Tag Archives: Frances McDormand

My 10 Favourite Coen Characters

10. Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), Burn After Reading: We don’t often get to see Brad Pitt being funny, but as Burn After Reading’s dumb blond, he’s hysterical. He’s charming, his enthusiasm is infection, and he’s dumb as rocks. But that little dance of his isn’t a meme for nothing.

giphy (1)

9. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), O Brother, Where Art Thou: Clooney feels loose and slick in this movie, with slightly wild eyes and patter to match. This one is crowded with memorable characters, and so many have juicy moments, but Ulysses is the beating heart with a zest for oral hygiene, and you have to love a man for that.

8. Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: The film’s opening chapter draws us in with horseback song and fancy gun slinging. The two combined are a sight to behold, so well-choreographed you can only whistle along in admiration. But when sudden violence hits and the tone shifts astronomically, it’s a signal to us all that this film is going to take us for a ride.

7. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Inside Llewyn Davis: Llewyn is a gentle creature, writhing with pride, jealousy, determination, dejectedness, and so much more, always evident in the crinkles around Isaac’s eyes. It’s a heartbreaking movie in many ways, and less an ensemble than many Coen films, but Isaac, a relative unknown at the time, carried it, and sang like honey, so you’d want to curl up at his feet and purr yourself into sweet oblivion.

6. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), Hail, Caesar!: Hobie Doyle was Ehrenreich’s breakout role, playing a successful western movie star just starting to transition to more dramatic roles. His wide-eyed cowpoke ways are refreshing and unexpected in Hollywood, and Hobie feels guileless and forthright. He’s a genius with a lasso but it’s his signature flubbed line that every single person found themselves repeating as they left the theatre – “would that it were.”

tumblr_o5h6mkrVoz1qd1qmwo2_250

5. Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), The Big Lebowski: I challenged myself to pick only one John Goodman role, or else he easily could have taken over half this list. But Walter will always be near and dear to my heart. He’s a self-righteous, judgmental, controlling moron with a passion for rules without ever overthinking them. What’s not to love?

4. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), Fargo: Undeniably an asshole, Macy makes us feel sympathy for Jerry, and even more amazingly, he keeps him funny, despite the fact that he just keeps digging and digging until he’s so far deep in the hole he can’t even tell he’s in a hole anymore. Jerry is riddled with anxiety, desperate to be more than he is, and just can’t seem to understand that you can’t be only a little bit bad. Once you crack the door, violence comes barreling in, and Jerry is laughably unprepared.

3. Edwina McDonnough (Holly Hunter), Raising Arizona: I just love how Hunter can swing between wild emotions in this – nurturing to violently defensive, ecstatic to complete meltdown. It’s emotionally exhausting to watch so I can only imagine how intense it was to play such a character, but that’s what makes Edwina so iconic. Raising Arizona is such a fun and funny film, but Hunter has the skill to keep Edwina’s need and her love pure and honest and painfully apparent.

giphy (3)

2. Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski: Lebowski is a philosopher at heart. So many wild and zany characters bounce off him in this film, memorably so, and in other hands, Lebowski may have been overwhelmed. But along comes Jeff Bridges, and he’s perfectly laid back, unflappable really, but still engaged in the world around him, still curious and questioning. It was so note-perfect a performance that it was instantly iconic, eminently quotable, and beloved to this day. What could possibly top it?

1.Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), Fargo: Thank you holy cheeses for giving us this backwards-talking, nine-month-pregnant, slow moving, fast thinking, admirable as shit character. The world needs Marge Gunderson, and we’ve been doubly blessed having Frances McDormand to play her. Is anyone else even worthy? Marge sees people on their blackest day, the world at its worst, but she does her part to make it just a little better, and then she comes home to dinner with her husband, cozy and domestic as all get out.

giphy (4)

Advertisements

SXSW: Isle of Dogs

Read the title out loud and kind of quick, and it’s hardly distinguishable from “I love dogs” but the conflict in the film actually comes from not loving them enough. A city in Japan has a dog-hating mayor who selfishly spreads lies and rhetoric about the dog flu, and gets and\or manufactures enough support that he succeeds in banishing all dogs to Trash Island.

