Box Office — Summer 07/08

December 1st, 2007 Box Magazine, Film, Film Reviews

Drama, quirky comedy and the fusion of the two are the order of the day for the discerning moviegoer this summer. It’s the northern hemisphere winter and all the vacuous puff piece movies have left cinemas while the studios and independents rolling out their hopefuls for Golden Globe and Oscar season.

That means some very high quality fare from some of the most talented off-kilter directors in the business. The comedies of Wes Anderson are as distinctive as the films of Woody Allen or Robert Altman, and fans of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums will be glad to see him and his usual co-conspirators Jason Schwarzman and Owen Wilson back on form.

Also back on track after a few years in the wilderness are the Coen brothers. Their films have ranged between broadly funny (The Hudsucker Proxy) to quietly sardonic (The Man Who Wasn’t There) but they seemed to lose their way with their last two films (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers). So it’s goo to see that — by all accounts — No Country For Old Men is a thought provoking, menacing and dramatic thriller.

Todd Haynes returns to the screen after a long break since his last film with I’m Not There, boasting one of the most impressive casts of a movie in ages, and Halle Berry puts away the cat claws and white hair of her superpower efforts to return to the genre that’s been kindest to her in the heart-wrenching drama Things We Lost in the Fire.

Perhaps most exciting of all is the return of gothic fairytale master Tim Burton. Aside from his one cinematic stumble (the ill-advised Planet of the Apes remake), he’s the closest thing we have to a modern Hans Christen Andersen, wrangling tales of dark forests, fantastical worlds and magic like few directors can.

The Darjeeling Limited

After a swag of roles in bland romantic comedies where he traded on little more than his goofy good looks, it’s great to see Owen Wilson back on the indie circuit where he not only cut his teeth helping Wes Anderson create Bottle Rocket but where his quirky appeal excels.

It’s also great to see Adrien Brody pitting his talents against a director who can make the most of them — he could have just as easily squandered his newfound clout from The Pianist and King Kong on much blander movies.

They join Jason Schwartzman as brothers travelling by train across India to heal the rift between them. The result is an appropriately Anderson-esque comedy of misunderstanding, errors of judgement and laughs with a strongly art-house tone. The Darjeeling Ltd promises a blend of laugh-out-loud one-liners and a deeper, subtler undercurrent of sweetness as the three hapless men try to find themselves and each other.

I’m Not There

Writer/director Todd Haynes didn’t create the intriguing device of having multiple actors play the same character — that achievement rests with suburban-disturbance muse Todd Solondz with Palindromes.

But it’s never been done with such a famous personality as Bob Dylan. With everyone from Christian Bale to Cate Blanchett (and everyone between ranging in age, race and gender) playing the iconic rocker it’s going to be challenging but fun to view.

Recently biopics of music stars from history have started to look and feel a little bit the same, so Haynes might not only give us a great movie but give the genre a much-needed shot in the arm.

Each performer portrays Dylan in the many pivotal periods in his life and work, and the influences they wrought both on him and his music. Expect a mind-bender.

No Country For Old Men

In a way this is going to be the film most closely related to the Coens’ breakout hit, Fargo. It’s about the crazy things people do in the name of greed, and it’s set in a frontier world where law and order keep a dangerously tenuous grip on the world.

The big difference is that it’s not a comedy, it’s an at-times brutal western thriller. Javier Bardem looks like the scariest villain since Freddy Krueger as he relentlessly follows the trail of a haul of drugs and money found by a hunter near the Mexican border.

Like the recent Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country is a revisionist western — concerned more with the moral toll corruption and opportunism take on mens’ souls than shoot-outs between black and white-hatted cowboys. The pace is slow and the outlook bleak and melancholy, but the violence that bursts through the screen will take you by the throat.

Sweeney Todd

One of the most intriguing and successful director/actor symbioses in film is that of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. Their shared love of layered anti-hero characters, gothic settings and fairytale storytelling conventions have produced some great movies.

They team up again to tell the story of Sweeney Todd, based on the musical of the same name that tells the story of Benjamin Barker, a disgruntled Londoner determined to return home and wreak revenge on everyone who’s wronged him.

Settling into a barber shop that’s built over a pie shop selling the worst pies in London, Barker/Todd sets about his task and attempts to reunite with the daughter he hasn’t seen in so long. If past efforts are anything to go by, this will be a revisionist spectacular as only Burton and Depp can make.

Things We Lost In The Fire

Coming from nowhere is writer/director Bier bringing together a very strong dramatic pairing in Del Toro and Berry. The device of bringing a stranger and outsider into a home who helps in a way nobody could have expected is the basis for a million stupid fish out of water kids comedies (The Pacifier, Are We There Yet, et al).

But it looks to have a heartbreaking and involving new guise in Bier’s film about a widow (Berry) and her children who are grieving their recently killed husband and father. His best friend, drug addict Del Toro, shows up and against all her instincts Audrey (Berry) invites him to stay to help sort things out after the loss, with no idea of the effect her and children will have on him — or he’ll have on them.

Two damaged souls finding each other is beautiful when filmmakers get it right, and Things We Lost in the Fire looks like the sad yet feelgood drama of summer.

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