Netflix review: Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country for Old Men” (2007)

Between Raising Arizona (1987), Barton Fink (1991), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), the Coen Brothers are proprietors to a quirky filmography.

As blackly comedic as they are, one would not foresee their masterpiece to be one of the most nihilistic mainstream Hollywood releases of our time.

While some of their humorous proclivities are underpinned here, No Country for Old Men (2007), by and large, is as bleak a tragedy as you are ever to see on the silver screen.

And it is their penchant for playing by their own rules that sees them subvert generic expectations to anarchic effect here.

If you don’t know what to watch next, No Country for Old Men is available to stream on Netflix. Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award winners Joel and Ethan Coen also co-produced the neo-Western crime thriller.

The adaptation of the eponymous 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy took home the Best Picture Oscar as well.

In 1980 Texas, pronghorn poacher Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds a briefcase full of two million dollars at a drug deal in the desert gone bad. When he takes the cash and runs, hitman Anton Chigurh (Best Supporting Actor Javier Bardem) is hired to pursue him.

Burned out Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to get to Llewelyn before Anton does.

No Country for Old Men is infamous for its anticlimactic resolution, but those who dismiss it misunderstand what the Coens are saying about the subject matter at hand. The viewer’s sadistic desire to see Llewelyn or Anton killed makes us no better than Anton himself.

This ethically violent film literally punishes the audience for creating a world where Anton Chigurh can play death incarnate, which is the difference between tasteful, artistic onscreen violence versus that which is gratuitous and exploitative.

It is an ambiguous movie speaking with a voice you have to listen for in silence, rather than finding yourself deafened by it. Skip Lievsay was up for Best Sound Editing, and Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter Kurland, Best Sound Mixing.

The film was robbed of both – it produces ear-splitting suspense with little to no music.

And this is thanks in no small part to Bardem’s iconic performance. Anton Chigurh is a force to be reckoned with, and the mere sight of him spells certain doom for all but every character to share a scene with him.

In fact, toward the latter part of the runtime, many of his killings occur offscreen because we don’t need to see them to know another one bites the dust; that’s how powerful his evil is.

But for all its philosophizing and social commentary, No Country for Old Men is better suited to literature than film. In its Golden Age, Classical Hollywood formulized the Fordist assembly line.

No Country for Old Men is dramatically unfulfilling, though thematically rich – the greatest pictures are the ones that can do both.

If you are possessed of the patience for an acquired taste, then No Country for Old Men will garner multiple viewings out of you. It will interrogate the Anton Chigurh within you, punish the Llewelyn Moss inside you, and depress the Ed Tom Bell in us all.

The only small comfort it offers is that the world isn’t getting worse, because it’s always been a hellscape.

The three films nominated for eight awards each at this year’s Razzies

 

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The one thousand members of the Golden Raspberry Foundation, based out of the U.S. and abroad, describe the Golden Raspberry Awards as “Tinseltown’s least coveted $4.97 statuette.” (Image Courtesy: BBC News).

Tom Hooper’s Cats (2019), Adrian Grunberg’s Rambo: Last Blood (2019), as well as Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral (2019), have each been nominated in eight categories at this year’s Golden Raspberry Awards, including worst film, according to BBC News. All four of the stars in Cats, including Dame Judi Dench and James Corden, have been nominated, while Perry was nominated for three out of the four roles he played in A Madea Family Funeral. Meanwhile, Todd Phillips’s Joker (2019), which is up for eleven Academy Awards, received a nod for worst reckless disregard for human life and public property.

Hulu review: Adrian Lyne’s “Fatal Attraction” (1987)

After Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) engendered the summer blockbuster and George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) changed franchise merchandising forever, the American New Wave came crashing down in a cascade of Reaganomic conglomeration.

The profit motive has always been the driving force behind filmmaking, but in the “Greed Is Good” 1980s, with the Cold War between Western capitalists and Eastern Communists heating up to a fever pitch, almost nothing of artistic note was released the entire decade.

It is as low a valley in cinematic history as the ultraconservative Eisenhower years at the end of classical Hollywood’s golden age, when the studios invested more into spectacular gimmicks than artistic expression to compete against television for viewership.

So, through no fault of its own, Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (1987) is oft overlooked in critical circles because of the decadent zeitgeist surrounding it, but, like its leading lady, it does not deserve to be ignored.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Fatal Attraction is available to stream on Hulu. The psychological thriller was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture as well as Best Director.

Best Adapted Screenplay nominee James Dearden reimagined the script from his own British short, Diversion (1980).

Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas, who won Best Actor that same year for none other than Gordon “Greed Is Good” Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987)) is a New York attorney with a loving wife named Beth Rogerson (Best Supporting Actress nominee Anne Archer).

