Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: A Review Saturday, Dec 8 2007 

Yesterday PJ and I saw Sidney Lumet’s new film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei. Here’s the trailer:

BtDKYD is about two brothers who are both in dire financial straits. Hoffman’s Andy is a drug addict who’s been stealing from his corporate account in order to finance his lifestyle and habit. Hawke’s Hank is Andy’s younger, ne’er do well brother who owes three months of child support to his ex-wife. Andy figures out a way to solve all of their problems: they just need to knock off their parents’ suburban jewelry store, which he argues will be a victimless crime due to their parents’ insurance. Not surprisingly, the heist goes terribly wrong, sending the lives of all of the characters into a chaos.

Let’s start with what I like about this movie: Albert Finney, who plays the two men’s domineering father. He plays the most complex character in the movie. His role is really limited to two substantive scenes, but he’s brilliant in both. His character also has the widest emotional arc, despite the limited screen time. He’s really great in this role.

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The World of Normal Boys: A Review Tuesday, Dec 4 2007 

After the Fall Quarter was finished, I looked around my study for something fun to read. I tried reading Wuthering Heights again, but, while it’s a great book, it wasn’t what I was in the mood for. I started reading A Passage to India, the only E. M. Forster I haven’t read, but that too didn’t work. I decided I wanted something gay (or maybe I should say gayer than Forster), so I rooted about in my bookshelves and piles of random books and picked up K. M. Soehnlein‘s The World of Normal Boys, a coming out story about a kid named Robin set in 1978.

I think I bought TWoNB a couple of years ago. I had been in a gay book club and had gotten tired of having to mail in the little cards telling them not to send me each month’s selection, so I decided to order a few books all at once, complete my obligatory number of purchases, and then cancel my membership. This was one of the novels that sounded interesting. Unfortunately, when I got the books in the mail, I started reading one of the other novels, which wasn’t very good. When I couldn’t get into that one, I figured all three of the books I ordered must not be any good, so I set them on a shelf and forgot about them.

So, after I picked it off the shelf again, I didn’t have very high expectations. Much to my surprise, however, I quickly fell in love with this book. Here’s how it begins:

Maybe this is the moment when his teenage years begin. An envelope arrives in the mail addressed to him from Greenlawn High School. Inside is a computer-printed schedule of classes. Robin MacKenzie. Freshman. Fall, 1978. He has been assigned to teachers, placed in a homeroom. His social security number sits in the upper right corner, emphasizing the specter of faceless authority. Someone, some system of decision making, has organized his next nine months into fifty-minute periods, and here is his notification. This is what you will learn. This is when you will eat. This is when you go home to your family at 135 Bergen Avenue. This is how you will live your life, Robin MacKenzie.

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No Country for Old Men: A Review Monday, Dec 3 2007 

In keeping with the Texas theme of our trip, PJ and I saw the Coen Brothers’ new film, No Country for Old Men, on Thanksgiving day. It stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, and Kelly Macdonald and is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Here’s the trailer:

No Country for Old Men is set in Texas in 1980. The movie starts with Brolin’s character, Llewelyn Moss, accidentally stumbling across what looks like a massacre, the results of a drug deal gone wrong in the desert . Investigating the scene more closely, Llewelyn eventually finds a leather case full of money, at least a couple million dollars. When he takes the money, it sets off a violent chain of events that, despite his best efforts, he cannot control or stop.

NCfOM is a great movie, certainly one of the year’s best. Jones plays the local sheriff, Ed Tom Bell. His character grounds the film in common sense and serves as the audience’s way into the film. He also serves as the film’s narrator of sorts. This character isn’t a stretch for Jones; in fact, he’s played this kind of role several times. But he is perfect in this part and watching him is like sitting in on a master-class for actors. This film wouldn’t work if Bell came across as hokey or cocky. Jones imbues him with a fundamental sense of morality that reflects a kind of everyman’s quest to make sense of the senseless world around him.

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