Hmmm, why did they pick these four faces?

I just saw this ad for an upcoming high-def James Bond marathon over at Facebook, and two things leapt out at me. One, there are 21 films in the “official” series produced by the Broccoli family, but this marathon will apparently feature only 19 of them — which two films were left out, and why? Two, there are 6 actors who have played Bond in these films, but only 4 of them are depicted in the art duplicated here — and while it’s no surprise that one-shot George Lazenby is missing, I am struck by the fact that Timothy Dalton, who made only two films, one of which didn’t do so well in North America, is included here, whereas Pierce Brosnan, whose four films outgrossed everybody else’s until Daniel Craig came along, has been left out of the picture. Is a re-evaluation of these actors and their respective places in the franchise in the works?

No Country for Old Men — a few thoughts

Warning: There be spoilers here.

There is an interesting tension in No Country for Old Men, adapted by the Coen brothers from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, between absurdism and fatalism. Fatalism tells us our lives are meaningless because nothing can change what’s going to happen to us, including the fact that we will die. Absurdism tells us our lives are meaningless because the things that happen to us are random and unpredictable, and ultimately there is no one who can take the raw data of our lives and hold it together in a narrative that will make any meaningful sense. So the film tells us that our lives are meaningless, and it mourns this fact. But the ways in which it tells us that our lives are meaningless pull in opposite directions — which might mean that they are working together to make a doubly-effective point about the meaninglessness of our lives, or it might mean that they are working against each other, each theme diluting the other’s full impact. I haven’t quite decided yet.

At any rate, no scene sums this tension up better than the bit near the end, where Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) drives a car and approaches an intersection; you just know that another car is going to ignore the light and run right into the intersection and hit Chigurh’s car, and that Chigurh, who has seemed so “in control” all this time, is suddenly going to lose control in the most unexpected of ways. But the very fact that you just know it means that, within the dramatic structure of the film, it isn’t all that unexpected. The characters might experience this moment as absurdity, but the film is so masterfully made — so ably told as a narrative that makes a meaningful point — that we experience this moment as fatalism, instead.

Side note: I wonder about the decision to keep the deaths of some of the most sympathetic characters (major or minor) offscreen. If the point of the film is the great gaping void that awaits us all — the tragic meaninglessness of a world in which God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care, and everything we ever were or knew simply ceases to be — then the loss of any person’s life is indeed an enormous loss, and I find myself thinking back to David Cronenberg’s remark that the blood and gore in Eastern Promises are put there precisely because he is an atheist and he believes there is no afterlife awaiting these people and he wants to drive home how bad, how evil, how wrong it is to end a life. The Coens, on the other hand, keep the deaths of some of the most innocent characters completely offscreen, and I can’t decide whether this choice represents a reluctance to underscore their theme as strongly as they could have, or whether it itself makes a nihilistic point, by not even waiting for these characters to die before it drops them from the story. (Reluctance, or haste, for lack of a better word?) So that’s another thing I haven’t quite decided yet.

For a couple of alternate takes on the offscreen deaths, Brett McCracken at The Search compares the film’s treatment of violence — beginning with graphic onscreen deaths and ending with some of the most important deaths taking place offscreen — to “Paul Schrader’s discussion of abundant-to-sparse stylistic trajectories in his concept of transcendental cinema”, while Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door writes: “The Coens’ shift from up-close, graphic violence to obscured or elliptical violence cements the sense that we’ve been privy to a mysterious but fundamental change in the universe. We see bloodied flesh close-up when it’s a new phenomenon; when it ceases to be noteworthy, the filmmakers stop showing it.”

A couple more interesting links: Glenn Kenny at ponders the significance of the film’s final half-hour, and K. Bowen at Anti-dis-arts-and-entertainmentism wonders whether one of the film’s casting decisions might be a subtle wink-and-nod to a real-life crime.

