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Tag: the coen brothers

Million Dollar Movie

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Dana Stevens on that Barton Fink feeling:

Once he’s ensconced in that ominous room at the Hotel Earle and charged by an inexplicably fawning studio exec with the task of churning out a script that will deliver “that Barton Fink feeling,” Barton embarks on a process so many writers experience, in miniature, every time we’re on deadline. The obdurate, set-in-stone first paragraph that will yield no further wisdom no matter how long we stare at it (and that, if we had the perspective our readers do, we would realize sounds suspiciously like the last opening we wrote). The importuning neighbor (John Goodman as the jolly yet obscurely menacing Charlie Meadows) who drops by for a friendly nip of hooch and winds up making off with our time, our inspiration and possibly — or so it’s suggested in “Barton Fink’s” violent third-act conflagration — our soul. The bitter acceptance of our own fraudulence, flowing in a continuously alternating current with the grandiloquent conviction that this time, by gum, we’ve broken the whole thing wide open.

There are films about writers — Jane Campion’s luminous Keats biopic “Bright Star” comes to mind — that capture the potential of literature to distill the essence of a human life (it helps when the writer’s words really are sublime, and as well used and understood by the filmmaker as Keats’s are by Campion). But “Barton Fink” is remarkable for just the opposite: its wicked, earthbound honesty about both the sinkhole of authorial self-obsession and the often sub-sublime results of those triumphant typing montages. The movie’s first, more realistic section is separated from its oneiric second half by a spectacular tracking shot that dives down the drain of a hotel sink, symbolizing the hero’s descent into damnation, madness or both. But my first thought every time I see that camera go down the drain is: Well, so much for that deadline.

Funny Lookin’

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Fargo the TV show. 

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Joel and Ethan’s latest is out. 

Also, there’s this:

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Lebowski in 60 seconds.

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From Cinephilia and Beyond.

And this in today’s Times:

Ethan We’ve always actually been remarkably commercially successful. Not in terms of making huge amounts of money, which we rarely do, but in terms of not losing money and making modest amounts of money. We’re actually strangely consistent in that respect. We’ve been able to keep making movies because of that and also because, strangely, we’ve had studio patrons, starting from Barry Diller. Sometimes they’re establishment people who know they’re not going to make huge amounts of money, but they like your movies. They’re moviegoers, too.

Joel And mostly they’re making blockbusters, but when you get in a room with them, they go, “Go off and make your movie, and I’ll do it as long as I can’t get hurt too bad.” You know? They’re completely open to that still. They don’t want to get burned.

Ethan They don’t want to look stupid.

Joel Nobody wants to look stupid or lose lots of money. On the other hand, they’re not afraid of doing other stuff if they can trust you to keep it reasonable. So, yeah, they kind of let us wander off without any adult supervision and do what we want.

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Via Cinephilia and Beyond, here’s a good documentary on the Coen brothers.

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Next up from the Coen brothers…

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I watched Intolerable Cruelty again recently and really enjoyed it. It’s not considered one of the Coens’ better movies but the acting is sharp and the Coens’ get the screwball down here in a crisp, biting way that was missing from The Hudsucker Proxy (though that movie has its pleasures, too).

Maybe it’s because I think Catherine Zeta-Jones is a fox and because I like George Clooney when he does comedy. Their chemistry works in a way we rarely see in war of sexes movies these days.

Billy Bob Thorton really cracks me up in his small role.

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Via Kottke–man, life is just better because of Kottke, ain’t it?–let’s revisit Fargo, shall we?

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“The Big Lebowski” like you’ve never seen it before, compressed into a single image like a bar code. There’s plenty more of them, here. Man, there’s all sorts of curious and weird things on the Internet, eh?

The Long and Short of it

Wanna know what’s what in long form journalism? Then head directly to Long Form Reads–peep the website, sign-up for their weekly e-mail, check ‘em out on Twitter. An essential site.

Dig this strange piece they found from the Guardian about a Japanese woman who was found buried in the snow in Fargo, North Dakota. She was looking for the money that was ditched by Steve Buscemi in “Fargo.”

And to All a Good Night!

Here’s hoping you all have a great holiday no matter what you are doing. I had a terrific pastrami sandwich today in Brooklyn and then saw “True Grit.” I enjoyed it–it was really funny and also brutal–though I don’t think it makes my Coen Brothers Top Five (which is, in no order, “Raising Arizona,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” and “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”).

Now happy to be home with the Mrs and our kittens.

Merry Everything, folks.