As most of you know (because my bursting heart can’t shut up about it), I’m lucky enough to share my life and home with four of the sweetest doggies in the world. I Isle of Dogs 1 via Fox Searchlight Headersometimes wonder if I prefer dogs to people, and I certainly do prefer my dogs to most people. I think dogs are so much better than we deserve. They are 100% heart. So it’s hard for me to imagine a bunch of dog owners so willing to sentence their dogs to a terrible, lonely, miserable life and death. Of the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of dogs sent to live and die on Trash Island, only one is lucky enough to have an owner come looking for him – a 12 year old boy named Atari. When Atari becomes stranded on the island, a scruffy pack of dogs generously decides to help him find his beloved Spots. Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban), Rex (Ed Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), and even the reluctant Chief (Bryan Cranston) band together to reunite boy and dog on a journey that you  might just say belongs in a Wes Anderson movie.

And it is a Wes Anderson movie, horray! So of course it’s got some truly absorbing attention to detail, a sweet soundtrack, and a poignancy verging on nostalgia. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is beautifully rendered in stop-motion animation. Each dog puppet is a thing of beauty, with fur (made of alpaca hair, apparently) so pettable and little noses that you’re sure are moist to the touch. Their expressive eyes bore into you, and as Bob Balaban so eloquently put it during the Q&A following the film, it could have been a silent film and still been just as affecting.

As saturated as they are aesthetically, some may argue that Wes Anderson movies are ultimately style over substance. Isle of Dogs has some pretty obvious themes about mass hysteria and maybe even fake news, but for me the takeaway is simply to love better – dare I say, more like a dog, fully, and with devotion.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Holy hell.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh has almost certainly reached the peak of his film making career with this film. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The three billboards in question have been rented by grieving mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) to accuse the town sheriff, Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) of not having made any progress on the case since her daughter was brutally raped and murdered. Willoughby isn’t terribly pleased, but he’s got more important things to worry about – namely, terminal cancer. So it’s his racist, hotheaded, cruel officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) who takes up his cause, torturing anyone he suspects of having helped.

MV5BZmMyMTg1NzEtNWZiZi00OTczLTg0NzUtNzFlNjI5YjJkMzkxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_McDonagh uses lyrical language peppered with inspired cursewords; his heavy-weight cast punches it up with a surprising mixture of gravitas and black comedy.

Frances McDormand, national treasure, is of course fantastico. Wearing her ubiquitous coverall, she’s a no-nonsense woman who’s been through hell even before her daughter’s gruesome death. She is not without a softer side, though rarely seen. McDonagh gave her a couple of speeches that practically earned standing ovations at our screening. She walks a thin line between vengeance and justice but discovers she is not exempt herself. She’s got a terrific scene pitted against Willoughby that suggests these two have more history than we’re privy to. It’s a small town; there’s almost no vitriol without at least a measure of respect. As Willoughby, Harrelson once again reminds us he’s capable of almost anything. But, arguably, the man to watch is Sam Rockwell. He’s hateful, detestable, and yet we don’t quite hate him or detest him as we should. That’s sort of the miracle of McDonagh’s script – all of his characters are deeply flawed. Mildred is our protagonist but she’s no one’s hero. She makes too many mistakes. Dixon is all mistakes but for a small sliver of charm, and Rockwell exploits the hell out of it. He’s almost maniacal at times, and loads of fun to watch. Any time any of these power houses square off verbally, they’re shooting spitfire, and it’s even more entertaining to watch than a good old fashioned shoot out. And that’s not even mentioning a very capable stable of secondary characters that add dimensionality to the population of this small, insular town.

McDonagh’s world is not one of easy outs. It feels like he has asked himself – what would be most surprising here – and yet, despite a plot that constantly feels like it’s developing from the left field, it feels right.

I fully expect to see McDormand’s name on the Oscar ballot this year, in a race for Best Actress that’s already crowded (she’s the third name I’ve tossed out this festival alone). But Rockwell’s belongs there too – this is what Best Supporting aspires to be. Although conventionally shot, this is an extraordinary film, one I hope you’ll see and love when it comes out this November.

Hail, Coen Brothers!

Joel and Ethan Coen are at it again – the two wacky guys who brought us Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men have a new insta-classic to add to the list and it’s called Hail, Caesar!

