The Pantheon #5: No Country for Old Men (2007)

“Well all the time ya spend trying to get back what’s been took from ya, more is going out the door.”

In 2007 this budding amateur enthusiast hadn’t yet even thought about opening up my thoughts on the movies I thought was “cool” and “lame” the true extent of my vocabulary then – I don’t think it’s improved much – just yet. However, one thing is for sure I knew that No Country for Old Men was something special.

I can say that at first my biggest gripe was with the ending of the film. We spend near two hours following the battle of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) and Llewelyn Moss (John Brolin) as they treck across the border and back all over a satchel of money only to arrive at a scene with Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) discussing a dream he had with his father which leads to a quick cut to black and that’s it. Initially I was just truly confounded by what the dream had to do with the film in the first place, which led to one of my very first really heavy conversations with my friends over a film that wasn’t just a back and forth of listing action scenes that rocked our world.

So over the years I’ve tried slowly but surely to piece it together and I’ve come up with the answer to my problem. The film wasn’t about Anton vs. Llewelyn just like how every episode of Law and Order isn’t about whoever they’re trying to convict. No Country for Old Men is actually about Sheriff Tom Bell’s final case and how it eventually puts him to find out he has to retire, almost like many other existential pieces about men coming to terms with their mortality. While Tom Bell isn’t the one in imminent danger he sees something in this particularly gruesome, and even random, pair of opponents that reminds him of the case he spoke of in the opening monologue:

“There was this boy I sent to the ‘lectric chair at Huntsville Hill here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killt a fourteen-year-old girl. Papers said it was a crime of passion but he told me there wasn’t any passion to it. Told me that he’d been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he’d do it again. Said he knew he was going to hell. “Be there in about fifteen minutes”. I don’t know what to make of that. I sure don’t.”

As he discusses the horror of the previous case and how his lack of understanding of the criminal’s mind, even to the point of just dismissing it, you can see the difference between the way he viewed it then – just writing off the boy as a psychopath somewhat and not thinking about it too deeply at that point – and with this movie how he views the acts of Chigurgh so differently. He’s able to see all the signs of a killer on the rampage and know that this story isn’t going to have a happy ending, and when he reaches to end of it all he recognizes that he isn’t ready to die, as he says one must be willing to be a sheriff, which leads to his obvious retirement and makes him visit Ellis (Bobby Corbin) and his cats.

So when we reach the end of the film with no longer Sheriff Tom Bell discussion of his dream where he meets his father…

“Alright then. Two of ‘em. Both had my father in ‘em . It’s peculiar. I’m older now then he ever was by twenty years. So in a sense he’s the younger man. Anyway, first one I don’t remember too well but it was about meeting him in town somewhere, he’s gonna give me some money. I think I lost it. The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin’ through the mountains of a night. Goin’ through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin’. Never said nothin’ goin’ by. He just rode on past… and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. ‘Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up…”

Taking a moment to think about it the dreams seem to me about death. Tom is, now that he’s retired and has nothing to do, thinking about his future. His future has nothing certain other than his eventual death, and in death he’ll finally meet up with his father at that place that he’s setting up a fire with his blanket and horn. However, the fact that he can’t reach his father, and his father keeps going on ahead (somewhat) not allowing his son to reach him shows that while Tom is considering the future he’s not yet ready to meet his death. Just as the previous two hours of movie was about his eventual retiring thanks to this final case it leads him to that eventual retirement of life. The dead pan delivery of the monologue shows the depth of thought, and maybe even concern, at the notion of these dreams.

What’re your thoughts on No Country for Old Men?

The Pantheon #4: The Godfather (1972)

The Pantheon was created for me to highlight some of the films that I believe to be the best of the best and at the same time put them somewhat out to pasture. Some of them are revered classics, others films that I feel deserve to be held (in the most part at least) on the same level as those same classics. Once a film has been entered into the pantheon it is no longer available for discussion in future lists or general discussion. So these posts are here not only as an entry into the special place in my heart, but also a love letter to that film. Please enjoy:

Somehow I think the term, “it goes without saying,” would be a bit too easy for this entry into the pantheon.

With the pantheon being all that I believe to be films that should be understood more than constantly revered I feel that Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel, The Godfather, is probably the most obvious choice for such an honour – if you can call my praise to be that.

