O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

I promise you that I do still watch new movies and that I can still write new reviews, and that I don’t think everything is a 5-star movie.  Sometimes you just wanna watch something that you haven’t seen in years, and luckily I have a review already written that still applies.  And here it is:

This is going to be one of those reviews where the outcome is fairly obvious from the get-go. I’m a pretty big fan of the Coen brothers, as they always seem to make their movies because they love them, not just because they’re a hot property or shocking real life event. In fact, one of the tag lines behind Fargo was that it was Based on Actual Events, when in reality, it was just another one of those kooky Coen brothers ideas. Or an amalgamation of two previous crimes, whatever. Anyways, the Coens went so far as to say that they’d never read “The Odyssey” written centuries ago by Homer, when the whole movie is basically a modern retelling of that tale. Kind of like 10 Things I Hate About You, only with much less high school. And an Odyssey that they go on.

Besides the fact that O Brother is a gorgeous looking movie, it also boasts an engaging plot that pulls the viewer along. This wouldn’t be possible if the characters going on the journey were unlikable smart alecks. Thankfully, George Clooney infuses Everett with every bit of buffoonish charm that he’s been storing up since leaving “Roseanne” years and years ago. Clooney plays Everett as the leader of the trio of prison escapees, though I’d say it’s more by lack of smarts in both Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and Pete (John Turturro) rather than Everett being a born leader.

Delmar is a wonderfully naive fellow, while Pete plays the part of the cynical one. Both are remarkably winning despite having to play second fiddle to Everett for most of the movie. They do get their moments to shine in the sun though, have no fear. The rest of the cast reads like a Coen brothers Hall of Fame: John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, etc. All of them know what they’re getting into with the Coens, and know exactly how to play their parts. Bah, this whole review is just going to be saying how much I love this movie, so we’ll skip to my only minor quibble.

What is the time frame for this film? At the beginning of the movie, Everett mentions that they have four days to retrieve the treasure before it’s under a lake. Yet, once the Soggy Bottom Boys single takes off, it’s in stores THE NEXT DAY!? Then other customers come in and ask for it, and so on. Yet by the end of the movie, Everett and the boys make their way just in time to the place where the treasure was supposed to be. Plus, the pacing of the movie, what with the occasional montages and such, would seem to indicate that the whole journey took two weeks or so.

That’s just something that bugs me in hindsight about the movie. While I’m watching it though, I’m loving every minute of it. From Pete’s womanly screams when they encounter the hot Sirens, to Delmar’s hilarious frog assumption. Mostly though, it’s all about enjoying Clooney while he’s up there, acting like an idiot, purely for the love of the Coen brothers movies, and to prove that he’s a far better actor than he’s ever been credited for. Although I guess he did win an Oscar that one year for Syriana. Anyways, everyone should watch this movie and love it.

5 / 5

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The Descendants (2011)

I wanted to use this review to sing the praises of Alexander Payne, and how much I love his movies that feel real and are unflinchingly painful.  I wanted to sit here and tell you all about how I don’t think George Clooney will ever be in a terrible movie, again (personally, I think The Good German was terrible).  I wanted to do a lot of things when I sat down to write this review, tell you about how great the writing team of Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are, how their Oscar win was well-deserved.  I wanted to write a review befitting this great movie, but sometimes I just don’t know how to find the write tone or schtick or whatever.  It’s a great movie, probably too slow for most people, probably too sad for others, probably too real for the rest.  It’s wonderfully acted, gorgeously shot, and would rank highly in a definitive Best of 2011 list from me.  Enjoy it, when you can.

4.5 / 5

Up in the Air (2009)

This George Clooney streak is one of the easiest streaks of movies to watch ever.  The dude has contributed so many quality movies to the world, that it is nearly unbelievable that at one point he was a character named Booker on “Roseanne”.  I don’t even know what he did on that show, but I remember him being on it, and honestly, if you look at his resume pre “ER”, well it’s downright depressing.  I’m not gonna lie, so is this movie, at least from certain perspectives.

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) travels across America as a hired gun.  All he does is go to companies and fire people, but y’know, in a classy George Clooney way.  When Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) comes up with new ideas about how to handle the process cost effectively, Bingham’s entire lifestyle philosophy choice is put into jeopardy.  Along the way, Bingham connects with a like-minded individual in Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), and finds himself actually contemplating accepting that lifestyle change.

This is a classy movie, starring classy actors, and directed by a director that isn’t content with making cookie-cutter movies.  Every movie that Jason Reitman has directed (this one, Juno, and Thank You For Smoking) has been a movie that isn’t an easily digestible piece of fast food garbage.  I say that with the most loving of tones.  To Reitman, these movies aren’t just jobs or licensing opportunities, they’re a chance to make a statement or impact on someone.

Movies like these occasionally stir up the snark and snob in me, making me pissed off that there are directors out there that are happy with essentially jerking off their audiences.  This is an excellent movie, and there are so many excellent performances within, from the stars to the blink and you’ll miss them appearances of J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis.

5 / 5

The Ides of March (2011)

Ever since I was first turned on to “The West Wing”, I’ve had an interest in well-written American political movies.  Much like my adoration of baseball movies, this interest does not translate over into day-to-day life as I’m more apolitical than anything.  Or apocalyptic.  Something.  Anyways, I enjoy both George Clooney and Ryan Gosling and had intended on seeing this movie no matter what it was about, so I purposely did no research at all and went in blind.

Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) is pretty much the Barack Obama of this political thriller, a charismatic and popular and different choice for the American people.  He has two of the brightest campaign managers working to get the Democratic nomination for him, the veteran Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the idealistic Stephen Meyers (Gosling).  Through an interaction with the opposing Democratic candidate’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), Stephen ends up playing a high stakes political game to salvage his young career.

Clooney also directed the movie, as well as helping with the screenplay which itself is an adaptation of the play “Farragut North” by fellow screenplay writer Beau Willimon.  Clooney appears to direct a movie every three years, and while this isn’t his best so far (that would be Good Night, and Good Luck.) it’s also not his worst (Leatherheads which I still enjoyed).  For the most part it’s an intriguing look into the backrooms of politicians, probably making them far more interesting than they actually are.  Pretty much what Aaron Sorkin did with “The West Wing”.  It’s well acted, well shot, well written, a solid movie all around, just lacking something that I can’t place my finger on right now.

Might as well call this blog Clooneymovieaday at this point.

4 / 5

The Perfect Storm (2000)

Apparently I’m on some sort of George Clooney kick here, and why the hell not?  The man skirted the edges of obscurity for a decade, finally got his break and now he’s one of the closest things to the old Hollywood royalty set.  Most of his movies are critical darlings, and if it weren’t for him, dozens of projects would never get off the ground.  In hindsight though, I wish I’d have watched this one for the blog right after The NeverEnding Story as they’re both directed by Wolfgang Petersen.  I like it when the movies of the day are connected like that.

Anyways, look at all the tagged actors in this movie!  Admittedly, I have a fondness for character actors (“hey it’s That Guy!”) and well a lot of them won’t bring in me in any extra hits, to me they are name actors.  This movie was um, somewhat based on actual events of a real perfect storm that happened in 1991.  Something like eight hurricanes (Wikipedia is down right now, so I have no way to verify if this information is true even though I just watched the damn thing) all massed together like Voltron and wrecked havoc.  Nobody knows exactly what happened to the boat captained by Billy Tyne (Clooney) since well, they all died.  Oh, SPOILER ALERT, sorry.

It’s really hard to get excited for a movie that is going to be such a downer, and for the most part it’s fairly by-the-books.  Clooney and Mark Wahlberg are pretty much the only ship crew that really get a chance to shine, although now that I think about it, William Fichtner and John C. Reilly do get some emotional scenes as well.  Honestly, the allure of the movie isn’t the story, but the special effects and for the most part, they truly shine on Blu-Ray.

3 / 5

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

Look at that title.  The Men Who Stare at Goats.  What the hell do you expect when a movie is titled that?  There better be goddamned men staring at goats and some reason for it.  Thankfully, those men are there and there are plenty of reasons for it.  Much like most of George Clooney’s filmography, it’s a deeply quirky movie with great performances that tell an unconventional tale.  Clooney may be part of a small group of A-list actors that can continuously act in near-unmarketable movies and still maintain his star status.

Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a reporter based in Ann Arbor, who goes on a journey of self-discovery after his wife (Rebecca Mader) divorces him.  Through an interview with a local “crazy person” (Stephen Root), he is exposed to a side of the military that involves psychic warfare, which in turn leads to Bob meeting Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a retired soldier from that very same military branch.  Through the adventures the two end up enduring, Bob ends up questioning all that he ever believes in.

This is not a very accessible movie for everyone, and I’m totally cool with that.  I’m also fine with sneering at those that don’t think it’s a good movie, as the performances are brilliant, most notably the very Dude-like Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey stealing scenes as only Spacey can do.  Nick Offerman is also in it!  I liked the movie, and Clooney’s complete acceptance of being able to act in a part that comes across as a dignified buffoon is a big plus.  I can’t think of anything else to say about the movie, mildly recommended for those that are open minded.

3.5 / 5

Burn After Reading (2008)

There are some movies that greatly benefit from a re-watching.  Fight Club was that way for me, having to see it again in theatres just to process exactly what I’d seen.  It just helped, and the first time I watched Burn After Reading in a theatre, I enjoyed it, and I’m pretty sure I got what it was about… at the end.  However, if you go into the movie having previously seen it, there are so many other levels that it works on (no matter what any message board thread on IMDb says) and it just makes me think that no matter how much praise we give them, the Coen Brothers will never get enough.

To go into the plot detail of this movie is to invite madness, so if you want to know all about that, check the Wiki article on it.  Suffice to say, it involves a large group of characters in Washington, D.C. dealing with infidelity, intrigue and idiots.  I think the Coens themselves would endorse that as a tagline for the poster.  The characters all have high levels of self-delusion about their own worth, and the worth of the activities of their lives.

I cannot stress how amazingly executed the movie is, and how that might not become apparent until you re-watch it again and “get it”.  Everything is overblown, from the score to the camerawork to the reactions of the characters.  It’s a parody of such a high class nature that it takes place on a trapeze wire, one misstep away from disaster.  At first glance the acting is just playing roles, but with a second watch, man, there’s so much more to the performances.  Other than Frances McDormand’s Golden Globe nomination, it was criminally overlooked in my opinion.

I would go full marks on this one, but I will readily admit that it won’t work for everyone and almost any movie that you have to re-watch to fully enjoy isn’t a perfect movie.

4.5 / 5