Retrospective Reviews #2: Coens Over and Over Again

Another week, another Retrospective Review collection. This week features a Coens triple decker, an annual event and a bit of homework that surprised more than not.

2/2/16: Groundhog Day (Re-Watch)

groundhog-day

Columbia Pictures

Few films manage to capture the genuine sincerity saved only for Frank Capra classics, but luckily there’s a clear transformation from cynical bitterness to a heartwarming lesson on humanity. With its limited sci-fi conceit and consistently charming humor, writer/director Harold Ramis’ masterpiece uses a perfectly unexposited concept and takes advantage of the human connection that comes from it. Much of this is realized in the form of one of the earliest points where Bill Murray started to successfully branch off from his familiar (though still brilliant) comedic persona into more nuanced emotional performances like Lost In Translation. His believable transformation is one we can all hope for and cling to, even if it is by a seemingly hellish concept of repeating the same day over and over again. It’s one of the few films from the last quarter of a century that I’d call a true classic. One that will survive the flames of eternity as a flawless sculpture that all can marvel at.

Rating 5 out of 5 Kidnapped Groundhogs

2/4/16: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Re-Watch)

o brother where art thou

The Coen Brothers know just how to capture the essence of a time period.  O Brother Where Art Thou, is set firmly in Depression era south and evokes that time with every little detail of costumes, production design and soundtrack. It’s as if we’ve stepped into that era, though mostly from a more nostalgic remembrance of that era through sepia tinged photographs. Thanks to the innovative digital color correction used here, the setting is given a consistent permanence from which the comedic goofiness of our characters can subvert and clash with the oddly majestic beauty of the setting to hilarious effect. After all, the trio of George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson show off a myriad of different hijinks along the way that vary in their intellectual competency. Yet, all three of them show off a multitude of defects that represent America’s gumption. Clooney’s vain self confidence, Turturro’s blind emotion and Nelson’s gullible naivete all showcase the type of ignorant yet unstoppable wild that is both romanticized and satirized in a semi-unwielding yet constantly fascinating ride of an adventure comedy.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Fake Beards

2/5/16: Barton Fink (Re-Watch)

barton-fink

Universal Pictures

Barton Fink is weird. Even for The Coen Brothers’ usual fare, it’s about as bizarre as it gets, switching narrative genres at the touch of a hat to the point where things can get seemingly alienating. There are points where the oddities of The Coens’ fourth feature loses me in its twist and turns, but on this rewatch there seemed to be a bit more of a cohesive thread. Mainly, the hubris of a writer that is determined to put himself on the level of the common man. The titular Barton (played with an appropriate mix of quiet desperation and raging inflated ego by John Turturro) is a man trying to write for Hollywood pictures in the 1940s, asked to write a B-wrestling movie that will appeal to the mass audiences Fink seems to believe he wants to connect to. Yet, the film centers around how those perceptions are put on their head, mainly through his interactions with John Goodman’s inviting yet mysterious insurance salesman and how Fink’s worldview falls apart around him as his naive thinking not breaks his illusion his more high society talent but gets a few people seriously harmed. This allows the mood whiplashes to hit harder as The Coen Brothers throw conflicting imagery that leaves us as confused as Fink, unaware of whether our perceptions ultimately have any baring on what’s going on as the Coens slyly slip in themes of anti-semitism and late 80s era unease into this unconventional package. Nothing in Barton Fink can really be confirmed, but this major tenant seems to string the countless other points of interpretation.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Mysterious Boxes

2/6/16: Pride and Prejudice (2005)

prideandprejudice2005

StudioCanal

As I mentioned in my review for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the main reason I watched this was to familiarize myself with some version of Jane Austen’s novel since I haven’t read it. As it stands, this version seems to be a more mainstream adaptation of the source material, mostly thanks to Joe Wright’s rather elaborate camera moves and more visually diverse depictions of these characters in their element. Moments like Keira Knightly on a swing in particular give us not only an insight into her seclusion from society, but how fast that society moves around her as she wallows in her individual isolation that comments on female identity in rather striking ways for material of the era adapted in a more feminist friendly time. It helps that Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen and the rest of the cast give these characters far more of a relatable down to earth version of these characters than one would expect. Yet, the stuffiness of the narrative still ultimately alienates me more often than not, particularly with the last third that merely sort of whimpers to its ultimate happy ending. Still, give it far more credit for trying… and at least not mindlessly adding zombies.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Gorgeous Outfits

2/7/16: No Country For Old Men (Rewatch)

nocountryforoldmenbardem

Columbia Pictures

Upon my first viewing during its initial, No Country for Old Men didn’t seem that satisfying to me. The off screen resolution for Josh Brolin’s Llewlyn Moss and the slow winding final third seemed rather disappointing for a film that was so full of extremely tense moments and powerful performances. Ultimately, all of this stuff does still disappoint in a traditional sense. An audience most likely wants to see a resolution that may not be the best for our hero, but at the very least give us an onscreen conclusion that made all of these struggles feel complete. Yet, a major theme of the film ultimately is that lack of satisfaction. Tommy Lee Jones’ character in particular realizes that his life doesn’t have much of a conventional resolution, or at least not an extremely exciting one because he pursued a more traditional moral code, one that distances him from the more complex flexible morals of Brolin and the cold amoral hand of Anton Chigurh that hinges more on a cyclical cycle of death. That meaningless cycle is shown in the matter of fact direction, with people being killed with uncaring precision, blunt action that feels grounded and a lack of non-diegenic music from credited composer partner of The Coens Carter Burwell. It feeds into the jolly nihilism of The Coens’ oeuvre, though with a much more cold and depressingly relatable fashion than some of their sillier films. It’s still not one of my personal favorites of theirs, but it’s a more respectable cruel twist of the knife to the thriller genre that has the distinctive Coen exploration of colloquial pessimism that works on its own terms far better than I previously thought.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Bolt Pistols

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