As Cool As A Fruitstand

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Archive for the ‘Coen bros.’ Category

Back to no country

Posted by Hedwig on February 20, 2008

The Coen series finally came to a conclusion yesterday with my second viewing of No Country For Old Men. And well… there is something I feel I should confess: I try mighty hard to come across as determined and opinionated and right, but the truth is I’m someone very prone to doubting her own thoughts and opinions. So after a number of friends told me they didn’t see the point of the Coens’ latest, and a rather vicious discussion in response to my review on filmtotaal, I started to question my dedication to this movie.

Who knew? Maybe it really wasn’t so great. Maybe I was influenced by writers I admire, maybe I was just practicing “intellectual masturbation”. Maybe I was just kidding myself, pretending that I “got” the movie, to feel superior and smart. Maybe I was simply too afraid to disagree with critical consensus. Maybe the emperor did, in fact, have no clothes on.

I needn’t have been scared: not only is the emperor fully dressed, but my, does he look handsome. ***SPOILERS WITHIN***

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Coen Night #3: Fargo & The Big Lebowski

Posted by Hedwig on January 23, 2008

The Blurbs:

FARGO

When your father-in-law refuses to give you money, maybe the wisest way to respond is not to hire two thugs (Steve Buscemi & Peter Stormare) to kidnap her and ask for ransom. Because as can be seen in Fargo, that can end badly. Very badly, indeed. Still, it’s what Jerry Lundegaard (the male half of the celebrity power couple known as Filliam H. Muffman) does, and when bodies start cropping up, very pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is put on the case. That’s when blood really starts staining the snow-covered North-Dakota landscape. It’s gruesome, it’s funny, and it’s maybe the most Coen of movies. If you haven’t seen it, you should, and if you have, I have no doubt you’ll want to see it again.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI

Yet again, the Coens followed up a succesful thriller with a somewhat less succesful comedy. However, despite rather disappointing results at the box-office, the Big Lebowski went on to develop a huge cult following later on, and deservedly. The story of ‘the Dude’ is actually best when you don’t try to follow the story, and just let yourself be swept along by the absurdity: by the bowling-alley dreams, the nihilists, the kidnapping plot gone awry – yes, again. Filled with Coen regulars – John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro) and virtuoso camerawork, this is, above all, a film that’s still funny (if not funnier) the fifth time you see it. So join me for my sixth, and see if it still holds true.

The Reviews:

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Coen night #2: Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink & The Hudsucker Proxy

Posted by Hedwig on January 16, 2008

Click here for the blurbs.

It’s funny what happens when you see so many (5) films by the same director(s) in such a short time (1.5 weeks). You start seeing patterns, recurring motifs. The movies stay separate, each in their own neatly defined little period of history, each built on the foundations of a different genre, but through them you start seeing the brains at work.

Miller’s Crossing takes place during prohibition. Barton Fink in 1941. The Hudsucker Proxy in 1958. The former is a pretty straightforward (at least for the Coens) variation on the lone-guy-playing-two-crime-syndicates-against-one-another story – as seen in Yojimbo & A Fistful of Dollars, but truly going on the way back to two Dashiell Hammett novels, Red Harvest & the Glass Key. Barton Fink is almost a horror film, creepy and with a grand apocalyptic finale, a tale about writing and pretension. The Hudsucker Proxy is kind of a screwball comedy. Still, I don’t really want to discuss them one by one as separate, free-standing entities. Instead, I want to talk about the echos and reflections I saw.

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Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing & Hudsucker Proxy: the blurbs

Posted by Hedwig on January 13, 2008

Coen movie night #2 is upon us! We won’t actually be watching Barton Fink, but I really wanted to write a blurb anyway. I think I’m gonna try to stick to the thriller+comedy rythm, meaning next time (which will probably be after the film festival) will bring us Fargo & The Big Lebowski, and the time after that The Man Who Wasn’t There & O’ Brother Where Art Thou.

