Joel Coen

Film Review: Suburbicon

by Carrie Kahn on October 27, 2017

Clooney emulates the Coens in adequate film noir      

Maggie (Julianne Moore) and her brother-in-law Gardner (Matt Damon) have an unwanted conversation with a visitor.

George Clooney is clearly a huge fan of the Coen Brothers. After starring in four of their films (Hail, Caesar!; Burn After Reading; O Brother, Where Art Thou; Intolerable Cruelty), he tries his hand at directing one of their screenplays with Suburbicon, marking his first return to the director’s chair since 2014’s The Monuments Men. The result is more successful than that mostly forgettable attempt, but his fan-boy energy permeates his new film almost to distraction. Tonally and stylistically, the picture is an unabashed imitation of a Coen Brothers production, which, if you’re a Coen Brothers fan, is super, but does mean that Clooney offers no cinematic originality here.
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Spinning Platters wraps up its coverage of the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, which ended last Thursday, May 5th, after showcasing nearly 200 films from over 40 countries. The Fest may be over, but many of its offerings will be released throughout the year, so be sure to use our eight spotlight posts as a guide for potential future viewing.

We conclude our coverage by looking at three final films and two special events.

The Bandit
(USA, 2016, 82 min, Closing Night Film)

Burt Reynolds (l.) and Hal Needham during the filming of Smokey and the Bandit.

Local filmmaker Jesse Moss, who found success two years ago with his intense, stunning, but somber documentary The Overnighters, told us at the Q&A after the closing night screening of his new film that after that emotionally wrenching experience, he wanted to go in an opposite direction and make a “fun car comedy” like the films he loved while growing up – films like the ’70s Burt Reynolds-helmed, car chase classic Smokey and the Bandit. Still a documentarian, though, Moss has thus made what he terms the first “action-comedy” documentary. Indeed, as a look at ’70s heartthrob action and comedy star Burt Reynolds and his lifelong friendship with Hal Needham, the Hollywood stuntman turned writer/director who made the iconic Smokey, Moss’s new film succeeds brilliantly at echoing the good ol’ boy charm of the best of Needham and Reynolds’s pictures. Featuring historical interviews with Needham (who passed away in 2013), as well as interviews with former Smokey co-stars, country music stars, friends, colleagues, family, and Reynolds himself, The Bandit is chock full of juicy behind-the-scenes insider stories and enough old TV and movie clips to please the most ardent pop culture fans. As a portrait of both a bygone era of movie-making and, more importantly, of a singular friendship that could shift between respect and rivalry, Moss’s picture mirrors the good natured southern charm of the Reynolds-Needham collaborations, while also examining more serious issues of fame, competition, and deep, enduring friendship. The Bandit took home the Audience Award at SXSW this year, and deservedly so; a genuine crowd pleaser, the picture is a must-see for students of ’70s cinema, and anyone who values engrossing, well-made documentary stories.

Screenings:

  • Currently playing the film festival circuit.

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Film Review: Hail, Caesar!

by Chad Liffmann on February 5, 2016

A silly, subversive, colorful day in the life of a 1950s Hollywood studio fixer — as only the Coens can envision.

Channing Tatum the singing, dancing sailor.

Channing Tatum the singing, dancing sailor.

Expectations were high for Hail, Caesar! the new film from the modern great American filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen. Three years after their award-winning triple play of 2009’s A Serious Man, 2010’s True Grit, and 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis, the sparkling musical trailers for Hail, Caesar! began hitting the web, and suddenly Coen fever began spreading again. However, unlike the washed-out colors and quiet dramatic quality of the former titles, Hail, Caesar! seemed to promise bright colors, outlandish musical numbers, and an unbridled sense of fun. The question I found myself asking was — would Hail, Caesar! embrace the darkly comic bizarreness of early Coen films such as Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy, or the cynical chastisement of Hollywood in Barton Fink? Well, the answer is really ‘no’ to both. The most wonderful thing about Hail, Caesar! is that it has its own new brand of Coen humor, one of PG-13 lightweight, sarcastic and playful tones, but still filled to the brim with the filmmakers’ unparalleled attention to detail and love of subtle and not-so-subtle references.

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Spielberg + Coens + Hanks = Better than your average storytelling.

The lawyer who became a negotiator. The negotiator who united three empires.

The lawyer who became a negotiator. The negotiator who united three empires.

Thomas Newman seems to be doing his best musical imitation of John Williams throughout the former’s original score for Bridge of Spies. The reason I started with this opinionated tidbit is because it’s probably the weakest part of the movie. The score isn’t among Newman’s finest (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Finding Nemo) and it’s far from capturing the spirit of Williams’ finest (Star Wars, Munich, Lincoln, basically everything…ever). The music in Bridge of Spies is the weakest, though still serviceable, mixed result in a movie production full of interesting mixes. Bridge of Spies represents the first time the Coen brothers have written for Spielberg, the first time Spielberg has employed a composer other than Williams for a feature film in lord knows how long, and judging by the number of production companies listed in the beginning, probably the first time Spielberg has needed the aid of a half dozen independent companies to help a production out. Sure, it’s also the fourth collaboration between Spielberg and Hanks, so there’s that. However, point being that Bridge of Spies had a lot of award-winning talent working together, and the results are infectious, if not odd, but totally worth our while. Embracing the tonal patchwork that comes from great minds working together, Bridge of Spies is a tense, fascinating true story of courage during the Cold War.

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Film Review: Unbroken

by Carrie Kahn on December 25, 2014

Fierce performances, incredible true story balance picture’s limited scope

After 47 days adrift at sea, Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Louis (Jack O’Connell) have the additional misfortune of being rescued by a Japanese war ship.

Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s popular book of the same name, Unbroken boasts impressive credentials: directed by Angelia Jolie and co-written by none other than the Coen Brothers, the movie generated much pre-release buzz. While the film succeeds immensely as a riveting survival tale, it often feels a little repetitive and one-note.

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‘I am a man of COEN sorrow…’

Oscar Isaac cradling the real star.

Oscar Isaac cradling the real star of Inside Llewyn Davis.

In a dimly lit smoky bar, an unshaven, slightly disheveled, solo male singer leans into a mic and begins gently singing, ‘Hang me / Oh hang me / I’ll be dead and gone.’ For the next three or so minutes, we are up close and personal to this singer, watching his calm disposition as he sings out the entirety of the song, not even once looking up at the quiet audience wrapped up in the beautiful melody, drinks, and cigarettes. This is how Inside Llewyn Davis begins, the extraordinary and immaculately conceived new film by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, or as we know them, the Coen brothers. This singer is, of course, Llewyn Davis, and these opening lyrics are deliberately chosen to open the story — they set the tone and capture the somber outlook of the title character. Based on a pivotal moment in our nation’s cultural history, and using a fictionalized version of folk musician Dave Van Ronk to capture the experience of many lost artists of that time period, Inside Llewyn Davis is a pointedly dark and comical drama that serves as an allegorical tale and a cinematic exposé of the unfortunate “futility” of many talented artists.

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Spinning Platters Interview with T-Bone Burnett and Oscar Isaac from ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

December 17, 2013

The towering, imposing, and yet, gentle-voiced T-Bone Burnett strolled into the room occupied by a few eager journalists.  Oscar Isaac, quiet and kind, followed close behind.  The two artists, one a musician who has been inching closer and closer to becoming a household name for three award-winning decades, the other an actor who is sharply […]

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Film Review: “True Grit”

December 21, 2010

starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen MPAA: Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images.

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