Coen Brothers

Tilda Swinton in Burn After Reading

2011 and 2012 were tough years. Before then, things were plentiful, as every year a new Coen Brothers film would release right on schedule. No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man and True Grit. Truly, it was a great time to be alive. But the next two years after True Grit were a desert. No Coen films. No Coen anything. Not a single trace of dryly broad (or broadly dry?) comic sensibilities, nor the gentle pop of John Goodman’s vocal chords exploding after one screamed line too many. Those were dark times. And when Inside Llewyn Davis swooped in to remind us that Joel and Ethan Coen were both still alive and still capable of putting story to celluloid, things got a little lighter. But still the question remained: when would the Coens return to hibernation? We should be in the clear for now. Their latest film has progressed enough to call it quits on the Coen slumber party. It’s got a title (Hail Caesar!), two cast members (George Clooney and Josh Brolin), and a vague outline of the story. It’ll follow Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer in the moviemaking salad days of the 1950s. Mannix will have to juggle the lives and careers of various hyperactive Coen movie moguls. And now, according to Variety, the film’s got cast member number three: Channing Tatum.

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Allison Tolman

If you’ve been holding off on watching Fargo, the television spin-off of Joel and Ethan Coen‘s cinematic classic of the same name, now is a pretty good time to get going on the FX series, not just because the limited series is approaching its end, and not just because it’s getting to be seriously good, but because it features one of the most exciting and zippy leading ladies to hit the small screen in quite some time. Basically, you’re going to want to get on board with superstar-in-the-making Allison Tolman right now, at least before the accolades and other roles start pouring in. (Some spoilers follow.) Fargo is best described as a spiritual twin to the film (though later episodes do quite directly link up the series and the movie), so it should come as little surprise that the show’s most cheer-worthy and compellingly human character is a female police officer (in this case, a deputy), just like in the 1996 black comedy, which found its heart and head in Frances McDormand‘s police chief Marge Gunderson. Tolman’s Molly Solverson is similarly the soul of the series, and even when the series gets oofta-sized rough, she remains unfailingly interesting and damn charming to watch.

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inside llewyn davis 01

Editor’s note: Our review of Inside Llewyn Davis originally ran during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens today in limited theatrical release. The eighth In Competition banner for the Coen Brothers at the Cannes Film Festival is their first in six years, since their eventual Best Picture Oscar winner No Country for Old Men. Though there isn’t a chance for the intrepid filmmaking duo to repeat the same success here, the feeling coming out of Inside Llewyn Davis is that the brothers would not have it any other way. Indeed, while terming their latest work the worst thing they’ve put out since The Ladykillers might send alarm bells ringing, when you consider their body of work since — No Country, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man and True Grit – it begins to seem not quite so bitter a pill to swallow. Tackling the New York folk music scene of the 1960s, the Coens’ latest sees the titular character (Oscar Isaac) stumbling through the city by the seat of his pants, trying to make it as a musician in an ostensibly difficult niche. Hopping from sofa to sofa, LLewyn drifts through life, propelled almost singularly by a desire to meet music maestro Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham) while his personal life, namely a surprise pregnancy by way of occasional partner Jean (Carey Mulligan), crumbles around him.

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roger_deakins-620x361

There’s a moment about halfway through Denis Villeneuve’s sprawling, occasionally brilliant yet sharply uneven film Prisoners that finds Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki do something that we’ve seen so many detectives do in movies before: in a bout of frustration, he swipes his arms across his cubicle desk, violently sending his evidence and other materials into a labyrinthine clutter. But this fit of anger ends up leading to a serendipitous discovery – the chaotic new arrangement of papers on the floor reveals for the detective a clue that had been hiding under his nose in plain sight the whole time. This is moment is, in short, a cliché. Yet on the other side of cinematographer Roger Deakins’s lens, the moment takes on a plentiful, foreboding, and eerie quality. The muted tones, carefully composed yet slightly agape mise en scène, and rich depth of field collectively transform a moment we’ve seen so many times before into something considerably more. Through brilliant lensing, a cliché is elevated into the possibility that something, anything can happen in the detailed and uncertain world of this film.

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It’s been far too long since Joel and Ethan Coen put out a new film. But judging by the latest trailer for Inside Llewyn Davis, the wait was well-deserved. It’s a trailer so chock-full of glowing critical blurbs that there’s barely any room for actual footage, but what’s contained within is still worth a watch. And for a film that’s been described as the Coens’ most somber and laugh-free film to date (by a multitude of critics, including our own Shaun Munro), there’s a surprising amount of that signature Coen deadpan packed into these three minutes. Out of place cats, questionable suicide choices, the meaning of life contemplated in bathroom graffiti; all can be found in this latest trailer. The melancholy side is there as well, but seems to be relegated to the music and the cinematography. The former is a rendition of “Dink’s Song” that carries throughout the entire trailer (much like the film, which uses its songs in whole, unbroken performances), the latter is far more drab and washed-out than we’ve come to expect from the Coens. Don’t expect too many comical rabbis or stick-up artists with lingerie on their heads. Watch the trailer for Inside Llewyn Davis after the break.