The thing that I love most about movies is its ability to grab the audience. When a film is able to grab the audience immediately then it’s left with the hefty job of having to keep it or forever be disappointing. With the opening scene, and more notably the opening shot slowly zooming out from Bonasera making his plea to Don Vito Corleone to enact justice for him. The scene is so plainly gorgeous that while filmmaking it taken note of it never detracts from the narrative and setup being created, which is true throughout the entire film. For the first twenty or so minutes of the film we’re watching the wedding of Carlo and Connie and all the antics of this wedding. We see Clemenza dancing, Barzini not liking his picture being taken, Luca Brasi practicing his speech he plans to make to the Don, Mrs. Corleone as well as another older gentleman singing a fun sounding Italian song for everyone to dance to, and the antics of the family waiting for Michael to take the big family wedding photo. It’s such a grand and rich world that the film doesn’t worry about time and force the scene to be over in five minutes in order to rush along to the point where the Corleones are in turmoil and war, and in return we get to constantly revisit and discover new parts of this world, and thanks to how rich the world of The Godfather is we never feel like the film is as long as it is, we never get that urge that time is being wasted, which is what I wish more films would take note of. It’s not how long (or short) you make your film it’s how rich it is. There’re ninety-minute films out there which feel like they only have thirty minutes worth of content in them.

In each of the films in this franchise it’s as much about the rise of a Don as it is about another’s fall. Here we see the rise of Don Michael Corleone and the fall of Don Vito Corleone. We enter with Vito in power, able to take any request from any and all at his daughter’s wedding and turn it into a reality, and later in the film we witness an attempted assassination on his life, his recovery, his suffering as he witnesses the results of this war on his family and then his eventual natural demise. This is all done while at the same time showing us the slow progression of Michael’s ascension to the top of the family. The first time we meet Michael he’s appearing at the wedding with his girlfriend, Kay, and he’s very much outside of the family business. He discovers the news of the attack on his father through outside circles, he then steps up to protect him at the hospital and we get that moment where for us, as well as for Michael, we know that Michael will be the one to take the Corleone family to the next step when he looks at his sick father and says “I’m here” and that’s enough to know that this is the first step. Even the scene where Vito dies is such a bitterly sweet moment where we see him playing with Anthony, his grandson, in the tomato garden and he falls over only for us to watch Anthony continue to spray his body with what I can only imagine are pesticides for the plants, the moment remains in your mind and makes the thought of how odd it is that a man so akin with death leaves this world in such an inconspicuous manner.

In a film that many today would consider brutally tame in its depiction of violence managed to have some of the most memorable death scenes in film history. Including Vito Coreleone, Luca Brasi in the Tattaglia bar, Paulie with the cannoli, Sollozzo and Capt. McCluskey in the restaurant and Santino on the causeway; the film never feared with making violence impress upon its viewers. However, at the same time, mostly to do with the tone and temperature of the film being presented, the violence barely became evident in most of these scenes. This darkened tone which almost seemed always barely lit in a hotel hallway as opposed to some more open/brighter scenes, like Sonny’s death, it barely hits home that we’re watching a man being shot down.

The Godfather continued to hammer home its final principle, “It’s business, not personal” with a maddening vendetta. The basis of this family was that it worked on the worlds business. We see the family expanding into casinos towards the end, making the move to Nevada where Fredo has learned all he can in order to setup shop there. However, with Vito now gone and Michael the head of the family we see a lot of people impeding his progress. We’re then treated to the finale of The Godfather in which we see many characters being killed off in the service of business. The film uses this idea as a parallel with real world business, almost saying that it’s okay as long as it’s not personal. So it’s okay for (hypothetically) Exxon to blow up a BP oil rig in order for them to enter that market because it’s business. Which is basically how business in the real world works; with a few less guns and a lot more economics involved. This I believe is the gem of the film that everyone is to take away from Coppola’s adaptation. We’re to come away with a darker view of what a CEO actually does with his pen and paper and take a look at what an economy is.

What’re your thoughts on THE GODFATHER?

The Pantheon #3: Do The Right Thing (1989)

“My people, my people, what can I say; say what I can. I saw it but didn’t believe it; I didn’t believe what I saw. Are we gonna live together? Together are we gonna live?”

When I created the Pantheon I expected to be able to have my own personal list of films that I deserve a certain level of notoriety, sometimes those films have already gained the appropriate level among the film loving community and this may be the case with this entry.

Do the Right Thing is Spike Lee’s Fifth feature length film and to date remains my favourite of his. It has all the trappings and very few of the faults that come embedded in what is known as a Spike Lee Joint.

Spike Lee is a filmmaker that has rarely ever found his camera to be far away from the African-American community. Most times he finds ways that most filmmakers can’t to portray his community in its purest sense. Rather than spend a whole two-hour runtime blaming it all “on the white man”, while that line may be thrown around in dialogue on occasion in his films, he manages to keep his films focused on his own community as a modular subsection of the real world.

