Sunday, September 30, 2012

World Cinema: Week #2 - No Country for Old Men (2007)

I am very late with this one but here is the second film we watched in our World Cinema and Visual Culture class. We went very far to find this film in the mysterious land they call the United States. Yes, the first two films so far haven't strayed very far from the comfort zone of the class but soon we'll be venturing into a more expansive pool of films that may better describe world cinema. 

So this week's (or I guess last week, since I'm so late with this) film was No Country for Old Men (2007). The plot was driven by Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) a hunter who stumbles upon a drug deal gone awry. He takes the $2-million that was left at the scene but soon finds himself being pursued by psychopathic hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who has been hired to retrieve the money. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) has his own story that seems to be on the outside looking in at the plot unfolding between the two men facing off for the drug money.

Written by the Coen brothers Ethan and Joel, you expected it to have a very different feel than most ditsy films that don't have much substance. The Coens have written some great screenplays like Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), Burn After Reading (2008), A Serious Man (2009), and True Grit (2010), just to name a few.

Javier Bardem really deserved the Oscar he won for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this one. He made Chigurh as alien and estranged to the setting and other characters as possible and it really stuck out. Brolin and Jones put in admirable performances but it wasn't anything too noteworthy. I found Woody Harrelson's character Carson Wells to be rather pointless and just something that was put in to take up like 20 minutes of film time. Wells did help drive the plot a little but things that he did bring to the film probably could have been put in by other characters rather seamlessly. That being said it's always nice to see Harrelson in film no matter the role.

I very much enjoyed this film. It was simplistic in many ways because it doesn't really have any music, and any that it does have is in very few scenes. It boasts beautiful shots of the desert expanse of Southern Texas, but that's not really what you come to see specifically when choosing a movie, so I'll skip right over that. It can be a little bit slow at times but I think the overall pacing was fine and did well with the tone of the film, which is dreadfully serious. Ultimately a much watch, but those that don't enjoy violence may want to go in a different direction.
Notes: 
- The film won 4 Oscars, including 2 for the Coen brothers for both Writing and Directing, and Best Picture.
- Josh Brolin would later play the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones' character Agent K in Men in Black III (2012).
- As is the case with many films in our modern age of cinema, it has its base in literature. No Country for Old Men was based on a novel of the same name written by American author Cormac McCarthy.
- Poster Image obtained from www.impawards.com

Monday, September 17, 2012

World Cinema: Week #1 - The Prestige (2006)

We're starting off in familiar territory, probably to ease people into foreign film slowly, just in case they are stuck in Hollywood's torrent of mass-produced mainstream-style films (like me, sadly).

The directorial genius of Christopher Nolan strikes again. Before The Prestige (2006) Nolan's major contributions only really included Memento (2000) and Batman Begins (2005); two absolutely fantastic movies. Since then he has the two exceptional follow-ups in the Batman series under his belt; The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), along with the ever popular and puzzling Inception (2010)

Now onto the main event. The Prestige (2006) follows the rivalry between two London-based magicians at the turn of the 19th century; Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). The two performers try to better the mystifying illusions of the other at any cost. Since it is billed as a mystery film I shall leave some of the mystery for you to see but to be expected there are plenty of twists and turns that you may or may not anticipate.

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are two actors that I greatly admire. They are fantastic actors and have portrayed some very iconic roles that always get me excited when watching. Also, the fact that David Bowie is in this film and he portrays one of the greatest physicists and inventors of all-time, Nikola Tesla, is a cherry  on the proverbial sundae that is this film. Scarlett Johansson's performance was sadly forgettable in her role as Olivia but it's alright because she's not really a pivotable part of the film. Also, her English accent was rather bad, but maybe I'm just saying that because I know she isn't British. Michael Caine is great as usual as  Cutter, a stage engineer responsible for creating mechanisms and props to complete the magicians' illusions.

We also see the familiar faces of Andy Serkis (aka Gollum, among other roles) and Piper Perabo (I only remember her as the girl from Coyote Ugly)

Now there is one plot revelation that seems rather out of place, and you will notice it as it comes (again not trying to ruin anything if you haven't seen it). It has a certain fantasy/science-fiction quality to it, and as mystifying as it is, to me it is the only thing about this movie I don't like.

I could talk endlessly about the subplots and background of the characters and the subtle meanings behind a lot of what they say but that's for each viewer to figure out. This is a great film and has some dalliances with actual historic events but ultimately it is a work of fiction. I would definitely recommend you watch it for some great performances and a fantastic story. There are a few flaws here and there and some of it is rather predictable but I thoroughly enjoyed it in the end.

Notes: 
- From the World Cinema point of view this fulfills the British (UK) section of the cinematic industry.
- This is one of 4 films on which Michael Caine and Christian Bale have worked together. Can you guess the other three? I'll give you a hint, they are all in the same series. I also referenced them in the second little blurb.
- When Jackman is wearing his false beard in the film, it reminded me of the trailer for Les Misérables coming this December and it should be fantastic.
- Based on the 1995 novel of the same name written by British author Christopher Priest.
- Poster Image obtained from www.impawards.com



Monday, September 10, 2012

Update: World Cinema and Visual Culture

Summer is over and a new term has arrived. I am taking a World Cinema class this term and I feel like sharing the films that we watch with those on the internet. Some are mainstream films whereas others are documentaries and most are in languages other than English. My experience with film and television up to this point has largely been based around what Hollywood and the North American industry has flooded the market with. I was excited to take this course because it shows different cultures and the different ways they use film to entertain, tell a story, or get a point across. 

The first screening is this coming Thursday but I'll probably watch the film slated to screen before that, just because I can.

I'm excited about this term, I'll probably have more time to keep working down that AFI list that I kind of stalled on during the summer and write about more films as I watch them. I've definitely watched many films since my last post but have been either too tired, too busy, or just plain too lazy to write anything about them. 

Well that's all for now, break in class is just about over.