September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment
The Coen Brothers’ take on the John Wayne classic, “True Grit,” is mentioned in the post below as one of the movies we’re looking forward to seeing this fall. Now, the first trailer for the film, is out. You can see it right here at the end of this post.
The film stars a stable of stars from earlier Coen Brothers outings, including Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin, as well as Matt Damon and newcomer Hallie Steinfeld, who plays Mattie, the young girl who hires damaged U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Bridges in this version, Wayne in the original) to avenge the death of her father.
It’s clear from the trailer the Coen Brothers are taking a… grittier approach, which, to me, suits their style (some will argue over stylized). Bridges certainly has big shoes to fill — Wayne won an Oscar for his performance in the 1969 original — but that seems to be no bother. Bridges is a fantastic and remarkably versatile actor. His roles, which span a wide spectrum from comedy to misery, are always more interesting and richer under his care. Pair up films like “Fearless” and “The Big Lebowski” and you’ll wonder if the two Bridges are the same.
Although I would agree with the minority who maintain “No Country for Old Men” is not their most solid work — other Coen Brothers films like “Miller’s Crossing” and “A Serious Man” are better, if not nearly perfect — I can’t say it’s a bad movie. That said, I think the Coen Brothers were a bit saddled by that film. All Coen Brothers films veer into black comedy, but “No Country” seemed to relish in the black a bit too much, at the expense of the narrative.
“True Grit,” if one is to judge from the snippet here, may be the picture that synthesizes what the brothers do so well: character, homage, story and style.
What do you think?
See the teaser trailer here:
September 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
Sept. 22: “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” — strong cast, including Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin and Patricia Clarkson, speaks Woody Allen-speak. The trailer is excellent. This appears to be a new script — one that Woody didn’t take out of a drawer and dust off.
Oct. 8: “Secretariat” — We’re suckers for a good story at the track. Directed by Randall Wallace and starring the sublime Diane Lane.
Oct. 22: “Hereafter” — Director Clint Eastwood has taken on Boston gangsters, women boxers, World War II, old age and Nelson Mandela in recent years. Now he takes on life after death with his new fave Matt Damon. With the terrific Jay Mohr and Bryce Dallas Howard.
Oct. 22: “The Company Men” — Can Hollywood honestly capture the anxiety and humiliation of the modern worker? Director John Wells gives it a shot with Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and the Craig T. Nelson. The only woman in the cast appears to be Maria Bello, which means what?
Nov. 12: “Morning Glory” — ONLY for Rachel McAdams.
Nov. 19: “The Next Three Days” — Paul Haggis directs an all-star cast in a thriller whodunit headed up by Russell Crowe and the great Elizabeth Banks. That’s the most interesting pairing of the fall.
Dec. 1: “Black Swan” — Not a huge fan of Aronofsky’s. Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei notwithstanding, “The Wrestler” was overrated. “The Fountain” was awful. But this pic, with Natalie Portman, looks interesting.
Dec. 17: “How Do You Know” — A curiously lackluster title, but with a great cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson. From writer/director James L. Brooks.
Christmas Day: “True Grit” — More out of curiosity than anything else. Jeff Bridges, an actor everybody seems to love, takes over from John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. This version is said to be more faithful to the Charles Portis book, which is told from the point of view of a 12-year-old girl. Let’s hope the Coen brothers keep big chunks of the book’s dialogue as did the original 1969 movie.
What do you want to see?
February 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
One of the most exciting aspects of the Coen Brothers latest film, “A Serious Man”, is the debate that surrounds it. The fierce protection of the film by its admirers and the outright disdain from its detractors is a rekindling of the movie discussions of earlier decades. Is the film a profound discussion about the meaning of existence, or is it another misanthropic exercise from these sleek cinematic jokesters?
This is what people talked about when “Blow-Up” was released 45 years ago, or when Kubrick unleashed “2001” and “A Clockwork Orange.” It’s what cinephiles yakked about over beer and coffee when Peckinpah made “The Wild Bunch” and “Straw Dogs.”
Movie debates of late have centered on a reduction of that: those people that could not stand “Transformers 2” were yelling at those who lined up to see it; and those who lined up to see it simply gave the finger back.
It wasn’t very enlightening, and the paradigm had gotten tired long before that anyway. The debate wasn’t about the content of the movie, it centered on the question of how a movie so awful could generate any ticket sales at all.
