No Country for Old Men – A Movie Review

It’s a rare occurrence indeed when a film adaptation lives up to its source material, but with No Country for Old Men, Ethan and Joel Coen have done right by Cormac McCarthy. 

In McCarthy’s novel, he is terse and economic with details.  The book moves at an incredibly frantic pace and he shows no mercy to any of his characters.  Often violence is implied and sometimes even painfully described.  The Coens made sure not to deviate from this established tone.

Because they work in a visual medium, the Coens not only had to capture the essence of No Country for Old Men, but they also had to literally show us what these characters looked like, all the way from their faces to their boots.  McCarthy allowed the reader to fill in quite a few visual and auditory gaps, but the Coens had no such luxury.

And so, in my mind, we were awfully lucky the Coens found the perfect Moss and Chigurh in Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem.  Brolin oozed the silent, capable resourcefulness of Moss while Bardem took a character who had thus been sparsely described and created cinematic gold. 

Chigurh is unsettling in the novel, but in the movie the Coens and Bardem make him a terrifying study of subtle villainy.  I don’t think Bardem raised his voice even once in the movie, but his empty facial expressions and slight voice inflections were more nerve-wracking than any chest-thumping or profanity-laced tirades.  Too often villains simply become the reverse of the protagonist.  Not in No Country for Old Men.  Not by a long shot.  Each character is his own man, far and away.

From a cinematic point of view, the Coens were marvelous with their choice of shots, locations, costumes, props, and acting directions.  There’s a particular scene near the beginning of the movie where a man is strangled while laying on his back upon the floor.  Graphic, yes, but what impressed me to no end is the fact that the Coens made sure the man’s boot heels left hundreds of scuff marks on the tiled floor.  That sort of attention to detail is much appreciated.

Some may feel the Coens offered too violent of a film.  I think it’s important to note that they embellished nothing from the novel.  The movie is one of the purest adaptations I’ve ever seen, and McCarthy wrote one very violent, unapologetic, merciless novel. 

I personally am grateful to the Coens for taking a masterfully written novel and treating its subject matter just as the author intended.  It would seem that because they converted literary art to true cinematic art, they were amply rewarded.

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Banner-Mania!

Watch out, World!  Scott William Foley has learned how to make banners.  From now on, no one is safe.

Below are the banners I’ve made so far.  If you’d like to use one as a link on your blog or website, I’d be ecstatic to send you the code.  Just email me at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com.

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Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman – A Book Review

Living under the shadow of Sandman and American Gods, Gaiman has difficulty impressing me with other works because those two are so utterly superb. 

Anansi Boys is an unfortunate example of just such a case. 

It tells the story of Fat Charlie, the son of the trickster god Anansi.  Early on in the story his father dies, and Fat Charlie finds himself more relieved than anything.  Fat Charlie’s life continues on with the dull routine most of us suffer, until his long-lost brother appears at his doorstep.  From that moment on, Fat Charlie’s fiancée, job, sanity, and freedom are put in jeopardy.

Anansi Boys begins rather slowly and takes its time establishing the main characters’ traits-perhaps too much time.  However, once the book gets rolling about three-quarters of the way through, it moves very quickly and becomes a bit of a nail-biter.

I wouldn’t consider Anansi Boys one of Gaiman’s must-reads, but it also isn’t something I’d say you should avoid.

The Darjeeling Limited – A Movie Review

Not as eccentric as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or as dark as The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited falls somewhere in-between and is an entity unto itself.  However, make no mistake; this is a Wes Anderson movie through-and-through.  In other words, it’s well-made and very fun to watch.

Owen Wilson plays Francis, the oldest of three siblings who calls his two brothers, Peter and Jack played (respectively played by Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) to India.  They meet on the train called the Darjeeling Limited with no idea as to Francis’ plans for them.  It turns out they haven’t seen each other in a year, and Francis wants them to reconnect as brothers on a spiritual quest.  However, he also has some other plans for them that he keeps to himself for as long as possible.

Wes Anderson is one of those creators that I prize.  He brings a unique vision to his projects that I both revere and respect, no matter what the subject matter or presentation.  The Darjeeling Limited was equal parts funny and dramatic, but it was never laugh-out-loud, nor did it bring a tear to your eye.  At times, though, it had you on the verge of both.

Furthermore, it delved into the relationships between brothers and delivered dialogue and ridiculous situations that, while certainly “Anderson” in nature, were still relatable to anyone with a brother.

The quiet interpretations of such outrageous characters by Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman made me love them and, at times, detest them.  Really, though, isn’t that what real life is like with people? 

I’d like to say that Schwartzman is always wonderful, Owen presented himself as the actor I wish he always was, and Brody was a fine addition to the Anderson universe.  We’ve seen Schwartzman and Wilson with Anderson before, so I knew they’d knock it out of the park with his direction, but Brody was a pleasant surprise.  He played both the most grounded and troubled of the brothers, and that’s saying something.  There were also some special appearances by Anderson’s favorites that I won’t spoil for you.

A pleasant surprise on the DVD was the inclusion of the short film, Hotel Chevalier.  Roughly ten minutes, it serves as a prequel of sorts to The Darjeeling Limited and fleshes out some of Jason Schwartzman’s character and that of his ex-girlfriend played by Natalie Portman.  It’s not totally necessary to understand The Darjeeling Limited, but it does help the film make a bit more sense in terms of some references.

