(dir. Ethan & Joel Coen)
From their debut with Blood Simple in 1984 through to bowling classic The Big Lebowski in 1998, the Coen brothers went on a pretty much unrivalled 7 film run of non-duds. Sadly they followed this with a sequence of four films that fell far below The Dude inspired peak - from Lebowski follow up O’Brother Where Art Thou? in 2000 to the universally panned Ladykillers in 2004. After that they went on a bit of a hiatus, resurfacing briefly to contribute to Paris J’Taime - a collection of short films about a French city.
Now they are back and in some style with No Country for Old Men. Taken from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, ...Old Men opens with generally decent man of few words Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) hunting deer on the plains. Through the telescopic sight of his rifle he spies a bunch of pickup trucks and corpses, which, on closer inspection proves to be the endgame of a drug deal gone badly wrong. With a big briefcase full of money laying there without any obvious (living) owner, Moss the opportunist grabs the loot, believing he and his sweetheart back at the trailer park (Kelly Macdonald) have just stumbled upon a life changing slice of fortune.
Which is true, but not as he thinks. You see that money belongs to somebody and soon Llewelyn realises he’s got a serious problem, in the form of weird assasin Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), on his tail. As the tagline says “There are no clean getaways”. Throw reluctant Sherrif Tommy Lee Jones and a bunch of angry Mexicans into the mix and a bloody game of cat and mouse across the southern states and into Mexico ensues.
Whilst there are a few obvious ‘Coen Brother’ touches where they find humour in some of the darkest places (Chigurh’s haircut for example), they generally play it straight - allowing the story, scenery and performances to drive the film leisurely but efficiently over its two hour duration. In this respect it resembles the excellent The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, the Tommy Lee Jones directed revenge film from a couple of years back. Like that film, the Texan born Lee Jones once again proves himself to be a master of the actions-speak-louder-than-words old school character of the South. But it’s Spanish actor Bardem (along with his hair and possibly the biggest gun-silencer in movie history) that really steals the film, as he menacingly takes no prisoners on his pursuit of Moss and the cash.
Rightly cleaning up plaudits all over the place, No Country for Old Men is a mighty return to form for the Coen brothers. Amen to that.Read more 4 star reviews
Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film leaves behind his usual setting of a sprawling Los Angeles, starting off in the unfamiliar territory of 1890's oil county prospector Daniel Plainview silently, tirelessly digs for oil. An accident leaves Plainview with an adopted son and as 'partners' they build a small empire striking big in a remote Californian town, thanks to a tip-off from a local. The town prospers, but so does the church - and preacher Eli Sunday relentlessly pursues Plainview's apparent lack of faith.
The scenery is spectacular and Daniel Day Lewis is an undeniable tour de force, chewing his ways through the scenery and dominating most everyone in his path. Little Miss Sunshine's Paul Dano isn't bad as impassioned preacher Eli, youngster Dillon Freasier is impressive as Plainview Jnr and Ciaran Hinds puts in a good show in a seemingly cut-back role as right-hand man Fletcher Hamilton - and here lies the problem. For a film that's nearly three hours long it's surprising to feel like there's several reels missing.
After finding it's stride and building up a great confrontation between business and religion, the film seemed like it was shaping up as a thrilling analogy of the west's ever-present quest for oil at all costs - including religion. Three quarters of the way through however, things take an inexplicable turn for the worst. The story heads off-course, then jumps forward 20-odd years with no real justification - leaving us with the conclusion to a film we only feel we saw half of.
The score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood deserves special mention - evocative and haunting, perhaps misleadingly building a brooding sense of menace that the film did not live up to. While Greenwood's score never stopped, the plot was deralied long before the finish line. Key moments were confusingly handled - and not in a deliberately oblique way, just in a badly edited way. The best acting in the world can't save a shoddy story and script - and while individual scenes had great merit, as a complete work it was sadly crippled.Read more 3 star reviews
(dir Garth Jennings 2008)
Journey back to the 80s in this good-natured film, a world filled with bleached highlights, dodgy pirate videos and French exchange students with asymmetrical T-shirts.
Sheltered Will (Bill Milner) isn’t allowed to watch TV at school because of his family’s strict religious views. Bad boy Lee Carter (Will Poulter) is constantly being kicked out of class. They meet in the hall outside their classrooms, where Lee bullies Will into helping him make a film to enter in Screentest (an 80s BBC film competition for kids). When it transpires that Will’s TV-less imagination has been on full throttle while he’s supposed to have been studying the bible, Lee knows he’s onto a winner, and their reworking of Rambo, Son Of Rambow, is born. The English countryside is soon filled with pint-sized Nam vets exploding things and generally battling the forces of evil.
There’s lots to enjoy here: the 80s details all feel pretty accurate, it’s affectionate, and does a good job of bringing the two outsiders together. But it never quite kicks into full throttle – there are lots of scenes, like the 6th form common room, or the Adam Buxton cameo (he shot the recent Radiohead online stuff with them, fact fans), which feel like the Hammer & Tongs team just wanted to include them, without really thinking about their place in the film’s narrative; it’s a lot looser than it might have been.
That said, it’s always good to see a British film that avoids the costume drama/romcom track, and it’s certainly not a waste of time – more that ultimately it doesn't fully deliver on the concept's promise.
Like Be Kind Rewind, this is a film dedicated to the spirit of the VHS age, when you could stick a tape into a giant portable camera and lug it around while you filmed your adventures. But that’s almost the problem – it’s a film that talks about that moment when you first discover the power of cinema, rather than giving a new generation that moment for itself; nostalgia rather than first-hand excitement. Funny it’s coming out just before the new Rambo too.