NOV 28 UPDATE: Matthew Leicht has sent yet another interpretation of the increasingly offscreen violence to Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere: “Also at that point, the violence begins to subside (other than the driver of the truck that Moss gets into). We see Carson get shot from the reverse angle; Moss is killed off-screen (and we barely see the body), Carla Jean is killed and we don’t even know how. Hell, Anton may even succumb to his injuries. it becomes clearer and clearer that the dying is less significant, and it’s the living that matters.”

DEC 16 UPDATE: The car crash scene stands out for Andrew Potter at Maclean’s magazine, too, and definitely not in a good way.

The Golden Compass — reviewed by a fan

I have not yet had a chance to see The Golden Compass, which opens in less than two weeks, and I am inclined to think I should avoid reading any reviews that might pop up between now and the local screening. Best to see the film fresh, and all that. (Until recently, I read everything I could because I was working on a few articles about this film and I needed to be as up-to-date as possible. But I recently filed the last of my sight-unseen articles, and the next piece I write will be an actual review. So I can arguably afford to avoid reading about this film for now.)

However, I could not resist checking out what the fan site had to say today. An American colleague of mine recently saw the film and suggested it would have been better if the filmmakers had taken three hours to tell their story, as each of the Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) films did, rather than two hours or less. And that impression seems to be confirmed by excerpts like these (emphasis in the original, and spoiler warning to those who have not read the book):

The film executes the small things (described here) exceedingly well, but unfortunately it falters when it comes to maintaining a coherent whole. Scenes are not given enough time to breath – there is not enough quiet time amidst the boisterous goings-on. Apart from the opening section at Oxford, with a more languorous pace, the plot is driven remorselessly forward and there are several occasions where it is pushed on by characters knowing (or guessing) things extremely quickly. The rapidity of the film is best exemplified by what happens after the bear fight. Iorek defeats Ragnar, declares himself king, then turns to Lyra and says “and now I will take you to Bolvangar.” And then they’re off. . . .

The movie’s Magisterium, alas, is a cartoon villain, with no indication of a driving belief philosophy behind its domination of Brytain (and Europe). The removal of their religious motivations makes the institution incredibly bland, a mere band of thugs with a domineering power for no apparent reason. . . .

The Golden Compass has what it takes to be a success. It’s not Lord of the Rings, but it’s not Eragon either. Fans of the books will love the visualisation of many of the books scenes – especially at Oxford – but the feel of the book is still not entirely quite there. There’s no real grand sense of adventure with such little time to stop and gaze. . . . Too much of is simply events coming one after another and the pity is that just another few calmer scenes could have made the movie so much better. As it is, the film comes in under two hours anyway, so it’s hard to see what the rush was. . .

The last three chapters being removed seriously hurts the structure of the film – there’s little real intrigue in a story where children are kidnapped and then rescued – especially with such ease, for the witches come to the Gyptian’s aid for no given reason and the Gyptians are somehow able to rush a rifle regiment across open snow. As it is, the film simply ends with Lyra and Roger in Lee’s balloons, heading towards the north to find Lord Asriel. The moral ambiguity of Roger’s death at Lord Asriel’s hands and the spectular tearing into a new world could have elevated the film just another step up, into ‘great’ rather than merely ‘good’.

The review also mentions that the film begins with Eva Green doing the opening narration and explaining some of the story’s key concepts. That sounds rather like the way The Fellowship of the Ring opened with Cate Blanchett spelling out the history of Middle-Earth in voice-over.

These are the John Connors I know, I know …

While the world waits with bated breath to see whether or not Christian Bale, who turns 34 in January, will play John Connor in Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins, I figured I’d round up some pictures of the various other actors who have tackled the role so far. Here they are, arranged from the youngest to the oldest.

Note: Ever since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) established that it is possible to change the past, or the future, or the present, or whatever, several different timelines have branched off from that film. Indeed, the film itself originally had an epilogue that took place a few decades into the future, but it was cut from the final release. So I have numbered the timelines based on the order in which they were filmed.

