On Film (Primarily Eastwood, Billy Bob, and the Coens)

Film has always been a producer’s and/or director’s medium for me, and, while at times I’ve had favorite actors, I’ve typically been urged to the movies by producers and directors more than actors.

There have only been two actors that would make me go out of my way even a bit to see their films, and those have been Paul Newman and late-90s Billy Bob Thornton. I don’t care for Billy Bob’s body of work too much these days. I had no desire to see films like Mr. Woodcock or Bad News Bears, and I didn’t care much for his more recent  movies that I did see, which may be limited to Astronaut Farmer and School For Scoundrels. These may be fine films overall, but Billy Bob’s roles in them are too normal for me. I like my Billy Bob roles to be freaky-fringey, nearing the edge cats and grubby misfits. His characters in Tombstone, SlingbladeU Turn, and A Simple Plan are more my cup of tea. Looking at his IMDb.com page, the last role I was pleased he accepted was that of Willie in 2003’s Bad Santa. I haven’t seen everything since then, but of the ones I haven’t seen, only his portrayal of Davy Crockett in 2004’s The Alamo seems as if it had the potential to fit into the type of roles that I like for him.

Becky and I have seen perhaps six “grown-up” movies since Finn was born. That’s now been two years, seven months, and two weeks.  I wouldn’t guess that we’ve seen more than two in the previous year. Okay, Beck just came in and helped me; we’ve seen three movies in the past year.  We’ve seen Eastwood’s Gran Torino, that suspense thriller with Steve Zahn, in which the newlyweds are honeymooning in Hawaii and they find out that another newlywed couple has recently been murdered on the island where they had just been; I think it was called Perfect Getaway, but I’m not sure. The other we saw was Johnny Depp’s John Dillinger film, Public Enemies; it was the one of the three that I was forgetting, which may say more than that.

We went to the Steve Zahn film because it only ran about 90 minutes, while the other film we were considering that night–I don’t recall what it was–was something like 140 or 150. And let me tell you something, brother, sister, if a great director can draw me to the movies, than a shorter running time can certainly help me make up my mind if I arrive at the cinema undecided. There’s stuff I can dig at 90 minutes–comedies mostly–and there’s stuff I like at 110 or 120, stuff I even prefer at that length, but I’ll tell you, if you’re gonna start hitting 2 hours and 20 minutes, you better have more of something special in your bag of goodies than DeNiro had for me with The Good Shepherd.

Let me tell you about a cinematic debacle. When she was like six or seven months pregnant Becky and I went to see that Zodiac film that David Tincher did with Ruffalo and Gyllenhall. We had no idea until after we had our tickets and were chatting with the snack counter vendor that it was 2 hours and 40 minutes long. Why the heck would we think to check if it was 2 hours and 40 minutes long?; who the flip makes 160 minute movies these days? Sadly, the answer to that question is David Fincher. My lands, but my girl made it through it. She wasn’t the most comfortable creature throughout, but she stuck it out.

I went to the Dillinger film because I like history–I learn from it even if it gets bent some in the film making process–and Johnny Depp and Christian Bale are cool enough with me. Going into it, I don’t think that Beck gave a diddly about John Dillinger or his place in history, but, hey, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale are cool enough with her too. If it’d had Brad Pitt, she would’ve even suggested it.

We went to see the Eastwood film because it was an Eastwood film. I don’t mean to say that Clint was acting in it–although he was, and that’s always a draw–but, primarily we went because he was producing and directing it. I dig where Clint’s coming from a lot of times, and I think that if we’re given a pick of who, from all of Hollywood, we’d like to have telling us what they think is important enough to spend a bunch of loot on, we could do a lot worse than Clint. The man’s old enough to have gained quite a bit of insight, and he’s been playing the Hollywood game on a big level as long or longer than just about everybody. Plus, the cat’s just a bad ass. That dude was like 76 or 77 when he filmed Gran Torino, and I’d’a rather scrapped with a sack full of rattlesnakes than have gotten in the ring with Walt Kowalski, the character he plays in that film. It’s just an excellent film, and I went to see it for my favorite reason to go see a movie: It has directed and produced by one of my favorite producer/directors.

And now here comes Clint with this new film, Invictus, and I really want to see it. At the same time, however, there is a new Coen Brothers film out, which is titled A Serious Man. Now, producer/director Clint is way up there for me, but there may be nobody higher than Joel and Ethan Coen. That is especially so since Stanley Kubrick died.

I love Coen Brothers films in the same way that I love Billy Bob’s freaky-fringey roles. I love the discomfort, intrigue, and discombobulation. I love it when they take me to that point when I say, “Oh, man, that ain’t right,” or “Oh, brother, that just ain’t right.”

My first Coen film at the theaters was also their first film in theaters, 1984’s Blood Simple. My brother Steve and I saw it together, and I’ll just say that we both had some catching up to do with Joel and Ethan on that one; neither of us had been introduced to such non-linear film work to that point, and we each left the theater confounded.

The film that really got me hooked was their second film, 1987’s Raising Arizona,” and Becky can tell you that, since Finn was born, it is probably the one movie that I quote more than any other.  It’s a rocking film, and everybody’s got a hand in its quotability. Cage, Hunter, Goodman, Forsythe, McMurray, and McDormand all get in on the act, but, I’m telling you, Trey Wilson–who plays Nathan Arizona Sr.–might have the best of it all.

In all, the Coens have made 13 movies–which they’ve co-produced, co-directed, and co-edited. I’ve seen them all, and I love even the ones I like the least. Thus, as is typical, even up against giants like Clint and Redford and Scorsese and Tarantino, the Coens will be my first pick.

What makes it even more appealing is that it’s showing at The Majestic, Gettysburg’s art house theater, an excellent little joint where Beck and I saw the Coens’ 2007 release No Country For Old Men, the film that went on to wind the Oscar for Best Picture.

I don’t get the impression that there’s an Oscar in store for A Serious Man, but the preview makes it look quirky enough. It looks more like Fargo than any of their other films, because it’s regionalized. Fargo takes place in North Dakota, while A Serious Man takes place in the Jewish community of the Minneapolis suburbs, where the brothers are from. I suspect that they’ll have a better feel for the people and the dialect than they did with Fargo, as they’re dealing with where they’re from. I’ll let you know what I think.

Here’s a complete list of the films that Joel and Ethan Coen have served as producers, directors, writers, and film editors.

A Serious Man 2009

Burn After Reading 2008

No Country For Old Men (Adaptation of Cormac McCarthy novel) 2007

The Ladykillers 2004

The Man Who Wasn’t There 2001

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000

The Big Lebowski 1998

Fargo 1996

The Hudsucker Proxy 1994

Barton Fink 1991

Miller’s Crossing 1990

Raising Arizona 1987

Blood Simple 1984

2 Replies to “On Film (Primarily Eastwood, Billy Bob, and the Coens)”

  1. This is probably the first blog of yours I read when I first came here, and I’ve read it through at least four times at this point. To be fair, a good portion of that reason is because you’re talking about the Coen brothers, who are also a personal favorite of mine.

    The conversational flavor of the post gives it a special touch for me, even as you’re talking about “freaky-fringey” stuff. That’s another aspect of this post that keeps bringing me back.

    “A Serious Man” is a movie I need to revisit. I really dug it the first time I saw it, and I want to see if I still do (or perhaps even more so) as it’s been eight years since I’ve seen it. There are some of their movies I haven’t seen yet that I need to catch up on as well.

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