Category Archives: Do They All Die?

Do They All Die?: TELL NO ONE

Tell No One Poster

Here we are with another unnecessarily detailed lecture on a movie you probably will not see.  I love writing this blog.  As ever with DTAD?, we will not shy away from spoilers.

TELL NO ONE (France, 2006; USA in 2008).  Screenplay by Guillaume Canet, Phillip Lefebvre.  Directed by Guillaume Canet.  Based on novel by Harlan Coben.

Tell No One opens somewhere in the French countryside, as some friends enjoy each other’s company around a picnic table just by a rustic house.  Otis Redding’s For Your Precious Love rests loudly in the mix, unignorably in the foreground, setting the tone as peaceful and pleasant and warm.  Alex (Francois Cluzet) and Margot (Marie-Josee Croze), later, find themselves alone, at a lake, where they take a nude swim and lay, wet and comfortable, holding each other, on a raft near the middle of the lake.  Their exposure here is sexual only in part.  Primarily, their nudity explains an utter, mutual comfort with each other, and with their surroundings.  There is nothing naughty about what they’re doing.  Nothing mysterious.  No need to be quiet, or stay in the dark.  They are two people who are innocent as children, perfectly where they ought to be.

A spat breaks the placid evening, though, and Margot swims back to shore to be alone.  Moments after disappearing from the shore, she screams.  Alex stands up on the raft and calls for her.  He calls again, and, again, she screams his name.  He dives into the water, swimming desperately for the dock, and, reaching it, he climbs the ladder, where he is promptly clobbered and left unconscious in the water.

Eight years later, Margot is dead, her killer in prison, and Alex has a successful pediatric practice.  He still mourns his lost wife.  He is still alone.  And then the wheels start to turn.  He gets mysterious emails that appear to be from Margot.  The bodies of two men are found near where Margot was thought to be killed, and they appear connected to Margot’s murder–Alex is now a suspect, himself.  There is, of course, a long-standing question as to how Alex ended up on the dock after landing in the lake unconscious.  There are, eight years later, enough questions and loose ends to find suspicion.

And so, a chase begins.  The police are after Alex for apparently murdering Margot.  Alex is on the run from the police and toward, he hopes, the still-breathing Margot.  And a third group of people are going ’round killing people for information and torturing people by squeezing their organs while still in their chest. As put by Roger Ebert, the plot “is not merely airtight, it’s hermetically sealed”.

The movie is shot exquisitely.  For long sequences, the camera moves so slightly, so passively, that the entire movie seems safe and calm.  The camera rests on the hard-melting facial expressions of a kaleidoscope of family and friends, dealing with the trauma of recalling a murder.  And, finally, when things get rolling, when no facial contortions could possibly matter, the camera shakes with all the drama and terror of the scene it follows.

The shots are composed gorgeously.  During the long, blood-drainingly tense scene which (in fine film noir style) reveals the entire mystery to Alex, the lights are off in the house, and a brilliant afternoon sun shines through the white curtains, giving the house an eerie white and blue glow.  At one point, Margot’s father, tired and retired, with a blue shirt and white hair, stands before one window, explaining what happened eight years before to his daughter.  Opposite him, seated, before another blazing white window, in another blue shirt, but with dark hair, is the younger man, Alex, defeated and desperate, hearing the explanation.  The scene, and shot, are devastating.

The ending becomes obvious before it is given to the audience.  Its expectation makes it no less compelling, however.  Alex finds himself back at tree where he and Margot marked their anniversaries as children and adults–a place he hadn’t been to in eight years, and finds eight new marks slashed into the bark.  He falls to his knees–catharsis comes hard for Greeks and Frenchmen alike–and behind him, coming through the trees, is Margot.  She’s so pale and perfect and so out of focus, she seems as though a ghost.  She approaches Alex, who must know she is there, from behind, silently, and it isn’t until she finally touches him that the moment, the reunion, the resurrection from the dead, becomes real to Alex, and real to us.

This movie has a lot going on.  Confusion and conspiracy to rival The Big Sleep (though, thankfully, there is the aforementioned Reveal scene), but with every detail in place, every character accounted for and necessary.  But, if you let the movie take you where it intends to go, if you don’t waste precious moments dwelling on your absence of understanding, this is the most rewarding kind of movie there is.  Impressive on every level.

Oh, and, I mean, how sweet is the poster?

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Do They All Die?: PERSEPOLIS

dtat.jpgPersepolis is an autobiographical film (the second one reviewed on this site, after A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) about Marji Satrapi, a girl who grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In French. For whatever reason, going into seeing the movie, I could not straighten “Iran”, “Islam”, and “Afghan” into the proper order. No idea what I was doing.