X Marks the Spot

I read the novel “True Grit” by Charles Portis recently because I wanted to see what compelled Joel and Ethan Coen to remake the original movie. The novel, by Charles Portis, is short, and written in a straight forward style. It is funny and engaging and it didn’t take long to figure why the Coens loved it–it reads like one of their movies. The material is right in their wheelhouse.

There was a piece on Portis, a private man with no interest in celebrity, this past weekend in the Times Magazine:

There’s a special challenge in adapting a writer like Portis for the screen, because so much of his craft lies in that combination of word-music and sensibility called literary voice. Borrowing his dialogue is a start, and the Coens have done that, as well as employing voice-over passages plucked from the novel. And the dialogue they have added sounds suitably Portisesque: “He has abandoned me to a congress of louts,” for instance, and “I am a foolish old man who has been drawn into a wild-goose chase by a harpy in trousers and a nincompoop.”

But filmmakers have other ways to mimic the effect of literary voice. Think of film noir’s use of low-key lighting to express Chandler’s dark vision of his characters’ inner lives or how different directors try to catch Philip K. Dick’s signature feeling of creeping unreality with trippy special effects or extreme close-ups. And then there’s acting style. John Wayne’s mannered presence, his declamatory line readings and mincing he-man gait, suited him well to Portis’s mock-epic tone. Similarly, the actors in the Coens’ “True Grit” communicate a winning sort of self-importance by puffing themselves up, portentously matching words to actions (“I extend my hand”) and gnawing their lines as if extracting tobacco juice from them.

For more on Portis, check out Tom Wolfe’s famous story, “The Birth of the New Journalism”:

…At the desk behind mine in the Herald Tribune city room sat Charles Portis. Portis was the original laconic cutup. At one point he was asked onto a kind of Meet the Press show with Malcolm X, and Malcolm X made the mistake of giving the reporters a little lecture before they went on about how he didn’t want to hear anybody calling him “Malcolm,” because he was not a dining-car waiter—his name happened to be “Malcolm X.” By the end of the show Malcolm X was furious. He was climbing the goddamned acoustical tiles. The original laconic cutup, Portis, had invariably and continually addressed him as “Mr. X” . . . “Now, Mr. X, let me ask you this . . .” Anyway, Portis had the desk behind mine. Down in a bullpen at the far end of the room was Jimmy Breslin. Over to one side sat Dick Schaap. We were all engaged in a form of newspaper competition that I have never known anybody to even talk about in public. Yet Schaap had quit as city editor of the New York Herald Tribune, which was one of the legendary jobs in journalism—moved down the organizational chart, in other words—just to get in this secret game.

…As for our little league of feature writers—two of the contestants, Portis and Breslin, actually went on to live out the fantasy. They wrote their novels. Portis did it in a way that was so much like the way it happens in the dream, it was unbelievable. One day he suddenly quit as London correspondent for the Herald Tribune. That was generally regarded as a very choice job in the newspaper business. Portis quit cold one day; just like that, without a warning. He returned to the United States and moved into a fishing shack in Arkansas. In six months he wrote a beautiful little novel called Norwood. Then he wrote True Grit, which was a best seller. The reviews were terrific . . . He sold both books to the movies . . . He made a fortune . . . A fishing shack! In Arkansas! It was too goddamned perfect to be true, and yet there it was. Which is to say that the old dream, The Novel, has never died.

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Bridges and the Coen brothers, together again.

CRUEL TO BE KIND

My former employers, Joel and Ethan Coen, have a new movie out today. The New York papers gave “Intolerable Cruelty,” a screwball comedy featuring George Clooney and Cathering Zeta-Jones, glowing notices. I’ve seen the ads for the movies, and it hasn’t really looked too great from what I can tell. They sure aren’t billing it as a Coen Brother film, just like Woody Allen’s latest wasn’t marketed as a Woody Allen movie. But looks can be deceiving, as Times film critic Elvis Mitchell confirmed in his review:

Between a lethargic trailer propped up by “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” and the mainstream-sentimentalist producer Brian (“A Beautiful Mind”) Grazer’s name on the credits, there’s plenty of reason for an involuntary recoil toward the Coen Brothers’ fearsomely titled new movie, “Intolerable Cruelty.” But the film is not shudder-worthy. Instead, it’s something not seen in movie theaters for a long time: an intelligent, modern screwball comedy, a minor classic on the order of competent, fast-talking curve balls about deception and greed like Mitchell Leisen’s “Easy Living” and Billy Wilder’s “Major and the Minor.”

The last time the boys tried to make a commerical film—”The Hudsucker Proxy”—it bombed. Ethan used to say that maybe 1,000 people actually paid to see it in the theater. So what did they do next? They were going to make “The Big Lebowski”—the movie I eventually worked on–but John Goodman was unavailable at the time. So they went ahead and made a low-budget crime caper about sad sack criminals in North Dakata.

