A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop (Zhang, 2010)

A strange duck, A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop strips the brooding Neo-noir conventions from the Coen’s Blood Simple and re-imagines them in a vibrantly colorful vision of Chinese period-piece deceit. The film might not be one of Zhang’s best, but it warrants a look from those devoted to his filmography. It’s often stunning, including the final (nearly silent) climax involving arrows, swords, and splintering wood. Check out my review at GreenCine.

Best of the 2000’s: Discussion #5

– The following is the fifth of ten planned online discussions between MATCH CUTS and THE FILMIST regarding the best films of the 2000’s. These transcriptions have been slightly edited due to length, but the published content remains exactly as written.

THE FILMIST: The Brothers’ Coen’s 2007 release, No Country For Old Men, is a film that, beyond the basic attraction of “hey, it’s a Coen Brothers movie!,” didn’t catch my eye all that well on first viewing, as a few of the other films on my list have done. But, then I watched it again, a year later – after seeing Burn After Reading, coincidently – and, it really began to warm up to me. Maybe it was because I hadn’t been in the right mood for it grab me beforehand, I don’t know. We Irish are a strange folk – but, that next time, it really took me by the collar. Everything just began to jump out – the cinematography, the use and disuse of silence and music respectively. Everything that you’d think I’d have noticed on first viewing, but for some reason just flew right past me.

MATCH CUTS: That’s interesting, I’ve also gone through a roller coaster ride with this film. I watched it twice in the theaters, the first time being blown away by it’s technical prowess and cynical nature, and when the second time I felt like I had gotten everything there is to get, which invariably lessoned my opinion of it since I love films to grow and grow upon multiple screenings…but watching it again on Blu Ray for this project, I was once again sucked into this disparate world. I think Deakins’ visuals and the Coen’s tactical direction create this complete overarching menace that I absolutely love. The way the violence suddenly occurs, then drops offscreen, then just pure quiet. I’ve always admired the Coen’s ability to pace a film, but this might be there finest use of mise-en-scene ever. Continue reading

A Serious Man (Coen Brothers, 2009)


With A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers plow fresh ground and operate on a new subtextual level. The filmmakers loosen their noose soaked in dark humor and seriously contemplate a singular incarnation of loneliness, lobbing thematic molotov cocktails at characters consumed by small contradictions and compromises. The duality between man and faith rests front and center in the retrained evolving tragedy of Physics professor Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his crumbling suburban life circa 1960’s Minnesota. The Coens even preface this modern story with a Jewish fable of sorts, jaunting back hundreds of years in a daring sequence of self-righteousness and damnation. The two pieces of this expansive puzzle make for something supernatural, a collision of faith and practicality not seen in the Coen’s work before.

After the wacky irreverence of Burn After Reading, the pristine visuals, slow pacing, and somber underbelly of A Serious Man are welcome. The Coens create an entire community from the ground up, meticulously re-constructing their childhood digs and memories with a certain weighted texture, the intricate details of suburbia pinning down the desire for growth. Larry is helpless in almost every respect, but it’s his indecision that continues to box him in. The Coens focus on disputed property lines, antennas, couches, chalkboards, and wires to illuminate the crisscrossing patterns that spell Larry’s emotional and intellectual destruction, all while framing a community at peace with its inanity.

In the brilliant final moments, A Serious Man turns from a potent character study to a full blown masterpiece of menace and comeuppance, refreshing the idea that good and evil, kindness and selfishness reside side by side in the smallest of actions, be it the change of a grade or the snap judgement of another person. No foreshadowing is necessary in A Serious Man, since the very fabric of everyday existence is steeped in the scripture of despair, and time period has nothing to do with it.

Burn After Reading (Coen, Coen, 2008)

Burn After Reading, a post Oscar “screw you” by Joel and Ethan Coen, is so focused on the stupidity of its characters, so determined to highlight their idiocy with violence and cowardice, that it’s hard not to get lost in the maddening rhythm. Here’s a film hellbent on weaving plot-lines together like strings of yarn, but only to reveal the inherent inane nature of the Spy film genre and the current intelligence game in Washington D.C. To call Burn After Reading misanthropic would be an understatement. Its dark comedy, and in turn its bumbling characters, are born from such a smug disavowal of “likability” that the whole comes close to alienating the viewer. Even so, Burn After Reading is still damn funny for all these reasons, displaying a clever disregard for conformity long dormant since The Big Lebowski. Also, Carter Burwell’s hilariously menacing score gives Burn After Reading a much needed grounding, putting the constant absurdity into perspective, if only for some brief moments. But the Coens are treading on thin ice. Any further into the abyss of stupidity and their work might become one-note, I dare say inconsequential.

