The Coen Bros

April 7, 2011

The Coen Bros

The Coens are hit and miss. They do something brilliant and then something not too good, but at least they come back.

Blood Simple – Their debut. It played for a year at the Village 8 theater in Louisville. The only other films I remember doing that were The Gods Must Be Crazy and Ran.
Raising Arizona – The first Coens’ movie I saw (and I saw it a hundred times). I fell in love with Holly Hunter, and Nicholas Cage was actually enjoyable to watch. The use of shakey-cam is great and they owe a debt to their friend Sam Raimi for that. Sometimes I think Barry Sonnenfeld shoulda stuck with cinematography.
Barton Fink – It’s about writer’s block. I’ve been there brother. It won the big 3 at Cannes, and I remember reading Spike Lee‘s complaint that “They’ll go for the golden white boys every time.” Really Spike? You think Jungle Fever deserved best picture, director and actor at Canne? You got some set of balls there buddy. The only good things in Jungle Fever was Sam Jackson (who did get a supporting actor award at Cannes), and Ernest Dickerson‘s photography.
Fargo – Their best film to this point. They shot this while I was living in Minneapolis, and the opening shot is of a bar in downtown MPLS that I used to drive past all the time.
The Man Who Wasn’t There – Joel won best director at Cannes (tied with David Lynch for Mulholland Drive). It was a welcome change after the several films after Fargo I didn’t care for. Plus it had the guy from the Del Taco commercials as one of the barbers in Billy Bob’s shop.
No Country For Old Men – Earned its Oscars. Read the book.
A Serious Man – This is an interesting little movie, with no big names in it. In fact, the only person most Americans will recognize is one of the nerds from Big Bang Theory. I liked it, but I think I have to see it some more times to determine how much I like it. I can certainly relate to Larry’s frustration when dealing with Columbia House (though I do own Santana’s Abraxas).
True Grit – I was fortunate to see this version instead of the original (I am not a John Wayne fan). I was expecting the worst because several critics I respect didn’t like this movie. But I actually liked it better than I thought. In fact, I felt Jeff Bridges did better in this performance than in Crazy Heart (which I don’t like (not the least of which was the bullshit cowardly Hollywood ending they tacked on.The book was far more realistic). One area the original movie does have this beat is its sense of scope. Lucien Ballard‘s cinematography had a greater sense of space than Roger Deakin’s work here (granted, Deakin’s is better lit, but feels more confined). It definitely feels like a remake after seeing the original movie, because it shares pretty much the same scenes, but the acting in the Coen’s version so outshines the Hathaway version, you can go ahead and skip the original.

Some of you may ask “What? No Miller’s Crossing, or Big Lebowski?” Nope. I’m not a fan of Miller’s Crossing, it always felt forced to me. It was too self conscious of its own style, and I didn’t enjoy the performances. If I heard Jon Polito mention someone giving him “the high hat” one more time, I’d have to punch someone. And Big Lebowski? It felt like it was trying too hard. There are bits that are funny, like Turturro as The Jesus. John Goodman’s performance seemed forced, and Steve Buscemi was wasted in a thankless role. Julianne Moore and David Thewlis were embarrassing. The folks that enjoy it remind me of a former high school friend when we saw an R rated movie in the olden days – there was some brief nudity and he squealed with delight “Boobies!”

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