The Darjeeling Limited
2007 New York Film Festival
Reviewed by Frank
Limited opens with Bill Murray in a crazed
attempt to catch, well, the Darjeeling Limited—an
intra-India train that has already departed. As
we watch Murray, huffing and puffing and running
as fast as he can, we soon see Adrien Brody entering
from screen-right, catching up to him, then passing
him and hopping onto the train—leaving Murray
never seen a Wes Anderson film, the moment might
just seem a funny throwaway, but for filmlovers
and Anderson fans the intertextuality is a joy
to soak in. Murray has appeared in the last three
Anderson films (Rushmore, The Royal
Tennenbaums, The Life Aquatic) but
isn’t, well, young enough to play one of
the brothers in this film. Brody takes his place.
Call it mental auteur-masturbation. Call it ostentatious.
I call it brilliant. The movie is filled with
such moments, scenes that are smart, keen and
clever, and some of them even have to do with
the actual narrative—or what little there
is of one.
The plot follows
three estranged brothers who embark on a healing
voyage through India. As usual in Anderson cinema
(most notably his masterwork The Royal Tennenbaums)
the sibs are eccentric, idiosyncratic oddballs
at ‘odds’ with each other and out
of touch with the world around them.
Francis (Owen Wilson)
is the control-freak, older brother who recently
had a near-death experience. The trip is his attempt
to reconnect with his sibs. (And, yes, there are
chilling moments where Wilson’s dialogue
about death and sorrow are eerie and goosebumpy).
Francis has organized the entire journey and even
laminated the itinerary.
Peter (Adrien Brody)
arrives with the secret that he’s about
to become a father, uncertain how he truly feels
about that. Finally, Jack (Jason Schwartzman)
has just been dumped by his girlfriend and is
writing about his life experiences but insisting
it’s all fiction.
The trio have assembled
to attempt to mend fences after the death of their
father drove them apart. The result is a bittersweet
and, ultimately, transcendent, picture. The journey
becomes quite spiritual and culminates in a visit
with their estranged (and strange) mother (Anjelica
Huston) who is now a nun in the Himalayas!
Anderson has a
highly stylized manner. Some may be turned off
by his use of slow motion to heighten a point
he wants to make. Still others might be maddened
by the constant quirkiness of his characters or
his insistence on cross-blending genres. (Criticisms
I have heard at screenings.) To me, one misses
the deeper and rich meaning complaining about
Anderson’s style. He is who he is and should
be celebrated for his originality.
I found the film
to be mesmerizing and quite moving. Robert Yeoman’s
cinematographic work is to be commended for making
the trek so visually inviting. And Anderson’s
choice of music goes a long way to set mood and
tone. In particular, a song called: “Where
Do You Go My Lovely.” (featured pretty prominently
in the wonderful prequel Hotel Chevalier
starring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman).
The script (by
Anderson, Schwartzman and Roman Coppola) is refreshingly
more visual-centric than dialogue-heavy resulting
in marvelous tableaus and amazing shots of the
trio reacting to one another’s lunacy.
All three leads
deliver terrific performances and, despite the
fact that they do not resemble one another, make
you believe they’re actually brothers. Ms.
Huston makes quite an impression in the final
reel as well.
Limited kicks off the 45th New York Film
Festival with a quirky and exhilarating bang!
Nicole Kidman and Jennifer
Margot at the Wedding
2007 New York
Reviewed by Frank
Like Wes Anderson,
Noah Baumbach’s characters are usually affluent
and quite eccentric. This doesn’t mean they
don’t suffer from the same familial crises
and complications as the rest of the world. They
just appear to do so at a more heightened and
onto the filmmaking scene two years ago with the
deservedly lauded The Squid and the Whale.
His follow-up proves that, like Anderson again,
he has no intention of ‘going Hollywood.’
Quite the contrary, thank the film gods. Consequently,
his work is going to alienate many an audience
member and critic. It will also please many an
audience member and critic.
In the audacious
serio-comedy Margot at the Wedding, Baumbach
presents us with such searing, uncompromisingly-flawed,
psychologically damaged characters involved in
hurtful relationships, that it’s sometimes
difficult to figure out who you dislike more.
And how damned refreshing is that?
The brilliant yet
abrasive short story writer, Margot Zeller (Nicole
Kidman) sets off on a trek with her adolescent
son, Claude (Zane Pais), a typical raging-sack-of-hormones
teen. They are going to attend the wedding of
Margot’s estranged, self-pitying sister,
Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to unemployed shlub,
Malcolm (Jack Black). From this, a cornucopia
of baggage is unearthed and the sisters are forced
to come to certain unpleasant realizations about
themselves and their relationship--ah, but not
in the typical studio film way or even the ever-growing
indie-feel-bad-then-good way (Little Miss
world, filled with foibled, frayed and flawed
folk is a welcome tonic to the eventually-likeable,
always-redeemable creations we are used to. And
the look of the film perfectly captures the ominous,
Nicole Kidman is
one of the most fascinating actresses of her generation.