In a way, the Coen’s previous film, “No Country For Old Men”, started the process. People either loved or hated that film — and I was one of the latter. The mistake I made was in not realizing how fun it would have been to argue my point with anyone who disagreed. I think it may have been I was either out of practice, or I was adopting a kind of political attitude about the process. That is, why argue with anyone whose mind you’re not going to change.
This is how we approach politics and politics has taken the fun out of just about everything — but most importantly it has diminished the idea of actual debate, where the idea is not to sway your opponent, but to argue as eloquently as you can for your team.
So, when the subject of “No Country For Old Men” came up, I turned into Sean Hannity. Anyone who disagreed with me was an idiot. This is not only ignorant in its own fashion, it isn’t fun or respectful.
When I saw, reluctantly, “A Serious Man”, though, I had an idea from the first frame on that this was something I could tuck into. And this was surprising because I can relate to anyone who is a staunch Coen detractor because I have been one for a long time.
I really liked “O, Brother, Where Art Though?”, “Barton Fink” and “Raising Arizona.” I especially liked “Miller’s Crossing.” As for the Holy Grail, “The Big Lebowksi”, something in my metabolism changed from when I first saw it — loved it — to when I rented it on DVD. I couldn’t finish it. I am not a member of the cult.
I actually viscerally hated “No Country For Old Men.” A few scenes were excellent and suspenseful, but I couldn’t tap into the film’s elliptical style, and so when people said, “Oh, this is a great, great film”, I was all “Pshaw!”
So be it.
Before I begin my advocacy, I want to say a word or two about the critical reaction to “A Serious Man,” which again was a model of dissenting opinion. Where I think advocates of the movie went wrong is their strenuous assertion of how “personal” this story must have been to the Coens, and how “Jewish” it is. It is absolutely both, no doubt, but I was dismayed with the idea that these two attributes somehow made the experience impenetrable to anyone who was either not a Coen brother or Jewish. I am neither, but I drilled right into the story without effort. I felt the story was concentrating on the idea of what it feels like to feel apart — and offered up an answer to the questions of why we feel detached from each other and why the universe (or God, G-d, Hashem, family, or boss or spouse or children…) keeps piling one indignity after another on us. How do we cope?
After reading the reviews, I especially determined not to see the film. And this was after reading those review that loved the movie.
Then I sat down and watched it and was treated to a story that seemed both mystical and familiar. The thing that was immediately apparent to me was that the film was anchored by a stunning performance by an actor I had never heard of, Michael Stuhlbarg. He was overlooked by the Oscars, and that is a small artistic crime.
“A Serious Man” is a modern version of a minor vein of storytelling called the comedy of humiliation or embarrassment. It’s almost impossible to pull off, but this film is a supreme example of it, as is the original version of Neil Simon’s “The Heartbreak Kid” from 1972.
Stuhlbarg is an actor from the Charles Grodin and Gene Wilder school; both actors could play (forgive me) the schlemazel without peer. You laughed at him and with him. Stuhlbarg created a character that is constantly humiliated and frustrated while all the while maintaining his dignity and poise. This is a remarkable feat. This is a beautifully reasoned performance, and at the end you feel as though you were able to understand as best you could the man he was trying to be. He was not trying to be the archetypal serious man of the title, but a good man, which is more meaningful and lasting, and he was trying to cope.
I thought the writing of this picture was much less mannered than other Coen movies, and I thought the jokes, of the funnier lines, seemed more organic than usual. The Coens will still repeat a line or a word they find terrifically funny — “Santana Abraxis!” — but they did not overdo it this time.
All across the board the performances are low-key and wonderful, from the always sublime Richard Kind, to Adam Arkin — whose reaction to his law firm’s full partner is priceless! — to Fred Melamed and a host of folks I’ve never heard from before (Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff). They’ve all contributed to make a world that seems both slightly off kilter and very real and tangible as well.
The photography, by Roger Deakins — who has seemingly shot all of the Coen Brothers films — is crisp and clean, and he made the midwest of the late 1960s look like a travel brochure printed on a fine press.
The other thing about Coen brothers that I think is overlooked (even having been nominated for a couple of Oscars for this) is their skill as film editors. They edit under the name Roderick Jaynes, and even if sometimes I don’t get the jokes these boys can edit comedy. They’re sense of timing is superb — nothing is held too long, and their films, unlike almost all Hollywood products these days — actually feels sculpted and thought out. It seems like they prepare like Hitchcock.
