Continuing from my previous post of the movies of the 90's I've been watching...
Okay, once this countdown is done, it's going to become obvious I'm a Coen Brothers fanboy -- there really isn't much of theirs that I don't like -- but I think that Fargo is assumed by many to be their best film and rightfully so. It's the perfection of the seemingly incompatible mix of comedic, offbeat charm and macabre violence, a style that they seem uniquely qualified to offer. Add in one of the greatest characters in film history in Marge Gunderson (and that's not to forget all the characters in this film are pitch perfect), some hilarious dialogue, outstanding use of the stark Minnesotan landscape by the unwavering eye of Roger Deakins (a man who defines a Coen movie as much as the brothers themselves), and a storyline that too often gets overlooked in lieu of the former highlights, and you have the Coen's masterpiece.
THE THIN RED LINE
One thing I've learned watching movies is to never start an almost three-hour film at 1 AM. My only other time I tried to watch this was after its DVD release and I made that mistake, falling asleep in the first 30 minutes. I'm glad I went back to watch it now, as Terrance Malick has created a supremely unique war film. The movie has an ebb and flow to it that seems to capture the timing of warfare. Long moments of quietness that lead to introspection, followed by horrific battles, repeated over and over. It's a scary thing for someone like me to think about - after each battle, you're happy to be alive, at which point you have to start the whole process over again. I'm not sure if that is how war is simply portrayed on the screen, but it's harrowing none the less.
Malick brings his always prosaic style to the film, and with it shows that war exemplifies bravery and futility, devastation and comradery. The lush colors, particularly the greens of the grass and the blues of the sky/water, show a beauty that is immediately juxtaposed with the horror that surrounds the scene. Malick can be accused of a little too much navel-gazing, and it does seem to ramble a bit around the 1:45 mark, but what's wrong with a little variety in a war movie? Obviously, this film will always be compared to Saving Private Ryan, and my only though on that is this -- there are no moments in Malick's film that rival that initial beach scene for memorability, yet as a whole it saves itself from the maudlin mess that Ryan becomes after that initial shock. And for that, it's the much more successful film.
THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE
Kieslowski presents a film that is exquisitely photographed and lit (golden hues and sepia tones, so much that you could easily call this Three Colors: Yellow) and employs a fantastic use of sound, highlighted by another terrific Preisner score (see: Three Colors: Blue). The film deals with two women who are "doubles" and with how they are connected to each other, yet they never know it or experience this connection directly. As the movie finished, my initial reaction was disappointment that no concrete answers were given. But not 30-seconds later, it became obvious that there were no answers and that is exactly the point Kieslowski was trying to get across -- the uncertainties of life that have no explanation. Searching for answers and never finding them. Veronique is plagued by a strange feeling that haunts and confounds her. It's a feeling of being connected to someone else, but not knowing who or why. Taken in these metaphysical terms, I found the themes of the story much more gratifying and thought provoking than the simple supernatural explanation I was waiting for.
Bonus points on the ambiguous portrayal of the puppeteer, the symbolism of which I found the most interesting (not to get into it fully here for the sake of brevity). Since the whole movie can be taken on a metaphysical level, why not go with the theory that he is literally and figuratively "pulling the strings" of both versions of Veronique, dropping the strings of one, thus killing her, and then picking up the strings of the other. The final reveal shows that he has created two puppets in her image, because one will break, so he needs a second. It's perhaps an interesting peek into Kieslowski's view of God, methinks.
JACKIE BROWN (rewatched)
After reading the comment thread on Pulp Fiction over at Wonders in the Dark, I thought I'd rewatch Jackie Brown for a second time to see if my memories were correct -- that it was a better film than Pulp Fiction and showed a maturing from ol' Quentin. Pulp, while influential, just doesn't hold up for me 10+ years later like Jackie does. Just a few, short reasons why I feel it's better -- It's a more straight-forward movie as opposed to a series of vignettes (and we can likely thank Elmore Leonard for that, but give Tarantino his due for adapting it so well). It's relatively subdued and character driven as opposed to dialogue driven. As for the dialogue, it's better as it's simply less of the pop-culture laden "Tarantino-y" stuff (and to each their own on that point, as some love Tarantino's dialogue, while I only like it in small doses). It has his best use of music ("Across 110th Street" and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" are just beautiful in their use here), and most of all for me, the performances by Pam Grier and Robert Forster may be the greatest in their careers (and show that Tarantino can direct actors like a champ) and truly give it the 70's feel that Tarantino always wants.
Quite simply, it's the most "fun" he has put in any of his films. It really comes down to personal taste, though, as I can see why everyone likes Pulp Fiction (and on a historical and influential level, Pulp has it spades). I just choose Jackie Brown.
That's it for now -- I've also watched The Player, Three Colors: White, and Barton Fink in the last day-and-a-half, so I'll finish composing my thoughts on those in a bit. I have to go be non-anti-social now and meet some friends instead of staying inside all day and watching movies.