She seems unafraid to take great chances with
her choices. And many, of late, have been questionable
but always interesting. Her devotion to each character
must be commended, regardless. With Margot, she
has her best role since Grace in Lars Von Trier’s
Dogville, and she gives an extraordinarily
nuanced and brave performance. She doesn’t
play Margot for sympathy. She doesn’t feel
the need to soften her. As a matter of fact, one
gets the idea that her Margo resists wanting to
be liked. It’s not a necessity—making
it a great necessity. Always demanding to know
if people talked about her when she is out of
the room, Kidman’s Margot is a delightfully
idiosyncratic mess…someone who is never
happy with herself, ergo never satisfied with
others. She also happens to be a snob of sorts.
Margot and Pauline
are a study in sisterly contrast. Locked into
this notion that they should be best friends,
they have very little in common and barely like
each other. They do, however, seek each other’s
approval…and that cuts to the core of something
we can all relate to on some level.
What bonds these
two together is not the sisterly-love we are told
they should feel because they’re family,
but the fact that they were both sexually mistreated
by their father making them borderline bi-polar
adults. This, as well as the theme of Claude’s
Freudian love for his mom, may turn a few folks
off, which is a shame because it’s exciting
and rarely investigated territory.
had a role worthy of her talents in a long while.
Here she proves she’s a formidable actress
with tremendous gifts. Pais portrays all the pains
and joys of the early teen years without being
precocious. Black does his thing and goes a bit
beyond, for a change. John Turturro shows up in
a seemingly thankless role that he makes quite
At a press screening,
I overheard one male critic complain to a female
critic that there wasn’t enough plot for
him. How sad that he needed to bring his own baggage
to this film instead of realizing the pleasures
that can be found in a non-action-oriented but
Margot at the
Wedding is a great leap forward for Baumbach
and one of the best films I’ve seen this
Josh Brolin in No
Country for Old Men
& Ethan Coen’s
No Country for Old Men
2007 New York Film Festival
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
hard on people,” is the simple yet profound
line that defines the themes inherent in Joel
and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s
novel. And while the film is absorbing and quite
powerful, it also feels disjointed and somewhat
meandering. I have not read the acclaimed novel,
yet all accounts (including the Coens statements
at the Festival press conference) seem to dictate
that they have remained steadfastly faithful to
the original work. This may very well be where
some of more problematic factors come into play.
The story takes
place in 1980, and is about the excesses of greed…as
well as pride in a changing southwest, US. Texan
Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles on a briefcase
filled with two million dollars and a stash of
heroin amidst a slew of dead bodies, and one who
is not yet dead. Moss, quite literally, takes
the money and runs. Riddled with guilt, he returns
that night and is wounded by gunfire but is able
to flee. For the remainder of the narrative, he
is relentlessly pursued by the diabolical Anton
Chigurh (Javier Bardem), as well as local ‘good
ol’ guy Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones).
The exciting story
that evolves is a genre-twisting, unpredictable
saga that is both a sad meditation on human nature
and a portrait of a country that has quickly gone
to hell—it’s citizens plagued by avarice,
anger, ego, envy (actually MOST of the seven deadly
sins!) and resorting to senseless violence.
The Coens are masters
at presenting the underbelly of America, and how
most folk are ready to sell their souls for a
buck, while others live by an old world moral
and ethical code. It’s a black and white
that can be seen as a bit too simplistic at times,
but the Coens are too clever to not add fascinating
character shadings to these otherwise despicable
and/or saintly characters. And they’re savvy
enough to cast their film with amazing talent!
for Old Men brings to mind 1996’s Fargo,
and is arguably their best film since that Oscar-winning
work. Fargo was a film I had to view
at least three times before I could strip away
the cold, cleverness of the Coens and allow myself
to truly enjoy it. I had a similar experience
watching No Country--a sense of detachment,
admiration for the stunning filmmaking technique
but feeling a definite disconnect.
Another key problem
I often encounter in Coen films is what comes
across as an obvious contempt the brothers have
for their more, shall we say, hickish/towny characters.
There’s seems to be a judgment portrayed
onscreen that shouldn’t be, especially when
you’re taken out the film because it’s
so obvious. It goes beyond satire and seems to
crop up in many a Coen picture.
If I find fault
with the filmmakers, I do not with the actors.
Brolin has finally found his breakthrough role
with Moss, a man who makes an extreme mistake
and must fight for his life. Jones is saddled
with the sage role, but plays it masterfully.
Woody Harrelson pops up briefly but effectively
as a cocky lawman. And Kelly Macdonald holds her
own as the lone female character of any substance.
however, steals the picture and enters the annals
of vicious and creepy screen villains with his
astonishing portrayal. His Chigurh is a devious
blend of the subtle and the heavy-handed. With
a wickedly memorable haircut and a menacing smile,
Bardem unleashes Chigurh on his unsuspecting audience,
as he tinkers with the minds (and lives) of his
prey. He is motivated by greed, but, moreso, by
his own discombobulated notion of honor, with
a heaping dose of pride tossed in. It’s
an unabashedly fearless performance that will,
deservedly, reap plenty of awards at year’s
values are excellent across the boards with Roger
Deakins doing stunning cinematographic work.
The final scene
(which is taken directly from the novel) is a
big letdown and left me feeling unsatisfied. Of
course, maybe, that was the point. I’m not
certain. With all of my criticisms, No Country
does stand tall as one of the most challenging
films of 2007. I did like it. I may, one day,
love it. And I do look forward to a second viewing.
for Old Men was the Centerpiece at this year’s
New York Film Festival.