Movie Review #36 / 250 : ‘ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST’

Fun Fact! The main orderly in this is played by Scatman Crothers, aka the voice of Hong Kong Phooey. Didn’t that just blow your mind?

Cuckoo’s Nest is frequently cited as the greatest film of all time. Frequently. Short of upping Shawshank Redemption, Godfathers I and II, Casablanca, The Wild Thornberries Movie and Star Wars, if anything else. Upon watching it, it was initially kind of hard for me to get why. But I’ll come to my thoughts after the obligatory synopsis-sans-spoilers (to which you’re accustomed – if not, welcome!)…

Jack Nicholson is R.P. MacMurphy (aka Mac), a lazy but rebellious convict who’s been moved over from a prison farm to a mental institute after he showed symptoms of psychological disorder. From the start, we know he’s pulling a fast one. As Mac settles into what he assumes will be a cushier life amongst a host of colourful characters (a very young cast of Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito and Brad Dourif amongst them), he comes across the fearsome Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who rules the roost with an understated, but oppressive, fist.

Mac’s urge to cause mayhem for Ratched and to inspire similar rebellion in his fellow inmates takes up the focus of the story, as his methods of pushing Ratched to the brink fail to take off as brilliantly as he’d hoped. The road to revolution is a hard one, and there’s some truly brilliant moments in the last twenty-thirty minutes.

As plots go, it’s fairly standard. A newcomer to an old and battered-around regime comes along and is inspired to make changes, only to find it an uphill struggle. With a likeable and charismatic leading man in Nicholson, we’re behind him every step of the way. This is even taking into account that he is doing labour as punishment for the rape of a fifteen-year-old. This is established early on, though it really doesn’t impede on his protagonist status. We know he’s a bad’un, and we accept it. This is far more a story about the existing roll call of characters at the institute, and what will become if them.

Which is where I’ll come back to that thread I left dangling at the start of this entry. I really found it hard to pigeonhole Cuckoo’s Nest. Is it a thriller? Is it a black comedy? Is it a satire? And that’s when it dawned on me – it can’t be labelled. This film transcends so many themes, emotions and techniques that it simply refuses to be pigeonholed. Without being massively gushing, I think that’s bloody brilliant. There are moments of suspense, humour, despair and glory in equal measure. And I think it’s rare to get such a balance. Of the films I’ve watched so far this year, I’ve not seen anything that fires squarely on all cylinders.

Tying it up, it’s a great cast – basic characters, but even the background film have clear personalities – and Fletcher is quietly and modestly menacing enough to get you on side. There’s some great twists thrown about that mess with Mac’s grand scheme, and the ending marches right up out of nowhere. I’m not sure I totally enjoyed the last scene, but I guess it was necessary. It’s bittersweet, like much of the film.

PRO: Great characters, great performances, and as mentioned, a real genre-hopper.

CON: As the plot is nowhere complex enough to fill every second of running time (see The Prestige), it feels as if it’s stretched a bit thinly over the latter half.

OVERALL: 9/10. It’s clear to see why Cuckoo is so revered as it is once you’ve mulled it over. It’s very unique, and the performances are absolutely brilliant. It didn’t quite tick every box for me, somehow – while the climax, as I’ve said, is probably necessary – it does cultivate a massive downer. I can’t really downgrade a film because the ending wasn’t to my taste (and it’s based on a book, so they’re adapting after all).. but I think Mac is missing one last oomph at the end of his character arc. Plus, I do still prefer watching John Candy burning out a car, and Jeff Goldblum going ape-poopy.

Movie Review #35 / 250 : ‘THE PRESTIGE’

Erm.  Abra… cadabra?  I know, I know.  I’ll get me coat.

Christopher Nolan.  If you recognise the name, he’s very quickly become quite the cult director in the past ten years, having helmed the Batman reboot Batman Begins and its sequels The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (out July as far as I remember), and everybody’s favourite kaleidoscopic-dream-hopping-adventure Inception (it’s on the list).  He also directed The Prestige, which is full of his trademark confuddling plot twists and closed-book characters (and Michael Caine).