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Three-hour lesbian drama Blue is the Warmest Color was announced the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, a choice that many foresaw as likely but not a sure thing. The jury that awarded the honor was led by Steven Spielberg and also included Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Christoph Waltz and Lynne Ramsay. For the second place Grand Prix winner, they picked the latest from the Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis, while for Jury Prize (considered the third biggest deal) they chose Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s Like Father, Like Son. Like Father, Like Son was also recipient of an honorable mention from the Christian-based Ecumenical Jury, whose top prize went to The Past — the star of which, Bérénice Bejo, was named Best Actress by the main Cannes jury. Blue is the Warmest Color also earned multiple honors from the fest, taking the critic choice FIPRESCI Award for the In Competition category. The biggest surprise of today’s announcement seems to be Spielberg and Co.’s naming of Bruce Dern as Best Actor for the new film from Alexander Payne, Nebraska. After the jump, you can find a full list of main jury winners (from the festival website) and other honorees announced over the weekend accompanied by links to our review of the film where available.

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Louis Zamperini has an amazing life story. He ran in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 where he shook Adolf Hitler’s hand because the leader wanted to meet him. He then fought in WWII, flying with  a B-24 bomber in the Pacific Islands before a mechanical failure brought his plane and the 11 men in it down. Only three men survived, Zamperini included, and they ate raw fish and drank captured rain water for 47 days while fighting off shark attacks before washing ashore in the Marshall Islands where they were taken as POWs by the Japanese. Zamperini was torture by one of the 40 most wanted war criminals of the time but survived for two years before finally seeing his release at the end of the war. Oh, and he’s still alive. He’s 96 and, clearly, he cannot be killed.

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ILD

Considering that the Coen Brothers‘ upcoming Inside Llewyn Davis was once listed as one of our most anticipated films of 2012, it’s heartening that the film has finally picked up the distribution necessary to get it out in theaters in 2013. CBS Films has picked up the U.S. rights to the film, which stars Oscar Isaac (alongside Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, and Justin Timberlake) as a fictitious 1960’s folk-singing hero in Greenwich Village. The news also came complete with two brand-new looks at the film, including that still of Isaac up above, and one of Mulligan and Timberlake, which you can check out after the break. So vintage.

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This week, I am taking a little guest spot here in one of my favorite new FSR columns, Print to Projector. Because like Dr. Abaius, I sometimes read. And like Dr. Abaius, I also sometimes put down a book that I’ve just read — and somewhat understood — and say “hey, this should be a movie.” With that in mind, I would like to submit this entry…

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Gambit 2012 Movie

In the original Gambit, Michael Caine went up against the great Herbert Lom, but in the updated version, it’s Colin Firth attempting to pull one over on Alan Rickman. It’s a little bit like Ocean’s One, and instead of a dancer played by Shirley MacLaine, we get a Southern stereotype played by Cameron Diaz. Fortunately, everyone drops their pants in the trailer. The movie was written by The Coen Brothers and directed by Michael Hoffman (The Last Station, Soapdish), so it’s definitely got a pedigree. However there’s just something flat about this particular piece of marketing. Something sort of tired and silly without being funny. Check it out for yourself:

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Here’s yet another upside to the Akira shutdown (beyond the immediate benefit of the project hopefully just not getting made in its current, bizarrely tone-deaf state) – its star Garrett Hedlund is negotiating for a role in a film that actually sounds somewhat suitable for him. Imagine that! Variety reports that, with Hedlund’s schedule currently much more open post-Akira-shutdown-gate, he’s negotiating for a role in the Coen Brothers‘ next film, Inside Llewyn Davis. The film is already set to star Oscar Isaac in the titular role, and follows the character of Davis, a 60s folk singer based on Dave Van Ronk. While Hedlund’s role is not yet specified, the film is set during the 1960s in New York’s Greenwich Village and will likely be populated with a number of characters that, like Isaac’s, will be based on famous performers. While Hedlund might have underwhelmed in Tron: Legacy, his singing work in Country Strong was lovely and more than capable, and he exhibited a true country twang that should cross over nicely to a folk singer role.

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Culture Warrior

We often don’t think of commercials as having authorship, at least not in the same way we think of movies. Commercials are created by advertising companies, by focus groups, by strategists; not by “artists.” But while the purpose of a 30-second ad may on the surface differ from the motive of a feature length film (though not always), both are media assembled through a particular economy of storytelling devices and are made often by a collaborative company of individuals. But commercials don’t often contain credit sequences, and thus the phenomenology of its making is cloaked and the personalities who made it unconsidered. The focus is on the product being sold, not the creative team selling it. So it can be surprising to find out that well-respected, top-tier, artistic filmmakers often direct commercials. Sure, many filmmakers regularly make commercials as a more lucrative and less time-consuming alternative to feature filmmaking, and there are many visual artists who have honed an ability to express their personality in various media forms, but a surprising number of supposedly cinema-specific auteurs make commercials, despite a lack of apparent monetary need or professional benefit. This subject came to my attention recently because of a series of articles on Slate last week by David Haglund about the oeuvre of the Coen brothers that included the filmmaking duo’s commercials in considering their larger cinematic contribution. It’s an interesting way to view a filmmaker’s career, for it forces you to look for their identifying traits and revisited themes via […]

