All movies are reviewed by the best movie critic we know, Mr. OJT!!! Be advised that all of our movie reviews contain SPOILERS.
THE MIST was written and directed by Frank Darabont, his third King vehicle (after THE SHAWSHANK REBELLION and THE GREEN MILE), but the first to deliver unleavened unrelenting King horror. THE MIST is derived from a novella I read many years ago, and found ultimately quite unsatisfying due to a weak ending which resolved little from the gripping set up. In brief, a military experiment goes awry. A thick white mist hides a diverse alien fauna of Lovecraftian monsters from another dimension which are accidentally granted a portal to our world. They set about wreaking havoc on a small Maine summer resort town near the military installation. The story follows a large group of disparate individuals who happened to be in the local grocery store when the crisis broke. The protagonist is a local, David Drayton (Thomas Jane), who is with his son but worried about his wife, whom he left behind after the previous night’s massive thunderstorm, the first manifestation of the rift in the fabric of the universe. Antagonists include the various giant creatures which form a very unlikely ecosystem over-represented with large grotesque carnivores (tentacles, fangs, wings, oh my!), and various badly behaving fellow humans, the worst of whom is local religious crackpot, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden). Mrs. Carmody interprets the apocalyptic attacks as the manifestations of the vengeance of God and the End of the World. Several days of attacks occur which reduce the population size in the besieged grocery store. Mrs. Carmody soon separates the random aggregation of terrified townspeople and out-of-towners into her cult of "true believers" and the smaller group of more rational "non-believers." Finally, a small group lead by Drayton decide to leave the grocery store to see if they can escape the enveloping mist, whose boundary, if any, local or global, is unknown. They must take their chances in the mist to escape Mrs. Carmody’s madness and her calls for human sacrifices. Mrs. Carmody is eager to offer Drayton’s young son as the next victim to appease God’s wrath. The fine ensemble cast makes the disintegrating community and their trials and tribulations as interesting, perhaps even more interesting, than the special effects extravaganza of the various creature attacks.
Of the seven "non-believers" who break for Drayton’s Land Rover, only five reach it. Drayton, his son, a kindly woman, the new elementary school teacher, and two seniors, a man and a woman, then drive off into the mist. A detour past the Drayton home finds poor Mrs. Drayton enveloped in the webs of some of the spider-like dog-sized acid-web spitters, which we had met earlier when Drayton and some comrades ventured out to a pharmacy in the shopping area to acquire drugs for some of the early casualties in the grocery store. The Land Rover refugees have a pistol with them but only four bullets remain. Eventually they run out of gas, though they have not escaped the mist. The evidence of widespread carnage and the presence of additional monsters, one resembling an elephantine "spider" several stories high, suggest that it will only be a matter of a few hours before they are attacked by some horrible wraith and ripped to shreds. What are good people to do when the baddest of bad things happens to them?
Drayton takes a straw poll in the car and it is clear the adults are without hope. Mercifully for the film goers, Darabont withdraws his camera some small distance from the Land Rover so the carnage is reduced to gunshots and muzzle flashes as Drayton delivers the cruel mercy of a quick death to his son, and then the three adults. (That would have been a perfect Romero-esque ending, had THE MIST been filmed in the early seventies. It was published by then.) After the immediate shock of his terrible terminations wears off, Drayton exits the Land Rover and begins screaming, hoping to attract a monster and end his misery. A moment passes, and a rumbling sound is heard. The mist is beginning to thin and we realize the rumbling is due to armored vehicles and approaching helicopters. The US military is mopping up. A few buses with survivors go past, returning behind the military to their little town, including the woman who first left the grocery store, determined to find her young children who had been left at home. Her earlier moment, when she asks to no avail, if any of the "gentlemen" barricaded in the grocery store will "escort a lady home," was one of the most poignant in the entire film. Her return ratchets up the agony and irony for Drayton who is now the only survivor of his beloved family, for the deaths of all which he might rightly blame as much on his own string of bad decisions as on the hellspawn unleashed by those "damn scientists." Darabont’s final ending is brilliantly dark, with the surviving woman and her children adding a chilling contrast to Drayton’s collapse to his knees and to shuddering tears and screams. (I had a minor quibble about the symbolism of the deus ex machina arrival of the "cavalry," because of the unfortunate parallel to the military surge in Iraq, but that didn’t reduce my satisfaction with THE MIST.) The continued audio of helicopters whirring throughout the end credits was another brilliant emotional touch. THE MIST, despite a somewhat implausible premise, is a heck of a fine fright flick as well as a terribly relevant social allegory. Highly recommended.
That’s it for this report. We hope your new year is off to a good start. More movie reports will come.
I’M NOT THERE is a film biography of the early years of Bob Dylan’s success as a singer/songwriter. The IMDB describes it thus: "Ruminations on the life of Bob Dylan, where six characters embody a different aspect of the musician's life and work." The six "Dylan characters" are portrayed by Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Marcus Carl Franklin (a black preteen who also appears to be representing Woody Guthrie), Richard Gere, and Ben Whishaw (who also appears to be representing French poet Arthur Rimbaud).