Nolan films aren’t everybody’s cup of tea.  They require a lot of attention, and, surprisingly, quite a bit of coherence.  If you miss one or two slight touches or turns in the entire movie, you’ve blown your chance of appreciating it to its fullest.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The Batman reboots have been lavish and multi-layered as a result, and Inception was in IMDB’s top 5 movies ever for an extended period.  But, digressing.

The Prestige is essentially the continued one-upmanship between two rival magicians (or illusionists, though ‘real magic’ as opposed to ‘illusion’ is discussed several times here – whether you like it or not), played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale.  It all takes place in Victorian England, where the hats are lofty, and the accents are either plummy or missing their ‘H’s.  The dominoes start to fall when Jackman’s wife is killed in a trick where it’s unclear if Bale was responsible – but consumed by grief, Jackman chooses to make it his life’s work to outdo Bale, while Bale similarly gives as much as he receives.

That’s pretty much your plot.  There’s not much to it other than that, and that’s probably a good thing.  There is an intense amount of detail added into the tricks, the scheming and both the politics and ‘religion’ of what it means to be a practicing magician that fill up the plot, and Nolan’s trademark twisting and turning about all over the place work really well here.  Sometimes, such depth and such convolution comes off as smug or conceited – and in some places, Prestige is very conceited – but as we’re dealing with tricksters, we as the audience surely don’t mind being tricked ourselves.  Do we?  I didn’t.

This is a very angry, brooding film with very little in the way of joy for its characters, but I guess that’s not really the point here.  It’s all about the spectacle, watching the two magicians play off against each other, and wondering who will win right through to the climax.  As a movie, it’s a brilliant mental spectacle, and there’s an absolute bumload of clever surprises.  None so grand as the finale, where, if you didn’t see it coming from the clues (and they’re there, believe me – right from the beginning), you’ll either find it maddening or marvellous.

What bothers me most about Prestige is not the length, nor the persistent gloom – they’re both fine and necessary – it’s who we’re meant to be rooting for.  Even after at the film’s end, I was still behind Jackman’s increasingly obsessed character, despite the film flip-flopping between him and Bale for role of heroic protagonist all the way through.  Maybe, given both their stories (which I’m not spoiling, though this is making this particular entry a wee bit sparse), we have to take them on equal merit.  They’re both as cunning and as sleazy as each other.  Plus, I plain don’t like Christian Bale.  I don’t know why.  I think it’s the whole saga he had with that cameraman on the set of Terminator Salvation years back.  Or, it could be that I find him immensely over-rated.  I unwisely chose to publicly claim George Clooney and his nipples to be a better Batman (something I’ve since detracted for the sake of my own teeth).

For a film so amazingly over-the-top, and so desperately, gloomily serious all of the way through, I’m finding it hard to say much else.  I think it’s a good one to see once.  If you like twists and turns, it’s one to watch.  If you like Nolan’s other stuff, it’s one to watch.  If you like going away from a film content with what you’ve seen, feeling warm and fuzzy and without any further questions, avoid it.  I don’t think I’ll watch it again, purely because I know its secrets (how ironic!).

PROS : Good acting, even for Bale.  Great twists and moments of surprise.  Great visuals.  David Bowie suits a moustache.

CONS : If you lose concentration for ten seconds, you’ve lost the whole movie.  Desperately intense and poetic.  Not much joy.

OVERALL : 7/10.  Erm, see above.  I needed to cool my brain down afterwards.  How will I cope with Inception?  Find out in July.  I’m taking a seven-month break from Nolan.  I need it.

