Sunday, February 10, 2008

No Country for Big Macs

The "company" (the three brave kids with whom I'm making "the movie") and I tried to see a film offered by the Portland International Film Festival, namely, Tyua's Marriage. We got there a whole half hour early. Turns out more people than we thought were interested in seeing a film about a reserved Mongolian bride diagnosed with a debilitating back injury. It was sold out. While I was bummed to not participate in one of the more interesting cultural events of my adopted city, I was also comforted by the fact that enough people were interested in seeing
something not produced by Judd Apatow that it sold out a theater.

So with heavy but mildly encouraged hearts we walked up the street to another movie house and saw No Country for Old Men. Again. Do I really, really like this film? Yes I do. Am I perhaps hard-wired to like Coen Brother's films? They had me at Blood Simple. Do I promise never to reference Jerry Maguire again? I do. Aside from the one-two punch of terribleness that was Intolerable Cruelty and Ladykillers (and my third least favorite short of Paris, je t'aime [after the one about the mimes and the one about the vampires {does Elijah Wood have expressions in his facial-expression arsenal aside from the bug-eyed-pinched-eyebrow thing?}]) I must say that the Coen Brothers generally know what they're doing when they try their hand at the filmic art.

Andrew O'Hehir quoted someone as saying the film was like the Hollywood equivalent of a burger and fries, in that it was a complete and satisfying, yet very consciously packaged experience. He admits that likening a Coen film to a fast food experience is a bit much (with an
aside about Javier Bardem's hair--and I have a whole essay of thoughts on that topic alone) but goes on to say that No Country doesn't challenge the idea of movie going as a consumer driven experience. That may be. I don't get to go to Sundance and watch little gems of films with other finely schooled film buffs. I sit in the theater next to my friend Ariana who sits next to a woman who, throughout the screening of this film, tried to tell her boyfriend funny jokes about the on-screen action which the boyfriend invariably failed to hear, forcing her to repeat herself, and who at the close of the film proclaimed, (thankfully loud enough for her companion to hear the first time) "That is the stupidest movie ever!" It is not the stupidest movie ever. (Coincidentally, Art School Confidential is the stupidest movie ever, for those who are keeping score).

No Country is darn near flawless as far as I'm concerned. It opens on vistas of harsh but beautiful landscapes, then proceeds to tell you a harsh but fantastically compelling story. Yes it's satisfying. Yes its satisfaction is very gut-level. It trusts its audience, knowing that what we imagine, once we have the basic gist of characters' proclivities, is far more effective than a series of graphic close ups of bullet wounds and splatter shots (but it gives a few of those just for good measure). It offers one of the most satisfying types of characters, murderers who also have "principles," like the killer in Seven or Hannibal Lecter or Léon from Léon or Ghost Dog from Ghost Dog. And its ambiguity and use of off-screen violence (one of Jeffrey's personal favorite devices) is satisfying in the way it makes you feel you're in some really cool club, understanding the winks and nods and handshakes to mean, yup, just what you think they mean, if you've been paying attention--letting you glean what other movies hold your hand and tell you in color glossy pictures with circles and arrows.

So yes I was satisfied. But like I had just experienced an expertly prepared home cooked meal, not a Big Mac. I felt the story-hole that all humans possess (not unlike the stomach) was filled well and good and I felt lucky to be looped into the grand story-telling perpetuation one more time. I felt good, not greasy.

All this is of course of course not to say I don't think Andrew O'Hehir is the awesomest. Because I do. Whenever I start to fret about the making of "the movie" I read him and I am instantly galvanized by his zest and verve and lust for film. I am inspired all over again and I am reminded of why movies are the coolest thing man has managed to do with light and sound. I also must say that I agree with the rest of what he was saying about No Country, that its prepackaged goodness may let people off easy; they see it and say, "Check 'see a Film' (with a capital F) off the list of things to do this month," without bothering to look further, to perhaps find the small things that people put out there, movies that do more with far fewer resources, movies that dare and try. But like I said, that film was sold out.

1 comment:

Jeffrey said...

"The Company" is now online and reading. No defacing, disparaging or degradation of The Company's character will be tolerated unless it is either true or useful as the punch line to a funny.