The film is based off four graphic novels of the same name by Satrapi, and, for obvious reasons, contains a great deal more detail and information on Satrapi’s experiences. Presumably, the illustrations in the book provide the format for the animation of the movie, which is mostly monochromatic, minimalistic visualizations with occasional flares of color that, upon a single viewing, appeared more random than directed. It’s possible that a reading of the book would have cleared away this, and some of my other problems with the film, but as the things stand, the movie has a few disgruntled vagaries for people such as myself to deal with.

As a very young child, Marji sees herself as a future prophet, talking to God, and finds herself enthusiastic about any topic her life intersects with. She is a budding revolutionary, fiery and temperamental. When the Islamic fundamentalists imprison thousands and force women to take the veil, Marji is bold and fearless in her challenges, walking a fine line between inquisitive child and prison-worthy revolutionary, a role held by her uncle, the communist.

Eventually, the oppressive rule of the fundamentalists takes its toll upon Marji, as she suffers the loss of friends and family members, and her once-defiant emotional directness sinks, becoming candid depression and cynicism.

The movie takes place over the course of roughly 10 years, each scene serving as a glimpse into Marjane’s world as it deteriorates and twists. While the portrait is vast, and in some ways, beautiful, Marji’s world on a personal level is left shallow by the technique. Marji’s mother and father are loving, but there is little else to say about them. We can see that much of Marji’s personality is derived from her sparkplug grandmother. We can see little else. Every character is a caricature, focused and distorted through Marji’s childhood memories. While the book may have provided enough depth for Marji’s uneasy clique of Vienna outcasts to come and engage the audience, the cinematic flyover in Persepolis left me wanting.

Persepolis’ is, in some ways, a fabulous film. To its own demerit, however, it grabs the audience, and lets it go, only to grab and release again, and again, and again. I would have preferred a smaller snapshot of Satrapi’s life, something that could grab hold and take me somewhere.

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dtat.jpgLast week, we looked at Cormac McCarthy’s book, No Country for Old Men.  To start off this week, we take a look at the Coen brothers’ cinematic adaptation of the same book. 

As with the book, the movie focuses on the three characters of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who finds the money, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who chases Llewelyn, and Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who slowly and steadily paddles in the wake of their destruction.  All three leads are played outstandingly.  Jones is known for his frequent role as a law enforcement-type, but the personality of his role is not the brash, respected law officer he has been known for, but, rather, a reserved, contemplative small-town sheriff. 

Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss laconically, and Moss very clearly comes off as a man who understands that he is in immense danger, but doesn’t quite understand the extent of that danger.  Bardem’s Chigurh is as menacing as villains come, but his vaguely philosophical banter, and his remarkably restrained politeness give him an edge of black comedy. 

The movie, from what I noticed, features little to no music, which reflects Cormac McCarthy’s stark writing well.  It also features a great deal of his dialogue, nearly verbatim, and, most importantly, the movie reflects the odd non-climax of the book.  As I alluded to in the book review, the climax of No Country for Old Mentakes place off-screen.  The audience only arrives to the climax as Sheriff Bell does–that is, far too late.  We see the shocking aftermath, but we’re not sure quite how we got there. 

Chigurh, at two points, forces people to call a coin toss.  What each person stands to win or lose goes undefined, but powerfully implied, and this shows an element to Chigurh that is reflected in the movie.  Mostly, that we can make choices, like “heads or tails”, but the results of our choices are inevitable.  Every time “heads” is called, something shall occur, and there is no getting around it.  McCarthy elucidates that point fantastically in the narrative, and the Coens are masterful in their reflection of the theme.

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dtat.jpgLars and the Real Girl has, on the surface, almost nothing that would interest me.  It’s a movie directed by Craig Gillespie, who, according to IMDB has previously done nothing, although he also sat at the helm of Mr Woodcock, which I haven’t seen, but appeared to be your run of the mill bad dick-joke Billy Bob Thornton doing-it-for-the-paycheck kind of comedy.  The screenplay was written by Nancy Oliver, who also wrote for Six Feet Under, which was a television program on HBO or Showtime or some premium channel that I’ve never owned.  I’m sure it’s delightful, though.

The title character, Lars, is played by Ryan Gosling, who starred in The Notebook, which, again, I haven’t seen but it was based on a short novel too terrible to complete.  Mama Thursday–a sucker for the sappy stuff, God bless her–loves the book.  I can’t speak to whether she saw or enjoyed the film, however.  Otherwise, Gosling has been in The United States of Leland (which looked enjoyable) and Murder by Numbers (which looked intolerable).  I had no reason to expect much from Mr Gosling.  Co-starring are Emily Mortimer (British, but only vaguely familiar), Paul Schneider (totally unfamiliar), Kelli Garner (almost totally unfamiliar), and Patricia Clarkson (excellent in Good Night and Good Luck).  Oh, and a sex doll.