Fargo (Coen, Coen, 1996)

There are startling thematic similarities between Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo and their latest film No Country for Old Men, a unique coupling since each takes such a different stylistic approach toward storytelling. Fargo, drenched in cartoonish black comedy, charts the tragic downward spiral of a planned crime, using the bleak, epic whites of the North Dakota snowfall to signify a world bleached of morality. On the other hand, No Country for Old Men sternly focuses on the violent aftermath of a chance occurrence with a dusty, foreboding mise-en-scene, typical of the layered and studied approach to the consequences represented. While each takes a path down a different road to Neo-noir hell, they end up with the same disturbing thesis. Fargo finishes with Frances McDormand’s pregnant police chief asking psycho mute Peter Stormare why he’s murdered so many people. No Country ends in a similar close-up of police chief Tommy Lee Jones contemplating a haunting dream of his dead father, which comes after questioning the heinous nature of Javier Bardem’s ruthless killer. They are afforded no easy answers. As if a part of two separate but equal parallel universes, the scenes speak to a Coen brother’s theme which keeps popping up; the impotence felt by modern day law enforcement officers toward comprehending the viscousness of their criminal counterparts, and an overall questioning of their role as protector/parent. Both McDormand’s Marge Gunderson and Jones’ Ed Tom Bell want to believe they can stem off evil from their respective environments, and the tragedy of both films lies in the personal and silent moments when each honorable servant of the law realize they can’t.

No Country for Old Men (Coen, Coen, 2007)


In the opening voice-over of Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country For Old Men, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) reflects on the crucial battle between old and new, honor and brutality. The law man remembers a boy he sent to the electric chair who confesses his predetermination to kill even when the newspapers call it a crime of passion. This conflict with the changing nature of violence lies at the heart of the Coen’s quiet and disturbing crime film, a theme which plays out quite literally though the first half, then transcends the image through off-screen violence and solitude by the end. Adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, No Country for Old Men follows Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) as he happens upon a drug deal gone bad while hunting in the West Texas desert. Bodies, shell casings, guns, and drugs litter the site, but most importantly Moss finds a satchel of money, some two million dollars. Of course he takes the cash and in turn reaps the wrath of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a relentless serial killer sent to reacquire the missing funds. Somewhat underused until the end, Bell follows Chirguth and Moss’ trail of violence with a sense of impending doom, striking up the aforementioned philosophical dilemma. No Country for Old Men moves seamlessly between the three lead characters, forming a triangle of apprehension with plot and character. The Coen’s seem to be obsessed with the former in the opening acts, using Roger Deakins’ masterful cinematography to open up the wide vistas of the Texas skyline and the fleeting ways characters attempt to move within it. However, the Coen’s then shift beautifully to an emphasis on the latter, highlighting the breaking codes of Western mythology through the destruction of key familiar elements, the deconstruction of cinematic expectations. The foundation for heroism, as Bell has questioned the entire film, seems to be rotting away from the inside. Those sworn to protect the innocent have become unable to comprehend the validity of those willing to instantly kill. So maybe the archetypes have changed more than the times. We expect different things from our heroes, our villains, and the innocent bystanders who normally watch from the sidelines. In the scary world of No Country for Old Men, the Coen’s get to exercise their comedy demons for a calm, eerie slice of brutal Americana, a place haunted by the prevailing winds of violence, where a coin flip could become the most important moment in your life, or death.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Coen, Coen, 2000)

A stunning work that only the Coen’s could have crafted, bleached of color, saturated with the dusty greys and browns of the South. Grows in stature with each viewing, most noticeably because of the Deakins/Burnett tandem and absurdly clever script. The two stills below represent a strategy of framing the Coen’s often use, showing the trio of Delmar, Pete, and Everett in horizontal and vertical lines (below with Tommy Johnson). Like the chain links that connect them at the beginning of the story, the blocking continues to connect them throughout their epic, some might say, Greek tragic comedy. I’m sure Homer’s out laughing somewhere.