I remember one of their old friends telling me that he emplored the guys not to make “Fargo.” “You guys just had a major flop and now you are going to make a movie that exactly twelve people are going to want to see.” Of course, “Fargo” turned out to be a fluke smash, and since then, I think Joel and Ethan make whatever movie they can get financed (they usually have at least a half a dozen scripts which they’ve penned, to choose from).

I hope the new one is good. The boys are currently in L.A. filming a remake of the Alec Guiness comedy “The Ladykillers,” which stars Tom Hanks.

STRONG MEN ALSO CRY, SIR

STRONG MEN ALSO CRY, SIR

When I first went to work for the Coen brothers in the fall of 1996, they had already cast Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” for their next movie, “The Big Lebowski.” For the first couple of weeks I was with them, they agonized over who would play “Lebowski.” The trouble was, most of the actors on their wish list were dead: Fredy Gywnne, Raymond Burr, Orson Welles. Ultimately, it came down to two actors, one of whom was British. I thought the Brit was the better choice, but for Joel and Ethan it was important that the actor was American, preferably of the midwest variety.

Thinking back on it, George Steinbrenner would have been an ideal choice. I was reminded of this after reading that Boss George got all choked up in front of a group of stunned reporters after yesterday’s exciting win over the Red Sox. As Lebowski would say, “Strong men also cry.” Veteran New York reporters Bill Madden and Joel Sherman were genuinely surprised at Steinbrenner’s reaction. That is saying something. Jack Curry reports in the Times:

The tears were visible beneath his sunglasses soon after Pride delivered for the second straight game. Steinbrenner depicts himself as a tough guy and a tough owner, a man who has avoided tears after winning some World Series titles. But on this emotional day in an emotional rivalry, when two of his best players wound up at a hospital for X-rays, Steinbrenner turned softer than pudding.

“I’m just proud of the way Mussina pitched,” Steinbrenner said. “You know, I’m getting older. As you get older, you do this more.”

According to Madden:

With a security guard behind him looking on in astonishment, Steinbrenner briefly excused himself from the group of reporters that had surrounded him in the press box as the Yankees were loading the bases against the new Red Sox closer, Byung Hyun Kim, with none out in the ninth. Moments later, as jubilation reigned from the 55,000 fans exiting the Stadium and Sinatra was kicking into “New York, New York,” Steinbrenner came back, still teary-eyed, only this time with a tone of defiance to his voice.

“Did you think Martinez was deliberately throwing at your guys?” he was asked.

“I have no idea what’s going on in his head,” Steinbrenner said, “except that it didn’t look too good to me. Two hitters? One of whom, Soriano, is on his way to the All-Star Game. … If he did deliver a message, he delivered the wrong — message!”

The postgame interviews featured relatively tame he-said/she-said accounts of Martinez’s drillings.

Naturally, the Sox left town vexed that they couldn’t win the series. Bob Ryan has a terrific summary of the game in the Globe this morning:

…Of course the Yankees found a way to win by a 2-1 score, and when it was over Niagara Falls took up residence on Steinbrenner’s face. The Boss bawled some serious tears of joy. Seriously. He was really crying. When it comes to this rivalry, there is never any need to make things up. Fact has been kicking Fiction’s butt now for nigh onto nine decades.

Ryan points out how the Red Sox wasted a great opportunity to take the series with Martinez pitching and the Yankees fielding their B (or C?) team.

The journalistic temptation is to get melodramatic when discussing the ceaseless Red Sox fan frustration against the Yankees, but how can you not when you see games like this? Losing this game, and falling back to the same situation the team was in when it arrived here in the wee smalls Friday (i.e. four games behind), on a day when they were playing the junior varsity and your team was suiting up the full varsity is, what? Galling? Humiliating? Exasperating? Oh, God forbid, and worst of all, predictable? Was there a seasoned Red Sox fan out there who didn’t know with 1 trillion percent certainty in his or her heart of hearts that as soon as Giambi’s single tied the game off Martinez that this game was a lost cause and more than likely would end in some messy fashion?

What did we have in the ninth? We had two singles on two-strike pitches, a hit batsman to load the bases with none out, and a botched grounder that had inning-ending 4-2-3 written all over it.

And then we had George opening up the facial faucet.

When the subject matter is the Red Sox and their ongoing battle to slay the big, bad dragon from the Bronx, no mere sportswriter is equal to the task. But Homer is dead, and we are all you’ve got.

Weep on, George. History remains on your side.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver