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Showing posts from March, 2008

Movie Journal #6: No Country For Old Men

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No Country For Old Men

Here is a flawless film, perfectly executed. It is philosophical without being cold, peopled as it is by real human characters, all caught up in a microcosmic game of ambition and expectation versus fate. It is a technical masterpiece, as was Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but like that film it has a soul that runs deeper than its genre or even its medium can contain. It is a great film.

Its strength is in the way it plays by the rules of the crime thriller, but also explodes the genre whenever it can. Here is a drug deal gone wrong and the innocent everyman who finds himself with a satchel full of cash. Here is the sociopathic killer on his trail, and the old sheriff chasing them both.

But look at the care put into Josh Brolin’s everyman character, the way he fills the role, and how observant the filmmakers are in creating a real person. His actions, his motivations, all ring true, surprising as they sometimes are. (I especially love when Brolin, unable to sleep, mutters, “…

Movie Journal #5: Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

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Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

Now I see it, the difference. Where Raiders Of The Lost Ark was elegant, a mature homage and update of classic Saturday serials, told with wit and an eye for spectacle, awe, and myth, its sequel is merely that: a sequel, another breed altogether. It builds on what is suspected to have worked the last time around, and rather than a celebration of something beloved, it means to explode what came before. It wants you to forget the last go around, and does so mainly by turning up the volume.

Temple Of Doom is loud and graceless, a juvenile gross-out with little of the sense of history or cleverness of its predecessor. It seems to have been made by different people, except that it is again masterfully directed by Steven Spielberg, whose eye for composition is nearly matchless in all of cinema. It’s only that Spielberg lost himself in the whiz-bangery this time, and used character to serve the situation, rather than the other way around.

The most jarring in…

Movie Journal #4: The Outsiders

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The Outsiders

I had never seen Coppola’s film of The Outsiders, for a number of reasons. It came after Coppola’s great period, and it seemed almost painful to watch a bad film from that great director. Also, I am averse to nostalgia of any kind, especially that of the 1960s (how grating was Across The Universe?), a period by now mythologized into something that can be nowhere near its truth.

There are, of course, exceptions, such as the Coppola-produced American Graffiti, but these films are usually set in a specific time and place as opposed to celebrating that time and place. Or perhaps there is no hard rule separating a nostalgia piece from a period piece, only a filmmaker’s restraint. In any case, the examples of ‘60s nostalgia pieces far outweigh the period films.

I needn’t have been so skeptical of The Outsiders. It avoids nearly all of the pitfalls of a film of this type in its depiction of the lives and characters of a small group of rough kids from the wrong side of the tracks i…

Movie Journal #3: Into The Wild

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Into The Wild

Sean Penn’s film of Jon Krakeur’s splendid book about college graduate Chris McCandless’s admirable and naïve liberation from society and flight into the American wilderness must be credited for treating its audience to an expansive panorama, full of sights and people too seldom seen in the cinema. The movie is at times breathtaking in its depiction of America and its malcontents. It’s only too bad that these highs are so rarely hit in this drifting, overlong film.

Indeed, the book fared better at inspiring wonder, such as when the author visits a tunneled rock formation in the desert, or follows McCandless down the Colorado River into Mexico. In the movie, that wonder at natural beauty is replaced by an awe of McCandless’s spirit, and an investigation into his motives. The book was interested in McCandless, but more as a symbol of a common longing and youthful gusto.

The movie wastes its time on Chris’s family, and bores us with one of those gratingly soft-spoken, semi-poe…

Movie Journal #2: Clerks II

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Clerks II

It is fourteen years since I first saw Kevin Smith’s Clerks. I have grown up, and Smith has not. He showed signs of it once, with Chasing Amy, and certain parts of the unfortunately uneven Dogma. But he never followed through, or perhaps he never escaped his own crude instincts or his fan base of groundlings clamoring for more of his clever idiocy.

He is, honestly, still a very funny fellow. Clerks II is bursting with outrageous dialogue and spot-on pop culture references; I was nearly on the floor when drug dealer Jay performed the Buffalo Bill dance from Silence Of The Lambs. But, as always, he strives to make a more heartfelt, wise experience, and where Chasing Amy stung with truth, Clerks II is only unoriginal and uninspired, no more ambitious than any generic sitcom.

The film is not irredeemable. It stars Rosario Dawson, after all (a bright spot in a cast of amateurs), and has enough crude laughs to entertain. It’s only that Smith is so much smarter than this. Jersey Girl …

Movie Journal #1: Raiders Of The Lost Ark

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Raiders Of The Lost Ark

What do we do with these indelible masterpieces of our youth? Every scene lays just where it should, every line anticipated and delivered as if it were movie Scripture. Half the experience of watching the movie is remembering it, which leaves little room for freshness, and no surprises. Raiders Of The Lost Ark prospers on surprises.

It is difficult, too, that Raiders, inspired concept that it is, is rather simplistic. It is a concept executed. It has charms, but not human ones. It is a bit cold, an exercise totally in its genre, and forgets that Spielberg’s best touch is his lightest, those small human moments that balance and eventually outshine the big and the breathtaking. From Jaws, I remember most the three men around a table, trading tales, and from Close Encounters, I remember Richard Dreyfuss trying to convince his sons that seeing Pinocchio is better than miniature golf. (The reason Shyamalan is so good is because he cops this side of Spielberg and not …