While Beth and their daughter, Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen), spend the weekend in the country with Beth’s parents, Howard and Joan Rogerson (Tom Brennan and Meg Mundy), Dan indulges in an affair with editor Alexandra Forrest (Best Actress nominee Glenn Close).

Dan dismisses the tryst as a one-night stand, but the stalkerish Alex develops a psychotic obsession with him that threatens to destroy his life as he knows it.

Between Fatal Attraction and Lyne’s companion piece, Unfaithful (2002), wherein the wife (Oscar nominee Diane Lane) is the cheating spouse and the husband (Richard Gere) kills the homewrecker (Oliver Martinez), the filmmaker is the king of the erotic domestic noir.

The three women nominated under his directorship (Close, Archer, and Lane) speak to the humanity and multiplicity with which he characterizes them.

They fluctuate from Close’s hysteria to Archer’s heartache to Lane’s shame, and all of them suffuse these respective, pulpy dramas with a cathartic, tragic whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Close is an artist who deserves greater stardom than she’s been given (like a damn Oscar, for starters), and, unfortunately for her (but thankfully for the rest of us), she created in Alex a villain so classic, nay, so iconic, it typecast her for the remainder of her career.

Alex is all at once a revelation and an enigma, who can communicate so much through a look on her face but can raise just as many questions with what’s left unsaid.

Such subtext, read from between the lines of dialogue, suggests a force of nature of psychopathy so much more than just an over-the-top cautionary tale for adulterous men.

And her fellow nominee, Archer, is written at the apex of this love triangle from Hell, the altruistic promise-keeper to Douglas’s narcissistic oath-breaker, the pragmatic protector to Close’s sadistic predator.

Foreshadowing is the piano we see hanging by a frayed rope above the cast’s heads in a suspense picture, and Archer is the one hacking away at it with a knife.

When Dan tells Alex he’ll kill her if she tells Beth about them, he doesn’t because he’s the one to tell Beth; when Beth tells Alex she’ll kill her if she ever comes near her family again, Alex calls her bluff, Beth stays true to her word, and the “fatal attraction” is consummated.

Bolstering the production’s writing, directing, and editing is Michael Kahn and Peter E. Berger’s award-nominated editing. Their cuts are as sharp as the edge of Alex’s blade, pricking shocked gasps out of you even after repeat viewings.

The jump scare where Beth emerges from the shadows behind Dan to touch his shoulder as the camera slowly closes in on him, Alex’s crazed cassette tape playing on voiceover, is captured not through a loud noise or a heavy-handed musical cue, but with Hitchcockian claustrophobia.

Although Douglas wasn’t up for an award here, he is very much in his element.

If this is a companion piece to Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992), wherein he also juggles a devoted brunette (Jeanne Tripplehorn alongside a homicidal blonde (Sharon Stone), then is the master of playing the sleazy everyman.

This morally gray characterization is what distinguishes Fatal Attraction from, say, Steve Shill’s Obsessed (2009), because Dan and Alex actually have sex, thus painting the film’s antihero and antagonist in unsympathetic and sympathetic shades, respectively; we voyeuristically share in Alex’s motivations, and this conflicting internalization sparks hotter tension.

As unfeelingly as Dan uses Alex for his own greedy pleasure before throwing her away, the film does seem to demonize Alex for feeling too much. Psychology academics diagnose Close’s performance as symptomatic of borderline personality disorder.

Statistically speaking, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of it, which is why the original “Madame Butterfly” denouement, though anticlimactic, is preferred by many critics (including Close herself).

Also, women are less often stalkers than men.

That is why, for all its flaws (one of which is the pains it takes to age Jennifer Lopez’s student (Ryan Guzman) so their fling is less morally ambiguous), Rob Cohen’s The Boy Next Door (2015) is a more realistic interpretation of the Fatal Attraction formula than Fatal Attraction.

The intersection between Alex’s mental health and gender is all the more unfortunate when one considers how the film punishes her and her unborn child, even though Dan is the one who plays with her life like it’s nothing.

And the Fatal Attraction formula isn’t even the Fatal Attraction formula – Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me (1971), did it first.

In it, Eastwood hooks up with a knife-wielding Jessica Walters, who slashes her own wrists when he dumps her and then comes after his love interest (Donna Mills)… sound familiar?

Especially after the more sensationalistic finale made it into the final cut, Fatal Attraction all but plagiarizes Play Misty for Me.

But the thing about Fatal Attraction is that it surpasses the campy, auteuristically amateurish Play Misty for Me, and Obsessed and The Boy Next Door are surpassed by both.