The Coens are brilliant. I have no qualms about using that word, and I think their resume speaks for itself. Their names are already on this year’s Oscar ballot for having written the stirring screenplay for Bridge of Spies, an underrated but totally worthy movie that feels nothing like a Coen Brothers film, and isn’t one. They wrote it, and can write anything, but when they’re sitting in the director’s seat, they seem to prefer larger than life stories they can have a little fun with.

The Coens don’t chase box office success, but they do make the kind of movie that film buffs love to obsess over. I’m already obsessing over this one, which has been deemed by lesser souls to be of “limited appeal,” but dollars to donuts (yes I’m using that wrong and no I don’t know what it means) it’s the most fun I’ve had in a movie theatre in a good long while. This was at the expense of my fellow movie goers since I’m perennially sick and every fit of giggles dissolved into a fit of coughing. Coughing is the new clapping. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. There was lots of coughing. I mean lots of laughing!

The plot: Edward Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a honcho at the Capitol Pictures movie studio. He’s a fixer. He doesn’t own the place, but he does make it run. We follow him for about 27 hours, a day in the life as it were, and there are no less than 4 movies being shot on the studio back lot: the first, their blockbuster Hail, Caesar!, starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) as a Roman soldier who encounters Jesus Christ; the second, a movie musical currently shooting its aquatic spectacle with its newly and scandalously pregnant star (Scarlett Johansson); the third, a drama period piece set to star a spaghetti western crossover, Hobie Doyle (Alden Hail-Caesar-(2016)-posterEhrenreich) much to the consternation of finicky director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes); and the fourth, a comedy starring sprightly song and dance man Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). Poor Eddie has a lot to contend with – fixing stars up on dates, rescuing starlets from French postcard situations, making good on his promise to his wife to quit smoking, and fending off twin sisters and rival gossip columnists, both played by Tilda Swinton – and that’s before he realizes that his biggest star, Baird Whitlock, has been kidnapped!

There is much (too much) to say about this film. First off, the cast was excellent. Of course it was excellent. The Coens have been in the biz an awfully long time and they’ve got a george-clooney-gets-kidnappedlaundry list of Hollywood A-listers who beg to be in their films. George Clooney, for example, has worked with them three times before – Brother, Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty, and Burn After Reading – all movies that I like, though I confess a particular burning love for Intolerable Cruelty especially. The Coens have great faith in Clooney’s comedic timing and treat us to a whole reel of his best reaction shots. It’s down right gluttonous – almost as sinful as that Roman costume they’ve got him strutting around in, showing off leg like you’ve never seen from him before. And my they’re nice legs. In fact, is there a human being on this planet who’s not a little in love with George Clooney?

Josh Brolin continues to ride this incredible surge in his career and proves a worthy choice. This is Brolin’s third Coen movie (after No Country for Old Men and True Grit) and he pulls this one together so tightly, so adroitly, you know he’ll be around for more. New comer Alden Ehrenreich impressed me immensely. IMDB assures me I’ve seen him before (in hail-caesar-featurette-the-cowbo-810x456Blue Jasmin) but this is the first that I’ve noticed him – and he almost stole the show! Tilda Swinton, who is great in everything, is great again here, only doubly so since she’s handling twin duties and it’s uproarious. Heather Goldenhersh, as Mannix’s hard-working secretary, is pivotal and delightful, and I must say, this woman deserves to be fucking famous already. But even small roles are peppered with famous faces – the study group alone, from Fisher Stevens to my beloved David Krumholtz, is worthy of its own spin-off. And no Coen Brothers movie would be complete without at least a brief appearance by my spirit animal, the fabulous Frances McDormand. The reigning Coen Queen, this is her 8th film of theirs, although it’s not exactly a fair fight as she’s married to Joel (not that her oodles of talent require any nepotism). Her role is brief but watch for it, it’s a scene stealer.

So: the Coens know how to write. And they sure as hell know how to cast. And bringing back cinematographer Roger Deakins and convincing him to shoot in film again (as img5opposed to his preferred medium, digital) was exactly the right thing for this ode to old Hollywood. Even though your eyes see Channing Tatum in a sailor suit, your mind is steeped in 1950s glamour (which is actually much grimier than the usual coating of nostalgic veneer would have us remember). As usual with the Coens, what you see is only half of what you get. There’s a lot of layers to this seemingly lighter fare, from God and Commies, to pop culture and hydrogen bombs. I was charmed and tickled from start to finish and I’m going to find it awfully hard to buy tickets to Deadpool when what I’d really like to do is see this one again. And again. And probably again.

