Tuesday, May 22, 2018

No Country for Old Men: 2007

I'm still processing this film. I watched it on Saturday night with my husband, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. But I'm going to try to write about it in hopes that I'll figure something out.

No Country for Old Men won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director for the Coen brothers, Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem (so creepily, disturbingly good in his role as Chigurh), and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film is dark. Really dark. As in I can't believe that one person could be that cold-hearted and evil. Bardem convinced me that Chigurh cares about nothing, and any time he was on screen I knew that something awful was going to happen. The film is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, so I'm thinking that characterization is from McCarthy's original work, but the Coen brothers' writing and directing combined with Bardem's skill make for a character who is so horrific in his indifference to life that it made watching the film uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable when I saw the death and even more uncomfortable when I didn't because those unseen moments seemed worse.

I hesitate to write too much about the film because I don't want to spoil anything. The story is about a sheriff in west Texas even though it seems more about Llewelyn (played by Josh Brolin) who is welder who comes across a drug deal gone bad and takes the money for himself. Llewelyn doesn't think twice about taking the money: it's there and he's there, so why not? Later when his life is in danger, he refuses to give the money up. His defiance seems idiotic at times but then other moments when he manages to escape death seems almost heroic. But then I would remember that he stole drug money, so there's really nothing heroic in that. And it's not like he went to the police to report the drugs sitting in the dry Texas country. Nope. He just takes the money, sends his wife to her mother's home, and leaves town when he realizes his life might be in danger. Llewelyn keeps telling his wife that they are retired now; he's convinced that he will get to keep this money. His arrogance (or is it stupidity) is what stopped me from seeing him as heroic or even a decent person.

I spent a lot of the film thinking about Llewelyn, but at one point, I realized the film isn't about him. It's about the sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Typically, when I think of Tommy Lee Jones, my mind goes to Men in Black or silly action movies like Volcano, both of which came out in the 1990s when I watched movies more frequently (high school meant a lot more time for movie watching when I had fewer responsibilities at home). Clearly, neither of those movies show what Jones can actually do as an actor. Or perhaps they do because Jones can be in those and in a film like No Country for Old Men.

Maybe I need to watch No Country for Old Men again. Or maybe I need to read the book. Or maybe both. Because writing this post hasn't helped me as much as I had hoped in figuring out what this film is about. But that might be the point; perhaps I'm not supposed to fully understand these characters, their motivations, and their relationships.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Slumdog Millionaire: 2008

It's not usually a good sign when 45 minutes into the film I'm already starting my blog. Slumdog Millionaire is one I'm watching over several nights due to other stuff happening in the evenings for me. Typically when I have to watch over several nights I wait until I'm done to start my blog post about the film, but I already have some thoughts on this one. The first being that the premise seems a bit too convenient. Apparently Jamal answers more questions right than he should on this game show, which is just the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The show is set up that no one can get all the answers right (and then the producers never have to pay out the award money). But somehow the majority of questions that Jamal has are ones that deal with specific moments in his life that lead him to point where he is now. The structure is clever, I'll give it that, but it just seems to unrealistic. And I'm having a hard time just being interested in the characters and their story. Adding that to an unrealistic plot and I'm just not into the film.

But I will forge on and report back when the film is over...

Well, it's done now. It took two more nights, but I finished Slumdog Millionaire. The film did improve as it went on. I found myself looking forward to the scenes with Irrfan Khan, whose work I just love in The Namesake. Khan is the police detective who has been tasked with determining how Jamal was able to answer all of these questions (Jamal is arrested under suspicion of cheating). Khan is such a versatile actor. Having seen him in The Namesake as well as Life of Pi I knew he could play the quiet, unassuming character well, but as the police detective he's rough, stern, and kind of a jerk. It was interesting to see him in such a different way.

Other than Khan, it was fun to see Dev Patel as Jamal just because he's so young in this film compared to the other film I've seen him in (2016's Lion for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor). Watching him go from his everyday life to the game show parts definitely showed off his acting skills, but I preferred the story of Lion to Slumdog Millionaire.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the favorite for this year's Oscar race for Best Picture. So much so that I put a hold on it at my library, thinking I would get it after the Oscars and be all set to cover 2017. Then on Oscar night, The Shape of Water won.

I debated cancelling the hold. After all, even though I changed the purpose of my blog, I'm still trying to finish Best Picture winners (and I'm finally getting close!). But a coworker told me how fantastic Three Billboards was, so I decided to leave the hold as it was. I'm glad I made that decision.

The film is worth watching just for the acting. Frances McDormand as the mother of the murdered girl is astounding. Her grief cycles between sorrow and anger constantly, and you don't always know what side you'll see or it may even be a mixture of both. To complicate things further, there's a flashback that shows the terrible relationship Mildred (McDormand) and her daughter Pamela (a brief role played by Kerry Condon). Mildred's grief becomes more understandable and terrible when we know the final words the women exchanged (you'll have to watch to know).

I don't want to say much more about the film because that would simply spoil too much of it, and I think a lot of people still need to see it. It's dark, that's for sure, but it's important, too. So much of the film is about women fighting to be heard, to have power. In times like now with #MeToo, this film is needed to show what happens when sexual assault and rape are ignored.

Brokeback Mountain: 2005

The 2006 Oscar Best Picture went to Crash, a film I've seen and that is hotly contested as unworthy of its Oscar. I have no desire to see Crash again, especially when I could watch a better film about race relations where things don't tie up as neatly as they do in parts of Crash. So I went with the film that people believed would win that year: Brokeback Mountain. I didn't know much about Brokeback Mountain prior to watching it other than Ang Lee was the director (and he is amazing), the film stars Heath Ledger (and he is also amazing), and the story has gay characters (which is a type of story I need to see more of to understand LGBTQ experiences).

I expected Brokeback  to have some action. With cowboys and horses, I expected the usual ranch scenes, maybe some shooting, just the usual western film characteristics. While Ennis and Jack shoot an elk and at coyotes and look after sheep, the film doesn't really fit the western genre I expected. Instead, it's a love story. Totally unexpected for me, and honestly, a huge relief since I don't really like westerns. What I found so moving in this film were the quiet moments. Seeing Alma realize that her husband doesn't love her and is in love with a man is heartwrenching. I know she doesn't accept what he's doing, and my heart breaks for her not being able to forgive him for being who he is.

Her silence breaks later when she is remarried and confronts Ennis about all the fish he didn't catch on those fishing trips with Jack. The scene where she confronts him made me so angry at first because I thought she was shaming him for being gay, but I wonder if it's more about her being heartbroken. I don't know if her hatred is directed at him or at his sexuality. The complexity of her feelings and how he can't handle those feelings makes the scene all the more intense.

Having now seen both Crash and Brokeback Mountain, I have to say I'm disappointed that Crash won. Brokeback Mountain may be subtle, but it's subtlety is part of what makes it so powerful. The love story between Jack and Ennis shows how beautiful love is and that love is love, no matter who that love is between.