Tag Archives: “coen brothers”

Inside Llewyn Davis

My Letterboxd review of this one, written while I stood at the corner of 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue, waiting to grab some chicken and rice directly after a screening, reads like this: “The Ballad of the Unlikeable Protagonist: Coen Brothers’ Greatest Hits (CBS 2013).” I couldn’t figure out on short notice what else to do with Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s maybe the first Coen Bros. film that seems to settle into sampler territory — it has the frustrated creative protagonist from Barton Fink, the Odyssey references and period-music revivalism of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the John Goodman character role from, well, several of ’em. And its folk-singing wannabe title character really is a piece of work. Abrasive, overly serious, and a mite noxious in his sense of entitlement and estimation of self-worth, frustrated New York folkie Llewyn Davis is the epitome of problematic artistic temperament — a lost cause from square one.
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Burn After Reading

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Coming off multiple Oscars for No Country for Old Men, the Coens get back to work with this colorful, low-key riff on film noir, spy movies, and soap opera that reaches giddy comic heights when it goes behind the scenes with top-level CIA spooks trying to sort out the film’s tightly intertwined goings-on. Frances McDormand stars as the Coens’ cock-eyed idea of a femme fatale — a seriously dopey personal trainer who hatches a scheme to fund a series of desperately wished-for plastic surgeries by working with overly exuberant colleague Brad Pitt in an underthought extortion scheme that enrages newly retired CIA agent John Malkovich. Meanwhile, George Clooney is having an affair with Malkovich’s wife, Tilda Swinton (among many other Washington-area women). The details are unimportant. What matters is the singularly witty rapid-fire dialogue, the oversized comic performances (like Pitt’s bubbly dance moves) and the understated flourishes (like Swinton’s hilarious facial tics). Fueled by sex, violence, and a cynically bemused attitude toward the whole idea of government intelligence, Burn After Reading doesn’t feel quite like anything else in the Coen Brothers’ filmography — think of its casual black comedy as a cross between The Big Lebowski and Fargo, set on the Potomac. 

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In trying to get a handle on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, I wrote about the Herbert Ross version of Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven, deciding that it spoke to the apparent impossibility of ever making another great Hollywood musical. Why wasn’t it obvious then that the Coens, with their innate eccentricities, flair for grand theater, and command of editing rhythms, would be just the folks to reinvent the genre? O Brother, Where Art Thou? only gets partway there — it’s not exactly a musical, and it’s only “Hollywood” in the literal sense. But it is a whimsical, lyrical journey through a national heritage suggested and fulfilled by the songs that hold it together.

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