The Movies I’ll Never Review… and Why

Since starting the ambitious task of setting myself 250 films to watch this year, there’s been plenty of suggestions I’ve simply been too short-sighted to include.  Lethal WeaponMad Max.  Anything with Mel Gibson, in fact.  Seriously, I don’t recall there being a single Gibbo hit in the list.  That aside, I’m game for watching most things.  Hell.  I managed to stomach The Thing and ended up loving it, and I even risked sanity and taste to bear 90 minutes of Paul Blart : Mall Cop, a film that seems to have come under as much critical derision as it frankly deserves.  Watching terrible films is fun, I admit – and it’s something I can say I’ve done.  Nothing ignites a conversation like ‘I sat through the entirety of Disaster Movie and lived’.  Which, dear reader, I have.  It’s as good as you’ve heard.

But everyone has their limits.  Even yours truly.  The films I’ve picked to see this year are either lauded as classics, cult classics, truly truly awful, or simply movies I’ve been wanting to see for years.  There are some, however, I just won’t.  I like to think I’m open-minded.  How many people out there would willingly subject themselves to Human Centipede for the sake of a WordPress blog?  More than I would think, probably.  God, I’m digressing.  Anyway.  Here are a handful of films I won’t watch, nor review, and why I simply do_not_want_to.

  • Titanic.  I know how it ends.  LOL.  No, really… it just seems a bit insensitive, really.  I could go into it.  I don’t want to.  I’ve avoided it for fifteen years, I’ll avoid it for fifteen more.  It’s in 3D this year, too!  No thanks.
  • A Serbian Film.  Oh, aye.  I have reviewed 18+ movies, and I’ll continue to.  But there are disturbing films, and then there are… just go read about it on Wikipedia.  I would fear for the permanent departure of sanity should I ever hope to come anywhere near this.  I’m surprised it got released.  I’m no prude.  But there’s a line.  Several, it turns out.
  • Anchorman. I don’t like Will Ferrell.  At all.  I don’t ‘get him’.  But that’s me.  I think my judgment would be clouded if I even came anywhere near Ron Burgundy, so I’m holding off until I find the secret to this man’s appeal.
  • Epic Movie.  And so forth.  Disaster Movie was enough.  I’ve been led to believe they’re all pretty similar, so… no thanks.
  • Jurassic Park 3.  I love Jurassic Park.  I think it’s actually pretty under-rated.  The sequel, The Lost World, was quite different.  It dragged, it added little to the original, and I’d seen it all before.  I can barely believe they tried it again, and for that reason, no thanks.
  • The Twilight Saga.  Because I’m worried if I end up liking the films, I’ll never live it down.  And if I hate them, and blog about it, the fandom will send out the winged monkeys.
  • The Wicker Man (the remake).  The original is one of my all-time favourite movies.  Imagine your favourite film getting remade with Nicholas Cage.  He’s not as terrible as some people would have you believe, but… that is not a formula I particularly like.
  • The Secret of NIMH 2.  For similar reasons to Jurassic Park 3.
  • Saw V / VI / VII / VIII / IX / X / XI / XII.  Okay.  It ends at VII.  But still.  Four is enough.  And only two of them are any cop.
  • The Wild Thornberries Movie.  No thanks.
  • Circuitry Man II : Plughead Rewired.  Thanks to both some of the ugliest promo art I’ve ever seen, and the fact that the DVD generally goes for as little as 10p in British money at second-hand-shops.  Neither bodes well.
  • Transformers.  Okay, here’s the clincher.  I was never really into Transformers as a kid. I was born in 1987, so I guess I was old enough to catch the back-end of the intial wave of interest (and I got into Thundercats easily enough years after it finished… the first time around).  But… my thing was Power Rangers.  And Lego.  And FM Radio.  But enough of my utterly bizarre childhood.  I know this kind of link doesn’t always follow, but what I’m trying to say is they didn’t interest me then, and they don’t really now.  People have told me the films are worth it for the robots, but if they’re thegood part… I’m not really going to get much out of this trilogy.  Sorry, folks.  Not my bag.

And that’ll do for now.  Any comments?  Care to persuade me otherwise?  Or maybe you have some bogey films you’re avoiding yourself – stick us a comment and I’ll pass judgment, if you dare me to.

The Prestige up next.  When I say next, I mean twelve hours.  Or less!  You might get lucky.

Movie Review #34 / 250 : ‘SHALLOW GRAVE’

Ok, a hypothetical question for you, if you will. Say you’re letting out a room to a shifty lodger. A few days into the tenancy, and he’s dead – leaving behind some Class A medication and a briefcase chock full of cash. Do you, A) Inform the police, and leave the money alone, B), inform the police, and pocket the money, or C), hack off the corpse’s hands and feet, remove any sign of identification (including disfigurement, where necessary), bury it in the back of beyond, and then pocket the cash?

Of course, dear reader, you would pick A). As any truly sane and law-fearing denizen would. Option C, however, is the choice of three flatmates who find their new housemate a stiff, and with a bumload of capital in a box. Shallow Grave is a British, character-driven story that focuses on the psychological journeying of the trio (Kerry Fox, Ewan McGregor and Christopher Ecclestone) as they each come to terms with their dark deed, and of course, as they struggle to maintain innocence in what becomes fairly grim psychological slapstick.

It’s a great idea for a plot, isn’t it? There’s a whole host of avenues for tension to scale up here, and mostly, it succeeds. Eccleston, as meek accountant David, shines best as he struggles to survive mentally after disposing of the lodger (Keith Allen, no less), and the focus switches to him as the remaining duo struggle to keep him above water, as it were. Things really pick up in the last third as the jig starts to look as if it’s up, and by the end, it’s every flatmate for themselves.

That said, good god, there’s a lot of problems. For a character-driven film, you need rounded, deep, and attractive personalities – characters you can invest in, if you like. Shallow Grave struggles with this. A lot. The first fifteen minutes of the film focus on the trio looking for a new lodger, and while the sequences try to be quirky and poetic, they only end up making the heroes (if you like) appear smug and hierarchical. It’s kind of the same problems Scott Pilgrim has. While I guess we’re not supposed to fully like or understand these people, closing them off to such an extent early on, and giving barely any backstory or development (beyond dancing into the land of the loopy) later on, the suspense and tension is lost massively – as we’re not connected to the characters. In short, I didn’t care about these people. I wanted them to get caught, or killed, or both. I’m not sure that was director Danny Boyle’s point. The acting is fine – far above it, main and supporting – but the characters are hard to connect to, and thus much of the film’s intentions are sadly lost.

There’s quite a few throwaway moments here and there too which aren’t particularly monopolised upon – Ken Stott’s potentially monstrous policeman would’ve been nice to see more of – and a relationship that begins between two of the characters late on seems shoehorned and distracting. But, getting away from the meat of it – I think this needs at least another half an hour, maybe fifteen minutes of runtime – simply to let the characters breathe, and maybe to give a few of the side plots a bit more focus. Otherwise, nice plot, great acting, but fairly hollow in its execution.

PROS: Good ideas. Good tension in places. Good acting.

CONS: Poor characterisation. Too short(!). Intensely smug in places.

OVERALL : 5/10
Bit disappointed with this, to be honest. I can see why it’s called a ‘cult classic’, but it’s hardly a ‘classic’ in its own right. Unlike Network, though, there’s enough here to justify the ‘cult’ part.

Movie Review #33 / 250 : ‘THE FLY’ (1986)

Bzzzzzzt.  Bzzzzzzzt.  Bzzzzzz-

Enough of that.  That’s very, very annoying.  What is it with me picking horror films just recently?  I’ve sat through a bumload of zombies trying to pick off a score of terrible actors, Kurt Russell battling a metamorphosising beastie in the arctic, and a creepy Dennis Hopper lecherously grunting through an oxygen mask – all in the past week or so.  Believe me – inside, I’m screaming for The Care Bears Movie or something similarly saccharine, if only to cauterise this rather depressing run of flicks – but, hey.  I’m a masochist.  So, I’ve decided my next pick to be the David Cronenburg-helmed rom-horror The Fly, where Jeff Goldblum goes nutty and nude, and often.

This, like The Thing, is another 1980s re-imagining of an arcane and rather cheesy horror classic.  Hermit scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum) is on the verge of a breakthrough in the creation of a pioneering teleportation device, and lucky (ironic sting) journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) is the first person to witness the experiment outside of his own fidgety eyes.  Brundle makes Veronica a deal where he offers her an exclusive insight into the development of the machine, and as a result, the unlikely pair grow ever-closer as the machine becomes truly brilliant.  However, one fateful night, Brundle sticks himself in the machine, hoping to teleport human tissue for the first time.  What he doesn’t bank on is a solitary housefly creeping into the machine with him… and the dung only hits the fan from there, friends. Oh, yes.

The Fly makes The Thing look like Winnie the Sodding Pooh.  There’s more rubbery 80s horror meat flying out of orifices and across set floors than you can fill a butcher’s window with.  So, naturally, gore aficionados are immediately satisfied.  As previously discussed, I’m not hugely into visceral horror, but what’s here, considering the time period, is spectacularly grisly – and twenty-six years on, still makes you grimace.  The final ten minutes are especially hard to watch if you’re weak of stomach, but this is barely scratching the surface.

This is a love story, essentially.  This is a story with a maximum of three characters that appear regularly, and that’s as many as it needs.  While it’s wrapped in a shell of horror / sci-fi, this is a story about the relationship of Brundle and Veronica evolving across the surreal events that the former’s experiments bring forth – and it’s marvellously tight.  This is a really concise, essentials-only script that neglects to pad with irrelevant side-stories and characters, long unnecessary pauses and reams of back-and-forth-exposition.  For example : we get to see the teleporter within the first ten minutes of the film.  Nowadays, you’d be lucky to see it by the second half.  Thanks to the brilliant pacing and believable characters, you actually care about these characters.  And while the effects and so forth may be blatant or deridable now, you don’t care.  This is as much a psychological horror, about the loss of one’s mental faculties and control, as it is about… the grisly bits I was on about earlier.  Goldblum is actually a pretty big revelation here – he’s versatile enough to display two ends of the sanity spectrum, and all of the gradual processes inbetween.  Some of Davis’ moments, especially her frightened scenes, are particularly B-Movie, but hey – you won’t care.  The dream sequence is particularly harrowing enough to forgive over-acting – and by dream sequence, those of you in the know will get what I’m on about.  The maggot.  Yuck.  No spoilers!  See?

As a film, it’s a simple story (one that would work perfectly on stage, sans effects).  It’s brilliantly told, expertly paced, and the effects are still repulsive.  Some of the acting is suspect, but a lot of it’s forgivable.  The ending is necessarily horrible, but perhaps a little abrupt – can’t really put my finger on it.  There’s also far too much nude Goldblumming for one to stomach in one sitting, but that’s all down to preference, I guess.  It’s a scary, scary film.  It’s also brilliant fun.

PROS : Great story, great pacing, brilliantly directed.  Brilliantly ‘low-fi’.

CONS : Geena Davis… is a bit crap.  I’m sorry.  Some will find the effects laughable.  However, it all depends how invested you are in the story and the characters.  If you get deep enough, you won’t care.

OVERALL : 9.5/10.  I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did.  But then, I didn’t really know what to expect.  Am I cheating by giving a .5?  Deal with it.



You already have the song in your head.  Don’t even deny it.  You can already see the enormous boulder running down the hill, Harrison Ford flinching at snakes, and Alfred ‘Doc Ock’ Molina being impaled by arrows.  Spoilers?  Nah.  That last one happens in the first ten minutes… and if you can’t see it coming, you need to watch more films.  And that’s coming from me.