Miller’s Crossing
You could easily write a dozen essays about this movie. You could write at length about its noir influences, about the use of language, about the themes loyalty, death, chance, you could even see a political allegory of some kind in there. To the Coens, however, Miller’s Crossing is just a movie about a hat. It’s also, like Blood Simple, a movie about crime, adultery, murder, but this time it’s set during prohibition, and the protagonists are gangsters. Leo’s the boss, Velma is his wife, and Tom is his right hand, and that’s all I’m going to reveal about the plot.
Barton Fink
The first Coen bros. movie made with their new DP Roger Deakins is about Barton Fink (John Turtutto), who writes plays about the common man. Or so he thinks. When he gets drafted by Hollywood to write a script “with that Barton Fink feeling”. He’s put up into a big hotel where he meets only creepy clerk Chet (played by Coen regular Steve Buscemi) and his neighbor Charlie (another regular: John Goodman), and promptly develops writer’s block – the Coens in fact wrote this film when they were suffering from the same condition on Miller’s Crossing. Stuck in the claustrophobia-inducing hotel, with nothing but a picture to look at and the wallpaper peeling off the walls, Barton Fink slowly goes crazy. As an audience, you think you might be, too. The crazy, out-there, apocalyptic finale doesn’t exactly lift the spirits, either, but you’ll never forget it.

The Hudsucker Proxy (blurb courtesy of Kaj)
The Hudsucker Proxy bombed upon release and was largely dismissed by the critics, but has since then gained a following and well deserved respect. Another great comedy by the Coens, a satire of the American Dream in which an innocent young man from the countryside arrives in New York and is soon placed at the top of a large company by cynical board members who want the company to go bankrupt, so they can by up it’s stock cheap. They didn’t count on him inventing the Hula Hoop. The meticulously scripted film is one of the Coens’ visually most arresting ones, and also one of their funniest. No Coen regulars were cast as main characters, but Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and especially Paul Newman are all wonderful, and enough Coen cronies turn up in small supporting roles. Works great as a homage to old screwball comedies in some parts and to Capraesque drama in others, and is delightful in all.

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Blood Simple/Raising Arizona

Posted by Hedwig on January 6, 2008

In anticipation of the official release of No Country For Old Men, I decided to have my own, semi-chronological, Coen bros. retrospective. To my great surprise, no less than 5 people came to join me on the first night, featuring the Coens’ debut, Blood Simple, and their follow-up comedy Raising Arizona. I’d seen the former once, about, I’d say, six or seven years ago. I’d seen various fragment of the second one, but I don’t think I ever had from start to finish. To entice people to come, I wrote the following blurbs:

Blood Simple

It takes most directors a few films to find their footing. Not the Coens: Blood Simple emerged fully formed from their combined brains. It’s a neat little neo-noir about a woman (Frances McDormand, who later married one of the brothers and frequently collaborates with them), her lover, her husband, and the PI the husband hires. The story is full of noire tropes: not just adultery but blackmail, murder, and lots of things that just don’t go as planned. The title is even derived from a Dashiel Hamett novel. I will be watching the Director’s Cut, which is one of the few director’s cuts that’s shorter than the theatrically released film. Ever since this great debut, the Coens have had final cut.

Raizing Arizona

Blood Simple has some funny moments, sure, but it’s essentially a pretty grim undertaking. Raizing Arizona, on the other hand, is a raucous comedy (albeit with some grim undertones). It’s about Hi, a former criminal, and his loving wife Ed, a former policewoman. They desperately want to have a baby, but can’t. Then they hear a rich man in the state just had quintuplets, and figure that with this bounty, he won’t miss one. They kidnap one of the babies, and since they’re not exactly the brightest bulbs in the tanning bed, hijinks ensue. Add scary biker & bounty hunter Leonard Smalls to the mix, and you have a very crazy, but also very funny film on your hands, full of typical Coen touches.

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