actors, Are You Not Entertained?, directors, Film Spotlight, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies

L13FC: Regionalism in Coen Brothers Movies

Welcome back to another rendition of the Lucky 13 Film Club featuring the Coen Brothers. Your friendly opinion is welcome here–don’t be shy–let’s talk to one another. I pulled from Wikipedia their eighteen films and each has a link that provides a synopsis in case you need a refresher.

After thirty years of filmmaking, we all have a favorite Coen film. When I was younger, my eyes and ears appreciated their strange storylines, quirky supporting characters, and their dark humor. As I aged, my interest in their work varied upon the project. Sometimes I felt their balance was off, that is, the story was too ludicrous for me to back emotionally–but always, throughout the decades, an element in the whole, a nugget in the creek, makes watching the film worth it. A performance. A character. A scene. A song. An idea that harkens back to the Greeks, and I like that about them; there is an endearing, universal quality about their stories. As screenwriters, they are the gods taking mythical pokes at the foolishness of man. They employ dramatic irony and we laugh. Well, I do.

I like Mojo.com. Have fifteen minutes? Watch this to help you remember the laughs and the technique of the Coen Brothers.

When I think of the Coen Brothers, here’s what comes to mind: 

  1. They remind me of Mark Twain. Folk tales–their films express America by the region including the vernacular and its superstitions and beliefs.
  2. They appreciate the genre of film noir. Miller’s Crossing is one of my favorites. Gabriel Bryne locks it for me.
  3. They love Hollywood and hate it, too.
  4. The songs and scores are a key part of the tale. Kudos to Carter Burwell.
  5. The themes are universal: heroism, friendship, greed, loss, betrayal, strange love, sacrifice
  6. The setting plays a huge role in their films. The violence of nature infiltrates and determines the violence in man.
  7. Romanticism. Naturalism. Modernism. Post-Modernism. It’s all there in the visual form. Like watching instead of reading the assigned anthology of the second half of a U.S. Lit course. While I still prefer to read the anthology, I enjoy seeing the stories on the screen.

Which region do they personify best? Also, what performance or character resonates? Which repeat actor starring in a Coen film grate on your nerves? For me, that’d be Frances McDormand. I like Jeff Bridges and Steve Buscemi. 

1940s, 1950s, actors, directors, Film Spotlight, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies

L13FC: Cary Grant vs. Jimmy Stewart

 

Welcome back, friends, to the Lucky 13 Film Club. What are you doing to distract yourself while in lockdown? I watched a few Alfred Hitchcock films I had missed in an attempt to fill in some blindspots. After watching Suspicion (1941) starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine and Rope (1948), I thought to feature these two leading men and consider their collaborations with Hitchcock.

Eight movies from the 1940s and 1950s. Who was better? Cary or Jimmy? What of their leading ladies? Sometimes, they outshined their man. Do the glitz and glamour endear us to the production? What of the storyline? Can you rate them? Okay, I’ll stop. But these questions swirled in my mind as I considered the eight films. Two facts are certain. Their careers benefited from working with Alfred Hitchcock. And Hitch benefited for starring them. 

Cary and Joan Fontaine in Suspicion.

CARY GRANT  

1941 Suspicion. A shy young heiress marries a charming gentleman and soon begins to suspect he is planning to murder her. Co-starring Joan Fontaine and Cedric Hardwicke. 

1945 Notorious. American spy film noir about the entanglement of three lives during an espionage operation. Co-starring Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. 

1955. To Catch a Thief. Retired cat burglar Cary Grant and ravishing American party girl Grace Kelly fall in love against a backdrop of fireworks, the French Riviera and a string of unsolved jewel robberies. 

1958. North by Northwest. Ad executive Roger Thornhill is pursued by a ruthless spy after Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent. He is hunted relentlessly across the United States. Co-starring Eva Marie Saint and James Mason. 

JAMES STEWART

1948 Rope. Just before hosting a dinner party, two college students strangle a mutual friend to death after their college philosophy professor inadvertently inspires them. The body hides in a chest and becomes the elephant in the room as guests eat and chatter. Co-starring Farley Granger, John Dall, and Joan Chandler.

1954 Rear Window. Confined to a wheelchair after an accident, a recuperating news photographer believes he has witnessed a murder after spying with a telephoto lens the occupants of a neighboring apartment complex. Co-starring Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr. 

1956. The Man Who Knew Too Much. A doctor and his wife are on vacation in Morocco when a chance encounter with a stranger alters their lives. The stranger reveals an assassination plot and their son is abducted. Co-starring Doris Day.  

1958 Vertigo. An ex-police officer who suffers from an intense fear of heights is hired to prevent an old friend’s wife from committing suicide, but all is not as it seems as he becomes obsessed with her. Co-starring Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. 

EDITH HEAD – collaborated with Hitchcock eleven times. I don’t think you should discount her involvement — her costumes conveyed the character’s personality and often aided in Hitchcock’s setting of mood.  Of the eight films discussed today, she was the costume designer for FIVE of them. 