It turns out, just about everyone bar yours truly has seen the first Indy flick, though I’m not entirely free from having witnessed the world’s most indestructible archaeologis – I saw The Last Crusade a few years back and can’t remember much about it barring Sean Connery and some dodgy goblet of some sort.  But, hey.  I didn’t care much for films back then.  Twas a different time.  Raiders of the Lost Ark is the original, and apparently best film in the quadrilogy (with the most recent offering, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, being the least popular – at least according to word of mouth and IMDB review, which, obviously, equal truth).

Harrison Ford, Han Solo, is a passionate and almost-fearless archaeologist and historian, who’s never slow to jumping off cars, running through dart-firing corridor, nor beating up a couple of Nazi sympathisers twice his size – all in the name of rescuing a precious artefact for the good of the museum trade.  I say good on him for treasuring the arts (NO PUN INTENDED).  This particular escapade sees Jonesy disposed to seek the fabled Ark of The Covenant, a long-buried artefact that is said to wield godly, immortal powers to its bearer.  However, there’s another bunch of folks after the Ark – a sleazy French treasure hunter by the name of Bellog, and… the Nazis.  It’s the 1930s, and Hitler has decided that he wants the promised immortality of the Ark for himself.  Because, you know, he’s a monster.  But I didn’t need to tell you that.

So, naturally, a chase ensues – between Jones and the ransom Nazis / Bellog, traipsing across the world trying to trip the other up along the way.  This is an adventure story at its most basic, and therefore at its most thrilling.  The plot is basic, well-paced, and full of very few diversions.  At only 140 mins long, it’s not a long slog (hey, it’s for kids too, y’know).  Fairly enough, some of the twists and turns are predictable and long-since-outdone, but this kind of high-budget-swing-about-and-kick-folk-about melee is still rare to behold.  You’ll still get half-baked stool calling itself an action flick winging direct to DVD (or XxX*), but you’ll rarely get an all-out adventure with the brains behind it – which is exactly what this first Indy is.

The acting doesn’t need to be particularly snazzy – there’s enough backstory, lavish scenery and all-out-action to shade a few dodgy lines (and by god, there’s a couple).  It struck me halfway through watching that Indy himself isn’t much of a talker, not much of a quirk – he just cares about history and he’ll fight to the death just to get his hands on a shiny nugget.  Compare Indy to Han Solo – same actor, obviously, but Solo is miles more interesting, because he’s flawed.  Jones is a perpetual hero, putting himself on the line, getting the girl and passing off a few mildly life-threatening injuries.  He’s got the presence, and the physique, and everything else – but he’s a bit boring.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  This is not a boring film.  Not in the slightest.  I just find the central protagonist needs a bit more of a personality.  Then again, when he’s busy ducking aeroplane propellers, trying to out-pummel a ransom goon that looks like Soda Popinksi, it’s hard to care about his internal machinations.

Otherwise, what can I say?  Not much, really.  It’s non-stop, high-octane, and it’s got a clever plot at its heart, which is genuinely something to treasure (PUN INTENDED).  I could go into the sheer lack of a female presence, or the fact that the only female with screen time is horribly annoying, but I’d probably never stop talking.  Are you looking for a family-friendly action flick with a great story, lots of wacky Nazis (no scalping) and one of the most iconic musical scores in cinema history?  Get on board.  Oh, wait.  You already have.

PROS: Great story, great stunts, good pacing.

CONS: Weak central character (seriously), some dodgy acting in places.

OVERALL : 8/10.
Easy to see why it’s regarded as such a classic – I think this is the sort of thing I could watch on a loop and I’d struggle to get bored.  There’s a couple of things here and there I think could’ve been done differently, buch it’s such a defiantly fun film that I’d be soulless to give Indy 1 any less than an eight.

*(XxX was awful.  I could talk about it, but I don’t want to.  So there.)

Movie Review #31 / 250 : ‘O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?’

No spoilers.  I’m taking out a new policy on these here reviews from now on – if you don’t wanna be spoiled, HAVE NO FEAR!  Keep reading.  Unless the climax is absolutely detrimental to my recap, I’m not touching them from now on.