As with David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) to come after it and Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s films to come before it, Fatal Attraction isn’t taken more seriously because it’s a genre movie.

But it ought to be reevaluated as one of the only truly “great” releases of its time, for its attention to detail in addition to its transcendent filmmaking.

Kirk Douglas dies at 103 years old

Actor Michael Douglas posted on Instagram that his father, Golden Age Hollywood star Kirk Douglas, died today at 103 years old, according to ABC News. Born Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York, Douglas changed his name before enlisting in the Navy for World War II; he made his Broadway debut in a musical prior to the war, and after he was injured and discharged in 1944, he returned to acting. Nominated three times throughout his career, he was finally given an honorary Academy Award in 1996, the same year he suffered a stroke which impacted his speech.

Harvey Weinstein accuser testifies against disgraced film mogul in court

Thirty-four-year-old former actress Jessica Mann testified Friday that sixty-seven-year-old Harvey Weinstein assaulted her more than once after meeting her at a party in 2013, including raping her in a Manhattan hotel room, according to The Daily Beast. Weinstein, who dozed off repeatedly during Mann’s testimony, has pled not guilty to five criminal sexual charges, including three related to his alleged incidents with Mann, and two involving Miriam Haleyi, a former production assistant on Bravo’s Project Runway (2004-). Mann’s second day of testimony was cut short Monday after she burst into tears while reading an email to an ex-boyfriend from May 2014 wherein she first accused Weinstein of sexual assault.

Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” (2011) goes viral in wake of coronavirus outbreak

With the coronavirus breaking out from China, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011), a thriller about an apocalyptic epidemic, has been downloaded enough times to crack the top ten of the UK iTunes movie rental chart, ranking it alongside more recent hits, according to The Guardian. The deadly virus in the film also originates out of China because of a bat, as more than one Twitter user have pointed out. This example of “life imitating art” calls to mind the three-day conference the Pentagon hosted with Hollywood screenwriters and producers after the September 11 attacks to brainstorm possible worst-case scenarios for future atrocities.

Netflix review: James Wan’s “The Conjuring” (2013)

James Wan stumbled upon a cinematic universe which kicked off with the one that started it all, The Conjuring (2013). All told, The Conjuring Universe has put out eight features in seven years, as well as five shorts. The mythology has spawned sequels, prequels, and spinoffs.

In a world where the past decade of horror has been defined by The Conjuring, where it’s nigh impossible to remember life before it, it might be disappointing to hear it’s not worth the hype.

If you don’t know what to watch next, The Conjuring is available to stream on Netflix. The supernatural horror film purports to be based upon an historical Rhode Island haunting from 1971.

Eighty-five percent of critical reviews aggregated through Rotten Tomatoes are positive, which is about five or six percent too high.

Set in Harrisville, Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) and his wife, Carolyn (Lili Taylor), move into a farmhouse with their five daughters.

Once demonic activity befalls their home, they enlist the aid of paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), to combat these evil forces.

But the witch who cursed the land, Bathsheba Sherman (Joseph Bishara), sacrificed her child to the Devil before killing herself, and possesses Carolyn to do the same, using the franchise mascot, Annabelle the doll, to attack the Warrens’ daughter, Judy (Sterling Jerins); however, the Warrens cannot exorcise the property without approval from the Vatican, and the Perrons are not Catholic.

As far as horror auteurs go post-Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), one of the last masterpieces of the genre until Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014), Wan has done more to mold horror in his own image since his directorial debut, Saw (2004), than any of his contemporaries.

The maestro of jump scares, his are more effective than the lazy imitations paling in comparison against them because his are accompanied by honest-to-God horrific imagery.

Wan is a filmmaker who lovingly crafts the horror he directs, which is more than can be said for the studios that cynically slap together uninspired releases for the slower months of the year for no other reason than that the genre is so cheap to make that it almost always yields a profit.

Like, say, the other Conjuring entries.

And The Conjuring is a progression from the absurdly stylized, unwatchably edited Saw. Wan’s atmospheric aesthetic raises the hairs on the back of your neck like there’s something watching you over your shoulder. Terrors rise up the screen like nightmares ascending from Hell.

But all the film’s style is in service to a cliched, forgettable narrative. The story of a family unwittingly moving into a haunted house is told competently, but not altogether originally (plus, five daughters are too many to develop sympathetically in two hours of runtime).

Wan need not reinvent the wheel if this is the trope he wishes to visit, but, something more self-aware would have been cleverer.

As overrated and underwhelming as The Conjuring is as opposed to, well, Scream and The Babadook, it is still above average for its time. It is an important genre moment, and fans will find they could study a lot worse.

If you’re going to sit through any Conjuring Universe titles, this is the one.