A coupla FILL-UMSGoshdangit, I'll give this a go.... I rarely ever go to the cinemas to see films. The reasons being: I've had too many bad cinematic experiences involving people who won't shut the fuck up; they're too goddamn expensive; and, in relation to reason #2, there's barely ever a movie showing I would gladly spend $15-16 dollars to go see, wait in line for and then suffer the indignity of sitting through half an hour of lame previews and ads before the main feature comes on. In other words, in this age of convenience, I'll rent the DVD, thank you very much, and watch it in the comfort of my own home, taking piss breaks w/ a pause button whenever I damn well please.
But a few weeks ago, whilst still on holidays, we Melbournians went through a particularly hot spell and I was forced to stay indoors in some sort of capacity for about 5 days. In that time I actually went out and braved humanity head-on and witnessed three contemporary examples of this thing we call "cinema". In the space of three days I saw I Am Legend, No Country For Old Men and Into The Wild. In pecking order, that's from worst to best, if you must know.
Why would one willingly go and see a movie starring cheesedick brother-without-a-soul honky-in-disguise, Will Smith? Two words: Richard Matheson. He's the man responsible for penning the original 1954 novel, I Am Legend, on which this is based, and since it remains one of my all-time fave pieces of literature, I will see any adaption made, no matter what hunk o' no-talent overpaid Hollywood beefcake parades his wares in said film. Now, having said that, I Am Legend is a clunker of 6.5/10 proportions, a piece of barely-interesting celluloid ruined not so much by Will Smith, but by a half-arsed script, crumby CGI effects, nowhere direction and a storyline which bares little resemblance to the original novel. Plot: if you've seen Omega Man (waaay cheesy '70s adaption w/ Charlton Heston - though it's one I like) or read the book, you probably know it: virus wipes mankind from planet except, apparently, for a scientist who possibly holds the key to a cure. At night he is stalked by zombie "survivors" of the plague who have set up their own society. This version is all development and zero punch. You feel like it's building up to something - certain characters and plots are laid out like chess pieces for an action-packed series of sequences which will hopefully pad out a good 45 minutes of screen time - and what happens? NOT MUCH. Will saves the day awfully quick and then the credits roll. This was a dynamite opportunity to make a killer flick which truly honoured the original source material, and they blew it. The rumours are true: Hollywood is fucked.
No Country For Old Men is the new spectacular from the Coen brothers, the film-making duo responsible for some movies I rank as genius (Fargo, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple), and a whole buncha things I slept through (Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?). It also has the hipsters jumping, as it's based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, a man popular amongst Nick Cave fans for his brutal noir-ish depiction of contemporary American life in his works. I've tried reading several McCarthy novels and never made my way through any of them. People say I'm missing out, and heck, I probably am, though his stark, minimalist writing style doesn't budge my loins a muscle. The Coen brothers film is made a lot like his novels: minimalist, cold-blooded and little dialogue. But I didn't have to read it, so I enjoyed it.
Javier Bardem's psychopathic hitman schtick is incredibly creepy, so much so it borders on the comical, and I suspect his bowlcut psycho-cowboy look is gonna catch on, big time. Even Josh Brolin, a guy previously known as merely "James Brolin's son and B-movie actor", really hits his stride here, and he's one of the film's few remotely sympathetic characters. Which is where I have a little problem with the story. I mean, should I care whether he lives or dies... or whether anyone on screen lives or dies? Or should I simply kick back and enjoy the spectacle? I opted for the latter, and whilst No Country For Old Men is most certainly not the intense, brutal, take-no-prisoners gorefest I'd been led to believe it to be - friends of mine claim they were on the edge of their seats w/ hands covering their eyes (You kidding?! Such folks were obviously not brought up on a steady diet of zombie flicks and Halloween knock-offs that was par for the course in the Lang household) - it's still a highly engaging revenge flick with a cold-hearted gloss that harkens back to the glory days of '70s bad-ass cinema as typified by the likes of Sam Peckinpah.
And now for something completely different... Sean Penn's Into The Wild ranks as the finest film I've seen in the last 12 months, and of the three movies I'm reviewing here, it's the one you shouldn't miss. Based on the 1995 book by Jon Krakauer, it documents the life of a young, educated, well-heeled, world-at-his-feet college graduate - Chris McCandless - who, upon finishing college in 1990, gave away all his belongings (inc. a $24,000 donation to Oxfam) and hit the road for almost two years, living it up like Woody Guthrie and Henry David Thoreau combined, before his hubris got the better of him and he starved to death on a particularly foolhardy, ill-prepared extended stay in the wilds of Alaska. However, it's the journey there which counts, as he stumbles across and befriends a cross-section of American society along the way, from old hippies living in a van to a lonely ex-serviceman whose life never really got back on track after the death of his wife and only child in a car accident some 30 years before. Sounds like the makings of Forrest Gump, I know, "a snapshot of America" as seen through the eyes of an idealistic young man. Well, it ain't. For one, it's based on fact, as McCandless kept a diary for much of his journey, and Krakauer spent three years researching his journey by conducting hundreds of interviews for his book.
Director Penn has certainly done the source material justice, sticking closely to the story at hand (some of which is possibly open to conjecture), and bringing scenes to the screen which I figured would've been either dreadfully handled when I read the book a few weeks before seeing the film, or perhaps completely ignored. Newcomer Emile Hirsch portrayal of McCandless is note-perfect, and I felt a lot more sympathy for him on screen than on paper. Fact is, upon finishing the book, I figured McCandless to be a spoilt, immature, annoying, self-righteous frat-boy, a guy who reminded me all too much of various people I attended high school with and would then bump into a few years after graduating, them decked out in kaftans, dreadlocks and leather sandles, preaching to me like a religious zealot about the evils of the decadent West and contemporary consumerist society and bragging about how they were going to live up a tree in Mongolia for five years to cleanse their souls. All this whilst just 3-4 years ago they were captaining the school football team and merrily setting themselves up for a lifetime of wholesome, preppie living. McCandless' encounter with the elderly Ron Franz (played by Hal Holbrook) even moved a stone such as myself, and McCandless' recklessness in his adventure (he simply disappeared one day and never contacted his family the whole time he was gone, the parents resorting to hiring private detectives to track him down, which they failed to do) can be seen more as an immature reaction to a dreadful situation in his family (which I won't give away) than the mere stupidity of an asshole who decided to go out and wilfully break the hearts of those who loved him.
My wife saw this a week before me and also loved it, though she warned me of the overbearing soundtrack by everyone's favourite warbler, Eddie Vedder. I awaited that patented moaning as I made myself comfortable in the blissfully empty cinema, though it never really shone through, with most of Vedder's work restrained to acoustic fingerpicking and, yes, the occasional mournful "Oooo-ooo-woooaah-eerrrr" we've all come to expect from The King Of Grunge. Actually, I'll admit it: the soundtrack was good and suited the movie just fine.
It's a bit of a timewarp for an old geezer like me, a film like this. What was this young, fit American doing in late '92, slowly starving himself to death in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness? Why couldn't he just kick back, smoke a bowl, put on some Hammerbox and Blood Circus and get over it. That's what the rest of America was doing! For some, existential angst is a whole lot more difficult to overcome. I wouldn't necessarily recommend Chris McCandless' choices in life to anyone, but I'm glad that Sean Penn made a beautiful and surprisingly understated account of the last two years he lived.