You know, I do believe that the quality of entertainment somehow affects the quality of a person. So, in my constant goal to improve CL, I want to try to inform people about better things to entertain themselves with. Things that are 1) not anime and 2) damn good. So, saying all this, I am here to introduce you to Coen Brothers.
Now, some of you may know them already and you don't need me introducing them. Others may have seen some of their movies but didn't pay attention to whose movie that was. Now, Ethan and Joel Coen are brothers and they make movies together. In movie credits they tend to alternate between roles, but in truth they both equally share directing, producing and screenwriting of every movie.
The movies they make would most likely make you laugh at some point, but not all of those are comedies. Sure, there are a lot of comedies in the upcoming list, but there are dramas there also. I guess, one thing you can be certain of is that there will be some sort of dark humor in the thing you would watch. Other than that - no guarantees. Also, the Brothers tend to work with the same people over and over. You know, like Tim Burton loves working with Johny Depp, in Coen movies you may find a lot of familiar faces.
And another thing. After watching a lot of Coen movies, I can say that what they do is they take some sort of setting, and they over-exaggerate it, make it grotesque and put strange characters bound together by a weird story in it. Hmmm... okay, it might be better to just start showing you examples.
While I haven't seem all of Coen movies, I saw a lot, and I will put them here, so you can pick the ones you might like yourself.
Raising Arizona (1987)
Theme of the movie? White trailer trash and all sorts of hillbillies! Yes, we are firing the big guns right from the start.
The story is about ex-con (Nicolas Cage) marrying a police officer (Holly Hunter). They start a happy family in a trailer and work on getting a baby. But when they find out that Edwina can't give birth, they despair. They despair so hard that when they hear news about local well-known businessman having 5 newborn babies, they decide to steal one. You know, because some people have too many and they have none. And let me tell you, they get no shortage of troubles from that decision.
This is a pure comedy. The things that happen are damn hilarious and the hillbillyness of people involved makes it all the more so. Hell, the fight in a trailer is great. Bike rider from hell is also quite great and is played by famous kick-boxer. Also, this is one of few rare movies where Cage is cast perfectly. Because, while Cage may annoy some people by his sad expression and melancholy on most movies, he nails the role of white trash perfectly.
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Theme of this one is very easy - mafia. But, as I said, the theme is shown in a grotesque way.
Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) is a close adviser to Leo (Albert Finney) who is the boss of the most powerful mafia family in the city. He controls the mayor and the police, but, sadly, Leo fell in love and is now covering for the brother of his beloved. And that brother character crossed the boss of the second most powerful family. Despite Tom's attempts, the mafia war breaks out, and it is up to him to stop this. And to try and stay alive.
This thing is more on a drama side, but it has comedy tones to it. Mafia people are very tight, so everyone knows everyone and, when they hit, threaten or kill each other, they do it with a sort of 'no hard feelings, that's our work' attitude. Naturally, with a few exceptions. Scene with a chair in a warehouse made me laugh for a whole minute. And the story will hold you. Until the end you will not now if the main character really plans for things that happen or he just tries to stay afloat among this chaos.
Barton Fink (1991)
This one is weird. Even more that all the others. And if I would try to name a theme for this... I'd say the theme is pressure. Yes. That's it.
Popular writer (John Turturro) is headhunted by people in Hollywood to write a script for a movie. He gladly accepts and moves to LA, where he is given a deadline and a crappy room in a crappy hotel. And he suddenly finds out that he got no inspiration. So he tries to get it back, while interacting with people around him. And, while this is going, very strange events start happening that are closely tied to the guy in the next room (John Goodman). Strange and very frightening events.
As I said, one of the weird ones. You will find things to laugh at, but mostly you will try with all your might to understand what the hell is happening. Does it all have meaning? Is it all in the writers head? Will there be a logical conclusion to all this? The movie is mind-boggling and it is interesting. Just really weird.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Again, very easy to get the theme of this one - cutthroat corporation! And yes, that's exactly the attitude you have to take in business.
When the chairman of the huge corporation suddenly kills himself by jumping from the 44th floor, the board of directors finds the need to find someone to confuse people and make stock prices drop. And so they make Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), who was just hired that day, the director of the whole company! And from that point he goes up, then goes down, then up again, and so on, and so forth. The question is, will he be able to survive the world of corporate relationships.
This one is another grotesque comedy, and it is the first Coen movie I ever saw. back on TV and in Russian, and I didn't know who made that movie yet. The movie is great. It might get sad at times, but it's mostly light-hearted and funny and it would make you laugh at suicide which is an added bonus.
This? This is about amateur crime. Also, while the movie states that this is based on true events, that's not exactly true. However, the movie is based on two crimes that actually happened.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is in dire need of money. And the father of his wife has money, but that old-timer is too stingy to give out any. So Jerry hired two criminals to kidnap his wife and then share the ransom money from her father. However, along the way a lot of things go wrong and more and more people die. And at the same time the trail of criminals is followed by a pregnant policewoman (Frances McDormand).