John Connor, unborn — inside his mother’s tummy

John Connor, toddler — Dalton Abbott, age 1

John Connor, age ? — John DeVito, age 9

John Connor, age 10 — Edward Furlong, age 13

John Connor, age 16, timeline 4 — Thomas Dekker, age 19

John Connor, age 23, timeline 3 — Nick Stahl, age 22

John Connor, age 33, timeline 3 — Christian Bale, age 34

John Connor, age 44, timeline 1 — Michael Edwards, age ?

John Connor, age 44, timeline 2 — Michael Edwards, age ?

For now, I’m ignoring T2 3-D: Battle Across Time (1996), the Universal Studios theme-park spectacle that co-starred Edward Furlong and some of the other Terminator 2 alumni.

MAR 9 UPDATE: I have added a photo of the young John Connor who is played by John DeVito in flashback sequences in two episodes from the first season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

JUL 16 UPDATE: I have added an image of Christian Bale from the teaser for Terminator Salvation that was released today.

Newsbites: Watchmen! Trek! Jesus! Astrology!

Just a few more items that have come up in the last few days.

1. says Watchmen director Zack Snyder plans to shoot some of the parallel storylines that were cut out of the main film, possibly in animated form, and release them separately, possibly on a DVD that would come out at the same time the movie hits the big screen. Chris at Movie Marketing Madness says they should take the idea a step further and release the parallel films “in advance of the feature film for free through iTunes in much the same way Hotel Chevalier was released prior to The Darjeeling Limited.”

2. William Shatner is still annoyed that he hasn’t been cast in Star Trek XI. He recently told Extra TV: “How could you not put one of the founding figures into a movie that was being resurrected? That doesn’t make good business sense to me! . . . I’ve become even more popular than I was playing Captain Kirk. I’m good box office and I get publicity.” Three points come to mind in reply.

First, Captain Kirk died in Star Trek: Generations (1994; my comments), and in such a way that it would be exceedingly difficult to resurrect him even if they devoted an entire movie to doing so, the way Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) was devoted to bringing Spock back. And of course, this new movie will be too busy doing other things to do that.

Second, Spock was part of the franchise even before Kirk came along, so in a way it’s kind of fitting that the reboot should revolve around Spock more than Kirk. Plus, Leonard Nimoy brings a certain credibility to the film that Shatner lacks; the three Star Trek films that Nimoy directed or produced were all fairly good, while the one film that Shatner directed was one of the worst in the series.

Third, as Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere has argued, Shatner has become something of a parody of himself, so much so that it might be difficult to take him seriously as Captain Kirk again. Shatner himself inadvertently points in this direction when he says, “I’ve become even more popular than I was playing Captain Kirk.” Popular as what? And if he truly is more popular now than he was then, might not his current persona overshadow any attempt to return to one of his older, more serious roles?

3. Brett McCracken at The Search has some interesting thoughts on What Would Jesus Buy?, the anti-consumerism documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me (2004; my review) fame. He concludes:

I don’t know what Jesus would buy, but just like he’d be angry when his name is slapped on a pair of socks and sold to Christians for $10, I’m sure he’d likewise be pissed at his name being so cavalierly invoked to sell America on anti-consumerism.

4. Michael Ward has a fascinating article up at Touchstone magazine’s website on the astrological themes in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s must reading for anyone who would praise Lewis’s books while slamming the Harry Potter books and others like it for allegedly promoting occultism.

5. 20th Century Fox has apparently apologized to The Movie Blog for having one of their reviews yanked off of YouTube.

The Golden Compass — Kate Bush’s ‘Lyra’

Lyra‘, the song that Kate Bush recorded for the soundtrack to The Golden Compass, was played on the BBC today, and it’s pretty underwhelming. It starts around the 44:20 mark. Among the lyrics:

Lyra and her face
Full of grace
Two worlds collide around her
The truth lies deep inside her

Lyra as a sort of Marian bridge between the human and the divine? Yeah, that won’t add to the debate over this film’s religious and/or anti-religious sensibility, will it. (Hat tip to