Nothing much to say other than I’ve just booked my tickets to see Burn After Reading on Friday, which is opening night here in the UK! I cannot wait! Hopefully I’ll enjoy is this much…
Archive for the ‘Burn After Reading’ category
I went to see Tropic Thunder last week (I though it was great but got a bit soggy in the middle, incidentally it was co-written by one Etan Coen- not to be confused with Ethan Coen) and I was getting seated just as a Burn After Reading trailer began playing and I noticed immediately that it was different than the one I was familiar with. One scene in particular stood out which shows clearly (and graphically) what Harry (George Clooney) has been making in his basement, so if you don’t want to see this hilarious reveal till you see the movie- do not watch the trailer. You can see this trailer (Trailer 2) over at the official UK Burn After Reading site.
Ponders the Guardian’s Joe Queenan using the fact that the Coens are yet to make a tear-jerker as evidence that they are not fit to be so highly regarded. Once again a journalist bemoaning the fact that the Coens have gone from making a serious, Oscar-winning movie (No Country For Old Men) to a light, knock about comedy (Burn After Reading). Like that’s a bad thing! His comment that “the Coen brothers revert to being smart-alecks making films for snarky college students” is so boring, so well-trodden and so wrong that I almost stopped reading the article right there. And again the line about the Coen brothers “creative slump” is regurgitated, only this time, to fit the theme of his article, Queenan, has decided to make that slump a lot longer than the period in which the much maligned (unfairly, or at least overly harshly, in my opinion) Intolerable Cruelty (“a real horror”) and The Ladykillers (“a gabby, klutzy reworking of the 1955 British classic of the same name”). He extends it to include the period 1998-2006, a period in which he claims the Coen brothers “hit the skids”, conveniently beginning after most people’s favourite Coen movie, The Big Lebowski to the aforementioned serious, worthy movie, No Country For Old Men. This merely gives him the [false] evidence to back up his claims and overlooks two truly tremendous movie offerings in O Brother, Where Art Thou? ,which, in his esteemed opinion, has nothing to recommend it but (you guessed it) the multi-million selling, award winning soundtrack, and The Man Who Wasn’t There.
He also contends that- “Everything the Coen brothers do is clever, eye-opening, and stylish. That puts them in a class with Salvador Dalí. It doesn’t put them in a class with Rembrandt”. Suits me, I much prefer the work of the surrealist master over that of Rembrandt.
In my opinion it is Queenan’s article that is a “recycling – more like a regurgitation” displaying for all to see how easy it is to write from a grumpy stand point. Of course, much like this post, his article is merely one man’s opinion to which he is entitled, however wrong it may be.
The New Zealand Herald’s website is carrying an article with a brief interview with Joel and Ethan Coen. In the main it’s about the release of Burn After Reading but contains this interesing part about A Serious Man…
Set in a Jewish community in the midwest in 1967, A Serious Man is again their own story. Drama or comedy?
“I don’t know,” replies Ethan. “Was this one a comedy? Well, if it is then I suppose A Serious Man is a comedy too.” Is it a black comedy perhaps? “Not so much, but it’s not Tropic Thunder either. Our movies are hard to describe. It’s about a family. Not much happens. There are a few laughs. We have a few actors in mind but there’s nobody in it you’ve ever heard of.”
Was that deliberate after the star-studded Burn After Reading?
“Only in the sense that with some movies you want that movie star thing and some you don’t.”
Thanks to Nick for mailing this one in.
Great stuff- just stumbled across these…
I’m not claiming to know anything about marketing but, if I were in charge of the PR for a movie, I’d try my best to ensure that this kind of thing was sent directly to the people in a good position to show them to a lot of people at no cost, say… fan websites for example. I don’t know why I have to accidentally find them on the internet…
Now that the Coens’ latest is almost out here in the UK (17 days but who’s counting?) reviews are beginning to appear on this side of the Atlantic. First one I’ve seen is this from Empire magazine…
“Ask Ethan Coen to explain his latest fable, and he will scratch his thinning hair and summarise its strange ponderings thus: “It is about the covert world of the CIA and internet dating.” Ask Joel Coen to unravel Burn After Reading, and he’ll stroke his well-trimmed goatee and define its unusual formula thus: “This is our version of a Tony Scott/Jason Bourne kind of movie – without the explosions.” Indeed, to this previously untapped combo of inert espionage and modern dating rituals, they could add the perils of alcoholism, ’70s conspiracy thrillers, computer malfunction and personal training. Not to forget sexual deviancy. In a career steeped in oddity, this is another polished example of the brothers’ predilection for tossing a pile of wacky ideas and multiple movie references into the juicer to see what flavour emerges.
