Tag Archives: Joel Coen

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is actually 6 distinct stories. The first one opens in spectacular fashion, Buster(Tim Blake Nelson) mounted on his horse, strumming his guitar, his pleasing singing voice echoing off the mountains around him. When he rides into town, he lives up to the second part of his illustrious reputation: he’s the best gun slinger in town. And indeed. no matter how jaded a western, shoot em up, action hero connoisseur you are, Buster has some moves that will impress you. This opening vignette sets such a strong tone, and an enjoyable one, that its abrupt shift left me confused and grief-stricken, and maybe even bored.

We turned the movie off halfway through. But that opening part really stayed with me. It did such a good job establishing the movie as one to watch that  I succumbed to the MV5BMjQwNDI4MTA3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTQ1OTEzNjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,960_AL_pressure and made attempt #2 the next night. I rewound to the beginning and what I found was: yes, the switch between the first and second chapter is brusque, and because for me unexpected, I had lost interest when I failed to keep up. In this second portion, James Franco is a bank robber who gets the ultimate sentence for his crime. Our first extended look at his face is perhaps one of the most striking portraits of a man I’ve ever seen on film. The editing is astonishingly economical: the story is told not so much quickly as efficiently. But during my second watch, with all guns firing, not only was I less confused, I was incredibly impressed.

Joel and Ethan Cohen know what the hell they’re doing. If their movie isn’t speaking to me, I should damn well know that it isn’t their failing as writer-directors, but mine as a viewer. Subsequent chapters star the likes of Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, and Zoe Kazan. They all tell their own stories about brutal and unforgiving life in the Old West.

The Coen Brothers have been at this a long time yet they’ve still got the ability to surprise. Their brevity inspires them to experiment in yet more ways, crafting stories that are compelling exhibitions of their dark humour and signature style. Did I like this movie? No. I fecking loved it. It took me two tries to get there mind you, but it was fecking worth it.

Suburbicon

Sean and I are in Venice for the Venice Film Festival. Last week we saw and loved Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which had us appreciating not only the lushness of the period (circa 1962, I believe), but also Del Toro’s refusal to completely excuse it. The 1950s are often given the nostalgia treatment in movies, coated in a thick gloss of fond memories with a healthy dose of forgetting the grim realities. This is a time period that inspires idiots to spout slogans like Make America Great Again, because that time period was actually quite bad for quite a lot of people. Del Toro’s film included some subtle nods to that fact, but Suburbicon is the movie that blows the lid right off it.

Suburbicon is the name of a town founded on the principles of an idyllic setting with all the conveniences of the city but none of the sordidness. The sprawling neighbourhoods MV5BMjExMjE5MDE4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzU0NTEwMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1449,1000_AL_are safe, the schools are good, it’s a great place to raise a family. Except if you’re the Meyerses, who just moved in. They’re not welcome (being black and all). They’re apparently the very people all these “nice” white folk have moved away from the cities to avoid. The Meyers don’t do a darn thing to incur the slightest ill will, except have a darker skin tone, but still the wrath of the townspeople is rained down upon them. Determined to force them out, their white neighbours harass them and abuse them and generally make such a ruckus that no one notices the neighbours directly behind them.

In that house, Gardner (Matt Damon), his wife (Julianne Moore), his wife’s sister (also Julianne Moore), and his young son Nicky are being held hostage in a bizarre home invasion that leaves one dead and the whole family shattered. It’s just the beginning of a bloody series of events that get more and more lurid. It’s so suspicious that an investigator (Oscar Isaac) shows up at their door. But everyone else is so busy with their unrequited race war that no attention is being paid to the white family wreaking havoc.

It’s exactly the kind of satire-caper at which the Coen brothers excel. Incompetent criminals seem to be their specialty. Frequent collaborator George Clooney joins not only as a co-writer but as the director. He’s added a layer of social consciousness with deep, resonating roots. Suburbicon is slick and it entertains you to within an inch of your life. The cast is wonderful, and Clooney, being an actor’s director, elicits a startling performance out of Matt Damon, and a sterling one out of young Noah Jupe. This black comedy earned a lot of laughs at our screening – seemingly the darker things got, the more we laughed out of anxiety and relief. But this is a brutal story that rewards people justly for their crimes. At first it may seem like we’re flipping between two different movies – the obvious and the absurd – but upon reflection, I like what Clooney’s done with the juxtaposition.

Suburbicon is a little wild, a little uneven, but a whole lot of fun. It’ll be hitting theatres late October.

O Brother Where Art Thou?

Did you know that O Brother Where Art Thou? is an homage to/rip off of Homer’s Odyssey?  Probably.  Did you know that neither of the Coen brothers read the Odyssey before writing this movie?  Probably not.  Having not read the Odyssey myself, I can’t say how accurate the movie is, but when the songs are so toe-tappingly great (in a depression-era sort of way), any lingering concerns about literary accuracy quickly fade.

If you read our site even a little bit, you probably know we are big fans of the Coens.  O Brother is the third Coen brothers film I ever saw (Barton Fink was the first, thoroughly confusing ao-brother-where-art-thound terrifying me at age 14, and Fargo was the second, and at age 20 I was not quite ready to embrace the weird mix of funny accents and wood-chipper gore).  I remember finding O Brother much less creepy than Barton Fink and much easier to digest than Fargo (while also noticing that funny accents were featured in all three).  In fact, I would give this movie most of the credit for making me track down other Coen brothers movies instead of writing them off as more of the same from the guys who were responsible for John Goodman and Peter Stormare stalking me in my nightmares.  So thanks, O Brother, for being my gateway drug to The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis, Hail Caesar, and so many more!

Basically, if you haven’t seen O Brother, you should.  It’s not necessarily a classic, and for my money it’s lingering somewhere in the o-brothermiddle of the pack for the Coens, but it’s a great appetizer for their other stuff.  It’s also a fun standalone movie that has a fantastic soundtrack and a bunch of crazy characters doing strange things.  And if you have seen it, why not see it again, if only to notice for the first time (like I just did) that frequent Coen collaborator John Turturro is one of O Brother’s main characters.  Either way, you can’t lose!

O Brother gets a score of eight soggy bottoms out of ten.

 

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.
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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.