Now Playing: Carla Thomas--"(Your Love Is A) Life Saver"
Thanksgiving comes and goes again, and I age another year. A friend of mine commented elsewhere that home feels less and less like it every time he goes back, and I've found the same to be the case with me. Previously, I might have found it tragic, but this year I found a weird sort of comfort. I also remembered how much I hated planes. Love airports, hate planes. I found my family well, a little more dispersed this year than usual (half Louisiana Catholic, half Mississippi Protestant) but well all the same. I had a great conversation with my politically polar opposite grandfather (which memorably began with him asking if I was "on the relief"), probably walked too much (no, not really), and spent most of Friday (during which everyone else watched football, with LSU losing to Arkansas) on YouTube.
I decided to celebrate my birthday this year and had planned on getting people to come to Leopold Brothers' for a few drinks and maybe a board game or two. On learning that Tim Monger would be playing there that night, backed by Scott DeRoche and John Fossum, I became more excited, and then found that they'd all be opening for the Silent Years and the New Green. I got there, found a few friends, hung out, met more, and then the music started. Before I continue, I should say that it was the best birthday I've had in a good long while, possibly a decade. All I wanted to do was enjoy myself, hang out with friends and I think I succeeded admirably. As for the music... Tim's set was excellent; I think his generally sweet, gentle songs actually benefit from having a relatively hard-rocknig backup. The contrast worked wonders. I'd heard the Silent Years before, and remember not being all that enthused about them, and found my opinions reinforced. I'd never heard the New Green (including stalwarts like Jim Roll) before, and wished I could have stayed longer to do so. I got to hear their CD Easily Made, Easily Broken later, and it was decent enough alt-country-pop, although I suspect I'm ready for a new dominant local music paradigm. At any rate, "Mature Alcoholic" and "The Sanguine" were particuarly good. By their set, though, I and a couple of other people were wearying of the unusually packed scene at Leopold's. The huge stage with the lighting, cavernous ceilings, and beer-hall atmosphere made it seem like a distinctly unsavory political rally. It was a little hard to relax and converse, so a few of us--myself, Sara, Margot, Josh, and later Eric--wound up at the Old Town later for a wonderful round of conversations, during which I finally realized how hard it must be sometimes to follow me when I'm talking about movies. Thanks for everything, guys.
Moliere (2007): I like Moliere, and as this was only going to be at the Michigan for a couple of days, I decided on a whim to catch it that next night. It opens alarmingly, with a soft light panning across sumptuously arranged linens that promise the sort of middle-brow historical spectacle that makes going to period flicks these days such a perilous chore (I heard Marie Antoinette was crap, but I still want to see it just because it tried to shake up the formula a little, the same way I still think A Knight's Tale did so successfully). The plot itself has been likened to Shakespeare in Love, and it's easy to see why, as it uses a romantic complication from Moliere's past to explain most of his masterpieces, like Tartuffe and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Moliere (Romain Duris) gets busted out of debtor's prison by Jourdain, a dweeby bourgeois with more money than sense (the excellent Fabrice Luchini, a frequent mainstay of Eric Rohmer flicks back in the day, particularly 1978's bewildering yet engrossing Arthurian tableau Perceval) who wants the playwright to tutor him in the theatrical arts, so he can seduce a notoriously fickle salonniere (Ludivine Sagnier). Jourdain's wife (Laura Morante) realizes what's going on and falls in love with Moliere, with tragicomic, yep Shakespeare in Love-like consequences. It's all frothy fun, but with some nifty in-jokes and serious artistic undertones. One might even detect a dig at the Oscars in Moliere's initial hidebound assumption that the only quality theatre is drama. Even with all that, the movie's stolen by none other than Edouard Baer, Audrey Tautou's mopey boyfriend in God Is Great And I'm Not (2002), as a sleazy, impoverished aristocrat with an eye toward nabbing his business-minded son a prosperous match. The scene where he tries to deny that one of his ancestors was a merchant is the movie's comic highlight.
No Country For Old Men (2007): As far as I could tell early Tuesday, the Coen Brothers had made exactly two undeniably good movies: Blood Simple (1984) and Fargo (1996). I have yet to see Raising Arizona (1987), but I'm afraid I have to side with the critics who condemn their oeuvre in general as a constant barrage of film-school artifice. You'll find great individual moments and excellent performances by actors and actresses (one thinks of Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski, George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and John Turturro and John Goodman in pretty much all of them), but they never really seem to hang together as movies for me. It's just another casualty in the irony overdose that may yet do for narrative cinema and literature as art forms. Fortunately, the Coens seem to recognize this themselves (or at least have temporarily exhausted their reserves of gratuitous snark) and do themselves proud with their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, which hardly ever feels like a Coen Brothers movie. A gripping thriller and a grim, downbeat essay on the nature of fate, No Country turns the Texas-Mexico border into a blasted wasteland, almost a preparation for the end, as taciturn Vietnam vet Llewellyn Moss (the perennially underrated Josh Brolin) and charismatically psycho hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) chase each other over some missing drug money in an occasionally deceptive game of cat-and-mouse, with washed-up sheriff Edward Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) as a resignedly impotent spectator. The Coens pull out all the stops with a fantastic supporting cast, some of who seem to have been pulled out by the roots from the surrounding soil (I don't think I've seen Tess Harper in anything since high school). Kelly McDonald hardly seems Scots at all as Moss' wife. Woody Harrelson pops up as a shady character with his own reasons for helping Moss, and a couple of my favorite American TV actors of the past decade make appearances: Stephen Root, NewsRadio's Jimmy James, as a crooked sort employing Harrelson, and Deadwood's Garret Dillahunt (good as Jack McCall, Wild Bill Hickok's assassin, but genuinely great as the enigmatic, sinister geologist Francis Wolcott) as Jones' goofy deputy with a stereotypically silly name. Barry Corbin, as Jones' grizzled old adviser, looks like he's actually been exhumed, and seems to provide the philosophical lesson to which the movie builds. As with the earlier Coen stuff, there's plenty of quirkiness, but this time it's effectively balanced out by a truly horrific shadow hanging over the action, even more horrific for being so prosaic and inevitable. It all made me feel that what was wrong witht he earlier movies was a sense of calibration. Hopefully the Coens will see this, as I do, as a welcome new direction, because I think they'd be really terrific making good movies that genuinely mean something.