a modern Domino’s Pizza typeface on a storefront is clearly visible even in a night scene shoot-out. These don’t truly distract from the action but they did take me out of the movie somewhat.

* Reviewed on film babble blog 11/21/07

A lot of anachronisms in the movies are pretty forgivable – a car model not in line with the period portrayed can be overlooked, much use of music is more an artistic choice than a mistake per say (except when it blares from a radio like the 1971 song “American Pie” in a scene set in 1969 in BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY), and a lot of clothing and slang can be dismissed. However there are those moments where a blatant disregard for correctness and consistency can really mar a movie. So let’s take a look at:

10 Annoying Anachronisms In Modern Movies

1. A Ms. PacMan Machine in MAN ON THE MOON (Dir. Milos Foreman, 1999) The IMDb says of this Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman misfire – “numerous anachronisms can be chalked up to artistic decisions; the film intentionally plays fast and loose with the timeline.” Well that’s fine and all but seeing a 1982 Ms. PacMan video game machine in a scene set in 1977 really took me out of the movie. I can accept the narrative decision to have the famous Carnegie Hall “milk and cookies” concert (pictured on the left) occur after Kaufman was diagnosed with cancer and presented as his big farewell but when an early 70’s scene references “President Jimmy Carter” – odd jarring misplacements like that do this formulaic biopic no favors.

2. The Lake Wissota reference in TITANIC (Dir. James Cameron, 1997) Self proclaimed “king of the world” Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells Rose (Kate Winslet) at their first meeting this little revealing tidbit – “once when I was a kid me and my father were ice-fishing out on Lake Wissota…” As five million websites will tell you, Lake Wissota is a man-made reservoir which wasn’t created until five years after the Titanic sank. James Cameron apparently acknowledged this goof at one point but then proclaimed himself “KING OF THE WORLD!!!” Sorry, couldn’t resist that.

3. The 70’s Hippies in 50’s Vegas in THE GODFATHER (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) Very briefly and through a window behind Michael (Al Pacino) when he and his party get out of their car at the entrance to Fredo’s (John Casale) hotel you can see a couple of young men with long hair and 70’s attire. Coppola on the DVD commentary chimes in: “this was one of those really cheap second unit shots we did…I was very embarrassed by this because of in the background you see there’s like hippie-looking guys that are not correct for period.” Well played, Coppola. You win this round.

4. Post-it notes in ALMOST FAMOUS (Dir. Cameron Crowe, 2000) Actually there is a plethora of anachronisms in this movie that takes place in the early 70’s – Chem-Lite glow sticks at concerts, albums that weren’t released yet (like the Stones’ “Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”) given prominent screen-time in a scene set in 1969 (pictured above), and 90’s Pepsi cans abound but damnit the post-it note deal just irks me. They weren’t around until the 80’s and it just seemed too cute to have teenage Rolling Stone journalist William (Patrick Fuggit) surrounded by them in a hotel bathroom. Seems like this is pretty indicative of the liberties with his own life Crowe was talking in this semi-autobiography.

5. ANOTHER 48 HOURS Billboard in THE DOORS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) Since most of Stone’s movies are set in the 60’s and the 70’s I could do a whole post about the inaccurate elements and out of place objects but I’ll spare you that (for now). I’ll just say that for all the work that went into the mood and tone of the era in this bombastic biopic of rock star/poet wannabe Jim Morrison (played by Val Kilmer) the visibility of a billboard for a 1990 movie is just plain stupid. Actually truth be told most of what’s in THE DOORS, accurate or not, is just plain stupid.

6. 1965 Canadian Flag Maple Leaf Logo in the 1930’s in THE UNTOUCHABLES (Dir. Brian DePalma, 1987) As the site Whoops! Movie Goofs & Mistakes reports “The Canadians probably laughed their asses off when Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) made his first unsuccessful bust: The movie takes place in the 1930s and you can see boxes decorated with maple leaf logos. That logo was first seen 1965 when Canada introduced its flag.” Yeah, well considering the reaction to DePalma’s REDACTED these days, this 20 year old blunder should be the least of his worries.

7. A Jet Crosses The Background of CLEOPATRA (Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963) This I’ve never seen – it’s listed as a “goof” on IMDb’s entry for the film. Likewise in their entry for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS they state: “Anachronism – Moses on top of the large rock with a watch on.” Without a recent viewings of these films I can only say that these seem like an urban myths. No other source online collaborates either – in fact most sites only list that a crowd member in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS appears to be wearing a watch but this is disputed as well. I guess, in a BIG FISH kind of way, I’m siding with the myth on this one because I don’t see either making my Netflix queue anytime soon.