This is a very dark comedy. There's a lot to laugh at, and at the same time things that happen are at times quite horrible. And bloody. And bloody horrible. The story is very predictable - you know that a lot of things will go even more wrong than they already are, but you really have no idea how wrong things can get.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
This is probably my favorite Coen movie. And it is about the craziness of LA.
Jeffrey Lebowski or, as he calls himself, The Dude (Jeff Bridges) is a bum with no current employment wasting his life in LA. The only thing he takes seriously is bowling matches with his friends (John Goodman and Steve Buscemi). That is until he get mixed up with the affair of another Jeffrey Lebowski who happens to be millionaire. And that would make him deal with modern artists, porno producers, police, private detectives and a bunch of extremely pissed of nihilists. Not to mention rival bowling team!
As I said, this is my favorite Coen movie and it happens to be the one I started knowingly watching their movies with. The whole situation on the movie is outright crazy and hilarious. And at the same time, it is something that is not only crazy, but only quite realistic. People mixing up in affairs and trying to dupe each other, with the whole thing spinning out of control.
If you would watch just one movie from the whole list here - let it be this one.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The theme of this one is hard to pin down. But it is a loose story of Odyssey in the setting of America south of 1930-ies. Oh, and it's very musical too.
Everett McGill (George Clooney), while in prison, receives news about his wife planning to get married again. So, he spins a yarn about hidden money to Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O'Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) who are chained together with him, so they escape. Along the way they would meet baptists, blind seer, betrayer, governors, members or Ku Klux Klan, guy who sold his soul to the devil and a sheriff from hell. Oh, and they will also see a cow on the roof of a house.
Very nice movie. It's a comedy and it's a musical, so it's pure entertainment. Some people don't like this one calling it too ordinary, but it's far from it. I mean, it's the most unique thing based of Odyssey that you might ever find. And the songs are really good too, I have to say.
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
In one word? Divorce. In many words? The horrible world of divorce law!
Miles (George Clooney) is a brilliant divorce lawyer. Possibly, best at what he does - making his client leave with all his money no matter how badly said client messed up the marriage. However, when he meets Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones) as his opposition in court, he starts feeling things he never felt before. Like... love! Can he really afford to love this pretty gold-digger and is it possible to even think that she may love him back?
I have to say, the whole theme of divorces and cheating didn't appeal much to me, but I liked the movie all the same. If I were to pick the most ordinary Coen movie, this would be it - this is just your average cute comedy with all the right steps along the way and a happy ending. Still, it is worth watching, and you would have fun doing it.
The Ladykillers (2004)
I am not sure about naming the exact theme of this one... I guess, this may count as an unusual take on robbery movies.
One sunny day an old black no-nonsense lady (Irma P. Hall) is approached by Professor G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks) on the matter of renting a room in her house. Soon it also becomes known that professor is a leader of a band... what? No! A music band! And they would like to play in the basement of the house where they won't bother anyone. However, Mrs. Munson soon finds out that there boys are actually planing to rob the casino nearby. The band, cornered by an old lady, decides to kill her. However, it turns out to be the hardest task in their whole plan.
Another movie with distinct southern feeling. Also, very good black comedy with people dying and you laughing about it all the way to the end. Also, we can rarely see Tom Hanks as a bad guy, and this movie shows that he really should do it much more. If you want a light-hearted comedy with a dark humor - this is your choice.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
This have many themes. There are rednecks, there is crime deal gone wrong and there is a world that is going to fast to keep up with it.
Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), while hunting, finds a scene of drug cartels shoot-out. Even more, he finds the case with money - more money than he would know what to do with. And he takes it. However, that makes him a target for the local drug cartels. But what's even worse - the hitman (Javier Bardem) sent to retrieve the money decides to get it for himself and goes rogue killing everyone in his path. And the sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) following the trail of that hitman is way in over his head on this case.
Not so much of a comedy than an irony. This is a drama, but it still follows the usual pattern of Coen movies of strange people mixed up in believable but incredibly weird circumstances. And all this with an underlying theme of things becoming to fast and too weird in this world. Also, I have to mention that, the screen from this movie is used as an 'implied facepalm' motivator that I really took liking to.
Burn After Reading (2008)
This is about CIA fuckups. Also, it is about over-thinking things. Really-really overthinking them.
Gym janitor finds a CD on a floor. CD filled with documents that look very secret. Two of gym trainers (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) find the owner of this information - a former CIA agent (John Malkovich) who was quite involuntarily retired. But instead of giving the CD to him, they decide to blackmail him for money. And it all just spirals down from there, burning more and more people along the way. And all that is carefully documented by acting CIA agent who, quite honestly, have no idea what the hell should they do about it.
