Sunday, February 24, 2008

latest movie roundup

With Netflix as my primary movie source I'm always a little clueless, or at least a year behind, at Oscar time. This year I have managed to see two first run movies in theaters: No Country for Old Men, and Juno.

Unlike my babbles about things I've gotten from Netflix, I am careful not to put spoilers in posts about films that are still in theaters. Given that, it's hard to know what to say about No Country. Was it good? Yes, I think it was. Did I enjoy it? Hm. I think so. Did I understand what the heck it was about? Probably not entirely. I can say about it what everyone else has: a guy hunting in the desert comes across the gruesome evidence of a drug deal gone violently wrong, and absconds with a bunch of money he's clearly not supposed to have, and for which really bad guys will be pursuing him. The movie is about what happens to that guy (Josh Brolin), the people who come after him (particularly Javier Bardem, who'll likely get the Oscar for his role as the film's most disturbing character), and the sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones, always compelling, and defining "craggy" these days) who's putting the pieces together but can't seem to get ahead of the events he'd like to prevent. It's violent. It's not funny, though at least twice I laughed out loud, maybe inappropriately, at interactions that were just plain bizarre. My one quibble with the movie is that it didn't end, so much as stop. But that's Coen Brothers' magic, and maybe it's genius I just didn't get. Wouldn't be the first time.

Juno is a "teen pregnancy comedy" (wtf?) getting a lot of buzz. The title character is a 16 year-old (really well-acted by Ellen Page) who becomes pregnant and finds she can't go through with an abortion. She's a mouthy, smartass and smart girl; sarcastic and opinionated and fun. Her friend and one-time, first-time lover is a boy on the track team who genuinely loves her, but is baffled, overwhelmed and all kinds of out of his depth. They both are. Juno knows it, but she's literally going to bear the consequences, so she steps up to the plate to figure out what to do. Now, I saw this movie as a parent, not as a teenager, so my first thoughts were not how hip, how edgy, how endearing, but: how YOUNG, and let's not make this seem like it's all okey-dokey, mkay? Juno makes an appointment for an abortion on a phone shaped like a plastic hamburger. She's a KID. But despite her mistake, she's got a good head on her shoulders, and good support from her parents, and comes through OK. Funny? I dunno. Yes, it's a feelgood movie, plenty of smiles, cute teenage soundtrack, but I like my comedies to make me, you know, laugh.

In other I-don't-see-what's-so-funny-about-unwanted-pregnancy news, we recently had Waitress on the home screen. Keri Russell hits all the right notes as Jenna, who works at a pie diner, becomes pregnant by her abusive husband, and is not at all happy about it. Predictably touching events ensue. This too was supposed to be a comedy, and I think it could've been -- the pies Jenna invents and names after whatever's on her mind are pretty funny -- had the husband not been such a thorough asshole. Some things are just too hard to laugh about. But it's cute I guess. Truly a chick flick, and I'm all done with that genre for a good while now. It's a small doses kind of thing for me; I always end up feeling a big "eh" afterwards.

Here's a story I knew next to nothing about before seeing the movie: Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman's had all kinds of well-deserved praise for his performance of Truman Capote, so I'll just add: what a large head he has, no? Also, he was born the same year as me, in the same town as one of my grad school buddies, who I must now ask if they know each other. But I digress. Yes, he's a terrific actor. The movie is about Capote's research and writing of the much-celebrated In Cold Blood, the first "non-fiction novel," which chronicles the brutal 1959(?) murder of a small-town Kansas family. The research, including building relationships with the murderers, took its toll on Capote, who never finished another book. Interesting film; well-directed, well-acted, nary a false note*. Catherine Keener was superb as Harper Lee, a true friend to Capote (despite that her novel To Kill A Mockingbird was blatantly belittled by Capote and his sycophantic, all male cohorts, even as it achieved tremendous success and was made into a film. Fuck 'em, Harper, you wrote the better book). I gather that Capote was an intense, peculiar man, a huge talent, a huge ego, and a huge drinker. Not all that sympathetic a character, in retrospect. The real interest, for me, is in the character of Perry Smith, who murdered the family. Smith is played by Clifton Collins Jr., who says in the DVD extras that he had "breakdowns" from immersing himself in the role; that his childhood and Smith's weren't totally dissimilar. Wow. Looking forward to seeing more of Collins, not least in the Star Trek movie coming out next year (woo hoo!).

So that's the scoop. Now to catch some of the Oscars, and add a bunch of things I've never heard of to the Netflix queue...

*If Bob Balaban as Capote's publisher at the New Yorker brought immediately to mind his role in the Christopher Guest folk music "mocumentary" A Mighty Wind -- well, that's probably my fault.


  1. I loved Capote. I haven't seen anything new in months, but Juno is on my list. I don't know about No Country, though. I'll probably wait for that one to come out on DVD.

  2. I loved Javier in No Country For Old Men. That gas station scene was so tense and funny and so hysterically just...wrong that it made the whole movie for me.

    I loved Juno, but like you...I kept thinking, "If Liv ever did something so damn stupid, I would just die."

    Loved Capote.

    LOVED Waitress.