By all accounts this film should not work. And well... it doesn't, not quite. It might however, work enough.

It's a cartoon in many ways. Some of the music cues are way over the top, and the actors deal with the material with different degrees of success. Keri Russell, for example, is great as Jenna, the waitress of the title. There is one extended sequence of shots where she has an exaggerated bewildered look on her face, a look which then turns into an ecstatic smile for the next couple, and it is perfect, somehow. But aside from hers all the characters are fairly one-dimensional, the two other waitresses most egregiously: they each get their perfectly predictable plot development, but character development, apparently, was too much to ask. As for Jenna's husband, he's supposed to be both a laughingstock and genuinely threatening, and that simply doesn't work

But let's get to the things that DO work. Mostly, that's the chemistry because Nathan Fillion's Dr. Pommater and Jenna. Every time they kiss I felt it. Now, admittedly, I do have a long-standing crush on Cap'n Tight-Pants, but still. And I loved how refreshing the film's take on adultery was: the film admits that it's a foolish, potentially hurtful thing to do, but in the film it doesn't need to lead to a terrible conclusion, and it even has some positive consequences. This is the kind of nuance and realism sorely lacking from the sexualisation-of-our-culture debate currently going on in the Netherlands.

And then there's the pies. Oh, I wish I could bake pies like that. They are gorgeous and odd and delicious-looking, and having Jenna give them names like "I don't want Earl's baby-pie" is a gimmick that works. In the end, the film doesn't quite manage to reconcile the quirks on the surface with the truly depressing content, but this is a little film worth watching.

A film, too, with a worthwhile message: maybe it's best, indeed, to settle for being "happy enough".


No Country for Old Men - Second, hopefully more coherent, spoiler-riddled reaction

It's right up there in the title too, but a final warning just in case: major **SPOILERS** ahead!

It's been almost 24 hours now since I started watching No Country for Old Men, and after much reading and rumination (see also the reading list below), I have come to a conclusion: the Coen brothers have put a lot, and I mean by that A LOT of ideas into this movie, but I doubt there is an overarching thought or message to be found. This should, of course, not come as a surprise: these are the Coens we're talking about. It means the only deeper meaning you'll find is the one you, yourself, bring to the table. The movie has no clear interpretation, it can be interpreted at least half a dozen ways.

And that's what makes it great.

Take, for instance, Chigurh. He works on a superficial level because - using the words of another character - he is the ultimate bad-ass. On a deeper level, he soon becomes more complicated. Is he evil personified, as some have suggested? Is he the Grim Reaper? Is he fate, a ghost, just a man of flesh and blood, or maybe just the manifestation of Sheriff Bell's fears? Each interpretation can be justified, and has been, vehemently, in various comment sections. He's evil made flesh because he destroys and/or corrupts anything on his path, and the ending can then be interpreted as "evil can be damaged, hindered, but not stopped". He's the Grim Reaper because he simply comes to take people away when their time is up, and doesn't when it isn't, etc. etc.

In the end, all these interpretations are valid, but are they really meaningful? Maybe the Coens* just enjoyed the irony of having Chirgurh, who lets other people's fate be decided by a coin toss, be taken out by chance. Maybe the scene with the two kids is nothing more than a "money corrupts" throwaway, inserting something not necessarily relevant or related to anything else into an already dense text. Then again, there is always something that CAN be connected - in this case, you could invoke the fact that there is literally bloody money being paid with. It's almost as if they're teasing us to make connections, appealing to our need to categorize and analyze, and then reveal that there is nothing but mud at the bottom of the well.

This movie already has been dismissed by some critics (most notably by Manohla Dargis) as pure craft. I don't get that complaint. Yes, the Coen's may be overly fond of stylistic tricks, but they seem to like them so much it's infectious. Yes, they like doorways, they like them A LOT, but why is that a problem when this leads to such wonderful - and sometimes suspenseful- shots? I'm not sure all the mirroring - the shirts, Anton/Ed Tom both drinking milk and watching themselves in the television, etc. - means something, but the various instances are fun to spot.

Much of the discussion on the boards seems to be about plot questions. Did he kill the accountant? (my guess, no, but does it really matter?). Did he kill Carla Jean? (Definitely). Did Llewelyn go along with the beer woman, and what happened to her? And mostly, was Chigurh in that room, and if so, how did he disappear? I don't think, however, that these details were left sketchy because the filmmakers want us to figure out the "solution". I think the details were left sketchy as a Rorschach test: the interpretation we give says something about who are, and where we stand.

The movie opens and ends with something Chigurh does and something Bell says, with Llewelyn stumbling through the movie in between, his fate and perhaps morality the stakes in the contest between the two. Let me end, too, with some words about Sheriff Bell. Tommy Lee Jones truly is one of the treasures of modern American cinema, and the deep grooves of his tired face serve this character well. He seems a straightforward good guy at first, white hat and all, a remnant of better, more straight-forward times. However, unlike the Western heroes he's meant to remind us of, he isn't sure he's up to the task, and he's scared. His big triumph is opening the door to that motel where Chigurh might be, but his relief when the room is empty is so great he decides to retire. Decides to wait for his time to be up in peace.

So much more can be said about this movie, but I think I will stop at this: I'm not sure yet if this is a masterpiece, but I do think this is a marvelous film, satisfying and challenging both on a visceral, and aesthetic, and an intellectual level. A film I look forward to revisiting in February on the big screen.

*I know, McCarthy should probably get a lot of the credit here, but I haven't read the book so I'm analyzing the film purely by itself, and seeing everything as the Coen's choice


Also, if you're up for something a little less serious, there's always Nora Ephron.

No Country for Old Men - First, disjointed, spoiler-free reaction


I mean, whoa.

But I don't know how, or why.

All I can say is, I got out of this film in a daze. Shattered, you could say. Not quite sure quite what I'd seen, and not quite sure if it added up to anything. Sure, however, that everything on the screen was exactly what the Coen's intended, and exactly how they intended it.

Weird thing is, much as I've been keeping away from too detailed reviews and analyses of the film until now, I keep hearing people are surprised/disappointed about the ending. Now, I can understand that some people are ticked off by the lack of a clear resolution - although, being forewarned, much more was resolved than I had expected. But the ending, in my opinion, is what makes this film something more. The first three quarters of it, I was enjoying the film very much, but on a very superficial level: I thought it was well made, tense, scary even, funny, too, but I wasn't getting the 'masterpiece' vibe. After the ending...

Well, I don't know. Something. I came back and told a friend I'd just seen a movie that might be a masterpiece. Upon hearing what movie it was, his response was "Oh, I watched that last night! It was stupid!". Now, the only thing that really tells you is that some movies should not be downloaded and seen on a tiny laptop screen, but I had a hard time articulating a response, a hard time putting into words what exactly it was that made this movie clearly NOT stupid. I still don't know how. All I know is, I have a meeting with my thesis supervisor in twenty minutes, nothing to say to him, and yet I'm not preparing something for the meeting, but writing this blog post, trying to get my head around this movie.

I'll write another post tonight, after some more digestion, and after having finally read all the analytical pieces I've been closing my eyes for so far. I just wanted to put down my first thoughts, my gut reaction. Maybe it's all a joke on the Coen bros., maybe there is no deeper significance or thoughts and this movie's just another excuse for them to insert their beloved doorway-motif. Maybe it will turn out to be a profound meditation on violence, on life and death, and predetermination and/or choosing your own fate. Maybe, hopefully, my thoughts will have crystallized tonight. I wish I could go and see it again tonight, but unless I resort to the downloaded laptop format, I'll have to wait until Valentine's day.