Sunday, November 18, 2007

Man on Film: No Country for Old Men

After the release of two consecutive missteps, doubt began to creep into the collective psyche of filmgoers the world over as to whether they still had it. Joel and Ethan Coen have quieted any agnosticism with a resounding triumph. Owing much to their long-time collaborator, cinematographer Roger Deakins, they have taken Cormac McCarthy's minimalistic brutality and fully reimagined it for their medium.

The sparse nature of McCarthy's writing burns its way through the film; the Coens seemingly holding themselves to Hitchcock's belief that the right image will say much more than any words you can put in the mouths of the actors. This overarching lack of dialogue serves to lend even more credence to what each character does say. When the sporadic use of dialogue is coupled with the complete lack of a score, the result for the Coens is an intrinsically compelling film in which violence dances in and out of the characters' lives indiscriminately, just as it does in reality.

While the argument could certainly be made that the stars of the film could be Roger Deakins' camera and the landscape of West Texas, Southern New Mexico, and North Central Mexico, the Coens have once again managed to cast their film to perfection.

Javier Bardem channels insanity, dispassion, and determinism all at once, beholden to what one can only imagine to be some innate psychopathic code. Every choice Bardem makes is on point, including his much-talked-about hairstyle.

Tommy Lee Jones returns to the desert and scrubland of West Texas (the site of his little-seen directorial masterpiece The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) where it seems as though he's destined to turn in fantastic performances. His wizened visage emotes so much that Joel and Ethan could have probably just trained the camera on his face, not given the character of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell any lines of dialogue, and still gotten every point across they desired. Fortunately, that was not the case, as his character provides the film with its center, heart, and much of its humor. As he and his deputy, Wendell (Garret Dillahunt of Deadwood notoriety), investigate the spree of crimes in their jurisdiction, their banter lightens up what would otherwise be an unrelenting look at an instance of violence devouring everything in the path of a misplaced $2 million.

To ignore Josh Brolin would be an oversight, as his turn as Llewelyn Moss punctuates his triumphant return from a decade of wasting away in mostly irrelevant films. The past year has been kind to him, and in return he gives the public what some would not expect: a resolute, defiant, ordinary man whose opportunism puts him in an extraordinary--and seemingly insurmountable--situation.

As tends to be the norm with the Coen Brothers' films, the supporting roles are well cast, placing the viewer firmly in West Texas of 1980 with each secondary and tertiary fitting the bill of West Texan. Harrelson, Root, MacDonald, Corbin and the aforementioned Dillahunt all excel to name but a few.

Insofar as the story is concerned, complaints about the last quarter of the film seem flawed. The narrative of No Country for Old Men is propelled by one thing: the determination of Anton Chigurh to see his mission to the end. It is driven by his necessity to carry out all of his actions by his code. For the film to have the standard ending would have been a disservice to the singular force that tears through the movie, carving its way through the film and its characters with its jagged blade.

I've calmed down a little

and can maybe reflect a little more calmly on a 13-10 loss to the Colts...

The defense looked really good. Granted, the Colts' line is depleted by injuries and Marvo watched from the sidelines, but Jared Allen looked like he may be the best defensive lineman in the game. He's certainly in the discussion. He was blowing up the backfield all day. He deflected three passes, one of which he could have picked and another which was picked. He was pressuring Manning the entire game. He was quite simply great. DJ was huge, also, and really seems to be stepping up and becoming the linebacker everyone thought he'd be when the Chiefs drafted him.

Maybe the Chiefs need to sign someone to return punts. Kennison fumbled one deep and almost lost another. He's also a thousand years old and not that fast anymore. Webb looked solid and *gasp* returned one past the thirty.

Colquitt had a couple of less than desirable punts this week. He's maybe a bit overworked this season, as he's out there punting six times a game. Maybe the offense could do him a favor and score. Just a thought.

Rayner is not very good at kicking field goals. Where's Lin Elliott when you need him? Sorry. That's not even remotely funny. I'd not be opposed to trying Vanderjagt out, though. He's available, Carl.

Croyle looked good (mostly). If they'd taken the kid-gloves off, he may have had a respectable game statistically speaking, but they didn't let him throw downfield until the third quarter. It did look like he had Kennison downfield for a gain of at least 20 when he dumped off to the loathsome Kris Wilson. I don't know if it's more that I'm pissed Kris Wilson is still on the team or that Croyle missed a bigger play, but I'd imagine it's the former.

Priest really did look good. I didn't have audio at the bar I was watching the game at, so I don't know if he was all right after the Brackett tackle, but I hope he can come back strong next week. He looks much better than Larry did behind the same putrid line.

Chiefs versus Colts again

As is the usual outcome of a Chiefs/Colts game, the Chiefs lost. I think any realistic Chiefs fan could have told you this would happen. They always lose to the Colts. Unless it absolutely doesn't matter, the Colts will win. It's inevitable.

Fatalism aside, the loss basically boiled down to a series of three plays with the game tied at tens and the Chiefs controlling their own fate and moving the ball despite having lost a once-again effective Priest on a horse-collar tackle (no penalty, unlike a lesser one Pollard a few drives earlier) on the first play of the drive.