Do the Right Thing is one of the few pure African-American communities which also tries to admit the melting pot that is Brooklyn, New York. Also, unlike a lot of films like this, it shares the blame and credit of the source of the constant butting of heads between every character, including between races. We see where Radio Raheem is wrong going into Sal’s with his radio turned up, but we also see where Sal is wrong for how handles things. We also see where Mookie and Buggin Out are in the wrong and the right from scene to scene.

The film at its core tells us about how people at the end of the day have to deal with each other’s prejudices as well convictions. As we from time to time hear from the Love Doctor asking us all to “Chill” and take a moment before we make any rash decisions.

What makes Do The Right Thing a film worthy of Pantheon status for me is that it’s the best representation of what a Spike Lee movie is (in all the good ways). From its style, presentation as well as the films amazingly wide color palate. I love how the film never feels too much when it decides to side track from what may be considered an interesting plot happening currently with one character to have us move to a completely other moment occurring elsewhere in the community and have a character (or group of characters) just sit there and talk to us for an extended period so as a way to have Lee comment on his community and what’s right and/or wrong about the world and more specifically the African-American community.

The only problem with the aforementioned lack of restraint in commentary from Lee is that at times it comes out of literally nowhere. However, due to how brilliant the writing can be by the time we recognize how unrelated this dialogue may be to anything the movie is trying to say we end up enthralled by the rhythm of it and just enjoy the moment. One such moment, which I actually thing ends up coming back full circle when you’re done watching the film, is the scene where Radio Raheem is showing off his Love and Hate jewelry to Mookie.

“Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cane iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that’s right. Ooh, it’s a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he’s down. Left-Hand Hate KOed by Love.” – Radio Raheem

It’s a brilliant scene that out of context is still remarkable, in context of the previous scene and the scene that follows it barely makes sense why it’s there at all, but after watching the film and seeing where we’re taken after two hours it is pretty much the scene that explains what the movie is really about. Looking at the final scene where Mookie is talking with Sal and so much emotion is poured out and eventually they just get around to “what’re you gonna do today?” almost as if nothing happened is just brilliant.

What’re Your Thoughts on Do The Right Thing?

The Pantheon #2: Into the Wild (2007)

“To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions.”

The purpose of the pantheon is for me to have my own little section of the internet to share love for certain films that I feel deserve to be lauded over. Sometimes it’s films that I feel have been overly praised and it’s almost no longer necessary to be talked about anymore, other times (like now) I feel it’s a film that isn’t mentioned enough and I need to be that person to lift the film up on my shoulders and shout its praises once more for the world to hear.

I can’t remember what initially drew me to the act of actually watching this film, but I remember what allowed it continually linger in my mind. Many films every year delve into the idea of youthful rebellion; it’s a stage of life that many people eventually go through in one form or another. We all instinctively want to break out of the mold that’s been made for us and create our own unique identification which makes us us, rather than just be what the world wants us to be. Here however I think we have a special case of rebellion and one that I can’t help but be especially touched by Christopher McCandless’ (Emile Hirsch) very extreme version of rebellion.

Once having finally graduated from college he decides to head out on his great Alaskan adventure. Now some may think of this as a normal tale of a young adult heading out into the world for a vacation, but when you decide to donate your entire life savings to charity, destroy every piece of identification you’ve ever owned, abandon your mode of transport, burn the remainder of your money and only trust your ability to maneuver through this world in nature and what you have packed on your back you know that you’re going for broke.

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
— Chris McCandless

The stakes are raised immediately due to the extreme nature of Chris’ adventure which is why while we may not all be jumping at the chance to follow him in his footsteps – literally – we are definitely there for every step of his journey loving every gem of life that he manages to find as he moves across the country and experiences that we may never be so privileged as to have due to our own fears of making such a commitment.

Penn’s film doesn’t come without its own few flaws along the way, but isn’t a flaw just something that tests an audience at the end of the day. If you, as a viewer, can see a flaw for what it is – a mere limitation – and embrace it rather than pick at it like a bitter critic then all it means is that this movie is more for you than you could ever imagine, which is how I know this is a film for me. Yes there are a handful of moments that feel slightly staged for the sake of bringing a point across, and while a lot of the film’s facts can (and have been) be validated it doesn’t stop the filmmaker from twisting a note here or there for effect and taking license with moments that no one could ever know actually played out the way they are eventually portrayed on screen.

At the end of the day I still love the film for what it managed to bring out of me, true unadulterated love and belief in our protagonist. I wanted him to accomplish something, and somehow even with the end that he’s given I feel like he got more than he could ever imagine he would ever get, in a good way.

