Tag: Ethan Coen

October 3, 2016 / / Main Slate

“This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.” – Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest

Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew. Some damning circumstance always transpires. The laws and substances of nature — water, snow, wind, gravitation — become penalties to the thief. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation

August 15, 2016 / / Main Slate

HAIL, CAESAR! (2016), the latest film by writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen, is a remarkably unique piece of work, even for the brothers who have been making their own brand of remarkably unique pieces of work for over thirty years. It has been a fascinating and rewarding career to follow. Their first efforts in the 1980s gained a strong underground following; a devoted audience of hyper-literate cineasts and moviegoers with an appreciation for the intelligent and the offbeat. Impossible to pin down or predict, the pair concocted cinematic landscapes as varied as one can imagine right out of the gate, from their suspenseful Neo-Noir debut BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) to its follow-up RAISING ARIZONA (1987), something like a trailer-park screwball comedy on acid. And things didn’t get any less bizarre from there. After the meticulous mobster masterpiece MILLER’S CROSSING (1990), the following year saw the release of BARTON FINK, an especially audacious and utterly unclassifiable hypnotic puzzle of obsession, madness, and the “life of the mind” dressed up as a story about a blocked writer trying to stay true to his principles. Incredibly, this perplexing picture swept the top three awards at the 1991 Cannes film festival (Best Director, Best Actor, and the Palme d’Or). The Coens were now officially a phenomenon, with legendary director Robert Altman taking notice and parodying them in his vicious skewering of the new Hollywood, THE PLAYER (1992). A mainstream breakthrough seemed inevitable.

January 8, 2016 / / Main Slate

The Coen Brothers’ debut film BLOOD SIMPLE leaves the audience speechless at its fade out. It sets the tone for a specific genre of Coen movies about ‘life getting ridiculously complicated for the silliest reasons’. As brilliantly articulated by J. K. Simmons’s character in the finale of BURN AFTER READING (another incarnation of the same Coen genre), ‘What did we learn here?’ echoes in our tickled minds. What did we just experience and why?

November 30, 2015 / / Main Slate

The silver screen at the close of 1990 was dominated by gangster movies. As Martin Scorcese’s GOODFELLAS opened to critical and popular acclaim, anticipation was building for the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER PART III in December. It was at this precise moment a pair of upstart filmmakers unleashed on an unsuspecting world the most satisfying, cerebral and cinematic piece of work in that genre to appear in years. Joel and Ethan Coen’s amazing MILLER’S CROSSING, incredibly only their third feature film, is a beautiful and meticulous piece of craftsmanship that hearkens back to the glory days of Hollywood and shows the audacious duo’s confidence and skill growing by leaps and bounds.

December 18, 2013 / / Main Slate

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Joel and Ethan Coen are perhaps one of American cinema’s most versatile and surprising writing/directing duos. They’ve made a Western (TRUE GRIT), a screwball comedy (INTOLERABLE CRUELTY), a fable (A SERIOUS MAN), a Hollywood satire (BARTON FINK), two noirs (MILLER’S CROSSING, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE) and a mystery (FARGO) among others. Going through so many of Hollywood’s mainstay genres, the Coen Brothers have become symbols of cinema Americana.

December 17, 2013 / / Main Slate

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The conventions of screwball comedy – the rapid-fire banter, the careful repetition of lines of dialogue, the willingness to cross freely and constantly between highbrow and lowbrow gags – play a major role in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. The influence, primarily, is Preston Sturges. His writing, which blended crowd-pleasing slapstick-style hijinks and legitimately high-minded social observations, found its modern heir in the brothers. They skewer like he skewered. They put their characters through the wringer like he put his characters through the wringer. And while their pictures tend to lack the sex appeal that seeped from the syllables of Sturges’ dialogue, they make up for it by matching his oft-unsung propensity for philosophical musings.

December 16, 2013 / / Main Slate

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Comedy is a tricky art.  It involves meticulous timing, clever writing, grand but believable situations, and the right performers to pull it off.  And when comedy goes wrong, the result is often uncomfortable to watch.  The Coen brothers have perfected the art of comedy, but even with their level of expertise, it is still very easy to make a misstep. While I think The LADYKILLERS is by no means a missed mark, I do think it treads closer to the precipice of disaster than their other comedies.  This wavering level of quality is more due to audience expectations, however, than the quality of the film itself.

December 12, 2013 / / Main Slate

True Grit

Near the beginning of TRUE GRIT, there’s a scene that I think nicely encapsulates what the Coen brothers do in their movies. The scene’s worth seeing even if, maybe especially if, you already know what you think about the work of Joel and Ethan Coen. It’s set in a dusty town in the Old West where three men are about to be hanged. Each has a turn to say his peace.

December 11, 2013 / / Main Slate

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Extra! Extra! Come one, come all to the Brattle Theater! Coen brothers’ THE HUDSUCKER PROXY rings in 1994 with campy hilarity! What, this is old news? We’re on the brink of 2014, and I’m dwelling on a film that came out in 1994? Well, according to the tagline for Hudsucker Industries (the fictional title corporation), “The Future Is Now!” By that irrefutable logic, 2014 could just as easily be 1994, and vice versa—if we take that tagline literally and refute the existence of linear temporality altogether. If the future is now in the past that means the past is now in the future! Where did the present go? Screenings of HUDSUCKER PROXY—produced in 1994, set in 1958—will surely continue to captivate present-day audiences; does that send the present to the past, or the past to the present?

December 9, 2013 / / Main Slate

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The opening shot of THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001), the Coen brothers’ homage to classical Hollywood film noir, depicts two black and white lines swirling side by side up toward some unseen destination. The image is hypnotic and abstract, more reminiscent of visuals found in an old sci-fi movie than a gritty film noir. But then the opening credits end, and the camera pulls back to reveal that what we have been looking at is no more than a traditional barber pole. Soon after this shot we are greeted by the familiar conventions and iconography of classical Hollywood noir: cops, criminals, and endless billows of cigarette smoke, all framed by moody black and white cinematography. And yet, the impact of that opening visual still lingers in our memory. The echoes of sci-fi influence are understandable; for THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE is not just a well-crafted neo-noir, but also a movie about an alien stranded among humans.