First and ten, the brilliant play-call comes down from either God or Mike Solari (same difference) to hand it off for a run up the gut. Mind you this is not the first time this play has been called on first down. My memory is a little hazy, but it seems as though there was one occasion in which the Chiefs attempted a play downfield on first down (an incompletion intended for Dwyane Bowe if I'm not mistaken). Of the remaining first downs, there were less than a handful of pass plays called, all to the wide outs at the line of scrimmage one of which was dropped by the Samie "Sure-Hands" Parker. Every other play call on first down was a hand off. Beautiful. This play surprisingly resulted in a loss of five yards for Kolby Smith, who was met upon receiving the rock by a few blue jerseys.

So the Chiefs are faced with a second and fifteen. Logic dictates that any and all players be removed from the backfield sans young Brodie Croyle, who now has all of his weapons on the line, no one other than his solid offensive line to block for him, and no option of a running play to possibly confuse him or the defense. What no one could have predicted was that the pocket would collapse, and Brodie would need to scramble to not get dropped for a loss of six or seven, getting a few of those yards back, and only losing three on the play.

No matter, of course, as the Chiefs could surely convert a third and eighteen, right?

From the shotgun on third and eighteen, what gets called astute Chiefs fans? Anyone who has seen a Chiefs game could tell you. Wait, what? A draw play? The Colts will never see that coming. Wow. Unbelievable. Two yards later, Colquitt, who has spent more time on the field than anyone else on the team this season, comes out onto the field, well on his way to what will surely go down in the annals of football history as the most punts by any man in a single season.

Thank you, Kansas City.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thoughts on the Chiefs after Week 10

I almost ended up going to this game. It would have meant embarking on a twelve hour car ride north to KC and dropping a large chunk of change on a first trip to Arrowhead only to end up seeing another abysmal performance by the Chiefs offense. I guess I'm glad I didn't go and have this game be my first Arrowhead experience.

That being said, here are my quick thoughts on the game and the Chiefs going forward:
  • Eddie Drummond needs to be set free. Granted, the blocking in the return game has been suspect at best, but even with the best blocking in the league, I don't think he has what it takes to return it to the 30. Ever.
  • Why the hell is Benny Sapp the other return man on kickoffs? Moreover, why the hell is Benny Sapp still on the team? He should have been cut weeks ago, when Herm had to bench him for two quarters after an infantile temper tantrum resulted in 15 yards getting tacked on to what was already a ten yard penalty that he had committed. He could very well have drawn another one today in a similar situation that he managed to not escalate into a ridiculous display of hot-headed foolishness. Then on the kickoff he did get to return he managed to run directly into one of his own blockers. Jeff Webb seemed to be somewhat effective last season when filling in for the much maligned Dante Hall. Wha happened?
  • Speaking of Jeff Webb, did it strike anyone else as odd that he became their go-to guy on the final drive of the game? He wasn't really pulling the ball down to warrant such treatment.
  • Samie Parker made a nice catch and managed to hold on to the ball. Let's hope for more of that.
  • It was nice to see Priest out there, throwing blocks and getting positive yards on most carries.
  • Maybe the Brodie Croyle Era has finally begun. Again, not to attack Damon Huard or anything, but Croyle could have turned it over twice in two dropbacks, too. They seemed to move the ball fairly well with Brodie in. Maybe this will mean shots of his hot wife in the crowd now.
  • That last drive was painful to watch. Sure they moved the ball upfield, but it was largely the result of retarded Broncos penalties (I'd lost interest at this point, but I would almost swear to the fact that there were three offsides penalties committed by the Broncos in the final 1:50 or so. Why?).
  • Could Huard's final two turnovers have been any more costly? I don't think so.
  • I fail to see what Kris Wilson brings to the team. I find myself cursing his existence whenever he's involved in a play. Everytime he touches the ball, he either drops the pass (and loses his helmet) or catches it and promptly fumbles. He doesn't block when he's lined up as a fullback. Why is he in the game? Why is he on this team?
  • The defense gave up 20. Another seven were excusable, as Huard handed them that seven with his second-to-last turnover. The D looked all right today, but they still gave up 100 yards to Selvin Young. Nothing great from them really, but they were serviceable.
  • Colquitt has maybe the worst punt I've ever seen him get off today. That being said, I'm still spearheading the Colquitt for MVP campaign.

By the way, my sister was at the game last week, where I had tasked her to find a Colquitt jersey for me. They weren't at the pro shop at Arrowhead. For shame, Arrowhead. For shame.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Man on Film: Lars and the Real Girl

It fell considerably short of being great and failed to meet my somewhat realistic expectations for the film.

Ryan Gosling continues his string of deftly nuanced performances with another great turn as a socially stunted young man raised by his withdrawn father following his mother's death while birthing him. He is able to channel a youthful naivete in such an inviting way that it is not much of a reach to imagine a small town bending over backwards to accommodate his break. His ability to carry on one-half of a two-sided argument with himself without losing it left me astonished at times.