 

Cop Movies!

Sean

TMPThere’s nothing like cop week to get the dirty taste of dance movies out of your mouth! Thanks Wandering Through the Shelves for sponsoring yet another thoughtful Thursday theme, and for giving me the perfect excuse for subjecting my wife to all the explodey movies she normally turns her cute little nose up at.
badboys

Bad Boys: Mike & Marcus (Will Smith & Martin Lawrence) are two “loose cannon” cops, not to mention best friends, who spend so much time together they sound like an old married couple – the kind constantly threatening to get a divorce. But damn if they don’t pull together in times of trouble! Legend has it that this script was originally intended for Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey – now just imagine that movie for a minute, if you will.

heatHeat: Bank robbers start to feel “the heat” from cops when their latest robbery turns out to be a little sloppy. Lieutenant Al Pacino is on to them but Robert De Niro needs one last heist before he can retire (isn’t that always the way?). Then of course De Niro makes his fatal mistake – he goes against the golden rule ‘Never have anything in your life that you can’t walk out on in thirty seconds flat, if you spot the heat coming around the corner.’ Die-Hard-quotes-8

Die Hard: It’s Die Hard, what else do you have to say? It’s Christmas AND he’s off duty (plus he’s NYPD visiting LA), but John McClane (Bruce Willis) is still a bad-ass motherfucker who will single-handedly END YOU.

Jay

I watched a lot of cop movies this week and it turns out that a lot of my favourite jams just happen to have cops in them. Actually, if you look hard enough, probably there’s a cop or two in nearly every movie. There were cops in dance movie Billy Elliot, and cops in teen comedy Superbad, and more cops than you can shake a stick at in the black and white movies we watched a while back. They’re everywhere, even in outer space, but above all, they’re immediately below 🙂
Fargo Marge Gunderson is probably my favourite cop-hero of all time. She doesn’t do the ass-slide over the hoods of cars, she doesn’t use karate to subdue perps twice her size, and she doesn’t cause millions of dollars in damage as she careens her car wildly through populated city fargostreets. She’s just a quiet woman getting er done – you know, kind of like a real cop would do. Frances McDormand is crazy-talented, and I love watching her waddle through this movie with her quaint sense of humour, her helmet hair, the meals she shares with her husband. She doesn’t thump her chest or swing her dick around but she’s persistent and dogged and we enjoy watching her unravel this case – poor used car salesman Jerry (William H. Macy); he never really stood a chance against such a humbly formidable opponent.

The Departed This one is kind of on the other end of the spectrum, isn’t it? Two young cops join the force – one, Matt Damon, has a pristine record but works as a mole for mob boss Jack Nicholson. The other, Leonardo DiCaprio, comes from a rough background which helps him go deep under cover, infiltrating the gang, and feeding information back to the only two cops who thedepartedknow he’s actually a good guy – Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg. What ends up happening is that these two chase each other, relentlessly trying to uncover the mole while staying hidden themselves. It’s tense, degrading work, and losing means you pay with your life. Honestly, my favourite cop is probably the one played by Mark Wahlberg. He just goes so off the hook, unpredictable, balls to the wall, you have to admire it. The ending leads me to believe that he’s not clean. But is he a disgruntled ex-cop gone rogue or is he somebody’s rat? Either way, “If a gun is pointed at you, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cop or a criminal.”

21 Jump Street Aaaaaand switching gears again, one of my favourite cop buddy movies of recent years, and probably ever (although, for the record, I also super love Hot Fuzz, and if Matt hadn’t jumped on it, I’d have tried my best to beat Sean to it).  This movie is self-referential and 21jumpstreetmocks the very genre it masters, but it’s never a mere homage. It’s smarter than a spoof, much like Hot Fuzz I suppose, and isn’t afraid to pay respect to its roots, embracing them even, and making them part of the fun. There’s never a moment when the film stops winking at us, trading in the cop movie clichés for cops in bike shorts doing slow-speed chases through grass, having cases thrown out on sad technicalities (“You have the right to remain an attorney.” – “Well, you DO have the right to be an attorney if you want to.”), bullet-riddled tankers that somehow fail to explode. I didn’t like Channing Tatum before this, and I still only like him in this (and I believe that includes the sequel) but for some reason the chemistry between he and Jonah Hill just really works.