Cary Grant was the dashing, cool, smooth operator. His films with Hitchcock were about movement. Chases on foot, cars driving at a cliff’s edge, somewhere to go whether a plane, train, or automobile. Jimmy Stewart’s movies with Hitchcock seemed restricted by comparison. He spends most of the plot confined by space. Of course, he does move in Vertigo and The Man Who Knew too Much, but I’d say a key feature of a Jimmy Stewart performance is he is in a constant state of waiting. Cary Grant rarely sits still in his films.  I predict if you lean toward Cary’s films, you like action and adventure. If you like Jimmy, you like the psychological angst of a man who’s in a state of high anxiety.  Alfred Hitchcock specialized in both kinds of suspense.  

Do you like your actors to be warm or cool? 

GRACE KELLY  was just too beautiful to be convincing with Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. She was better suited to stand next to Cary Grant. Their coolness and beauty mirrored each other perfectly. Doris Day was perfect as Jimmy Stewart’s wife in The Man Who Knew Too Much. She was pretty and talented and warm–better suited to the “everyday man”.  

Which was the best film for Cary and Jimmy?

When Hitchcock‘s leading pair was a combination of warm and cool, he had a masterpiece. 

James Stewart (warm) and Kim Novak (cool) in Vertigo. 

Cary Grant (warm) and Eva Marie Saint (cool) in North by Northwest

For the record, my favorite Hitchcock film is Notorious for the storyline and pairing. Mostly for my love for Ingrid Bergman and the scene-stealing acting by Claude Rains. 

Please, tell me what you think, and feel free to kindly comment on what others have to say. Thank you! 

A stunning dress by Edith Head.

Alfred Hitchcock: “Cary Grant is the only actor I ever loved in my whole life.” 

actors, Film Spotlight, History in Films, movies

Are You Not Entertained? A trio of good films

If you need a bolt of violence and suspense to combat your ennui, this trio will wake you up. 

Midsommar (2019)  A couple travels to Sweden to visit their friend’s rural hometown for its fabled midsummer festival, but what begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. (Wikipedia) Writer/director Ari Aster (Hereditary), continues his trend for psychological suspense with bits of in-your-face disturbing surprises. Midsommar is like a pot of water set for a slow boil. Perhaps viewers think the pace is too slow? I like the punishing pace. 4/5

The white imagery is not for purity and goodness, this time around. It’s a part of what makes the story chilling.

The storyline of Midsommar is plausible enough in the first third by establishing the motive of visiting the rural community in Sweden. The male anthropologist/historian Ph.D. students fight over the pagan society as they try to claim it as their dissertation topic. Dummies. White guys trying to “own” another culture is a sure sign they’re gonna go down. However, their tagalong, the anxious, fragile female will become the winner. Even though you can predict generally what’s going to happen, there are enough details and twists to make it an arresting film of the senses. Nothing like a beautiful setting to tell a horror story. It’s a contrast I appreciate. 

Once the guests arrive at the enchanting location, the pace picks up and the charming quirkiness of the village turns into run-for-the-hills horror. Three cheers to Florence Pugh for an electrifying performance. She gives sophistication to her complex character much the same way Toni Collette did in Hereditary. Beware of blind tradition; it’s as though author Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery”) whispered beyond the grave into Aster’s ears and he ran with the concept. 

The Nightingale (2018) Clare, a young Irish convict, chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness and is bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence the man committed against her family. On the way, she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past (Wikipedia). Director Jennifer Kent creates a stunning period film from the perspective of a determined, female protagonist. Actress Aisling Franciosi (Lyanna Stark, GoT) is convincing as Clare Carroll, a singing beauty who is a servant in 1825. She lives a harsh existence but is able to withstand the beasts of the British penal colony which will eventually become Tasmania. Kent holds nothing back as the violence in the story is filmed in a raw fashion as harsh as the Tasmanian setting. 4/5

Jo Jo Rabbit (2019)  Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend — Adolf Hitler — Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on. (Wikipedia). If you want to read an excellent review regarding what’s wrong with Jo Jo Rabbit, I recommend Owen Gleiberman‘s review in Variety found here:

https://variety.com/2019/film/reviews/jojo-rabbit-review-taiki-waititi-1203328083/

Mr. Gleiberman makes a compelling argument. I loved it anyway. I thought it daring, fun and sad like all good coming-of-age stories. Is it Moonrise Kingdom with sass? Okay. I agree with that. Is it “a feel-good movie, but one that uses the fake danger of defanged black comedy to leave us feeling good about the fact that we’re above a feel-good movie,” says the critic? I love feel-good movies without the Hallmark cheese. The acting of the entire cast was entertaining. Roman Griffin Davis (Jo Jo). Thomasin McKenzie (Elsa the hidden Jew). Taika Waititi (Hitler). Rebel Wilson (youth camp assistant) Sam Rockwell (perfect as the youth camp leader). Scarlett Johansson (Rosie, the mom with the cool shoes). In German class, my high schoolers loved it. Maybe that’s why I did, too, for it is pitched to the kid at heart. I’ll be watching this film annually for years to come. 4.5/5