I have 491 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? Meek’s Cutoff (2011)
What’s it rated? Rated PG for Michelle William’s pluck, Paul Dano’s boy voice and Bruce Greenwood’s man beard.
Did people make it? Written by Jonathan Raymond. Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Acted by Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Shirley Henderson and Ron Rondeaux.
What’s it like in one sentence? The Oregon Trail-The Game: The Movie.
Why did you watch it? Cooper made me do it.
What’s it about in one paragraph? In 1845, a group of pioneers is being led by a man named Stephen Meek (Greenwood), who is supposed to take them across the Cascade Mountains and into the Willamette Valley. The problem is that he takes them along a supposed short cut, you know, because he’s that guy. He promised them that they would be to the mountains in 2 weeks and it has been 5, with no mountains in sight. Tensions run high as the food and water starts running extremely low and tough choices will have to be made about who should be leading the party. If only there were some bison to hunt. They move the slowest but yield the most meat.
Play or remove from my queue? This column is kind of weird and flawed on a fundamental level. In the time I’ve been doing it, I’ve told you to remove only 2 movies from your queue, which either means I like too many movies, or that I’m picking too many good ones instead of taking chances on the strange, unheard of shit. But most people like reading and commenting about shit they’ve seen or are planning to see, so it’s a double edged weapon of some kind. Should I just be happy that I’m watching lots of good movies? Sorry, tangent. Anyway, Meek’s Cutoff was good to me and worth watching, but it was also frustrating and felt counter-intuitive to what makes a film resonate. Last week I read a blog on CHUD where the film was listed as the worst movie of 2011 and the same day I saw it as number 1 on a top ten best of the year list. It’s that movie: the one where your parents will hate it and your friend that shelled out 12 bucks to see Jack & Jill in the theater will tell you anyone who likes the movie is a pretentious art fag. But it’s also the movie where critics that you trust were swept away by it and shout its merit to the tree tops and people of impaired hearing. In other words, whether or not you should watch this movie is more subjective than any other movie I’ve done on this list so far. If you thought Tree of Life was a boring, wretched turd of a film, then you should not come close to watching this, but if you thought The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was one of the best movies you’ve ever seen (like me), then you’ll treasure most of what this film has to offer.
One thing I can’t understand about the criticism of this film is when people say it’s boring. Yes, it moves very slowly and the entire score is made of droning notes from a cello, so it can definitely lull you into a trance state where someone could make you play with your nips in front of grannie, but the stakes are so high that the film has a constant through line of intensity. At some points, I actually felt like I was watching a horror movie and just waiting for the pioneers to start getting picked off one at a time. Kelly Reichardt becomes a master of tone with Meek’s Cutoff and subsequently makes me feel stupid for not watching Wendy and Lucy or Old Joy yet.
As ponderous as the movie is at times, I never once felt bored, and the strength of Bruce Greenwood, Michelle Williams and Will Patton’s performances keeps you fully invested in the character’s fates. Greenwood’s Meek is a real son of a bitch, but Greenwood adds this broken color to his performance that makes him absolutely fascinating to watch. Paul Dano is Paul Dano and I’m wondering if he keeps getting cast as bible thumping twats on purpose, or if he’s just doing some weird penance for something earlier in his life. Michelle Williams is also incredible in a role that is un-showy in such a way that will make her completely ignored come Oscar time.
As you watch these people cross the high desert, you can almost see the land start to swallow them up and the things they are using to survive are simultaneously artifacts being found 150 years later. They already feel like ghosts, even as new ways of suffering piles on like rocks. The ambiguity of the ending adds to the themes of transience and hope that the movie plays with so effortlessly, yet also (probably by design) leaves the film feeling anti-climactic and somewhat unfinished. It’s not that the film didn’t end in the right place or in the right way, it just felt like all of the foreshadowing and climactic build were pinched like a bladder too full (kind of like this seasons finale of Sons of Anarchy) and left me with a minor case of cinematic blue balls. It’s a gorgeously realized ending, just not satisfying in a meat and potatoes kind of way.
Do you have a favorite line? Every single thing that came out of Bruce Greenwood’s mouth in this film was gold. He’ a braggart who probably has done a good majority of the shit he expounds on, but coming from a man who led you into the wilderness and got you lost, it’s painfully disingenuous and callous.
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? As I watched the movie I felt like something was off about the way that it looked. For as gorgeous as the scenery is, it never seems to pop like it should and feels flat and without scope at times. My good friend Blix Nix blew my mind hole by telling me that Reichardt shot the film in 1.33 : 1 aspect ratio in order to give the symbolic view women had from their bonnets. I guess making it all look flat and dull helped get back to those themes I was talking about, but it also made for a depressing view of some of the most beautiful places in my state.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? Wendy and Lucy (it just sounds sooooo depressing), The Arbor (sounds douchey), Le Quattro Volte (a visual poem about Pythagorean theory? I’m fucking in!), Old Joy (I love Bonnie Prince Billy, so I have no excuse for not seeing this yet) and Burke and Wills (another Bad Expedition movie! Added.)
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? Fording a river, caulking a wagon and writing shit on tombstones. Also, Terence Malick.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 3.6
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.8
Can you link to the movie? I sure can!
Any last thoughts? I’ll get into my issues with the ending next week and talk more about the themes I think they were working with. It’s a damn fine movie, though. Damn fine. Like Bruce Greenwood’s beard.
Did you watch anything else this week? I watched Another Earth, which was good and everything, but the least interesting story it could have told with that premise, I felt. I also watched the third Pirates movie for the first time since theaters, and enjoyed a chunk of it greatly. Still working through Enterprise and giving more thought to asking Nick if I should make it into a column about seeing Star Trek for the first time, chronologically.
Any spoilerish thoughts about last week’s film, Cold Weather? The more I sat on it, the more I realized that the people who don’t like the ending to this movie are wrong and bad. The film truly is only interested in the brother\sister dynamic and how the mystery enhances and manipulates that relationship. With Gail stealing the briefcase and running out of Montage into her brother’s getaway car, she made the change from bookish wallflower into someone willing to get their hands dirty for those she cares about. By ending the film with Doug and Gail waiting for Carlos and Rachel to show up, it doesn’t give us the chance to see the case wrapped up in a neat little bow, but it allows us to imagine a thousand different scenarios, instead. We don’t even know what’s in the damn case, since Rachel’s story was a pretty hard to swallow from the get-go. I do still take issue with not having Rachel or Carlos have anything to do with the finale at all, but that just has to do with enjoying their performances and not feeling like we got a complete arc for either character, and not with the actual story the film was trying to tell. I do still think the film and these characters make a wonderful starting point for a television series or a few more sequels, because the world that Aaron Katz and friends built is one that I’m not ready to let go just yet.
Next Week? Seems like Bunraku, folks.