In reverse chronological order, starting with “Juno”:
Elvi and I caught the late show of “Juno” last night. I’ve read much praise of the movie, and rightly so. It’s a superb story of human emotion crafted with the right mix of comedy and a little pathos. I’ve also read much praise of first-time screenwriter and ex-stripper Diablo Cody, but I have to disagree in part with that assessment.
Cody’s dialogue and characters deserve all the praise, but the plot was fairly simple and predictable. The story holds no surprises, except perhaps in the relationship between Juno and her stepmother. What brings the movie to such a high plane is the acting. J.K. Simmons is brilliant in a supporting role, Michael Cera knows his befuddled teenagers, and Jason Bateman has that middle-aged guy trying to be cool down pat – it was, at times, like watching a new episode of “Arrested Development”, and that’s a good thing. My only quibble was with Jennifer Garner, who was wooden perhaps because she was trying to play Vannesa as cold, which was a mistake because that then betrays Juno’s actions at the end of the story. I’ll steer clear of details, but Juno wouldn’t do what she did with Vanessa as played.
Despite supporting performances she could lean on, “Trailer Park Boys” veteran Ellen Page as Juno puts this movie on her tiny shoulders and carries it across the finish line.
“Juno” reminded me a lot of “Little Miss Sunshine”, with its comic chops, well drawn characters, and, frankly, weak plot – but the plot doesn’t matter. You barely notice it, because the character studies draw you in. Ellen Page is so infectiously charismatic, you barely register anything else. I think I’ve said this before, but this movie is a testament to the power of acting. You’d think as writer, I’d push the writing, but this cast could take any piece of crap to a higher level.
(When Elvi asked me what I thought of the film upon exiting the Katy Mills mall, I said, “Ummm, I dunno.” I guess it takes me a while to percolate.)
“No Country for Old Men”:
What an oddly structured film – par for the course when it comes to the Coens. It reminds me of “Fargo” with interweaving stories and developments that stem from an initial crime and its loving vistas of American desolation. In both films, all of this falls into the jurisdiction of a small-town police chief – although with diametrically opposed outcomes.
“No Country for Old Men” doesn’t succeed as well as “Fargo” because it’s not as tidily integrated. More of the loose ends hang unresolved. Who exactly was the Stephen Root character? The assassin Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) exists for two purposes, structurally: to show Moss that he’s not safe in Mexico and to show that Chigurh is extra evil, even for an assassin. Wells also discovers the suitcase, but that discovery becomes pointless as he never recovers it. We don’t need to Wells to counterpoint Chigurh and the element of danger in Mexico easily could have been handled some other way.
Some critics have complained about the plot, but it holds together. A few have criticized the movie for being slow, but I prefer to call it languorous. Were it not for seeing “Juno” a half-hour later as part of an impromptu double bill, “No Country for Old Men” would have been one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. Hmmm – that makes no sense; it still is.
“Bender’s Big Score”:
Surprisingly, an extraordinarily convoluted plot of time travel does not detract from the movie. What does detract are the lame jokes, unbelievable alien scammers, and a desire to cram in every “Futurama” bit character (on Earth, except, I think, Calculon and Flexo). The lack of good, old fashioned humour is shocking – didn’t these writers have two years of jokes pent up inside them? And they came up with this? Where’s the memorable dialogue? I can only remember a single line two days later: “I’ve managed to save the universe and forty percent of your rectum.” And that doesn’t even make sense, because the operation in question took place on the outside of Fry’s butt.
I hate to say it, but it was simply dull. Let’s hope for better in the world of tomorrow.