8. 80’s Geography imposed on 1936 Maps In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Dir. Steven Speilberg, 1981) In a nice almost comic book touch we are shown Indiana Jones’s (Harrison Ford) plane routes with lines imposed on a screen filling map. Unfortunately it imposes the geography of the early 80’s into a 30’s world. Thailand, which was called Siam at the time, is seen as is Jordan which was known as Transjordan until 1949. There is also a globe in Indy’s classroom that depicts various countries of Africa that didn’t exist in 1936. Ah-ha! This undisputed action movie classic isn’t historically accurate! Like anyone will care though – I mean even I admit this is nit-picking. Oh yeah, according to the IMDb “in 1936, no aircraft were able to travel such distances with having to stop for refueling.” How about that nit I just picked?

9. A Rent-A-Center In BOOGIE NIGHTS (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997) Late in the film a “Rent-A-Center” is clearly visible in the background. Actually that’s a pretty minor one – the film has lots of other anachronisms that are pretty forgivable and not really annoying but I wanted a excuse to bring up the brilliant BOOGIE NIGHTS and say I’m really looking forward to nit-picking Anderson’s upcoming THERE WILL BE BLOOD for period piece mistakes so stay tuned.

10. Registered Paedophiles Weren’t Required To Notify Neighbors In 1991 in THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dir. Joel Coen, 1997) This one kind of hurts – the law wasn’t implemented in California until 1996 so for one of the most memorable bit part roles in a Coen Bros. movie, John Turturro as Jesus Quintana was going through inaccurate actions when he went door to door informing his neighbors. I guess I can let it slide – it is one of the all time great movies. No amount of incorrect for the period cars or bowling balls can change that.

Whew! Well that’s enough nit picking for now. I know there’s a lot of annoying anachronisms I missed so you know where you can put them! In the comments below, of course.

More later…

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Enters The Classic Coen Bros. Canon – Just Don’t Call It A Comeback

Cormac McCarthy: MILLER’S CROSSING is in that category. I don’t want to embarrass you, but that’s just a very, very fine movie.

Joel Coen: Eh, it’s just a damn rip-off.

– Time Magazine Oct. 18th, 2007 (A Conversation Between Author Cormac McCarthy And The Coen Brothers)

It has been a while since Joel and Ethan Coen unleashed a movie that really made an impact. Their last offerings – THE LADYKILLERS (2004), INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003), and a personal favorite of mine – THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001) all had their fair share of merits and moments but you’d have to reach back to O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU (2000) to cite any serious seismic blip on the pop culture radar. Even during this supposed down-time they never had a critically lambasted failure or did anything resembling “jumping the shark” so the held belief was they would check in with another masterpiece someday in the future. Well the day has now come with the instant classic that is:

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Dirs. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, 2007)

A more faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel could not be imagined. There are a few transitional dialogue and setting embellishments but the bulk of this film is directly, word for word, from the brilliant book. In the vast plains of Rio Grande, Texas in 1980, Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss – a poor Vietnam vet who one day when out hunting antelopes comes across a slew of dead bodies, a large surplus of heroin, and a satchel containing over 2 million dollars. He takes the satchel and returns to his wife (Kelly Macdonald) at his trailer park home but wakes in the middle of the night with what he himself recognizes as a “dumber than Hell” compulsion to return to the crime scene. Soon to be on his trail is what can only be described as a completely evil man – Chigurh (Javier Bardem). With an odd Prince Valiant-style haircut and a never ceasing confidence, Chigurh uses a cattle gun to kill just about anyone who gets in his way throughout the film (usually through the forehead) and it also comes in handy to blow out door locks. “What is this guy supposed to be, the ultimate bad-ass?” – Moss even asks Carson Wells (a smooth Woody Harrelson) – yet another man on the trail of the money.

As Sherriff Bell and a sort of narrator in his grizzled though still whimsical monologues Tommy Lee Jones tries to make sense of these new violent times. He never appears surprised by each new bloody development – he takes it all in with a jaded shrugging sigh. Though many of the stylistic devices have been used and reused by the Coen Brothers before (the roadside murders, the seedy hotels, etc.) amidst the shoot-outs, chases and scary darkness there are waves of fresh subtleties that they hadn’t explored before. The quirky everyday folk that reside in little general stores out in the middle of nowhere might have provoked ridicule before in such Coen classics as RAISING ARIZONA, FARGO, and O BROTHER but this time out I found the audience around me were tittering around – almost afraid to laugh at these people. Like Chigurh – who one character refers to as a man “without a sense of humor” seems to know all too well is that their fates, whether by his hands or by natural destiny, aren’t that funny.

More later…