Thursday, March 20, 2008

Coen Country

Now that the Coen Brothers have finally been blessed with adulation and bestowed with honors, it's time to look back at how they got here. The Coens have been making movies since 1984 when they unleashed "Blood Simple" on the world. Ever since, they've graced us with a slew of films that carry a distinct signature that can only be called Coen. This year they won the Academy Award for their latest "No Country For Old Men", so we've decided to have a Coen Brothers marathon to mark the occasion. One week dedicated to viewing every movie, two per day, until we can no longer stand the sleek images and snappy dialogue, until we regurgitate genius and grow scruffy goatees, until the dark hours of Friday night plague us with violent dreams of recognizable faces rising through the murk and finding fame through our eyes.

Let us begin with the Sunday Night viewing, starting of course with "Blood Simple".

Blood Simple - 1984
A movie that startled critics and moviegoers with it's dark, sparse tale of a jealous man who hires a private detective to kill his wife and her lover. The Coens put their stamp on the world with this tragedy that only a modern day Shakespeare could have penned (imagine the movies Shakespeare would have made!). Famously starring Joel Coen's wife Frances McDormand, whom we'll see often in the future.

The Ladykillers - 2004
The Brothers go full-on remake with this one and star-powered cast headed by two time oscar winner Tom Hanks. This movie was successful with the public but seemed to lack a little of the Coen magic, almost like they were just going through the motions a bit. Classic Coen humor at work here with Hanks donning an alter-ego from the days of Tennessee Williams.

Monday Night

Raising Arizona - 1987
The Coens followed up their first film with this wacky tale of a repeat offender (do you know what recidivism means?) who falls for the police officer who continuously takes his perp photo. It goes from a kidnapping to a duel with a bounty hunter from hell. And everywhere in between are some of the greatest cinematic moments of the decade of squalor. I saw this movie at least a dozen times and I could watch the huggies sequence until the end of time, it's that good. Another film with Mrs. McDormand (you take that diaper off of your head and put it back on your sister!).

Barton Fink - 1991
Too bad this one falls on Monday night because it actually deserves better than a snore on the couch. Hopefully we can stay up for this one because the finale with John Goodman (a Coen favorite) in the fiery hallway is worth every minute. It's a strange sordid tale about a WWII era playwright from New York, John Tuturro (another Coen mainstay), who moves to the west coast to write for Hollywood. Obviously he's not prepared for the heat that hits him in the face like a blast from a furnace.

Tuesday Night

Miller's Crossing - 1990
The Coen Brothers are masters at creating vivid pictures that resonate on the screen with incredible beauty, even when the images are filled with horrendous violence. Miller's Crossing epitomizes everything that is great about this aspect of the Coens' repertoire. Absolutely fluid and dynamic and witty and sharp, this film is effortless and engrossing, my personal favorite.

The Man Who wasn't There - 2001
From the best to the worst. I only saw this movie once and although there were a few Coen moments, I didn't know what to make of it. It didn't seem to have a purpose and the characters were bare, almost soulless. Perhaps I need to watch it again to find the intricate qualities of greatness that seem to come out with multiple viewings. I don't know...but I guess that's why it's viewing late on Tuesday night, the perfect time to drift off to sleep.

Wednesday Night

Fargo - 1996
The first time a Coen Brothers' film won an oscar was for this dark, crisp movie based on a true story about a man from Minnesota who has his own wife kidnapped to collect the ransom and get his ass out of a bind. The entire plan goes terribly wrong of course and ends in terrific Coen tragic style. Our beloved Frances McDormand won an oscar for her role as a sweet-natured-pregnant-small-town-sherriff who must deal with some vicious murders that occur in her jurisdiction. Eventually it all leads to the discovery of Steve Buscemi (Coen regular!) and a wood chipper. Don't ask, just watch it.

The Big Liebowski - 1998
The Brothers really hit it out of the park with these two movies back to back. From dark to light, The Big Liebowski is the most hilarious Coen film ever made and Jeff Bridges is perfect as The Dude, the stoner of all stoners. His adventures with Coen alums Goodman, Buscemi and Tuturro just roll right off the screen and connect with perfect humor. A close second for me to the fore-mentioned Miller's Crossing.

Thursday Night

O' Brother Where Art Thou - 2000
What a string of films! This movie came out shortly after The Big Liebowski and is a retelling of Homer's Odyssey in the deep south during the great depression. It follows three escaped criminals as they attempt to get home to a large stash of cash before it all washes away. Filled with exceptional bluegrass music, a quirky and dare I say unattractive George Clooney and many of the regular Coen cast, this film is a balloon.

Intolerable Cruelty - 2003
The second film with George Clooney is about divorce lawyers. Hmmm, this film followed The Man Who Wasn't There and although it wasn't quite as bad, Intolerable Cruelty left something to be desired. It felt somewhat generic and I want my Coen films to be true Coen films.

Which brings us to Friday Night, the finale.

The Hudsucker Proxy - 1994
Quintessential Coen Brothers' wackiness. A slamdance of ingenuity in the boardrooms of old New York. With ticker tapes and newsreels and old-fashioned wall-street desperation, Tim Robbins plays a naive mail room clerk who has an idea that just might save the company...or destroy it, hopefully. With it's rapid-fire delivery, off-the-wall characters, over-the-top acting and fairy-tale motif, this movie is an absolute delight. Paul Newman stars as a conniving old businessman harnessing the fire of Eddie Felson.

No Country For Old Men - 2007
And last but not least we have our oscar-winning film from 2007. Based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, this movie meanders around south Texas with the heart of the devil. In perfect McCarthy style we follow Josh Brolin as he tries to avoid drug dealers and the ultimate killing machine embodied by Javier Bardem (who also won an oscar). The Coens are back to their old ways with this one and it delivers beautifully with typical Coen viciousness. It's nice to see the Brothers indulging in creative and superior film-making again. When they decide to do something right, they truly are magicians. Enjoy!



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