Monday, June 30, 2008

No Superbad Country For Old Men

Here for the party: Javier Bardem is scarily brilliant in No Country For Old Men.

I've decided to tie together reviews of two movies I saw on DVD recently that really have nothing to do with each other. The first film is the raunchy teen comedy Superbad. The second film is the winner of Best Picture for 2007 No Country For Old Men. Now, you may think that Tommy Lee Jones and young kids trying to get laid have nothing in common whatsoever and for the most part you'd be right. But both films carry a message that is universal between the two: the passage of time.

Superbad is set in the modern day and follows a trio of nerds - the pudgy comic guy (played by Jonah Hill in a performance continuing his loud vulgar style from Knocked Up), the sensitive guy (played by Michael Cera in a winning, awkward way) and uber nerd McLovin (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse with a dead on portrayal of an ambitious loser with cunning). The three friends are looking to party hard on Graduation night and score beer to help their odds of hooking up with girls.

The film is pretty standard teen movie fare. Oddball cops (one of which is played by screenwriter Seth Rogan who starred in Knocked Up) lighten the mood considerably even as they detract from any sense of realism. Jonah Hill powers most of the scenes he's in with a stream of consciousness raunchiness that's funny and juvenile. The friends race all over town, dodging bar brawls, house party fights, dancing girls on their period and getting hit by cars to make it to the party with beer. And draw some real interesting pictures.

Other than a willingness to get nastier than, say, Porky's, there isn't a lot to distinguish this movie from other teen comedies. But Superbad does contribute McLovin', the ultimate nerd loser turned geek badass by fate and verve. Despite these traits, Superbad mainly made me feel Superold because I couldn't relate to these kids that much. It was only when the cops and McLovin' start doing donuts in the parking lot while blasting Van Halen's "Panama" that I really felt something from the movie.

Ultimately the movie is about the passage of time from freewheeling youth to young adulthood and writing boring sentences like the one I just wrote. It's enough to make an old guy feel ancient, but then I watched No Country For Old Men.

Set in 1980, No Country For Old Men mark the latest entry in the Coen Brother's distinguished career. The Coens love to take trips through sparsely populated sections of America and revel in exposing the dark underbelly lying beneath the facade of "pure" values and structures. It's done in a reverential and sometimes humorous way (It's not David Lynch like in other words) so it's thought provoking and fascinating. Here, the story of three men and a drug deal gone wrong intersect.

An out of work hunter (played by a Nick Nolte-ish Josh Brolin) stumbles across a drug deal gone bad with dead bodies, bricks of drugs and a bag full of money left in its wake. Brolin takes the money and goes on the run, being tracked by both the Mexican Mob and a twisted hit man (portrayed with frightening malevolence by Javier Bardem). The local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) investigates and bemoans the loss of traditional American values to drugs, greed and jadedness.

Ostensibly a Western in format, No Country For Old Men brings all of the characters into focus in this brutal morality play. The rugged hunter on the lam, the angel of death killer and a weathered law man who's seen enough depravity in his life face the future with uncertainty and an instinct for survival. As always, the Coens' work is beautiful in it's simplicity and deceptive in its layered approach to storytelling. If you look closely, there are underlying themes at work that carry the intense mood from one shot to the next. A film geeks paradise and a terrific film for anyone else who sees it, this rivals Fargo in terms of career highlights.

And, oddly, watching these old guys lament an era passing them by made me feel young. That and being scared as hell of Javier Bardem. I bet that guy gets his way everywhere he goes now. He's the real SuperBad.


Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Ewwww, I didn't like teen movies when I WAS a teen. ^_^ So, nothing to say about that. But the other... remind me, oh guru of moviedom, has Tommy Lee Jones made a bad movie in say... the last two decades, at least? The movies he's in are most always worth watching.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Some Kinda Wonderful! Tommy Lee Jones has made a lot of good movies and has given great performances, but I can think of a movie I didn't like that he starred in. That was Volcano (1997), where Jones had to act against the evil, um, lava. I also thought his performance in Natural Born Killers was too over the top, but since it's an Oliver Stone movie he was probably encouraged to act that way. But two bad showings in two decades isn't bad, particularly if it's offset by an Oscar winning performance like The Fugitive.

Frontrow said...

Disturbing flick. Mr. Mike, what did you make of that scene with Tommy Lee entering the motel room with Chigurh in the shadows? Was he there or not?

Mr. Mike said...

Good question, that was a tricky scene. In my opinion, Chigurh was in the room when Tommy Lee went to the motel. I think Chigurh went back to get the money, the motel room door was locked and so he popped his way in. Then Tommy Lee showed up. The way it was shown did make it hard to tell because sometimes it seemed like he was in a different room, but if he was in a different room then I thought why bother hiding? The other possibility was they were in the same room but at different times. I personally thought they were both there at the same time. Could be wrong, that was what I felt from that part more than anything. That scene was tense!