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.

Grindhouse: Planet Terror/Death Proof – A Movie Review

I want to point out that I did not see Grindhouse in the theater; I watched Planet Terror and Death Proof as two separate movies on DVD.  Therefore, I did not get the full “grindhouse” experience as the directors and producers sought to offer in the theater.

That being said, I watched Planet Terror first and absolutely had a blast with it!  Robert Rodriguez directs an ensemble cast featuring Freddy Rodriguez, Rose McGowan, Josh Brolin, and Bruce Willis in a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek zombie movie.  This film was pure, over-the-top action, obviously fake blood and guts galore, and dialogue demanding a straight face.  In other words, Robert Rodriguez knew exactly what sort of “grindhouse” movie he wanted to make and had fun making it.  Planet Terror in no way took itself seriously, and that’s what made it so enjoyable.  I won’t even bother to explain the premise other than to say a military weapon went wrong resulting in a zombie epidemic.  The movie didn’t bother to explain this too thoroughly, so why should I?  In the end, it didn’t matter at all.  Each actor played to their “type” perfectly, and this was just a very fun, hyper-stylistic movie.

Death Proof, on the other hand, represents everything that drives me nuts about today’s Quentin Tarantino (no pun intended).  Look, Pulp Fiction was unlike anything I’d ever seen and will forever be one of my favorites.  But Tarantino, the director of Death Proof, has lost the ability to reign himself in.  He says he wanted to make a movie with the ultimate car chase scene.  Fine.  Mission accomplished.  The other hour and a half is unwatchable, though.  Tarantino gives us an all female cast, scantily clad, spouting horrific dialogue delivered horrifically, which I’m guessing Tarantino found “cool.”  They talk mostly about sex, and as I’m watching it I’m envisioning Tarantino slobbering off-camera over these women he has amassed for his own personal fantasy.  The only saving grace of Death Proof is Rosario Dawson, who lights up the screen, and Kurt Russell, who gives a great performance for half the movie, then a terrible performance for the other half.  Tarantino took himself too seriously with this genre, and thus had the exact opposite effect Planet Terror achieved.  Oh, by the way, Death Proof is about a deranged former stuntman hunting down women and committing vehicular homicide in one case, and attempting to in another. 

My recommendation is to watch Planet Terror and skip Death Proof.  If you must watch Death Proof, I suggest only watching the last half-hour, the incredible car chase; the rest of it is painfully inept.