A week of pretty good movies. I’m going to make this as brief as possible because, well…
I always try to make them as brief as possible, don’t I? It almost never works out like that, though.
(Note: It didn’t work out like that.)
As always, I’ve included links to many of these films at Amazon in the write-ups, and though it’s difficult for me to imagine that any of you don’t have either a LoveFilm style thing going on, or your own copy of “Lebowski”, if you do fancy giving any of them a try, it’d help me out if you picked them up via the links. All of the films I’ve mentioned are unnervingly cheap – especially “Fargo”, which is pretty much my favourite film of all time.
And actually, there’s a question – how useful are links to cheap DVD versions of films to you lot? Are most of you strictly Blu-Ray by now? Please do enlighten me in the comments!
The Big Lebowski
I realised midway through watching “The Big Lebowski” the other night, with three people who hadn’t seen it before, that despite knowing it really well, I think I’ve only seen it the once.
It’s an odd film, Lebowski. It’s a very deliberate, tight farce, but with the illusion of shambling chaos. It rolls by with a fairly definitive plot, but it feels like you’re watching an experiment in tone, a refining of the Coen brother’s peculiar approach to making you laugh and care without delivering jokes or sentiment.
And while I knew I enjoyed it, I’ve always been shocked by the pure adoration that the film has received from so many people that I know, above other Coen greats like “The Hudsucker Proxy” and my favourite, “Fargo”.
But I have to admit, watching it through again, with certain touchstones already in place so that I wasn’t coming to it oblivious, it is a truly great film.
Though the Coen’s vision can’t be underestimated in why the film is so successful, as both a comedy and a statement of the indomitability of the slacker’s credo, it’s really the performances that make it so great. Jeff Bridges takes a lot of the credit for that, largely because his character, The Dude, is the real anchor for the narrative and the soul of the movie, but without John Goodman’s frustrating and so-stubborn-he’s-dangerous Walter Sobchak, Steve Buscemi as the constantly stamped down Donny (though his role was smaller than I remembered), and Julianne Moore as the pretentious but oddly sympathetic Maude Lebowski are all perfectly pitched.
That’s without mentioning Philip Seymour Hoffman in a twitchy and ingratiating role, the ever-watchable Peter Stormare as one of the Nihilists, and John Turturro as Jesus the pederast.
It’s basically everything that makes Coen Brothers movies funny, with very little restraint to hamper it, and okay, now I get it a bit more.
May the quoting love-fest begin, down in the comments!
The Royal Tenenbaums
For some reason, I’ve never watched “The Royal Tenenbaums” before. In fact, it occurs to me that, apart from a late-night and incomplete dalliance with “Rushmore”, I haven’t actually seen any Wes Anderson movies.
I’m not sure why this is, though I suspect it’s something to do with the impression I’d got that he tends to make worthy and cerebral films that make you think more than they make you laugh, and while films like that have their place, I tend to have to get a bit of a certain sort of energy stockpiled before I’ll watch one.
At least based on this film, it looks like I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. Though the plight of Gene Hackman’s Royal is delivered in a precocious and bookish style, prone to a sort of cinematic whimsy that is one part Jean-Pierre Jeunet to two parts Coen brothers, this is not an art movie.
It acts and looks like an art film, but then reveals itself in the final act as a family comedy – which is to say, a comedy about families, not a comedy aimed at families. Which is to say the whole way through it cons you with aesthetics into thinking that it’s going to present an insightful and pragmatic view into how people become isolated from each other, and there are no easy answers, right up until it reveals the fact that every slight or mishap can be solved by the healing power of family.
The interesting thing is that by the time it does that, you’ve been so softened up by the charming direction and quite lovely, if muted performances – including a soothing Danny Glover, a crawling Gene Hackman, a quite lovely and eccentric Anjelica Huston, and a whole bunch of other actors who have the capacity to irritate the fuck out of me in most films, but that win me over totally here. In fact, if I keep seeing Gwyneth Paltrow in films where I find her oddly appealing, I may finally be able to forget about the whole Chris Martin thing.
And I have no idea how Bill Murray keeps managing to add particular nuances to his now well-trodden sad-faced clown persona that keep him fun and interesting to watch in each new movie.
I was pretty surprised to find that this movie fit so comfortably into the Judd Apatow/Todd Phillips/Ben Stiller axis of big-screen comedy that has emerged in the last few years, because that was not the impression I had got about it at all.
If “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a family comedy pretending to be an art movie, “The Host” is a Korean film that gets through the door as a monster movie, but really wants to be a blackly comic social/political commentary.
Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t do the job as a monster movie. The premise of the movie – a monster, apparently created in the polluted Han River in Seoul, emerges and attacks the citizenry, devastating a community. One particular family – the Parks – suffer a terrible loss when the monster takes their youngest member, and her father refuses to accept that she is actually dead.
The monster itself is suitably grotesque, and animated with character. SFX-wise, the movie is slick, even though it lacks the expensive polish that most US movies have, and very occasionally the CG monster is more obviously on a seperate plane than you’d expect.
There are moments of drama, but any horror is undercut by the irreverent tone that seems to be characteristic of Korean cinema – not that I’ve seen many to base this assumption on! – and there are times when the film runs the risk of devolving too far into this zany milieu. Ultimately, though, once you realise it’s not going to terrify you, the film settles into a nice steady rhythm, going from action to emotion with an addictive tempo.
But the real story here isn’t about the monster, so much as it is about how the authorities react to its appearance. This is where the film takes on a more sardonic edge, with the scope of the satire attacking both the Korean and Western governments, as well as blind bureaucracy and the tendency of a population to respond to hysteria. At points, the film reminded me a lot of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”.
Like the not nearly as good “Battle Royale 2”, “The Host” feels like it tells you as much about the national psyche of the culture that makes it as it does spin a damn good yarn – though it does that as well. It’ll be interesting to see how the inevitable localised remakes pan out, because this is a more politically opinionated film than most other Asian horrors.