A Good Yarn

Friday, November 09, 2007


This week went really fast, but I'm still glad it's Friday. Although, guess what I saw this morning:

That's not cottonwood, folks. Sure, it's not a blizzard or anything. And sure, it's November and Minnesota, so snow is to be expected. But it was so nice last weekend!! And I still haven't unpacked all my winter clothes. I need to do that this weekend. The light flakes have stopped falling, so it's already disappearing.

I had a chance to see two sneak peeks at films this week, both literary adaptations. On Wednesday night I saw this:

I really enjoyed this one. For those who haven't read the book, the film is about a boy from Afghanistan who is best friends with the son of his father's servant, even though they are from different ethnic backgrounds. Boy, it's hard to explain this one without giving away too much. Let's just say that eventually the boy and his father leave Afghanistan when the Russians invade because the father has been openly critical of Communism. They eventually find their way to the United States. The boy grows into a man in the U.S., becoming an author and husband. Then he gets a call to come back to Afghanistan. By then the Taliban has taken control, so the Afghanistan the man remembers from his childhood is gone. It's a heartbreaking, beautiful book and the film is very faithful to the book. There are sections of the book that had to be taken out for time considerations, but I think it's very well done. If you enjoyed the book, I think you'll really enjoy the film. The boys in the film capture your heart. The actor who played Baba, the boy's father, was brilliant. He was at our screening, so I had a chance to meet him and he answered a few questions.

Thursday night I saw this film:

This is based on the Cormac McCarthy book. I haven't read that book, but I understand the film is also very faithful to the book. For those who haven't read it, it's set in Texas in 1980. Josh Brolin plays a guy who is out hunting and comes across a drug deal gone bad. Among all the bodies, he finds a case with $2 million in it, so of course he takes the money. Javier Bardem plays a psychopath who is chasing Brolin to recover the money and kill him. Tommy Lee Jones is the county sheriff investigating the drug deal murders who figures that since there's no money around, Brolin must have it. The sheriff is trying to protect Brolin from himself, but also dealing with his own feeling that the world has changed too much and become too violent.

I had a mixed reaction to this film. I would say I admired it more than I liked it, if you know what I mean. It's directed by the Coen Brothers, whose films I seem to either just really click with or not. This one would fall into the latter category, like the Big Lebowski and Barton Fink. I liked them just fine, but I didn't love them the way I do Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Fargo and O Brother. It's getting over 90% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, so I'm obviously in the minority.

On the positive side, it's a masterpiece of workmanship. The Director of Photography Roger Deakins has worked with the Coens many times and they've created a film that is so gorgeous. Every shot is like a painting and so visually arresting. I strongly recommend you see this on the big screen if you're so inclined, so you get the full effect. The pacing is incredibly precise. It's a murder mystery/thriller and the tension and suspense was almost unbearable. I don't use this term lightly, but I'd call it Hitchcock-like. There were some scenes where I was literally holding my breath, waiting to see what was going to happen.

What didn't work for me was the ending. I got the book at the screening, so I cracked it to the last chapter and the end is straight out of the book, but I was really unsettled by it. I also just wasn't as engaged by Javier Bardem's character, Anton Chigurh as most of the reviewers seem to be. I've seen him comapred to Hannibal Lector but he just didn't capture my imagination the way Lector did. His silly hairstyle is supposed to be ironic, I think, but it sort of got in the way for me. I didn't find him nearly as crazy and unpredictable as I think I was supposed to. The other thing is that the film subverts your expectations and film convention in many ways, which I think critics really liked. It sort of disappointed me, though. Not that I have to see everything play out the way I expect and demand hackneyed film conventions, but I just think leaving out things that you think are going to happen lessened the impact of the film for me. Overall, I would still really recommend it. It's worth seeing and it's really well done. It just won't be making my Top Ten list this year as I suspect it will for most reviewers. I also have to warn the squemish that there is some real violence in this film and a lot of blood, so if you can't take that kind of thing, maybe check out something else.