Tag Archives: Josh Brolin

No Country for Old Men (2007): The Devil Wears Progress

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our Face Off between Fargo and No Country for Old Men.

“The setting is the Texas-Mexico border. The time is our own.”

This is how the synopsis on the back of the first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men begins. One of these things is inarguable: we’re definitely in the Southwestern U.S. borderlands, weaving along the imaginary line separating Texas from Mexico. But the other bit — “the time is our own” — seems at the very least a strange thing to say about a story set in 1980. Then again, one could sit through the Coen Brothers’ meticulous 2007 adaptation and reasonably assume it to be set in the present day. Maybe the dusty West will always be stuck in time throughout the future of American film, a land pioneered from the 1800s but never truly transformed in the ensuing centuries. One of two hints in No Country comes when Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) references Vietnam explicitly, having served in two tours in 1966 and ’68; the other, of course, comes courtesy of the oracular Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who holds up a quarter from 1958 and muses on the coin’s 22-year journey into his hand.

But the ill-defined nature of time is more than just a peculiar facet of this bloody yarn. We mistake the time period for today, and yet in actuality it’s nearly forty years in the past; if the film centers on the concept of progress, then this curiosity becomes darkly ironic. As is the case with nearly everything by the Coen Brothers (and everything by McCarthy, for that matter), the assertion of numerous interpretations and readings usually leads only to more questions, more ambiguities, more uncertainty. This uncertainty is admittedly fitting of the landscape of the film, and of its inexplicable antagonist. But moreso than “Chigurh as Fate” or “Chigurh as Death” or “Chigurh as Capitalism,” the implication of Anton Chigurh as the living manifestation of Progress seems to make the death knell of No Country for Old Men ring all the louder.

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Sicario (2015)

I admit: I was sold early on Sicario. Were you? There’s no shortage of seduction. Emily Blunt leads a stellar cast that includes Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in some of the finest roles of their respective careers; Roger Deakins (blame him for this) is behind the camera, which is hardly ever wrong; and Denis Villeneuve is in the director’s chair, following up on Enemy and Prisoners with another intense thriller. Not completely onboard yet? How about a poster that recalls The Third Man?

The Third Man (1949)
The Third Man (1949)
Sicario (2015)
Sicario (2015)

Ah, works every time. Happily, as we sit down in the darkened theater and Sicario (a film which by the way has little to do with The Third Man) begins, it turns out the theme of seduction was at the heart of the film all along.

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Inherent Vice (2014)

Doc Sportello ain’t a do-gooder, as one of the trailer lines for Inherent Vice sings, but he’s done good. Paul Thomas Anderson’s seventh movie doesn’t seem to match up with anything else he’s done, tempting though it may be to shove it in the same category with Boogie Nights simply because they’re both comedies. There’s a little Boogie in there, for sure – there’s also mid-’80s Leslie Nielsen zaniness, a bit of Robert Altman, a bit of early Guy Ritchie, a bit of everything. Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a sofa-riding P.I. suddenly embroiled in a kidnapping/murder case that’s way, way over his head. The moving parts of the case are as perplexing to Doc as those of the film proper might be to us, and when Doc gives up trying to make sense of it all is about the time we do the same.

So, yeah: Inherent Vice has Jewish real estate moguls, ex-convicts, flat-topped cops, Japanese drug cartels, the Aryan Brotherhood, doped-up dentists, maritime lawyers and an increasingly large cross-section of people known from San Fran to San Diego with clear disdain or clear indifference as hippies. There are loan sharks, FBI agents, tenor sax players. There’s a big boat which might be called The Golden Fang, might not. How could these disparate agencies possibly be connected?

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Lest anyone get too comfortable watching good movies, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For flawlessly and disappointingly checks all the boxes on the Sequel Checklist. Six smashed windows, fourteen severed heads, incalculable gory kills. A death from the first movie is a major plot device and a character says the subtitle of the movie in the movie. Eva Green has 42 minutes of screentime and is naked for 39.5 of them.

And while most of those stats are made up, A Dame to Kill For still ends up being one of those movies you want to like only because you liked the first one. Like the 2005 original, the sequel divides time between several main characters, most of whom are the same main characters from the first movie. Marv and Dwight are back with Mickey Rourke reprising the former and Josh Brolin taking over for Clive Owen on the latter; Jessica Alba is back as Nancy, out for revenge after the events of the first film; Bruce Willis comes back as John Hartigan, but he’s really just a ghost because he died in the first movie and cute little Haley Joel Osment hasn’t gotten around to telling him he’s dead yet.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is new as the gambling Johnny, who gets in deep with the villainous Senator Roark and provides the best scenes in the movie. Unfortunately, his story is noticeably shortened in favor of Marv’s, Dwight’s, and Nancy’s.

Basically A Dame to Kill For has the same ingredients as the first film and, despite the nearly decade-long gap between releases, it’s obvious no one spent the time to put those ingredients together. There’s probably a comparable number of death-by-sharp-thing moments, but no one we care about is ever the one being killed. There’s more than enough nudity, but it’s a blatant and tasteless display, and the kind that makes me feel the need to type it out as NUDITY because it’s virtually written in BIG NEON LETTERS. Eva Green is highly attractive but not that great of an actress, and the NUDITY very nearly distracts from that fact. NUDITY.

While the hyperstylized black-and-white occasionally lends itself to some brilliant imagery (especially in a night scene at the pool), the second Sin City just can’t hope to recapture the razor-sharpness of the first.