Book comments and movie review E-mail
Written by Chalupa   
Monday, 26 November 2007 05:23

Joe, our fellow Achiever who figured out the ASL, wrote in with a few insights to the Lebowski books.  He also wrapper up with a great review of the latest Coen movie - No Country for Old Men. 


Hey, guys.

In discussing the various Lebowski books, it's interesting to me that "I'm A Lebowski..." focuses almost entirely on the CAST of the movie, while "The Making Of..." focuses mostly on the CREW of the movie.  In every movie, there are two worlds: the one in front of the camera and the one behind the camera.   If you add those two books together, you get more of a complete picture.  William Preston Robertson is a buddy of the Coens, so he had a lot of access to them for his book.  The Achievers didn't have any (or much) access to the Coens, so they interviewed the actors mainly.  It's definitely worth reading those acting interviews for insight into how the Coens work.  The Peter Stormare interview and Julianne Moore's interview are good for describing how the Coens handle actors, and these interviews provide support for the theory that the Coen Brothers are mainly against improvising on-screen and that they tend to stick to the script and to their storyboards.

The BFI book is a revelation: beautifully designed, with great stills not only of TBL but of movies which inspired TBL.  (Hilarious juxtaposition: the pot-bellied Dude copies the physique and body language of the pregnant Marge Gunderson from "Fargo.")  The extended essay (that's what the BFI books are, illustrated essays) gives great insight into the movie's overall purpose and meaning, specifically what is motivating the characters and how the characters define themselves and define "manhood."  You yourselves did a whole episode on TBL what it means to be a man.  The BFI book is exactly the size of a DVD box, so maybe when there's a REAL special edition of the DVD they should include that book as a little bonus.  It's a great thing to have handy while you're watching the movie.  Without this book, I wouldn't necessarily have identified the movie's Biblical references (Jesus' "day of rest shit" tirade) or noticed Walter's blatant hypocrisy on the issue of pacifism.  It's a very funny, insightful, well-written book that fans will dig.

Next issue: "No Country For Old Men."  See it.  It's brilliant.  People are calling it the Coens' best movie ever, and it's hard to argue.  TBL fans will dig it, but they should be prepared for a movie which is more like "Blood Simple" meets "Fargo."  (At least one review said that "No Country" and TBL are both structured like shaggy-dog stories.  If you don't know what a shaggy-dog story is -- and it has little to do with shaggy dogs -- look it up.)  Before the movie came out, I read Cormac McCarty's novel, and I wondered if the movie would stick close to the very grim, violent, and philosophical tone of the book.  Boy, did they ever!

What I want to talk about with "No Country" in relation to other Coen movies is the way the Coens end their movies.  I think the Coens have the best endings of any directors in the business.  The secret?  Quiet, muted final scenes.  They love to end their movies with quiet scenes, and they especially like scenes which boil down to just TWO characters talking.  Think of "Blood Simple."  There's this huge violent climax, but the movie ends with Abby and Visser just talking through the bathroom door.  "Barton Fink" ends with a quiet conversation between Barton and his dream girl on the beach.  TBL, of course, ends with a nice little chat between the Dude and the Stranger.  "Fargo" ends with Marge and Norm in bed together, awaiting the birth of their first child.  (Like TBL, "Fargo" uses the upcoming birth of a baby to compensate for a previous loss of life.  In TBL, Donny has died, but Maude is pregnant: circle of life.  In "Fargo," several people -- including a mother -- have d ied, but Marge is pregnant: circle of life.)  "No Country" gives us the perfect Coen ending.  Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that it ends with a quiet breakfast-table chat between Tommy Lee Jones and his wife.  In a way, it's quintessential Coen Brothers, but it's also unlike anything they've ever given us -- both that ending scene and the whole movie.  The reviews of "No Country" talk a lot about Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, the crazed gangster who is a cross between Hannibal Lecter and the Terminator.  There's nothing I can say about Bardem's performance except watch it and be stunned.

Kudos also to Roger Deakins, the Coens' resident cinematographer, for his work on "No Country."  Of course, Roger shot TBL and all the Coen movies from "Barton Fink" onward, and he just does great work every time.  He's topped himself with "No Country."  You won't see a better-photographed movie this year.  Deakins' work on "Fargo," "O Brother," and "Man Who Wasn't There" deservedly got a lot of attention because they stand out.  His more subtle work on TBL has kind of gone unnoticed, but he did amazing work on that film as well.  Just check out the TBL title sequence, which is shot in a style I think of as "beer commercial porn."  It's like high-class specialty porn for people who are turned on by bowling and beer guts.  That, my friends, is the magic of Roger Deakins.

Abidingly yours,


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