I can’t say whether this film has turned me into a Coen brothers fan; their next film is a remake of “True Grit” — but it doesn’t matter. “A Serious Man” is a lovely movie, and it may be personal, and it may be Jewish, but it also may speak to you and move you in a low-key but very meaningful way.
February 22, 2009 § Leave a comment
The reason the Oscars recede each year in the public consciousness has nothing to with the award itself, really, or if the winning movies were hits or misses. It has to do with the way movies are marketed, and the ubiquity of our movie stars.
The Oscars are unimportant today because the formula for success has been inverted. In decades past, it was the movies that stuck around your neighborhood theater for weeks if not months at a time. The movie was your primary connection to the movie star. Now the movie is like a by-product of stardom.
As the movie itself fades, the stars themselves seem to never get off the stage. By the time the Oscars are broadcast we’ve forgotten the movies and we’re also bored to tears with everyone in the audience at the Kodak Theater. That’s a recipe for irrelevance.
My One Prediction
Without having seen the film (it simply does not interest me) I don’t think Kate Winslet will win an Academy Award tonight for “The Reader.” This is based on wholly unscientific research: there are YouTube parodies out there. I don’t think the folks in Hollywood are going to honor something that has been so stingingly and wonderfully mocked.
And, plus, the producer and director had to release a statement defending the film.
If I were Kate Winslet, I’d be heading in tonight’s ceremony with trepidation. If she loses, it might be because she pumped too hard for the Oscar for a role that people ultimately were uncomfortable rewarding. If she wins, it won’t be for one of her universally well-liked roles, but rather it will be for one that, well, people didn’t see or really care about.
Here’s one of the parodies:
Gratuitous Coen Brothers Critique
Last year I only had to laugh when the Coens were honored with the top Oscars, because I think even they must admit in their quiet moments that their movies are a put on. I don’t mean to say they are a joke that people can get. I mean to say that each year they put out a cinematic version of a pet rock or a Chia Pet, and there are enough frightened intellectuals out there who say, “How cool is that!”, and there are enough people too unhip not to want to be in on this so-called joke, so they also say, “How cool is that!” The Coens, meanwhile, must laugh everytime someone writes them a check.
I imagine them writing the screenplay for “Miller’s Crossing” and cackling hysterically every time they wrote the phrase, “And you gave me the high hat!” while at the same marvelling they were being paid to write, “high hat!”
Jerry Lewis will be the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award this evening. I looked Lewis up on Imdb.com and was surprised to learn that he had never even been nominated for an Oscar. I say I was surprised because it did not seem unreasonable that Lewis would have been nominated for something, at some time. But no.
He did legitimately lose out once: He deserved to be nominated, and to win, for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “The King of Comedy”, Martin Scorcese’s great movie from 1982. Lewis played a pompous talk show host named Jerry Langford, who is later kidnapped by Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) and the whacked Masha, played by Sandra Bernhard.
The scene where Pupkin and his would-be girlfriend (Diahanne Abbott) show up at Langford’s house is one of the classic cringe-inducing scenes of all-time, and Lewis makes it work. This was a great performance undeservedly overlooked.
Here’s that scene:
February 19, 2008 § Leave a comment
Peter Travers, the movie critic from Rolling Stone, lets you know, right at the start of his review of the movie “No Country For Old Men”, that if you don’t like the movie you’re an idiot. But don’t let me misinterpret his words. Here’s his first paragraph:
“Misguided souls will tell you that “No Country for Old Men” is out for blood, focused on vengeance and unconcerned with the larger world outside a standard-issue suspense plot. Those people, of course, are deaf, dumb and blind to anything that isn’t spelled out between commercials on dying TV networks. Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel is an indisputably great movie, at this point the year’s very best. Set in 1980 in West Texas, where the chase is on for stolen drug money, the film — a new career peak for the Coen brothers, who share writing and directing credits — is a literate meditation (scary words for the Transformers crowd) on America’s bloodlust for the easy fix. It’s also as entertaining as hell, which tends to rile up elitists. What do the criminal acts of losers in a flyover state have to do with the life of the mind?”
What do they they have to do with a life of the mind? I couldn’t tell you, because the movie certainly doesn’t tell me. So I’m in trouble. I did not like this movie. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t think it was all that great. I guess I won’t be invited over to Peter Travers’ house for an evening of drinking beers and watching “Cheaters.”