Following that most un-Coen of eventualities, an Oscar triumph, at first glance you might see their latest as an effort to paddle away from the threatening currents of the mainstream and back into the reassuring calm of the left bank – although, given it was made prior to the release of No Country For Old Men, that would require some nifty clairvoyance on their Brillo-haired behalf. Perhaps they just wanted to reawaken the zany in their filmmaking. Compared to the moody poetry of that classy neo-Western, Burn After Reading has the wild abandon of a punk-rock song – it’s all jibs and jabs, the rope-a-dope moves of a boxer. A slighter, less obviously showy piece that will grow and grow with repeated viewing.
So what’s the rumpus? Ozzie Cox (John Malkovich), a low-level data analyst at the CIA’s voluminous headquarters at Langley, has quit in a fit of pique. He didn’t take too kindly to being demoted. Truth be told, he doesn’t take too kindly to anything. However, a disc of what appears to be his hastily penned revenge memoirs turns up in the ladies’ changing room of Hardbodies Fitness Center. Naturally, personal trainer Linda (Frances McDormand), desperate to fund her forthcoming surgical work, together with her eager-beaver underling Chad (Brad Pitt), decide to sell the intelligence to the Russians. Did we mention overly horny Harry (George Clooney), currently schtupping Ozzie’s wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) and soon preying upon lonely Linda through the avenue of internet dating? We should. He’s relevant. All of it is played at the amphetamine pace of Raising Arizona.
Cut from similar cloth to Fargo and Lebowski, this is not quite a thriller, and not fully a comedy, but it is very funny and plotted to within an inch of incomprehensible – just like their beloved Chandler. God knows, it errs on the dark side, but the noir is bleached out in the leafy sprawl of Washington DC. Members of the anti-Coen club (unresponsive to the Muncie song, indifferent to bowling) tend to cite the superficial glaze of their art; the tart, unlikable characters; and the smug self-satisfaction at their own cleverness. There will be no swaying even the floaters this time round. If anything, Burn After Reading plays right into the calloused hands of the naysayers. It lacks the immediate charm of classical Coen: there’s no Marge or Dude – good-natured if unconventional counterpoints to the monopoly of jerks, saddos and crazies. Here it’s pretty much just jerks, saddos and crazies.
Ethan, always the more talkative of the brethren, would remind us that most of the characters were written with exactly these actors in mind. Malkovich’s pouting arrogance is a perfect fit for huffy clown Ozzie. McDormand’s disjointed smile and genius for body-language are ideal for nervy, jabbering Linda. Swinton’s snooty grace is primed for Ozzie’s untrustworthy spouse. Out of the crowd, however, it’s the pretty boys who enjoy themselves the most, defiantly mocking their swish Ocean’s Umpteen images. Pitt uncorks his hyperactive loon, blissfully ensconced in the hollow brain-space of a gym-cute bubble-head bounding into the world of espionage like a puppy. Clooney has a wonderful line in smarm he reserves for just these Coen-arranged occasions. Harry is a true-blue sleazebag – wait ’til you see what he’s got in his basement – who emerges out of the chaos as near enough the leading man.
This is precision-built madness. Beneath these chattering lunatics and the pinballing plot lies an intricacy worthy of Kubrick. The sound-editing alone is exquisite: the squeak of a wardrobe door triggering a blast of violence; the hallways of Langley reverberating to the clip-clop of fraught footsteps, rhythmically muffled by carpeting in sonic tribute to The Shining’s zooming trike. Regular cinematographer Roger Deakins may have been on his holidays, but replacement Emmanuel Lubezki (a real person) proves adept at tight, shapely frames and creepy angles.
