This post goes out to my good friend Kristen, because I heard that she’s been missing the movie chats. Going back and reading some of the old reviews from 2008 on Metacritic, I had to check out one of my old faves… Anthony Lane, film critic for The New Yorker. I was distraught to find that his rating was a low 40. Honestly, I believe that at times, some critics are so involved in their own rhetoric and vast literary lexicon that it ends up bogging down the ability to enjoy something on a simpler level–as perhaps it was intended. And anyway, plenty of other folks liked it as well.
At any rate. The photography is appropriately cold, shocking and beautiful, yet warm and tender at the right moments. The dialog is punchy, hilariously off-beat and abrasive, yet also succinctly gentle when called for. It reveals a dirty mobster love-of-nothing repartee mingled with a human love-of-all-things realness that results in something mysteriously forbidden, surprising and delicious–like chocolate combined with something brilliant and unexpected (like bacon or basil)… or… really good sex.
In Bruges, the debut feature film written and directed by acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh, is about personal journeys as well as relationships. Our two main characters, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are hit men who have been sent to Bruges for a wee vacation by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes); having seriously just botched a job in Dublin. What follows are honest images of a picturesque tourist town as seen through both sets of eyes: the older, wiser yet more childlike Ken, who is eager to snatch up the opportunity to learn of the town’s culture, history and architecture, versus the younger, unhinged, yet seemingly more calloused Ray, who characteristically describes the town as a “shit-hole.” All the while, they are ultimately awaiting a call from Harry, which is the crux that twists and seals the fates of all. (What else from a sociopathic numb-skull mob-boss/entrepreneur? Delightfully portrayed by Mr. Fiennes, might I add.)
The film takes us through varying moments of discovery, adventure, misadventure, disgust, delight, reflection and lucidity. Ray stumbles upon a movie set which is the first thing to spark his interest in Bruges. And then, there is a girl (Clemence Poesy plays Chloe, who supplies drugs to the cast and crew) followed by a dwarf actor (Jordan Prentice). This sets the stage for more comedy, mishaps, a bit of romance that may or may not turn sour, along with woeful drama that ties the fates. Nothing is quite simple enough, as it turns out, and things are seldom as they seem. When once again, things don’t go as planned, the boss eventually lands on the scene, and that is when the blood really gets pumping. We are all then forced to question, it would seem; exactly what value each of us places on human life, why, and in what way, and to what extent. I typically try to refrain from using this term, but I loved this film. It may very well have bumped its way into my top twenty. A definite must-see. It will without hesitation, become part of my go-to film collection (old friends that I enjoy seeing again and again). It should be noted that In Bruges is R-rated, and contains dark graphic violence, illicit drug use, adult language and some nudity.
Pure, unadulterated Will Ferrell, here, and I have to say one of my favorite performances of his. He is, of course, Buddy the elf, a human raised at the North Pole by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), which with the 6’3″ boisterous Will Ferrell, makes for a very entertaining juxtaposition. Director Jon Favreau chose to use the forced perspective technique to exaggerate the significant size difference between elves and humans. And how did Buddy get to the North Pole? As the back-story reveals, Santa was making his customary stop at the orphanage where Buddy then resided, and when Santa was busy eating cookies, Buddy crawled into the unattended sack of toys, and away they went.
There’s enough all-out, mad-cap silly comedy to keep the masses and little children smiling–which is only right as it is a Christmas film, but there are subtler details that make it a gem. Bob Newhart is perfectly cast as Buddy’s adoptive father; also serving as the film’s narrator in classic, gentle, matter-of-fact Bob Newhart style, and what makes it even better is that he is shot telling the story as though he is being interviewed in a typical pseudo documentary fashion.
Buddy, being human, is awkward and slow compared to the nimble elves that surround him, and as fate would have it, not a very good toy-maker. His frustration with himself and the situation reaches a high point when he exclaims, “Let’s face it. I’m just a cotton-headed ninny-muggins!” The elves try to assure him that this simply isn’t the case, but then shortly thereafter, he overhears some of them talking to reveal the awful truth about why he doesn’t fit in: He is human.
He and Papa Elf then have “the talk (about the fact that he was adopted, and not actually an elf),” and after a discussion with Santa (played by the great Ed Asner), it is decided that Buddy will go to New York to meet his real father (James Caan), who is an executive working at the Empire State building, unaware of Buddy’s existence–and on Santa’s naughty list. He has a family that he rarely sees because he is too busy working on fast deals on children’s books. At the time of Buddy’s arrival, he is desperately in need of a hot new Christmas story. Needless to say, Buddy has his work cut out for him. But if there is one way that Buddy is an elf, it is without a doubt, his untiring and infectious Christmas spirit which Ferrell crafts flawlessly. Buddy is a champion of Christmas in a sweet and innocent way, yet he is utterly unfettered by negativity; providing plenty of opportunities for spreading joy and creating small, but innocent disasters.
Clad from head to toe in his elven ensemble, Buddy stands out in NYC, but not horribly so. If one is to roam the streets in elven gear at Christmas time, New York is the place to be. He naturally finds his way to Gimbel’s, where he is quickly put to work as one of Santa’s helpers on the department store’s crew. There, he meets Jovie, another “human elf” who has been hired by the department store (played by the lovely Zooey Deschanel), and she can sing. But she doesn’t like to sing in front of other people–the truth is, she has lost some of her holiday spirit, and is in need of someone like Buddy. He explains to her that “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” She’s doubtful at first, but she catches on.
On the home front, Buddy has managed to work his way into the life of his father, Walter Hobbs; his kind stepmother, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and brother (Daniel Tay). This house needs a lot of Christmas cheer, as Walter’s absenteeism as a father and a husband has created a bit of a void. Buddy’s odd and what his father perceives to be deranged idiosyncrasies and cheery habits are in fact, just the ticket for the family to get back on the Christmas track. When Christmas Eve rolls around, Santa flies into New York City once again, but this time, he is in trouble. Is Buddy’s spirit strong enough to save Christmas? It’s worth finding out. The whole family will thoroughly enjoy this new Christmas classic–unless they are just a bunch of, well… cotton-headed ninny-muggins.