Travers has written a perfectly circuitous argument; it ends at the same point it begins. If you didn’t like the movie, you didn’t get it. And if you didn’t get it, you’re an elitist snob. I love the fact that Travers obviously does not want you to consider him an elitist, but yet he says if you don’t love the Coens’ new movie you must be part of the great unwashed crowd that went to see “Transformers.” Which seems to me the statement of an elitist. Hmmm. How do I get out of this argument?
Peter Travers is obviously also on a higher intellectual plane than the rest of us, because “No Country” only managed to be a medium-sized hit (it made about $60 million at the domestic box office.) This poor dumb country of ours is just too stupid to appreciate this genius. This is no country in which to be a real artist.
I found “No Country For Old Men” tedious, attenuated. It had flourishes of brilliance — Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn being chased down the river by the dog, the coin toss in the lonely old gas station — but for me the movie traveled down long and dusty roads in oceans of terminal silence, with characters that did not motivate me toward any kind of feeling.
I had gone in with high expectations – always a mistake – because there is not a performer in the movie I don’t like. I had just come to know Josh Brolin from his terrific performance in “American Gangster”, so I was looking forward to more work from him. Tommy Lee Jones? A thrilling actor. Javier Bardem is also turning into a favorite. Woody Harrelson can almost do no wrong. And I have long since wondered when American filmmakers would get back to the American west – the terrain that fueled so many of my favorite movies (“Junior Bonner”, “The Getaway”) of the 1970s.
The Coen brothers have made some of the great movies in the past 25 years. I loved “O Brother, Where Art Thou” and “The Big Lebowski.” I wasn’t a huge fan of “Fargo”, but there is not a frame of “Miller’s Crossing” that is wrong. “Barton Fink” is fascinating to me, and I allow myself to be transported by the surreal whimsy of “The Hudsucker Proxy.” I love that movie.
But these attributes did not gel for me in “No Country For Old Men.” I do not know the Cormac McCarthy novel, so I don’t know if the movie sacrificed philosophy over plot, or plot over philosophy, because I didn’t get enough of either in the picture. Is “No Country For Old Men” trying to tell me that world is a ruthless place for people who get older? (Wow. This is deep, deep stuff that never occurred to me before. And how fascinating it must have been for Travers to find this out by watching the movie!) Does it mean to say that as mores and customs change, the world gets more confusing for the oldest generation? Is the Anton Ghigurh character — played by Bardem — a symbol of a kind of newer, modern, heartless violence? Is that opposed to the understandable, antique, more heartfelt violence of the past?
I was interested in Travers’ argument that the Coens could make a movie both intellectual and thrilling – it’s a thinking man’s noir, I guess. But check out the July 25, 2005 review of the novel in The New Yorker. The critic, James Wood, argues that while the book is entertaining, it doesn’t have very much interesting to say.
“McCarthy has never been much interested in consciousness and once declared that as far as he was concerned Henry James wasn’t literature. Alas, his new book, with its gleaming equipment of death, its mindless men and absent (but appropriately sentimentalized) women, its rigid, impacted prose, and its meaningless story, is perhaps the logical result of a literary hostility to Mind.”
Okay. Travers, in his quivering, arrogant review, is arguing that the movie version of McCarthy’s novel is precisely about “the life of the mind.” Wood went on to say in his review of the novel that the book was in fact “high-flown nonsense.” So who is right here? Travers, whose position is that the movie is a meditation on the meaning of life itself? Or Wood, who thinks of the novel as having an attribute he calls “metaphysical cheapness.”
And perhaps that’s why I was confused by the picture. It didn’t speak to me as a strict genre piece — and I hope I am not a snob about movies — nor did it have anything interesting to say. Or what it had to say didn’t enlist my attention.
And what about Bardem’s Academy Award-nominated performance? Is it “stupendous”, to use Travers’ description? I don’t know. He didn’t, and won’t, give me nightmares. Joe Pesci’s killer in “GoodFellas” gave me nightmares. So did Dean Stockwell as the Sandman in “Blue Velvet.” So does Norman Bates, and Robert Mitchum in “Night of the Hunter.” But not this guy. I mean, haven’t I seen this kind of glassy-eyed, calm-demeanored killer in the movies before?
