Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Year: 2000
Running time: 106 minutes
Certificate: 12
Language: English
Screenplay: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: George Clooney, John Tuturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Chris Thomas King, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Charles Durning, Wayne Duvall, Michael Badalucco, Ray McKinnon, Daniel Von Bargen

Everett, just prior to his meeting with the blind seer.
I read a quote once in a review of The Big Lebowski, which said something like: ‘In a perfect world, all movies would be made by the Coen brothers’. While we would undoubtedly miss the likes of Hitchcock, Kubrick, Jackson et al, while you’re watching a film like this one, it’s difficult to disagree. An original take on Homer’s Odyssey, the action is relocated to America’s deep south, with our hero Ulysses now being a rather dim-witted fellow (full name Ulysses Everett McGill) (George Clooney). Everett has just escaped from jail with two buddies in tow. They are Pete Hogwallop (John Tuturro) and Delmar O'Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) (the Coens' reputation for ingenious character names is never more deserved than here). These two happen to be even more dim-witted than Everett, and the three are played with perfect comic charm.

If you know the story, you will recognise particular beats here, but it is all played through such a wonderful prism, that everything feels built from scratch while still feeling familiar. Pursued by Sherriff Cooley (Daniel Von Bargen), possibly the devil himself, our intrepid trio run into all manor of characters, including George Nelson (don't call him Babyface) (Michael Badalucco), the Sirens (Mia Tate, Musetta Vander and Christy Taylor), Tommy Johnson (Chris Thomas King), having just sold his soul to the devil for extraordinary guitar-playing skills, and face many dangers, only for Everett to make his way back home to find his wife Penny has taken up with new suitor Vernon T. Waldrip (Ray McKinnon), who may be bona fide, but is no goddamn paterfamilias.

The Soggy Bottom Boys: Pop stars in the making.
Cast-wise, there is not a single dud, with Coens’ regular John Goodman being particularly stand out in a minor role as the Cyclops (re-framed here as Big Dan Teague, a bible salesman/mugger with an eye-patch).

The wonderful Coen wit and originality is very much present and correct, but here we’re given a wonderful bonus – music with its roots in the old deep south bluegrass style which is simply gorgeous. Every single second is a uniquely Coen visual and aural treat.

Do yourself a favour, and get acquainted with the Coen brothers – you’ll never regret it.

Score: 9/10

The Coens and O Brother, Where Art Thou? are well-loved - this review shows that Kim from Empire and I are in agreement, and this one from David makes the points more eloquently than I can manage.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Year: 2005
Running time: 109 minutes
Certificate: 12
Language: English
Screenplay: Douglas Adams, Karey Kirkpatrick
Director: Garth Jennings
Starring: Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell, Alan Rickman (voice), Warwick Davis, Bill Nighy, John Malkovich, Stephen Fry (voice), Helen Mirren (voice)

Arthur steadies his nerves with a cup of tea.
If your initial thought is that a movie cannot possibly hope to compare to the near-perfect series of stories by Douglas Adams, well, you’d be right, but The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is pretty damn good all the same. The style and humour of the books is, I would imagine, one of the most difficult things to successfully transfer to the screen – the TV show had its moments, but left me underwhelmed (blasphemy, I know, but there you are), but they do surprisingly well here.

Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is pretty average, and when we first see him, he is desperately trying to prevent his house being bulldozed to make way for a new bypass. In his pyjamas, slippers and dressing gown. This soon becomes the least of his problems, as the Vogon fleet (alien civil servants, basically) have arrived to demolish earth to make way for a new interstellar bypass. Luckily for Arthur, his best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def in a surprising piece of leftfield casting, who turns out to be a really excellent choice) isn't human, but is just on earth to write about it for the most useful and well-read book in the universe: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Stephen Fry, who is simply the best possible choice they could have made), and manages to smuggle the two of them onto a Vogon ship before the earth is obliterated.

To recount the plot in any great detail would be to miss the point entirely, so I'll keep it brief. Arthur meets a fellow human survivor, Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), whom he had previously failed to chat up at a party. Trillian had instead left with Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), who, it turns out, is the President of the Galaxy and Ford's cousin. Zaphod has stolen the spaceship Heart of Gold and is making use of its Infinite Probability Drive to stay one step ahead of the Vogons. Along for the ride is Marvin (Warwick Davis and Alan Rickman), a depressed robot, the original paranoid android.

Ford, Zaphod and Trillian try to fly Heart of Gold as Marvin looks on,
Parallels are often drawn between Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Monty Python's Flying Circus and for good reason: it's so random yet brilliant at times, that it does feel a little like the Pythons made a sci-fi movie. Even the moments that don’t appear in the book blend with the overall feeling (it shouldn’t surprise you that Adams himself conceived of them before his death and wrote much of the screenplay).

It doesn't follow traditional narrative structure, and it's definitive Britishness did prevent it from becoming a huge international hit, but don't let that put you off; take it for what it is and enjoy the ride. Just don't forget your towel.

Score: 8/10

I thought I was alone in enjoying this film to the degree I did, but these reviews by Keith at the A.V. Club and Manohla at the New York Times suggest otherwise.