So, obviously, the only thing the movie had going for it, for me, was the excellent trailer.  A movie featuring a sex doll as girlfriend would, normally, seem to act as a vehicle for a bevy of bad dick-jokes, which, as indicated before in regards to Mr Woodcock, are not my thing.   The movie’s trailer had some heart, and humor, and character, and so to the theater we went to check it out.

Lars Lindstrom lives in his garage.  He and his brother Gus (Schneider) inherited their northern Wisconsin house from their father when he died.  Upon the inheritance, Gus and his wife Karin (Mortimer) move in, and Lars chooses to move into the garage, by himself.  He keeps to himself, constantly, despite the efforts of Karin to get him involved in the house–inviting him to meals whenever she can intercept him on the way from his car to the garage door.  Lars despises physical contact, and runs, literally runs, away from anyone who shows him any kind of warmth.  He leaves the house only to go to church, and to work.

One day, Lars, unexpectedly, comes to the front door of the house, and tells both Gus and Karin that he has a visitor, and that this visitor, a girl, does not speak much English and is confined to a wheelchair, so if they could try to be considerate of all that, he’d appreciate it.  Naturally, Gus and Karin, thinking that Lars had finally reached out to another human being, are stunned to find that a member of their family has entirely lost his mind.

Consulting the local doctor and psychologist, Dagmar (Clarkson), Gus and Karin learn that Lars has a delusion, and that he has this delusion as a way for his mind to work out some kind of problem.  The only thing they can really do for Lars, is to help him by going along with the delusion.  And so, they do so, and they get the entire town to help.

I really adored this movie.  There is definite drama and humor, but there are no villains, and no wacky Will Ferrell/Jack Black types popping up.  In that sense, the movie reminds me of real life.  However, the tightknit community that helps Lars out, that, to me, is less like the way the world really is, and more like the way the world should be.  And that’s what this movie is about.

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dtat.jpgIt seems to me that, in general, people either really like Wes Anderson’s films, or they really don’t.  I don’t think this is a matter of sophistication, or people “getting it”, or not.  I think that, given his very distinct style, and the themes and nature of his storytelling and wit, either people really appreciate the films, or they can’t sit through them.  I fall into the former category.  Frankly, I think The Darjeeling Limited is brilliant. 

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Do They All Die? 12: STARDUST

dtat.jpgThe first seen, and most enjoyed, of Saturday night’s movie double-header, was the new Matthew Vaughn film, STARDUST, which is based on the eponymous Neil Gaiman novel.  Vaughn was heavily involved in Guy Ritchie’s LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS as well as SNATCH, and made his directorial debut in 2004, with the excellent LAYER CAKE. 

STARDUST has recieved a lot of appropriate comparisons to THE PRINCESS BRIDE, as fans of Rob Reiner’s masterpiece will probably enjoy this film.  The story is set in England, in the mid 19th century, in the village of Wall.  Wall is named, naturally, for the long wall that runs alongside the town, and its one opening is guarded day and night by a 97 year old man with a staff, to keep the Brits from entering the legendary, magical land on the other side.  A young man named Tristan, in order to win the hand of a girl in his town, vows to cross the wall to find a fallen star, and will bring the rock back to her for a ring. 

On his journey, he encounters evil princes and kindly pirates, witches both beautiful and hideous, and he finds true love, so to speak.  The story is, as with most fairy tales, somewhat predictable, but the movie finds its value, like with THE PRINCESS BRIDE, in the fact that the easily forseen ending is so much fun to get to.  The world on the other side of the wall, Stormhold, is a fun one to adventure in, and Tristan’s coming of age story probably couldn’t be more enjoyable. 

The primary villains are the prince Septimus (played by the fantastic Mark Strong), and the witch Lamia (played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who must be the best looking 49 year old woman on Earth).  Both chew the scenery a bit, clearly relishing their roles as greedy, evil types.  Claire Danes plays the fallen star well, with all the eternal nobility one would expect from a heavenly body.  Robert DeNiro has a large role as a captain of a flying pirate ship, and Ricky Gervais has a smaller one as a merchant, and both are wonderful and hysterically funny. 

Mrs Thursday’s father cannot abide anything even remotely fantastical.  If it doesn’t happen in reality as we know it, he will not willingly watch it.  That being the case, I really recommend STARDUST for anyone out there, except for him.  Some of the most fun to be had at the theater this summer. 

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Do They All Die? 11: SUNSHINE

dtat.jpgMy brother, Goose, and I decided to hit up the movies for a custom double feature last Saturday.  For those of you who have chosen to see two movies in the theater on a Saturday night, with about 25 minutes in between, this experience has a lot going on.  It’s disgusting, in that you’ve spent roughly 5 hours of your life drinking soda, and eating those terrible nachos, or Snow Caps, or Twizzlers, or those salted pretzels. 