What’s great about I’M NOT THERE includes (1) the premise, presenting an artist’s life in mosaic fragments, (2) the acting, particularly from Cate Blanchett, (3) the cinematography, and (4) the editing. What’s less compelling is the subject matter, the young Bob Dylan. To be fair, I admit I’ve never been much of a fan of Bob Dylan. I don’t dislike him; I’m just not a fan. I grew up when Bob Dylan was becoming famous, but I never thought enough of him to buy a Bob Dylan single record (and I bought plenty of LP’s during those bygone years). Now when I hear one of his tunes (which is seldom), they do evoke a generalized nostalgia for the sixties, when I was young and less than one hundred percent a cynic. Then and now, I acknowledge that Dylan had a unique talent for writing lyrics; but, then and now, I must insist Bob Dylan cannot sing! Yes, he has a certain catchy style and his scratchy articulation of those great lyrics was unique. I wouldn’t know if better singers could be successful with his songs because I just don’t follow pop music enough to know if other performers covered his songs. So I went to I’M NOT THERE knowing little of Bob Dylan’s life story. Thanks to I’M NOT THERE, I now know Dylan wanted desperately to be a musical success from an early age, that Dylan was driven by a powerful internal muse, that once Dylan achieved fame he was uncomfortable with his celebrity, that Dylan had a love/hate relationship with his fans, the press and the critics, that Dylan turned to drugs to assuage his malaise, and that Dylan was unsuccessful in many interpersonal relationships, especially with the women he loved. Jeez, Louise! Isn’t that what I learned about Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Ritchie Valens, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum. And, in the case of Bob Dylan, the man CANNOT SING! Nonetheless, I enjoyed I’M NOT THERE for all of its cinematic accomplishments, and recommend it with only a single reservation. (Did I mention Bob Dylan cannot sing?)
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN- November 23rd, 2007- Our matinee was the 3:45 PM screening of the Coen brothers latest film, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, from the 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy, by the way, is an author recommended to my by former Huntingdon College colleague and English professor, Ric Anderson. Ric urged me to read McCarthy because he thought I would like his dark world view. I’ve been acquiring McCarthy’s novels on along, but have only read one so far, Suttree (1979), which is set in Knoxville at a time not too far removed from when we lived there (1977-1982). Suttree was very dark and I liked it very much. I also liked the film version of McCarthy’s ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, which, by the way, has one of the best original film scores I’ve ever heard.
But what of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN? The novel received decidedly mixed reviews; the film uniformly positive reviews, with suggestions of possible Oscar nominations in several categories. Michiko Kakutani, wrote presciently of the book for the New York Times in 2005:
"Cormac McCarthy's latest novel, ‘No Country for Old Men,’ gets off to a riveting start as a sort of new wave, hard-boiled Western: imagine Quentin Tarantino doing a self-conscious riff on Sam Peckinpah and filming a fast, violent story about a stone-cold killer, a small-town sheriff and an average Joe who stumbles across a leather case filled with more than $2 million in hot drug money. . . . Intercut with this gripping tale, however, are the sheriff's portentous meditations on life and fate and the decline and fall of Western civilization. . . . Mr. McCarthy turns the elaborate cat-and-mouse game played by Moss [the average Joe (Josh Brolin)] and Chigurh [the killer (Javier Bardem)] and Bell [the sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones)] into harrowing, propulsive drama, cutting from one frightening, violent set piece to another with cinematic economy and precision. In fact, ‘No Country for Old Men’ would easily translate to the big screen so long as [sheriff] Bell's tedious, long-winded monologues were left on the cutting room floor - a move that would also have made this a considerably more persuasive novel."
The Coen brothers either read Kakutani’s review or else drew the same conclusions on their own, for their NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is fast paced and intense throughout and McCarthy’s dark world view is primarily implied rather than expressed. When McCarthy’s grim fatalistic world view was expressed by Sheriff Bell or one of the other characters, we found the statements noteworthy, adding to the grit and bite of the film. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN plays for keeps! We enjoyed it thoroughly, though Linda noted afterwards that the film was a bit violent even for her historically desensitized tolerance. In fact, most of the actual violence is presented only in aftermath or, if depicted, the injury occurs just out of view, off screen. I think what affected Linda so strongly was the realism of the tale and the many instances where drops, pools or splatters of bright red blood were depicted with powerful emotional emphasis.
The supporting players, Woody Harrelson as bounty hunter Carson Wells, Stephen Root as the "man who hires Wells" (to track down and terminate both Moss and Chigurh and return with the money), Kelly McDonald as Moss’s wife, Carla Jean, Tess Harper as Bell’s wife, Loretta, Barry Corbin (whom some of you might recall from TV’s "Northern Exposure") as Bell’s retired lawman mentor, Ellis, and Rodger Boyce as Bell’s colleague, the "El Paso Sheriff," made important contributions to the power of the film.
