A couple movie reviews this time, as I catch up on recent viewings…

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I rented this the evening of the 11th, as a way to decompress from the events of the day. Watching it again confirmed my original impression: it’s occasionally charming and often humorous, but it’s also the worst film the Coens have made. It doesn’t engage you very much, and some of the big set pieces just don’t play that well. Big Lebowski struck me the same way originally, but it swiftly grew on me and it’s now one of my favorite Coen films. This one is mildly fun, but just didn’t work for me that well.

Hard Eight

Caught this one on cable. I guess I qualify as a P.T. Anderson fan, although I found Boogie Nights to be somewhat hollow–the main character was such a cipher that he merely served as the vehicle by which we got to meet the actual interesting people in the story, yet that does not seem to have been the intention. Magnolia I loved, though, so I was glad to finally get around to checking out PTA’s first film. It proved to be better than I expected. Even until the final fifteen minutes, I thought it was going to be something of a shaggy-dog story without any real point. But I was wrong, and it proved to be a solid piece of work with a strong cast. Worth watching.

Time and Tide

Tsui Hark made some terrific Hong Kong action flicks, including the Jet Li wuxia classics Once Upon A Time In China (I-III) and the Chow Yun-Fat gangster movie Full Contact. In the latter film, Hark took a swing at visual stylization using a shot I called “bulletvision,” where in the climactic gunshots the camera follows the bullet through the room to its target. Fun stuff. Well, Hark followed John Woo to America but couldn’t shake the Jean-Claude Van Damme curse, making two films with the lumbering Belgian and failing to break out into better projects. So Hark went back to Hong Kong and made this film and I’ll be damned if it’s not the best HK action flick I’ve seen since Hard Boiled. Hark has drop-kicked the stylistic elements of gun-fu action movies way further than anyone else, putting not just the current crop of American copycats but even Woo himself to shame–Woo’s U.S. movies have been entertaining, but his once-per-act, go-for-broke stylism doesn’t match up to Hark’s constant onslaught of flashy camera work. While Hark doesn’t go for the emotional heights that Woo hits routinely, Hark does end up with better action sequences than we’ve seen in years. I think he’s also lifted his jittery narrative, voiceovers, and opening/closing moods from Wong Kar Wai’s work, particularly the mildly action-oriented Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. But where Kar Wai, like Woo, puts his visual technique in the service of emotional arcs, Hark is a purist: an aesthetician of movie violence, and nothing but. All told, Hark has spent his years in American exile building up to something really tremendous, and Time and Tide is it. A must-see for HK action fans.