This year my moviegoing has slowed down considerably, yet my movie reviewing is even slower! Nevertheless, it's time for the Auteur, Auteur Edition of TicketStub:

* The Darjeeling Limited -- Toot toot, all aboard the Tweeville Express! Yes, I am a total sucker for Wes Anderson, and no, I don't care if you think he's boring, pretentious, repetitive, racist, whatever. Despite my bias, I think this is his strongest film since Rushmore, maybe because it has such a simple premise: 3 brothers + 1 train across India + their mommy issues = hilarity/poignancy. The ensemble is freshened by Adrian Brody, whose inner weariness makes him less of a caricature than Old Flipflop Wilson, and less of a cad than Jason Schwartzman, who admittedly makes the most of his handsy Lothario part. Anjelica Huston swans in at the end, but by then the whole thing has taken on an intriguingly strange, nonsequential tone. The main character here is really the Indian landscape: does it have any intrinsic meaning, or is it just a wacky backdrop for our three pilgrims? Its compelling beauty and inscrutability point to the former. By the end, we just want the boys to go home already -- India will do just fine without them and their mountain of baggage. (B+)

* Gone Baby Gone -- Hooray for Ben Affleck, he's back from the dead! A confident, well-paced drama set among the seamy degenerates and/or police brass of Boston, the film delves uncomfortably deep into our national obsession with child abduction. Casey Affleck makes an appealing, regular guy lead as a green P.I. who tries to outgame the bad guys, only to find the good guys far more slippery. Over on the grizzled end of the spectrum we have Ed Harris (sporting a menacing titanium brushcut) and Morgan Freeman, who is just a little too trustworthy to pull off the last dark plot twist, but makes it look good. I guess once you've played God it's hard to "play god" on screen. In any event, all the men are outshone by Amy Ryan as the missing girl's messy, crafty mother, who turns from aggrieved to loathsome on a dime. Up against all this, Michelle Monahan has nothing to do in an underwritten part as Casey's partner, but Amy Madigan chews on a nice hunk of Boston accent as the put-upon aunt. Great bit parts, careful editing, and some truly suspenseful sequences...bring on the next project, Ben! One point off for setting a final soliloquy on the exact same Southie rooftop as in The Departed. (A)

* No Country For Old Men -- Yes, I'm the one person who didn't like this all that much. It's well paced, perfectly cast, and beautifully shot, not to mention adapted very faithfully from the original story. Maybe the totally awesome trailer ruined it for me? I frankly felt like I'd seen it all before, and recently: pitiless, sadistic sociopath evading capture (Zodiac), sweeping prairie wasteland that tests men's souls (3:10 To Yuma, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), a muscular, bloody cat-and-mouse chase (The Bourne Ultimatum, Grindhouse), blah blah blah. I felt like there was almost nothing distinctly "Coen Brothers" about this movie, maybe because it's too thematically similar to Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing. The movie's too good to be just an exercise, but it's not fresh enough to be more than their "amoral carnage" shtick, without any levity. We saw this in Cambridge and a guy actually leapt up and shouted "That sucked!" at the end. I won't go that far....just, meh. Tommy Lee Jones alone puts it above average. (C+)

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