We agree with the reviewers that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is Oscar worthy and I will certainly be adding it to our DVD collection. I hope I’ll be able to remember to return to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN when I report on a viewing of Sam Peckinpah’s PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, which we saw at the Belcourt two weeks later.
Asides: A favorite line for us, ailurophiles that we are, was a remark made by retired lawman Ellis (Corbin) to Sheriff Bell (Jones) in reference to the former’s many cats: "some are half wild; some are outlaws." The bounty hunters or professional hitmen were referred to as dealing with "special matters." In one striking scene, killer Chigurh (Bardem) complains at the incompetence of his employer (the "man who hires Wells" (Root)), who had hired not only Wells but several other teams of bounty hunters, all of whom Moss eliminates by a combination of skill and luck, or Chigurh easily terminates with extreme prejudice. Chigurh (Bardem) complains that you don’t need to cover your bases with multiple players if you start by selecting "the one right tool." Within the end credits you will find notations for individuals for "special matters," and another for "the one right tool." There was also a credit for "weather guru," a first for us, and an individual who name was "Wintapants." That’s a new one for us.
We recommend NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN highly for those of you who can stomach the blood letting. I look forward to reading the book someday.
BEOWULF- November 23, 2007 – Part I: Our morning feature was BEOWULF in 3D and presented on the IMAX screen. I was eager to see BEOWULF, despite its mixed reviews. One positive review, which encouraged me to see BEOWULF, however, did mislead me and cause me one moment of major disappointment. In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis reviewed BEOWULF under the headline, "Confronting the Fabled Monster, Not to Mention His Naked Mom." His first paragraph read: "You don’t need to wait for Angelina Jolie to rise from the vaporous depths naked and dripping liquid gold to know that this "Beowulf" isn’t your high school teacher’s Old English epic poem. You don’t even have to wait for the flying spears and airborne bodies that — if you watch the movie in one of the hundreds of theaters equipped with 3-D projection — will look as if they’re hurtling directly at your head. You could poke your eye out with one of those things! Which is precisely what I thought when I first saw Ms. Jolie’s jutting breasts too." BEOWULF does indeed have the best technical 3D presentation of any film I can recall seeing. However, despite Dargis’s claim, I never felt my eyes were in danger of poling when Ms. Jolie’s breasts were semi-revealed; those shining breasts were not among the, dare I say, high points of BEOWULF’s 3D visual effects!
BEOWULF, as you doubtless know, is the Norse epic of a self-promoting hero who slays a monster, Grendel, and eventually Grendel’s angry mother, an archetypal "dragon lady," in order to free the lands of King Hrothgar, and to win the hands of the latter’s beautiful daughter, Wealthow, as the prize for his efforts. Director Robert Zemeckis brings BEOWULF to the screen as a motion-capture computer animation with a stellar cast of voice actors including Ray Winstone as Beowulf, Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar, Robin Wright Penn as Wealthow, Crispin Glover as Grendel, and John Malkovich as Unferth, Hrothgar’s chief counselor. The computer "painting" of the human actors to create animated figures, while state-of-the-art, still leaves much to be desired; the animated characters’ eyes don’t quite come to life and their mouths move without the appropriate linkage of moving facial flesh, an effect rather like the animation of mouths seen in the old "Clutch Cargo" TV cartoon adventure series. The rest of BEOWULF’s animation, the sets, landscapes, and monsters were far more satisfying – they were spectacular.
Roger Ebert summed up the BEOWULF audience viewing experience as cleverly as I’ve ever seen it done in his opening paragraph: "In the name of the mighty Odin, what this movie needs is an audience that knows how to laugh. Laugh, I tell you, laugh! Has the spirit of irony been lost in the land? By all the gods, if it were not for this blasted infirmity that the Fates have dealt me, you would have heard from me such thunderous roars as to shake the very Navy Pier itself down to its pillars in the clay." There’s nothing worthy I can add to that bit of Ebertian epic exuberance! BEOWULF was great fun and we enjoyed it immensely. See it and, if at all possible, see it in 3D on an IMAX screen. (I know, I know, why didn’t I tell you this a month ago when it was still playing. My abject apologies.)
A pair of postscripts to BEOWULF: Once again I was delighted to find my physique a match to that of a Hollywood superstar, in this case, to that of Anthony Hopkin’s Hrothgar in all his portly grandeur! There was considerable animated, mostly male, nudity in BEOWULF, including Hrothgar, Grendel, and Beowulf in particular. As the nude Beowulf leaped about in Hrothgar’s mead hall in the battle with Grendel, we saw Beowulf from essentially every anatomical angle. As such, I was surprised to find the ballsy brave and beast bashing Beowulf had, in fact, no balls at all!