True Coen fanciers can take solace in such familiar comforts as astonishingly bad highlights in Pitt’s sticky-up hair, the smart-aleck language (although it’s got nothing on the charged patter of Fargo or Lebowski) and a leading character wielding an axe in his dressing gown. And, as is the Coens’ curious wont, the film never quite fits its assumed reality: while we’re darting about contemporary Washington, concerned with such recent preoccupations as social networking and gym regimes, it has the lean, grumbly look of ’70s cinema and the dotty bedlam of trouser-plunging British farce, as if Seven Days In May had been rewritten by Alan Ayckbourn. It is also one of those movies that won’t leave you alone. Percolating away in your brain, its off-centre wit will take shape. The day after, even a week later, one of its peculiar set-pieces will spring to mind.
Ethan might remonstrate, but there runs a theory in certain circles that all Coen films are ultimately about American foreign policy. While it takes work to figure out exactly how that fits The Ladykillers, it is written through Burn After Reading like a stick of rock. Curiously, it’s the schmoes rather than the bureaucrats in the firing line. The CIA suits (led by a too-brief appearance from J. K. Simmons) are benign, bemused and rather gormless; it’s the knuckleheaded plebs who are out of control. America’s troubles, it titters, are of their own making.
As Linda tries to offload the improbable secrets to the very confused Russians, the Agency is baffled. Why the Russians?
The idiots simply can’t think of anywhere else. Farce by its nature is a matter of escalation: each stage of the ever-increasing anarchy is entirely logical, but the net result is insanity. What is Iraq, if not a great, big, terrible farce? Then again, it could just be a big joke on celebrity. There’s nothing that tickles those pesky brothers more than casting a gaggle of gigantic Hollywood stars – including one’s wife – as total nitwits. It’s a high old tale about unintelligent intelligence. That’s the Coens for you.
If No Country For Old Men was vintage port, Burn After Reading is a shot of tequila: eye watering and hard to swallow, but the after-effect is terrific.” – Ian Nathan, Empire magazine, issue #233, November 2008 – 4/5 stars
Burn After Reading has won the TCM Audience Award at the 56th San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain.
“The TCM-AUDIENCE AWARD at the 56th San Sebastian International Film Festival, carrying a cash prize of €70,000 in aid towards promotion of the winning film, goes to “BURN AFTER READING“ by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, distributed in Spain by Universal Pictures Internacional Spain, S.L. This film was granted 8,639 points out of a maximum of 10.”
Also at that site you can watch a 32 minute press conference (in either Spanish or English) with John Malkovich (sporting a frankly AMAZING jacket) who appears to have been the only representation for the movie.
Also here’s the Spanish poster (click for larger).
Carter Burwell has once again produced the goods for a Coen brothers movie. He started his collaboration with the Coens with their debut Blood Simple and has worked on every one of their movies since. His score for Burn After Reading is available to buy now on Lakeshore Records on old fashioned CD from stores and also from iTunes and Amazon Digital. Also available on iTunes is an album called Gym Music from Burn After Reading which would appear to be Chad’s workout music.
Filmfocus.com (the website for Focus Features) has an interview with Burwell where he discusses his approach to working with the Coens and his score for their latest movie. Here’s a pertinent quote;
Since the characters [in Burn After Reading] thought they were in a spy movie, Carter Burwell thought the composer should be equally deluded. “I liked the idea that the composer is as deluded as the characters so that his soundtrack fits the movie the characters think they are in, rather than the actual film we are watching.”
His long relationship with the Coens, however, gives his collaborations with them a special quality. Their relationship “makes it easy for a couple of reasons,” explains Burwell. “There is a lot of trust on both sides. They know I’ll finish and get my job done, and they’ll give me the time to try out different things. And I don’t worry that they’ll overreact if I play them something radical. When you are talking about [the relationship between] music and cinema, there isn’t a completely perfect, established language, but ours is as good as it’s going to get. Another big difference when [working with the Coens] is that we don’t worry about the opinions of other people. It’s rare that we sit around and think, what will the producer or the audience think of this? We are mostly trying to make a movie that we think is good and that will entertain us. And then, of course, we hope that other people will think it’s good too.”