Does Brolin really — I mean, really — rip into his role “like a man possessed” as Peter Travers’ says? Is the performance really that exciting? I thought the performance was fine. Brolin had a quiet masculinity. His character seemed to be reasonably smart, reasonably decent, but it was not a performance that seared itself into my memory.
To me, the stylization of both the Coen’s vision (in this particular film) and Travers’ opinion of it dovetail perfectly at the end of Travers’ review in Rolling Stone. You know a debator is in trouble when they, in the end, have to fall back on the “I have seen the enemy, and it is us” argument. That’s exactly where Travers ends up:
“Not since Robert Altman merged with the short stories of Raymond Carver in “Short Cuts” have filmmakers and author fused with such devastating impact as the Coens and McCarthy. Good and evil are tackled with a rigorous fix on the complexity involved. Recent movies about Iraq have pushed hard to show the growing dehumanization infecting our world. “No Country” doesn’t have to preach or wave a flag — it carries in its bones the virus of what we’ve become. The Coens squeeze us without mercy in a vise of tension and suspense, but only to force us to look into an abyss of our own making.”
Oooh. I made this terrible world. We all did, you see, and the Coens’ are forcing us to watch the horror we have caused! Please. Leave me out of it. Think, for a second, of what this same argument sounds like when you transpose the plural to the singular: “‘No Country’ doesn’t have to preach or wave a flag – it carries in its bones the virus of what I’ve become. The Coens squeezed me without mercy in a vice of tension and suspense, and forced me to look into an abyss of my own making.”
Do you think anybody would write that about themselves? No, probably because they wouldn’t believe it and wouldn’t insult themselves that way. So please don’t insult me, thank you, or any of my friends. But because Travers has run out of things to say, he cloaks his ending in the royal “we.”
“No Country For Old Men” is highly stylized and maybe even beautiful, in parts, but it doesn’t have much more on its mind than entertainment. See you all at “Transformers 2.”
August 27, 2007 § Leave a comment
You’ve probably seen only a handful, if any, “red-band” trailers at the theater. The previews that precede most movies typically begin with a green screen that cite a picture’s rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, but add it’s OK to watch the trailer, approved for all audiences.
Red-band trailers begin with a red screen and warn the upcoming preview is approved for restricted audiences only — anyone under 17 should cover their eyes and ears. Why? Red-band trailers don’t have to skimp on the gore, the sex or the language. In essence, they better represent the R- or NC-17-rated picture advertised.
I can recall seeing only one of these trailers at the theater — I don’t remember for what picture — and perhaps a few more on video. They were not widely seen, until recently.
As it turns out, red-band trailers are popping up all over the web, used to reach wider and often niche audiences.
Miramax has added a “red-band” trailer at its site for the upcoming Coen Brothers picture, “No Country for Old Men“. It’s the perfect example of what “red-band” trailers do: It ups the violence quotient and gives us a more accurate look at what to expect from the latest Cohens offering. Certainly it’s not about the blood, but the Coens aren’t known for pulling punches in their darkest offerings — “Blood Simple“, “Barton Fink” and even “Fargo,” for example.
Trailers are a hot commodity on the web for one reason: They can fuel substantial buzz. Many genre pictures in recent years — action, crime, sci-fi and horror — have been touted before release with red-band trailers, as studios recognize the core audience wants a sample of what earned the picture its R-rating: language, violence, sex.
But other less commercial pictures have used the red-band trailer to help better illustrate a message. For instance, a red-band trailer for Michael Winterbottom’s pseudo-documentary, “The Road to Guantanamo,” lets us know that the director’s take on torture at Guantanamo Bay isn’t for the whole family.
Which makes me wonder why you’d want to release a scrubbed-clean preview for a film like “Slither” — whose red-band trailer was a hit on the web — before a screening of, say “King Kong“. Trailers are designed to attract people to a movie and age isn’t a factor, which is why most R-rated films are promoted with previews approved for all ages. What other purpose is there for releasing a trailer for a film that boasts horrific violence or copious sex, but still suitable for all ages?
In the end it likely matters little. How many times have you been disappointed after watching a movie whose trailer was so much better?
Here’s a link to some recent red-band trailers: Click here.
July 20, 2007 § 2 Comments
A one-sheet for the upcoming Coen Brothers film, “No Country for Old Men” has surfaced, which you can see here. The film is scheduled to be released Nov. 21. You can read what some people are already saying about it here.
While we wait, enjoy the gallery below, which features the posters from earlier Coen Brothers films.
— Mike Gillis