Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan…
This week, the Coens’ masterful noir No Country For Old Men, the dire AVPR (don’t ask), a spoof musical biopic Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Gwyneth Paltrow in The Good Night.
No Country for Old Men arrives in the UK soaked in rapturous Stateside reviews. It’s the latest from critical darlings the Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Fargo etc.) and while it may be adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel, the end result feels pure Coen (I’ve actually seen this one!). It tells the story of a man (Josh Brolin) who stumbles upon the aftermath of a drug deal in the Texas scrublands and ends up going on the run with a bag full of money. Beginning with a truly poetic voiceover from Tommy Lee Jones, the film is filled with stunning landscapes and great performances. Peter Bradshaw is swept away by it (5-stars) and thinks it’s the “best of their career so far”:
The result is a dark, violent and deeply disquieting drama, leavened with brilliant noirish wisecracks, and boasting three leading male performances with all the spectacular virility of Texan steers. And all of it hard and sharp as a diamond.
The most compelling character is Javier Badham, a uniquely memorable psychopathic killer, described by James Christopher in the Times (3-stars):
He is a satanic force of nature whose weapon of choice is a gas-fuelled bolt gun more commonly used in abbatoirs to slaughter cattle. His most sinister feature is his hair: a classic 1960s moptop. He is an unnerving pleasure who is obsessed with destiny and coin-tossing moments that mean life or death. He is responsible for an astonishing amount of carnage.
The film moves at a pace that has almost been engineered out of modern films, lingering on details and scenes that any audience-tested Hollywood product would have lost early on. As Anthony Quinn in the Independent puts it (3-stars):
For what is ostensibly a thriller, one detects very little urgency in its rhythm. Like the Texan folk it's set among, the movie takes its own, sweet time.
He then goes on to reveal far too much about what happens at the end. The deceptively simple story does weave in some grander themes, as Peter Bradshaw says:
The tone of the film, like that of McCarthy's original novel, is apocalyptic: it gestures ahead, darkly, to an utter annihilation of norms and restraints
Overall, No Country for Old Men is a beautiful looking, eccentric, violent, utterly compelling and uniquely American story that refuses to follow convention (particularly the end). It’s a return to form for the Coens that comes highly recommended.
Next up – Alien Vs Predator: Requiem.
If you’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Alien Vs Predator: Requiem (or AVPR as it wants to be known), then quite frankly you’re sad. Any nostalgic glow still emanating from the originals burnt out decades ago leaving a cynical joyless franchise desperately awaiting a mercy killing. Unsurprisingly, 1-star reviews across the board. Take your pick; “a wrist-slittingly awful addition” (The Times), “The world's most illogical and boring action-horror grudge-match between two dull trademarked franchise monsters is back on” (The Guardian) & “a tawdry cash-in” (The Independent). It couldn’t be clearer. Don’t go.
The critics are united in 2-star the mediocrity that is Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a musical biopic spoof of films such as Walk the Line, Ray and Dreamgirls. It’s written by current Hollywood golden boy Judd Apatow (he of Knocked Up and the completely brilliant, watch-it-now-if-you-haven’t-yet Superbad) however The Guardian says that he has “sadly brought his B-game to this moderate spoof.” The Independent thinks that “too much of it is effortful and repetitious, to the point where the stuff being parodied becomes as irksome as an actual biopic.” The Times calls it “very tedious” and, most interestingly, a “karaoke pudding,” which is brilliantly descriptive yet oddly meaningless.
As all the critics note The Good Night takes its cue from the surreal endeavours of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry and struggles against such lofty inspirations. It’s directed by Jake, brother of Gwyneth, Paltrow and stars his sister alongside an assortment of their well-connected friends. The Guardian (2-stars) call it, “not without interest, but derivative, tonally uncertain and often misjudged” while The Independent (2-stars) says of the director:
he's on a hiding to nothing with a script that doesn't know if it's lowdown and lecherous or soulful and mysterious.
The Times goes one better with 3-stars and is obviously intrigued by eclectic cast and premise but again notes the comparison with better directors like Gondry:
Gondry’s dreams are full of ingenious invention and collages made of clouds; Paltrow’s are inhabited by submissive women. What comedy there is fails to ignite and the romance is stillborn since we don’t care who sleeps with whom or whether they do it in real life or the dream world
Also released is Back to Normandy, a French documentary where a filmmaker revisits the cast of an obscure film he worked on 30 years previously. Likely to be of interest only to committed cinephiles familiar with the subject matter, as The Independent (2-stars) says:
One begins by wondering what the point of such a documentary might be, and by the end, one feels it to be little more than a glorified home movie.
And finally Shot in Bombay, a documentary looking at the colourful chaos of a Bollywood production. 3-stars in the Guardian, “it's an intriguing glimpse into the bustling, if sometimes dodgy, world of Bollywood.”
Next week, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
By James Bryan