Paul Schneider rounds out what has proven to be a great year for him, following up his scene-stealing work as Dick Liddel in The Assassination of Jesse James... by stepping into the shoes of the older brother whose years-past abandonment may or may not have contributed to his brother's delusional disorder. Perhaps this finally marks a time in which he is up for roles he can chew on outside of the David Gordon Green canon, rather than being stuck playing townies in dreck like The Family Stone. Emily Mortimer is strangely captivating--her warmth more and more compelling in everything she does.

Enhancing the performances of the principle cast, the cinematography and score capture the static and isolating winters of the Upper Midwest (even though it was predictably filmed in Ontario, which was personally disappointing for reasons relating to mild homesickness).

Where the film falls short is in its saccharine narrative. The ending is especially sappy, making for a surprisingly family friendly film when the "Real Girl" is an anatomically correct sex doll, but the tugging of the heart-strings feels a little forced. Its real emotion lies in the hearts of its main characters (as was on full display in the apologia between Schneider and Gosling in the basement), and the final act could have probably done without dialogue of any sort for the last two or three scenes and been the better for it, letting the images speak for themselves.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Football thoughts

Now I am by no means a football expert, but I've got a couple of thoughts...

First, non-Chiefs thoughts:
  • Adrian Peterson is amazing. Every time he gets the ball, I am captivated. And I hate the Vikings. Too many years in the heart of a fanbase who believe that they're Super Bowl-bound every pre-season only to not even care by the Week Five has soured me on the Viqueens (as Packer fans lovingly refer to them), but AP seems to be insanely talented and just looks faster than everyone else on the field once he breaks through the line.
  • New England may just go 16-0 (19-0). They have two main challenges left, Pittsburgh at home in Week 14 and at the Giants Week 17. I can't imagine they lose a game at home leaving the Giants in the final game of the season. If their starters play (and would Belichick sit starters with an undefeated season on the line if they have homefield in the AFC locked up?), can you see them losing to the less talented Manning? I certainly can't. And I know each week anyone can win, but I don't know that that is the case when this Pats team is in the mix.
  • Leaving the Chiefs out of the discussion for the moment, the AFC West is awful. Denver looks to be a joke, which is awesome. San Diego are either world beaters or don't belong in the NFL, depending on, well, depending on nothing. They don't really make any sense to me at all. As for the Raiders, I kind of feel sorry for them. That's messed up. I don't know if the Chiefs will ever lose to the Raiders again.

Chiefs Thoughts:

  • Not that I think Priest still has the natural talent that LJ has right now, but I don't know that the offense can't be more productive with him in. They moved the ball better with Priest in against the Packers, a lot of which seemed to be related to the fact the Priest would actually throw a block in the backfield, allowing for a little more time for Huard to sit stone-footed in the pocket.
  • As for LJ, is it just me or is he running scared. He doesn't seem to be hitting any holes, not that the line is opening any up for him, but he also doesn't seem to be running north/south at all. I'm not saying it's a heart issue or any of that nonsense, but he has certainly been dancing around behind the line of scrimmage trying to side-step tackles when it seems like he could take a lesson from Marcus Allen and lower that shoulder to ensure that he makes some positive yardage instead of getting dropped for a loss two of every three carries. Priest replacing him should at least have the Chiefs only losing one yard on each first down run play instead of the two yards that Larry has been losing.
  • The O-line is awful. As Joe Posnanski has pointed out, they don't seem to be able to utilize Weigmann's skills (pulling/blocking out in the open field) and instead have an undersized center with speed attempting to block much larger (but slower) and stronger defensive tackles. Damion McIntosh seems to be over-matched every game. Not a good thing for your blind-side tackle. Right tackle seems to be a sore spot as well.
  • Jared Allen has been phenomenal.
  • I'd like to reiterate that Dustin Colquitt is this team's MVP thus far. How about that coffin corner punt at the two? Outstanding! And yes, I used an exclamation point. I never use exclamation points in earnest.
  • I don't have anything against Damon Huard as a person, and I know the Chiefs are in the playoff hunt, but does anyone in the world think they could win a playoff game on the road (or even at home, for that matter)? This team is not the team to end the fifteen year (soon to be sixteen year) playoff-win drought. I know for a fact Brodie Croyle could have thrown that pick-6 in the fourth against the Pack.
  • Gonzalez has been great the past few weeks. Granted tight ends have been having their way with the Packers lately, but he has been reiterating that he is indeed the best tight end in the game and has been for the past ten years.
  • Lastly, I'm glad Bowe came back in the second half. Having their two go-to receivers being Samie Parker and Jeff Webb was a scary situation to be in there for a few possessions. It really would be nice to have Kennison healthy.
  • OK, I lied. Lastly (for real), Eddie Drummond taking it back to the 18 every return is not cutting it. They'd be as well off if they had Phillip Drummond returning punts and kicks. For those of you who were wondering, Conrad Baines is indeed still alive. He merely looked 70 years old at 55. If memory serves me correctly, he is 83. Maybe Carl Peterson can sign Conrad Baines. He couldn't do much worse.
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