Yeah, ok.  The Coen Brothers.  I last came across this pair in January via The Big Lebowski, and suffice to say, I enjoyed myself.  I now have a taste for White Russian, and have started actually using my dressing gown.  The directive Coens seem to be known for quirky, laid-back characters that traipse their way through labyrinths of shaggy dog stories without care or restraint (and I’ll be watching another one of their films, Burn After Reading, later in the year – who knows when?).  And there’s something oddly comforting about that.  Too many of us whittle and worry away about finding a matching pair of socks, while characters like Lebowski’s Dude seem only mildly aggravated that a bounty’s sitting on their heads.  It kinda puts things in perspective.

O Brother is definitely no exception.  It’s a tale of three convicts in depression-era Mississippi who decide to break away from their chain gang in order to go hunting for a revered ‘treasure’ out in the back of beyond.  Along the way, the trio meet a veritable bevy of weird and wonderful kooks, each making their livings and ways in the world while they themselves find distraction, despair, and on at least one occasion, bodily harm.  A striking cast led by George Clooney (I seriously had my doubts on this feller) does well to meander through what’s a real anthology of mishaps and moral stories.

The screenplay is apparently loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic – and like your average epic poem (guys, I had to scurry through the likes of The Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost for my undergrad studies), O Brother is no less one story, but several.  Characters like guitarist Tommy (who sold his soul to the Devil), bible salesman Big Dan (Coen favourite John Goodman) and even bank robber George ‘Baby Face’ Nelson drift in and out of the motley crew’s adventure, reappearing to finish their tales off as Clooney et al finish theirs.  It’s pretty well put together.  It’s essentially a modern epic; never straying from the story nor the intentions of the main trio, but incorporating enough madcap elements along the way to bth sidetrack them and help keep things interesting.  A similar technique was used in The Blues Brothers – how short would that film have been had they reformed the band and played the concert without all the diversions?  About twenty minutes, that’s how long.

It’s hard not to like the characters- most of them doe-eyed and upfront, and those that aren’t are the antagonists – who don’t really get revealed as being the ‘baddies’ until the very last minute.  Oh, save for the ever-present but shadowy Sherriff, who trails the escapees right to the finish.  This is also a really musical film – very bluesy, very folky – there’s barely a silent moment when people aren’t speaking. This, and the intentional steel-and-sepia colours that paint the film in its entirety, help root the film in the time and locale in which it’s (I guess) pastiching.  It’s all very nice to look at, and jeez that Clooney can sing.  Unless, of course, he was dubbed.  Correct me if that’s the case!

Onto the nitty gritty, then.  This is, again, a really laid-back picture.  The characters aren’t monstrously deep, the stakes are high – but the egos aren’t, and for the most part, it’s pretty funny.  There’s some great lines scattered throughout, but most of the humour comes from its charm and the sheer unflappable will of the main characters.  The main gripe for me comes from the winding down of the film – the climax whimpers out a little bit (AND I’M NOT SPOILING IT!) in comparison with the great, booming, madcap adventures that make up the majority of the preceding flick.  It’s a complete story, with all threads tied off – but I’m just left a little underwhelmed.  Unsure why, but maybe that’s for the best.  This is a film I really don’t want to be too negative about, as it’s so happy.

PROS: Epic story.   Great visually.  Great cast.  Superb soundtrack.  Classic Coen characterisation.

CONS: The film loses momentum in the last twenty minutes, hitting its climax just before.  The sheer amount of characters and switching focus may annoy some.

SCORE : 7 out of 10.
I’m giving a seven rather than an eight solely for its stumbling momentum towards the end – and it’s not the type of film I’d normally go for whatsoever, but I enjoyed myself.  I’m finding out more and more that I ought to be less cautious in my filmwatching.  Still think I prefer Lebowski, though.  Do you think I mentioned Lebowski enough?  Probably.