The big upside, of course, is that you get to see 2 movies in one evening.  The secondary upside is this: normally, if one were to enter your standard AMC Regal theater and order their ungodly “large” soda, one would be handed roughly a gallon of high fructose corn syrup con agua, and told by the unsmiling attendant that refills are free.  To which you, a normal human, would laugh loudly, perhaps wondering aloud, “Who the shit is going to finish this much root beer and be physically able to go back for more?”   Well, when you’re at the theater from 7PM till after midnight, the answer to that question is you.  Or rather, it is me.  The answer is not, however, Goose, because Goose had to pee after the movie, and didn’t consider the fact that, once he “went” he’d be once again able to take in more soda. 

Moving on, we cover the 2nd part of the double header, SUNSHINE, which both Goose and I wish we could have watched first. 

SUNSHINE is the latest Danny Boyle film.  Boyle is the man who directed TRAINSPOTTING and 28 DAYS LATER and MILLIONS, which I have not seen, but have heard lovely things about.  The movie takes place 50 years into the future, in a world in which the sun is dying.  In order to save the Earth, scientists create a special kind of nuclear bomb that, if dropped into the sun, would, essentially, jumpstart the thing.  This bomb, a massive thing, was strapped a huge spaceship, called the Icarus.  When a spaceship gets close to the sun, the solar radiation prevents the ship from sending messages back to Earth.  Sometime after the Icarus came within that distance of the sun, the mission was believed to have been failed.  The sun, it would seem, was not reignited, and no one knows what happened to the ship, the bomb, or the crew. 

The movie begins aboard the Icarus 2, seven years after the disappearance of the Icarus 1.  The 8 crew members are aware how critical their mission is.  That the success of their mission supercedes the necessity of their survival.  Despite this, there are obvious tensions.  It’s a long and lonely way to the sun, and a slow march to a possible death is taxing on anyone.  Individually, various characters are dealing with this stress in their own ways.  The ship’s psychologist, Searle (played excellently by Cliff Curtis) spends a lot of his time on the ship’s observation deck, looking at the sun as brightly as he is physically able to do.  Mace, played by Chris Evans (who is much better here than he is in FANTASTIC FOUR), keeps up with maintenence.  Corazon, played by Michelle Yeoh, keeps the “oxygen garden”, which, as you can guess, is a room with a whole lot of ferns.  Capa and Cassie, played by Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne, spend time together chatting, as Capa fine tunes the bomb.   

The first 2/3 of the movie deal with how the various characters deal with the contrast between their responsibilities and their fears, concerns, and lonelinesses on the mission.  The plot, however, is driven by their discovery of the original Icarus, emitting a distress beacon, slightly off course from their route.  They decide to divert their course, to check for survivors, and to find a second bomb, in case theirs should fail.  This, of course, proves to be a mistake. 

A movie like this one has a severly limited number of options with what it can do, at this point, in order to further the conflict.  Maybe the original Icarus was attacked, or the ship malfunctioned.  Maybe their was mutiny and sabotage.  Maybe their are survivors, maybe their are not.  SUNSHINE, goes the thriller route.  With the decision to head for the Icarus 1 come a number of problems, and some very serious danger. 

It’s a beautiful movie, and well acted, even if the story and script don’t have much room to roam.  Worth seeing, for science fiction fans. 

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Do They All Die?: “Bon Cop Bad Cop”

dtat.jpgSalut de Québec!

This writer is presently on a five-week program attempting to learn French in La Belle Province. Part of this program is the cultural experience, which for me amounts to the consumption of poutine – french fries with cheese curds and gravy – and Unibroue and Boréale beer. (How jealous are you, TC?  Editor’s Note: Very jealous, Andy.  Do you know how much Unibroue costs down here?) However, the animateurs – those in charge of giving us things to do and making sure we speak only French – program Québecois films for our viewing pleasure and cultural benefit. Last night, they screened us a brilliant Canadian picture called Bon Cop Bad Cop. I pray the reader will forgive any factual inaccuracies as a result of my inability to understand all of the film, being that it was screened in French with French subtitles. The film is generically predictable: an action comedy cop-buddy movie in the Lethal Weapon/Beverly Hills Cop vein. As a result, the film is a fun ride with plenty of action and great dialogue and a pretty sweet sex scene.

But beyond that, this film is about the fragile Canadian identity and the tension between French and English Canada. It begins with a killing and a body found perched on a sign. The sign reads “Welcome to Ontario” on the east side and “Bienvenue au Québec” on the side facing west. Instead of calling in the federal police, two provincial cops, one from Toronto and the other from Montréal, partner up to solve the case. What follows is a commentary on creeping Americanization, hockey, and what it means to be Canadian.

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