If you didn’t enjoy any of Wes Anderson’s previous films, there’s no reason to believe you’d like one set in India, primarily on a train, exploring the complex relationship of dysfunctional brothers.  However, while I still consider The Royal Tenenbaums my favorite of his work, The Darjeeling Limited was very cleverly made with delightfully peculiar characters.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – A Movie Review

Quiet, subtle, and nuanced, this movie is a work of art for those interested in cinematography, story, and acting.  Anyone hoping for a “popcorn” movie will be sorely bored and disappointed.

The title says it all, for it focuses more on the motivations of Casey Affleck as Robert Ford than it does on the exploits of Brad Pitt as Jesse James.  In fact, the film is a classic character study, moving us from Robert Ford’s infatuation with James to his utter resentment of the man, despite their becoming partners (of sorts).

Clocking in at two and a half hours, the story takes its time peeling away layer after layer of Ford’s insecurities and James’ paranoia as it offers beautiful shots, lovely scenery, and props and costumes that are seemingly spot-on. 

The acting is magnificent, by the way.  Don’t look for any robust chest-thumping-this is the stuff of delicacy.  Affleck’s character is a coward, as the title reminds, and Affleck does a wonderful job through body language, facial expression, and voice inflection of seriously creeping the audience out.  He makes his character so uncomfortable to watch, so truly awkward, that he really won me over as a skilled actor.

In fact, James’ gang was terrified of him, and each actor in the gang seemed genuinely fearful.  Affleck was by far the best, but they all squirmed in such understated mannerisms around Pitt that I found myself on edge.  Perhaps Pitt was given the least amount to work with because James is something of a legend, but his acting really paled in comparison to Affleck.  I have to give Pitt credit, though, because while he may not be the strongest actor, he certainly chooses to take part in excellent movies.

The title tells exactly what happens near the end of the movie, but they (including Pitt) offer a very interesting interpretation as to why James put himself in the position he did.  Pitt’s dialogue, if you read between the lines … Well, I don’t want to spoil anything for you.  Let’s just say there is ample material for a character study of James’ psychology.

If you’re looking for a Wild West shoot-out with daring robberies and nefarious misadventure, look elsewhere.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a low-key movie driven by the evolution (or perhaps devolution) of character.  It is fascinating, but it is meant for those with patience and an appreciation of story and art.                

“Duel at the Dual Driveway” – My March Story in Bloomington News & Views For the Young at Heart

If you’d like to read my latest short story, “Duel at the Dual Driveway,” pick up the March issue of Bloomington News & Views For the Young at Heart

Charlie Rucka wakes up one morning and notices a heavy snow fell during the night.  Realizing he has quite a shovel job ahead of him, he naturally gets frustrated when he realizes his neighbor’s guest left his car parked at the foot of Charlie’s driveway, thus blocking the snowplow and doubling his work.  He will confront this car owner, and a duel will be inevitable. 

You can find Bloomington News & Views For the Young at Heart, a free periodical, at virtually any Bloomington-Normal medical facility.  You can also find it at the following locations:

Suds Subaru on the corner of Fort Jesse and Towanda
Busey Bank on Fort Jesse
Kroger on the corner of Landmark and Visa
Commerce Bank on the corner of Towanda and College
Tuffy Muffler on Vernon
Kmart behind Kep’s restaurant on 1AA Drive
Eastland Mall at the main door between JC Penny and Macy’s
Kroger on Oakland Avenue
Schnucks
Jewell-Osco on Veterans Parkway
Borders bookstore
Kroger on Main Street
Bloomington Public Library on Olive Street
Drop Off Laundry on Main Street, across from Kroger

If you read it and want to get in touch, feel free to contact me at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com.

The Sandman: The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman – A Book Review

The Kindly Ones encompasses the direct consequences of the earlier volume, Brief Lives.  In Brief Lives, Lord Morpheus (Dream) changes, for better or for worse.  The actions that lead to such change must have ramifications, and The Kindly Ones details such repercussions.

In The Kindly Ones, Lyta Hall, a character who has made sporadic appearances throughout The Sandman series, is convinced that Dream has stolen her baby, Daniel.  She goes to the women known as the Kindly Ones for vengeance, and even she couldn’t predict the outcome.

Making use of virtually every character in The Sandman mythos, The Kindly Ones is a truly epic tale that brings us to a point in Dream’s existence that would seem, based upon Brief Lives, inevitable.  At times The Kindly Ones gets a bit muddled and verbose, but in the end, it was all worth it.    

I’ve had the privilege of reading The Sandman series in completion and for the first time in the last few months, and The Kindly Ones is testament to the genius of Neil Gaiman.  I don’t know if it was on purpose or a happy accident, but The Kindly Ones makes use of virtually every storyline preceding it and concludes such a mammoth story … it’s nearly unimaginable someone could dream up such a story.

My only suggestion: skip the introduction and read it after you finish The Kindly Ones.  It does reveal a fairly major plot point, which, upon retrospect seems obvious, but even so, I would have liked to have avoided the introduction’s cataclysmic revelation.