Saw 2 movies this weekend, so let's get to it.
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium- Last year Zach Helm gave us the amazing screenplay to "Stranger Than Fiction," a magical and imaginative film (not to mention thoroughly underrated). When I first heard about "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," a film about a magical toy store, it seemed only right that it come from the mind of Helm. Unfortunately the execution is nowhere near as magical as the idea behind it.
"Magorium" is narrated by nine year old Eric (Zach Mills). His only friend is the toy store's manager, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman). He's a shy child with a big imagination, which doesn't win him a lot of friends. Every day he shows up at the store to play and to help Molly out. The store's owner, Edward Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) is a 243 year old eccentric who's never looked at a receipt. He explains to Molly that he's leaving and passing over the store to her. In order to do that, he hires an accountant (or "mutant" as Magorium calls him) to figure out what the store is worth. Henry the "mutant" (Jason Bateman) takes his job very seriously and is unable to see the magic contained in the store. Magorium, who is in perfect health, insists to everyone that it is just his time to die. Molly desperately wants him to stay but he's ready to go.
I realized not far into "Magorium" that I would rather go to the store than actually watch the movie. The wonderful (sure, I'll use the most obvious word) world of the store never quite translates onto the screen. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's Helm's inexperience as a director ("Fiction" was directed by Marc Forster), or maybe it's just because he doesn't develop the characters as fully as he did in "Fiction." That said, there are some things I really did enjoy about the film. First off, I love that in the world of this film kids have imaginations. They love playing with toys. Also, it displays the idea of death in a light that children can understand without being frightened by it. Helm also thankfully avoids doing anything stupid such as having a character getting covered in slime for no apparent reason, and no toilets explode. In other words he doesn't use "kid movie" staples.
The four leads do decent work, Hoffman coming off the best. He plays Magorium just silly enough while making the sadder scenes work. Portman is okay but doesn't really stretch herself here. Bateman is fine but he's not given enough to do. The young Mills is a step up from a lot of child actors but he's not great either.
"Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" is certainly not a bad movie, and as kids movies go you could easily do much worse, but it is a disappointment. Not enough magic in this one. It is currently in wide release. 6/10.
And now, for the main event...
No Country For Old Men- Joel and Ethan Coen are responsible for more of my favorite movies than any other filmmaker. "Blood Simple," "Raising Arizona," "Miller's Crossing," "Barton Fink," "The Hudsucker Proxy," "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," and "The Man Who Wasn't There." For a writer-director to be able to lay claim to one of those movies would be impressive. That's a list of nine. "Intolerable Cruelty" was good, but nowhere near the caliber of the rest, and their most recent film (a remake of "The Ladykillers") was the first of their movies I can really say I didn't particularly like. Had the Coens' lost their mojo? Were their glory days behind them, never to return? The answer is a resounding no. So much so that "No Country" ranks among their best. It may actually top the list (a second viewing will probably determine that for sure).
The picture opens with the arrest of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Within moments he's escaped and committed his first acts of on screen brutality. Meanwhile, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is out shooting some deer when he stumbles upon the aftermath of a bloody shootout, and a bag full of cash. Not surprisingly, Llewelyn brings the bag home. His candor with his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald, "Trainspotting") about the bag is refreshing to see in a movie. Llewelyn's conscience gets the better of him though and he decides to return to the scene to help the last surviving victim. "I'm fixin' to do somethin' real stupid," he explains to Carla Jean, "but I'm gonna do it anyway." This sums up characters' decision making in the world of the Coen brothers. His return is what sets the wheels in motion, and what sends Anton after Llewelyn. Trying to make sense of the crumbling world around him that creates men like Chigurh is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). Bell knows Llewelyn, though it's not made clear up front exactly how.
Chigurh's pursuit of Llewelyn is unique in the way it's played. Llewelyn really is out of his element and surviving purely through sheer force of will. There are no elaborate action sequences where Llewelyn becomes John McClane and the film is less talky than any of the Coens previous works. Several minutes go by with no dialogue, as Llewelyn and Chigurh listen for each other and prepare for what is to come. These scenes are amongst the most riveting I've seen in a very long time.
"No Country" is the least quirky Coen film since at least "Miller's Crossing" and possibly ever, which is probably due in large part to the fact that it's based on Cormac McCarthy's novel. That isn't to say it's not recognizable as their film. It most certainly is. The dark sense of humor is just buried beneath the surface a bit more. Of all of their other movies it's most comparable in tone to "Blood Simple." They also once again display their ability to cast just right. Who else could have seen the potential of Josh Brolin? I certainly hadn't, but he's outstanding here. Bardem's performance is as chilling as they come. His take on the psychopathic killer without remorse is unlike any other I've ever seen. There's no theatricality or relish to Anton Chigurh. He just is who he is. The part of Bell is tailor-made for Jones, but not in the way you would expect. Like the Coens themselves, he's buried his usual ticks beneath the surface. The result is his best performance since at least "The Fugitive," and one that is actually more interesting. Macdonald is great as always, and she really knocks it out of the park at film's end (I promise that doesn't give anything away).
Set in 1980 Texas, "No Country" is notable for being a film that could have taken place now with only the subtlest of tweaks. Technological advances don't change men such as these.
"No Country For Old Men" is the kind of movie we just don't see enough of. It's an art film that truly entertains. (It also more than washed the "Southland Tales" out of my mouth.) This is a spectacular movie and one that I cannot wait to see again. It is currently in limited release but opens wide on Wednesday. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. 10/10.