Monday, November 26, 2007

No Country for Old Movie Fans

Nothing in the realm of advertising for movies can be trusted. Not a word.

Joel and Ethan Coen's new film, "No Country for Old Men," has been hailed as an "instant classic."

It is not. Not even close.

Within minutes of its beginning, the film signals that the Coen Brothers are mining their own work history and repeating past successes. Replace the snow-drifts of North Dakota with the desert scrub of the Texas panhandle and you have "Fargo South."

Wide spectacular landscapes punctuated with one or two misshapen trees. Sound familiar?

There is even in the first three minutes a shot of the psychotic killer sitting in the back of a police car driving down an endless rural road, which is exactly here "Fargo" left off.

Remember Marge's dumb sidekick rookie cop? Well, he's here again as Tommy Lee Jones' dumb sidekick rookie cop, only not nearly so winning or funny.

Now "Fargo" was a classic and it remains thoroughly watchable and engaging today.

But re-done in another setting with the violence level cranked to unbearable and unnecessary proportions and the absence of humor and charm will not bring back the magic.

Oh yes, Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem and Woody Harrleson and Tess Harper are all marvelous skilled actors and they can pretty well do anything a movie or its family of directors asks of it, but that doesn't make the movie worth watching.

Now let's talk about the violence.

Many movies have violence. The Ten Commandments, The Godfather, Bugs Bunny all have violence. Bonny and Clyde was an immense shoot-up.

And many movies with much violence are wonderful and watchable.

Then there is this sad affair and its sullen cousins, Scorcese's "The Departed," and "Gangs of New York," and even "Goodfellas," and Tarantino's "Kill Bill" series.

I walked out of The Departed and Gangs, never watch Goodfellas on TV and rented Kill Bill, Part I and watched about 40 minutes.

These movies are just plain sick.

Tarantino has said that he gets a hard-on filming violence. How attractive.

Well, I guess it keeps him off the street and out of prison.

These films, like the Coen Brothers latest mish-mash (which leaves one bored and cold after the first hour and downright mystified by the long-winded end), are the ultimate examples of our current malaise - style over substance.

What is so sad is the growing number of cinophiles who think anything well-recorded is brilliant.