26 February 2006

Coen (1995-1998)

1995 - Fargo - The Bros. tackle 1987. I'm fairly certain this is the only Coen film that my mom has seen. This is probably a comment on how effective the Bros.' untrue "True Story" tag at the beginning of the film was. I distinctly remember my older relatives lamenting "that poor boy" whose father completely screwed up his life. It is an excellent movie, mom-friendly or not. The acting is topnotch, the photography of the winter landscape is beautiful and well-composed, and the story unfolds like a Greek tragedy. Like Miller's Crossing, we're also treated to a fun, exaggerated dialect. However, in this film, or O Brother, or Raising Arizona, I'm never sure whether the Bros. are showing us these exaggerated -- but based in reality -- regional cultures of the US to make fun or out of a real love. Marge Gunderson, who, despite speaking in her amusing hyper-Minnesota accent, is treated with such respect that I lean towards the latter option.

Warning to buyers of this DVD. I have the double-sided disc with the widescreen version on one side and the full screen version on the other. Technically, the disc is a DVD-14, meaning that one of the sides is dual-layered. Don't buy this version. Look for the Special Edition with only the widescreen version on it (which would be a single-sided DVD-9). DVD-14s and DVD-18s tend to have major problems: my disc froze on me near the end of the movie and others have reported similar troubles with discs made this way.

1998 - The Big Lebowski - The Bros. tackle 1991. I've never read a Chandler novel, but I am familiar with the "double-crossing crime" genre (last seen here in Miller's Crossing). I'm not much of a fan of stories of that type, so I particularly enjoy this film flipping the genre around and playing with it humorously. In fact, it's a great framework to play with the crazy characters the Bros. invented or pulled from real life. Plug in the ultra-lazy Dude in the place of an ultra-serious hardboiled dick, provide him some temporary motivation in the form of a crazy Vietnam vet, and see what happens. Refusing to use non-diagetic music, making a period piece a mere seven years in the past, the outer cowboy campfire story layer, nihilism, and dozens of other details add up to make this a uniquely funny film.

While watching this film, my film-watching partner and I each drank two White Russians. Each drink was made using a different recipe found online. If you like 'em strong, 2 oz of vodka, 1 oz of Kahlua and 1 oz of half-and-half poured over rocks will do ya. Personally, I preferred the second recipe: 1.5 oz of vodka, 1.5 oz of Kahlua poured over rocks; half-and-half floated on top to taste.

19 February 2006

Coen (1990-1994)

1990 - Miller's Crossing - The Bros. tackle 1929. Cut from the same cloth as Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. While the plot does offer some surprises, its basic structure is solidly in the "double-crossing criminals" subgenre. Making the main character a loyal-but-tormented gangster, rather than an unaffiliated drifter, and adding the love for a dame into the mix helps to differentiate the film from its antecedents. The most fun, for me, in this film comes from the dialogue. The Bros. seemed to have stuffed every single piece of Prohibition-era slang into the script. Sometimes the characters' conversations border on incomprehensible, but it helps add, along with the endlessly firing Tommy guns and the obsession with fedoras, to the hyper-gangster reality of the film's universe.

1991 - Barton Fink - The Bros. tackle 1941. I still feel like I don't get the film. I'm comfortable with the big ideas in it. I get that Hollywood claims to champion creativity, but will destroy the soul of any creative people in its grasp. I get that so-called champions of the common man often don't understand common men at all. I get that Barton is psychotically trapped in his "life of the mind," whereas his oppositely-sized and -demeanored neighbor Charlie lives a psychotic life of the flesh. I'm not solid with other pieces of the film. For example, Barton gets Audrey to come over to help him come up with an outline for his script. Audrey has a good head for such things, having helped Mayhew write his books and scripts. Instead of working, they have sex. Later, Charlie gives Barton a package to hold onto for him, which I assume contains Audrey's severed head. With Audrey's mind, severed from her body, on his desk, Barton not only breaks his writer's block, but writes the best work of his life. Why this is so I can come up with a few ideas, but I don't have a definitive answer. Which, of course, only makes the film fun to watch repeatedly.

1994 - The Hudsucker Proxy - The Bros. tackle 1958, though many of the situations and one entire character were lifted from 1941's Meet John Doe. I'm not sure what went wrong with this one. The comedy falls flat most of the time. The arc of Tim Robbin's character is predictable. The deus ex machina (near literally) ending comes out of nowhere to provide an unsatisfying ending. Was it Sam Raimi's help with the script? Studio interference? Or, was it just time, after four solid films, to swing and miss?

12 February 2006

Coen (1983-1987)

1983 - Blood Simple. - The old saying "seeing is believing" fuels a cascade of misunderstandings in this film. In a way, it's almost like a noir version of a Three's Company episode in which the kooky hijinx result in murder. Throughout the film, when seeing overrides listening, bad things happen. A faked photograph and failure to heed the sound of a cocking revolver doom Marty. The sight of Abby's revolver and Marty with a bullet wound in his chest leads Ray to two erroneous conclusions; a listen to Marty's chest and a real conversation with Abby would've cleared those things up. Abby's failure to listen to Ray allows the PI to see well enough to fire his rifle and kill her lover. It's only when Abby listens to the position of the PI and fires a bullet -- without ever seeing him -- through a door that this run of bad things ends.

I'm curious as to the differences between the director's cut I just watched on DVD and the original theatrical cut. Generally, I'm not a fan of directors re-editing their movies after a significant amount of time has gone by. This is an impressive first film, but I have to wonder how much influence the modern versions of the Bros. had over this cut.

1987 - Raising Arizona - I think in fifty years, people will still be able to watch this and find it funny. Outside of one reference to President Reagan, this is a timeless comedy in which the laughs come from the goofy characters, the situations they get into, and even the editing of the film itself. The closest thing I can think to compare this film to is a Looney Tunes short. It has all of the kinetic energy and broad characters of a cartoon with a solid core about family. I'm still not sure why Leonard and H.I. had the same tattoo (appropriately, of the zany cartoon character Woody Woodpecker). Were they brothers? Was Leonard the hellspawn pure-evil outlaw biker flipside of H.I.'s angelically harmless recidivist convenience store robber? Or, maybe it was just for the simple chuckle: "huh, that's weird!"? Either way, after this recent viewing, I think Raising Arizona is now somewhere in my top 20 favorite comedies. Pure fun.

01 February 2006


Welcome to the Home of the Chronocinethon! What's a chronocinethon? It's a made-up word. It describes the process in which I collect all of a director's movies, then watch them all in chronological order. That way, I can marvel at his intellectual growth throughout the years... or lack thereof.

I've just transferred my mini-reviews and all of my collection lists from my old homepage and several old IMDB threads.

In February, I should be starting my next Chronocinethon, which will be chosen from the "Future Chronocinethons" section over there on the left. After watching a night's worth of films, I'll write up mini-reviews for them and post them here. It's not much, but it keeps me amused.

Right now, I'm thinking it might be Alfred Hitchcock time. I've been wanting to tear into his films for a year now, but I needed to complete my collection. Although, I should buy one of those field sequential 3D setups, so I can watch Dial M for Murder in its proper, 3D format (thanks, 3d geek!).