Matt

As long as I can rembmer, I wanted to be a cop. I used to play cops and robbers in the schoolyard- usually with people who didn’t even know they were playing. When I was about to 12 I had to rethink my career goals when I realized that my eyesight wasn’t nearly good enough and would never be able to drive a car or see who I’m shooting at but the dream was fun while it lasted. I didn’t know much about police work back then but I did watch a lot of cop movies. Thanks to Wandering Through the Shelves for giving me an excuse to revisit them this week.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)- In the Heat of the Night is nearly 50 years old but its oepning scenes couldn’t be timelier. There’s been a murder in Sparta, Mississippi and the police go out and arrest the first black man they see. Of course, the suspect turns out to be an off-duty Philadelphia homicide detective who they call Mr. Tibbs. If Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger’s characters ever managed to become buddies, this wouIn the Heat of the Nightld have been a contender for the best cop buddy movie of all time. Instead, What we get instead is much more interesting- a classic that manages to say a lot about race relations in the deep South in a time where you had to pretty careful what you said about race in the deep South. Best of all, it never forgets to deliver an engaging murder mystery

Hot FuzzHot Fuzz (2007)– According to TV ads, Hot Fuzz is “from the guys who have watched every action movie ever made”. Satire works best when a writer understands its subject so Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were smart enough to take aim at a genre that they clearly knew well- and loved! Pegg plays a big city cop witha love of police work who is paired with a smalltown cop with a love of police movies (espeically Bad Boys 2). You can feel the love for buddy movies in almost every scene as Wright does his best to recreate the look and feel of a mainstream action movie and filling it with unexpected laugh-out loud moments throughout. To me, this is still pegg and Wrse7enight’s funniest movie.

Se7en (1995)– Between Sean and I, we have three picks from 1995 – a year that seems to have been a golden age for cop movies. Unlike most movies about serial killers, the cops (played of course by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt)- not the killings- are the focus. Freeman, days away from retirement, has lost faith in humanity long before John Doe’s first killing and Pitton his first week on the job, still believes he can make a difference. Over the course of one week and seven brutal killings, both men will have to examine their beliefs. Se7en also has the distinction of being the first film in director David Fincher’s twenty-year winning streak. The final “What’s in the box?” scene is so powerful that even Pitt’s overacting couldn’t derail it.

Laurel Canyon

Sam and Alex are on their way to a picture perfect life. He’s a newly minted psychiatrist about to start his residency in L.A. She’s a brilliant academic finishing up her dissertation. All Alex (Kate Beckinsale) needs is a little peace and quiet, and Sam (Christian Bale) has the perfect place in which to star their new life: his mother’s house in Laurel Canyon. The only problem is that his mother hasn’t cleared out yet. Jane is still there, producing an album for her latest boy toy. She’s a successful record producer whose rock n’ roll lifestyle wasn’t exactly conducive to raising a son. Now that they’re all trapped in a house together, our straight-laced couple is going to clash wildly with Jane’s wanton ways, and they might even be corrupted…

There’s something to this movie about self-discovery, freedom of expression. It’s non-judgmental by 2003 standards and it’s a little wet 17-CTEK-1908-LC_McDormand2-613x463and wild, in a having a threesome with my mother-in-law and her skeevy boyfriend kind of way. Don’t think about that too hard. Christian Bale is doughy and passive but ultimately more believable as a psychiatrist than Kate Beckinsale is as a nerd. Which, granted, is not saying much. But man, is she a bad actress or is she a BAD actress? In this she whispers and slides her glasses up and down her nose, and confuses that with a character.

Fine. The real reason, the only reason to go back in time 15 years, is to watch Frances McDormand do her thing. She does all the things! We genuinely do not deserve her, how could we, but until she figures that out, we must hoard all of her performances and allow movies like this to just become another car on the runaway, unstoppable, Frances train. Toot toooot, all aboard!