If you read all that is out there on the internet since Burn After Reading’s release last week you will notice some common threads emerging time and time again. One of the most common, is the general feeling that the impression the trailer gives of the movie is way, way off. The trailer makes the movie look like a dumb, light-hearted, knock-about comedy which, apparently, it is not. Now, I am yet to see the movie (living as I do in the UK) but it is felt that the movie is a lot darker than the trailer would have us believe. Often it is compared to Fargo in tone, which is a black comedy sure, but it’s more drama than comedy. For my money, almost all of the Coen brothers movies are comedies, albeit black comedies, up to a point with the notable exception of No Country For Old Men which is not original Coen material (and possibly Blood Simple, Barton Fink and Miller’s Crossing- but each of these have funny moments). They are often criticised for the brutal and bloody violence they love to put to screen but it is almost always juxtaposed by something completely silly.
What do you guys luck enough to have seen it think?
Roll on October 17th when I will be able to see for myself.
Err, that’s supposed to be a heart up there…
“Complaining that the Coen Brothers can be a little too smart-alecky is like bitching that de Sica was excessively humanistic: more than a little obvious, and completely beside the point. They am what they am, and putting aside the proposition that there’s some moral/ethical prerogative to privilege humanism over smart-aleck-ness, how well you’ll appreciate/enjoy these filmmakers’ works depends on how readily you’re willing to key into (which doesn’t necessarily mean agree with) their perspectives. For myself, I found the Coens’ latest, Burn After Reading, to be their most perfectly constructed live-action-cartoon film since Raising Arizona. (And no, since you asked, I don’t consider the greatLebowski to be among their live-action-cartoon films. More like a takeoff on a Powell-Pressburger film on acid, among other things. I’ll get into it another time.)
I imagine you’ve already read at least a dozen or so synposes of the film’s plot, which saves me some work (ain’t blogging grand?), but I haven’t seen enough love given to the very deft way the Coens juggle a bunch of narrative balls here; for all its briskness of pace, the knotty plot of Burn reveals itself very deliberately, but without any flagging of energy. The doofus would-be blackmailers played by Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand (whose monstrous single-mindedness is both the movie’s secret weapon and punchline) don’t even turn up until almost a half-hour in. The zingers are, it seemed to me, even more plentiful and knowing than in an average Coen picture; I loved the indignance with which Malkovich’s impossibly affected kneecapped CIA guy fumes “I have a drinking problem,” and the thoroughly unimaginative stuff he drawls into his tape recorder as he improvises his “memwas”: “George Kennan, a personal hero of mine…” Ouch.
No, you don’t really “care” about any of these characters, just as you don’t really “care” about Daffy Duck. I rather doubt that the Coen brothers aren’t aware, when they do films such as these, that their characters lack depth. The caricaturing is the point. George Clooney’s compulsive stud is kind of a special treat, augmenting the dimwit Gable he essayed in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty with touches of Patrick Warburton’s dumbass sex toy David Puddy fromSeinfeld; tell me you don’t hear it in his character’s post-coital mantra, “I should try to get in a run.” To underscore the live-action-cartoon-ness, Clooney’s climactic freakout almost explicitly recalls the meltdown suffered by Steve Brodie (“Everybody’s turning into rabbits!!”) in the 1949 Looney Tune Bowery Bugs. No, really. It does. Trust me. I’m a film critic.
In its way, though—in its incredibly goofy, nasty, and, let’s say, smart-alecky way—Burn evokes a fallen world just as strongly as the Coen’s previous film, No Country For Old Men, did. The signs of the apocalypes are everywhere here. Among them: People who say they’re out to “reinvent” themselves, voice-activated HMO “help” lines, perky morning TV hosts, and, perhaps Dermot Mulroney (who is, in a sense, the most game of all the very game players here). And just as (possible spoiler alert here, although I don’t necessarily think so, but then, saying “why don’t you read it and decide yourself?” won’t solve the problem either, so…) the Coens showed their viewers some mercy by not showing the awful way Moss met his fate in No Country, here they cut away from the action just as it’s eddying into what would have been roiling grotesquerie, leaving two subordinate characters to provide the exposition, and, yes, do a little philosophizing. Which is much funnier than Uncle Ennis’ .
Good stuff. Check it out.”
Thanks to Billy for mailing this in.
*That’s the magazine/website Premiere, I’m not implying Kenney is the greatest movie critic in the world