What’re Your Thoughts on Into The Wild?

The Pantheon #1: The Dark Knight (2008)

A new feature based on an idea from one of my favourite podcasts – filmspotting. There are films which I feel are just too over used. At times it may be a classic other times it may be a film that hits such highs in popular culture so quickly that I immediately get sick of hearing its name called. Every so often I will highlight a film that I feel (maybe not necessarily on this blog) but over all I what I see on the internet is getting maybe too much love (whether deserved or not) and I’m going to put it in the pantheon.

The Pantheon is a special section of the realm of film where all the best of the best films that we can all just admit freely is great. It will definitely be a contendor for Top Three in any list that it is applicable to and at times is our go to film when discussing a topic just because it’s so easily recognized by this point.

The point of this feature is not just to give the film it’s finally moment to shine but also to remind myself, as well all of you, why this film is great. Once entered into the pantheon this film will no longer be discussed (at least on this website) ever again.

I guess for the very first instalment of this new series of articles which is all about laying films out to pasture to enjoy a very long retirement I’m being a little bit overly dramatic by choosing such a recent select. The sequel to which is due out in less than a year. However, I guess I’ve just reached a point with people talking about The Dark Knight at every given chance. In almost every and any list I read where the tiniest aspect of which can be interpreted to include TDK as a contender has the film win top spot and I feel almost that people just can’t move on.

There are near 500, maybe more if I took a closer look, new releases making its way into the local cinema every year. It’s always a pain to find ten, if so many, films that truly stand out each year. However, I believe somehow we tend to move on year to year. I doubt the blogosphere, as well as the rest of the world, has ever truly moves on from 2008’s release of The Dark Knight.

In 2008, a mere 3 years ago, we were all wetting our pants in anticipation to see what Christopher Nolan had conjured up in his twisted mind for his reimagining of the battle between Batman and The Joker for Gotham City. Years afterward there isn’t a person alive today who isn’t still quoting lines from the film and trying their darndest to pull off that Joker makeup for Halloween.

In my review that I posted (and am not that proud to reread and link to) I went on to say such hyperbole as:

Now, I’ve never been a believer in giving out a perfect 10/10 score to movies. For the simple principle that we live in an imperfect world and that nothing [not even movies] can be perfect. So don’t think I didn’t spend hours pondering where the imperfection lies in this film. I did. I laid in my bed rethinking the experience of watching The Dark Knight and tried to find a moment when I was in the theatre, and for a second wanted to let my mind wander away from the screen. THERE ISN’T ONE. I love this movie and if you don’t go to the theatre and watch this movie it means you’re a Nazi!

The film still has all the great elements it had three years ago when it was released. Heath Ledger gives a performance that we could only hope was a true precursor to something even more engrossing, Aaron Eckhart played the other half of that methodically destructive tone wherein he kept us guessing by not knowing the answer to each of his own responses by the end of the film and Gary Oldman is that cop who isn’t just lucky he’s smart (even though the film doesn’t work too hard at getting that point across). It’s also an achievement in bringing big budget Hollywood to a level of consumer satisfaction that hasn’t been seen since Spielberg coined the term with the first Blockbuster, Jaws.

With that said about the performances I feel at the end of the day the true highlight of the film are a couple of simple sequences and how well Christopher Nolan (today’s king of the thriller) was able to put them together piece by piece for us. One of which was the opening bank robbery scene. There are few films ever made where a scene is able to put us into the middle of things and have us constantly guessing and at the same time loving every moment of it. It opens with a pretty unforgettable shot of Gotham City (Chicago in the real world) and we see two guys zip line across to the roof of a building. Then we see a man waiting on the corner with a clown mask in hand (who we learn later is actually The Joker). The scene moves with incredible pace having dialogue exposition occur in a completely unnatural form feeling completely natural due to the seamless flow of action and dialogue which just gets more and more intriguing which eventually culminates in the end with the Joker’s grand plan playing out perfectly. It’s almost as if we’re seeing the inner workings of the Joker’s mind as he’s planning this heist and we have to just accept that it actually happens this way. It’s probably the best scene in a comic book film because it’s one of the few scenes that actually feels like a completely panels comic book, without actually having silly comic book panels digitally worked into the scene’s pacing.

I love this movie and always will, I know this. However, I’ve come to the point, while still anticipating and ready to wet my pants again when The Dark Knight Rises is released next summer, where I don’t think I really need to talk about it anymore.

What’re Your Final Words on The Dark Knight?