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a powerful nightly look at the highs and lows of the seedy underbelly of the film industry. Usually stuff that involves references to Michael Bay, videos starring plastic figurines and swooning over Monty Python. All of these things are represented in tonight’s very special entry… Believe. That’s what the audiences at the Los Angeles Film Festival did this weekend, as they elected Attack the Block as their Audience Award Winner. The aliens v. hoodlums flick continues to gain steam, even outside the more comfortable genre audiences it’s faced thus far. Winning at SXSW, where the fan base is there in force, is one thing. Winning at LAFF is another big step toward finding mainstream success.

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If there’s one thing that’s really great about the Academy Awards it’s the manner in which they decide who gets nominated and, ultimately, who wins for each category. It makes little sense to have directors vote on who did the best acting, or musicians deciding on who had the most splendid photography, or screenwriters deciding who made the best non-scripted picture. Professionals in their field decide on which other professionals in their same field did the most exemplary work to represent their profession.

And thank God, because I can’t imagine how you would define what constitutes great directing. The job encompasses so much that great directing can be equally applied to someone obsessively anal about their “vision” just as much as someone who relies on spontaneity and ad-lib to achieve the best results. It can be applied to someone with incredible photographic technique and an eye for scene setup, and another who seems to have little regard for visual appeal. As the matter of fact, as of last year it no longer even matters whether you have a penis or not.

I absolutely have no clue what constitutes great directing despite having my own opinion, which carries no weight because I’ve never done it in my life. I probably couldn’t direct traffic let alone tell someone to film me doing it from a specific spot and focus on my anxiety in close-up and then cut to a slow-mo clip of me weeping when drivers don’t pay attention to me. If I could do that then maybe I’d have an idea what a great director really does.

Thankfully, I don’t have to as the Best Director is decided upon by others who have been there, done it and conquered it in their own way to acknowledge how difficult it must have been to focus all collaborators’ attention to the right areas at the right times to arrive altogether at the same, desired destination; which is ultimately arriving at a final product they can all be proud of.

Here are this year’s nominees for Best Director:

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What is Movie News After Dark? This is a question that I am almost never asked, but I will answer it for you anyway. Movie News After Dark is FSR’s newest late-night secretion, a column dedicated to all of the news stories that slip past our daytime editorial staff and make it into my curiously chubby RSS ‘flagged’ box. It will (but is not guaranteed to) include relevant movie news, links to insightful commentary and other film-related shenanigans. I may also throw in a link to something TV-related here or there. It will also serve as my place of record for being both charming and sharp-witted, but most likely I will be neither of the two. I write this stuff late at night, what do you expect?

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There’s a gun slingin’, Johnny Cash song usin’, eye patch wearin’ new trailer for True Grit out today, and it looks like the Coen’s have crafted another beautiful lookin’ film. We’ll have to wait to see the film to judge it on its own merits (and not just two minutes of clips), but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Plus, check out the 2:11 mark for a guest appearance by Mary Poppins.

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Retribution. Revenge. That’s the theme at the core of the Coen Brothers’ upcoming reimagining of True Grit, based on the book by Charles Portis. The film follows Mattie Ross (played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld), a 14-year old girl whose father is murdered by a vicious man named Chaney (Josh Brolin). To get the revenge she feels she deserves, she hires a trigger-happy, boozed up US Marshall named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Together, they set out to avoid other more noble lawmen (Matt Damon) and bring Chaney to justice. All of this, as you’ll see, can be gleaned from the first trailer…

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Culture Warrior

I know no cinephile whose taste in movies survives completely the decades of aging and growing as a filmgoer. I have little doubt that others like myself look back at films they loved ten or more years ago with different eyes, either with a more informed context, renewed appreciation, or even developing befuddled questions as to why they felt such affection for these films in the first place. I recently found an interesting connection and disparate paths of meaning-making with regard to two films that originally inspired my love and appreciation for cinema, and it is in the respective ways in which these films use ambiguous objects.

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As illustrated by this scene in the Coens’ latest Best Picture nominee A Serious Man, certainty – as stated in so many words by Sy Abelman – is subtle, clever, but ultimately unconvincing in an overwhelmingly uncertain world. The uncertainty principle, as articulated in this film, is evidence that even in the realm of mathematics – that discipline where logic, evidence, and patterns of order reign supreme – contains its degrees of the unknown, the indefinite, even the ambiguous.

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In December, we reported on a national talent search that was underway over at Paramount Pictures. The Coen Brothers were looking for an unknown young actress to star in their upcoming rework of True Grit, based on the novel by Charles Portis. We now know that said girl will be played by Hailee Steinfeld.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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