This movie is awesome. I'd say that it's on par with Lebowski movie, which says a lot. Both movies are about situations that started as misunderstanding and went out of control really fast. The one difference is there is no real main character in this one - all of them are equally important in a way. Also, Brad Pitt here is great. After all his cool roles he played a real dumbass like a boss!
A Serious Man (2009)www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iggyFPls4w
Middle-age crisis in a Jewish community. Doesn't it say it all?
Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a Jew. Which is not a crime in any way. He is also a teacher and an upstanding member of a community. At least he tries to do right things and make all the right moves. However for some unknown reason his life is in shambles. Marriage is breaking, his teaching position is in danger, he can't relate to his kids. He needs help. But somehow he is so out of his luck that even rabbi won't talk to him. Can his life get any better or can it at least stop getting any worse?
Honestly, this is probably the movie I least understood. Perhaps I would understand it more if I was an orthodox Jew. Or maybe not. Still, it is interesting movie in its own right, and you will laugh. You are bound to laugh at Rabbi at least. I think I will re-watch that one, you know. And if you would try to watch this - be warned, you will have to be prepared to really keep track of what happens.
True Grit (2010)
Again, very easy to name this. This is Coen take on wild west theme. And a good take it is - darker and somewhat grittier than most westerns.
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is only 14 years old, but she is a stern young lady with a keen business sense and a firm character. So, when her father is killed by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who then fled to Indian territories, she wastes no time before hiring Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a marshall, who is said to have true grit, to hunt the criminal down. What more, Mattie insists on following Cogburn in his chase. Along the way they band with Texas ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who is also chasing Chaney. Together they have to follow the trail and ultimately face an outlaw gang Chaney joined.
Again, more of a drama, but you will find funny things there, although darkish. All in all, quite serious movie that has a good amount of suspense and well-placed action. Also, while this western movie does romanticizes wild west, it also does good work showing it as a hard unforgiving place that it was. Good action movie that really grabs you.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Alright, this one's theme is also easy, but only if you watched it all the way to the end - it's about going around in circles with apparently no exit.
The movie is about Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) who is a folk singer. He had a partner who died, so now he is a solo act and not doing really good at all. So he sings where he can and crashes whatever apartments he is allowed to get in - he sleeps at couches at apartments of his musician friends, family and even people he just met. While leaving one of such apartments, he accidentally lets the cat out and locks himself out, so he takes the cat with him. And he suddenly decided to go from New-York to Chicago to get a gig in a nice club. The one problem is... Llewyn Davis is kind of a dick.
This is a melancholic road-trip movie. Very melancholic. And there's a lot of singing in it, but it's not a musical like "Oh Brother", people just sing there from time to time as proper musicians. Not many people from Coen's usual cast, though they did get John Goodman, and he is larger than life there, in many meanings. The movie is kinda funny but also kinda very sad and, like a lot of Coen movies, it's just about things that just may happen like that. If you want to watch something with a slower pace - this is a movie for you.
Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Movie business! And not just any movie business, but movie business during the good old years after WW2. And this is actually kind of a great theme for Coen movie right away. Because, as I said already, they make movies about weird stuffs that looking incredible and possible at the same time. And what is more incredible than movies business?
Main hero of the movie is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), he's a director of production on a movie studio, and he pretty much has to deal with all sort of weird crap. Even without the main star actor of their greatest blockbuster of the year being kidnapped during the shoot. And yes, charismatic actor Baird Whitlock (played by charismatic actor George Clooney) is kidnapped by a bunch of very, very weird people. And now it's up to Mannix to figure out this whole situation and not to get into gossip columns. All that while having to deal with a bunch of other work-related nonsense.
As I said, this is just a great movie for Coens, so it's their usual theme, really - weird stuff happening to a bunch of people, just like in Fargo, Burn After Reading and The Big Lebowski, to name a few. And they got Clooney again, who is a semi-frequent star in their movies, and who is perfect for the role of a talented, but very self-indulgent star. Clooney always had great self-irony feel to his acting. Then again, movie is not about him, and you just can't help but feel for the plight of Eddie Mannix. And it is a believable plight. This movie actually reminded me about Trumbo movie, because it has certain similar themes to it (not just movie-making, but I will not say more, to avoid spoilers), but here, obviously, it looks much less serious, and more... bizarre, really. But in a good way. I can tell you right now, that the ending of a movie is kind of a non-ending. There's no real finale. But if you know Coens, you know they do this a lot.
Well, those are the Coen movies I watched, and it's the majority of them too. In all honestly, I have no idea if Coen style would be something you would like, but I think those movies are really good, and so they are really good. And if you never watched any of those - you should give them a try. And if you watched only some of those and liked them - you would probably like the others too.
So go and watch them!