Archive for Ethan Coen

MILLER’S CROSSING (1990) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in movies, USA with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by goregirl

Ethan and Joel, the brothers Coen were busy boys during the 1990s. The duo contributed five solid films through the decade; Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Fargo (1996) and The Big Lebowski (1998). I enjoyed all five of these films in varying degrees but the two I’ve revisited the most often have been Barton Fink and Miller’s Crossing. I won’t deny that a large part of the appeal for me of this particular pair is John Turturro who is one of my favourite actors of all time. No matter how small the role or the quality of the film Turturro always gives a memorable performance. While Turturro is the focus of Barton Fink as the film’s titular character and gives an absolutely brilliant performance for some reason Miller’s Crossing is always the first film that comes to mind when I think about the actor. Also, Barton Fink was rented out and Miller’s Crossing wasn’t. Okay, I just wanted an opportunity to chat up Mr. Turturro (more on Turturro momentarily). There are plenty of reasons to visit Miller’s Crossing outside of Turturro; Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman and Marcia Gay Harden to name a few. I love me a period piece gangster film and Miller’s Crossing is one of the most beautifully filmed, well acted and smartest entries of the bunch.

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Johnny Caspar accompanied by his muscle Eddie Dane has arranged a meeting with Leo an aging Irish gangster who formerly was the singular power in the city. Johnny Casper as a courtesy has come to let Leo know that he intends to eliminate Bernie Bernbaum for messing with his fixes. After all, if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? Leo lets Johnny know that if he does that there is going to be trouble. Tom Reagan, Leo’s right hand man advises Leo to give up Bernie and avoid a turf war. Tom’s advice has been gospel in the past but Leo has been swayed by a sassy dame by the name of Verna. Bernie is Verna’s brother and is basically a small time grifter that is stirring up shit beyond his scope of importance. Leo is blinded by his love for Verna and inevitably Johnny and Leo become embroiled in the full-fledged turf war Tom warned against.

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Miller’s Crossing is more than a turf war between two gangsters; it is a character-driven film full of wit, wisdom and dark humour. But it is still a gangster film and has plenty of double crosses, brutal atonements and violent action. The titular Miller’s Crossing is a place where guys get whacked, and if you are unfortunate enough to make the trip it is probably your last. Miller’s Crossing is a visual stunner. Sets, set pieces and costumes are all superb and the lush yet spare film style is exceptionally beautiful, particularly the outdoor shots. Granted there are scenes where endless gunshots never seem to make contact but even these are wonderful eye candy. Miller’s Crossing’s best asset however really is its amazing characterizations.

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Tom is the brains behind Leo’s power. Tom never carries a gun and gets the snot beaten out of him copious times throughout Miller’s Crossing. In fact, I think he may hold some sort of record! Tom is a smart ass with a quick wit that likes his drink and is constantly in arrears with his bookie. Tom rarely lifts a finger during the numerous beatings he takes; Tom’s most lethal weapon is his mouth. While he seems quite harmless among an array of bad-ass gangsters, his decisions can carry deadly consequences. Tom knows all the plays and everyone who knows Tom are aware of it. But Tom sees things others don’t and he uses it. This is one of Gabriel Byrnes best performances and he plays Tom with a spot on cocky confidence (he also looks great in a hat).

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Miller’s Crossing features one of my all time favourite scenes in a gangster film. While Leo is laying in his bed smoking a cigar and listening to Danny Boy a couple hit men break into his house. He bolts under his bed and takes a guy down by shooting him in the leg and when he falls to the floor finishes him off with a shot to the head. The second shooter hides. Leo grabs the dead man’s tommy gun, darts out a window and slides down the roof. When he sees the second shooter with his back to the window he plugs an insane amount of  bullets into him. Than a car drives by with yet another shooter but he misses Leo who chases the car down his fancy residential street unleashing a stream of bullets until the car hits a tree and blows up! Holy crap is this a scene! My words really can’t justify it. Albert Finney is one of the finest actors out there and he is brilliant as Leo. He is a likable and honourable gangster, and can even be a soft touch at times, but there is no mistaking the fact that he can be a ruthless son of a bitch when he needs to be.

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I must admit I haven’t seen Jon Polito in much outside of three other Coen brother films but he is great in Miller’s Crossing as Johnny Caspar. He tries in earnest to be level headed but loses his shit on a regular basis. Every time the animated gangster had a fit over one thing or another I was sure he was going to drop dead of a heart attack. You really don’t want to fuck with Johnny Casper. And you definitely don’t want to fuck with Casper’s muscle Eddie Dane. Eddie Dane was the baddest of the bunch. The Dane as he is affectionately called is one stern, intense, humourless and intimidating bastard. J.E. Freeman is fantastic! Freeman was also in another one of my favourite films from 1990; David Lynch’s Wild At Heart and was equally as frightening as Marcelles Santos. Than we have the troublesome Bernie Bernbaum. Bernie plays innocent referring to himself as a nobody but Bernie is an opportunist of the worst kind and would crawl over his own dead mother’s corpse to steal a quarter. He is a trash-talking no good nick and a career grifter who even bad mouths his sister who has gone out of her way to see he is protected. Bernie Bernbaum begging for his life is one of the most pathetic displays of cowardliness I’ve seen in a gangster flick. Bernie Bernbaum is completely unlikable and it is no surprise people want him dead. John Turturro is without a doubt one of the most memorable sad sack pseudo-gangsters ever. Finally we have Marcia Gay Harden who plays Verna. Verna was Harden’s first feature length film credit (with the exception of The Imagemaker where she is listed as “stage manager”). This is one hell of a debut! Harden is perfectly cast as the tough, sassy Verna who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. She is a gangster’s moll with heart and plenty of moxie.

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Miller’s Crossing is quite simply a beautiful, masterfully crafted film full of fascinating characters and epic performances that is a long time favourite I never ever tire of re-watching.

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Joel & Ethan Coen

Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman, Albert Finney, Mike Starr, Al Mancini, Richard Woods, Thomas Toner, Steve Buscemi, Mario Todisco, Olek Krupa, Michael Jeter, Lanny Flaherty, Jeanette Kontomitras, Louis Charles Mounicou III

DUNGEON DIRECTOR PROJECT: My 50 Favourite Directors #15 – #11

Posted in movies with tags , , , , , on August 5, 2012 by goregirl

My 50 Favourite Directors #15 – #11

My dungeon director project will be coming to its thrilling conclusion this week! Check in on Wednesday and Friday to see who made the top 10!

*NOTE: I did not include any made for TV movies in the numbers I used for each director’s full-length feature films.*

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#15. Sergio Martino

What I’ve Seen: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971), The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971), All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), Torso (1973), Gambling City (1975), A Man Called Blade (1977), The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978), Screamers (1979), The Great Alligator (1979), 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)

I have seen a mere 11 of Sergio Martino’s 42 full length feature films. Martino has directed a number of comedies, the one genre of Italian film I haven’t explored much. Martino makes this list thanks to his seriously outstanding Giallo entries which are absolutely among the best of their breed! I gave four of Martino’s films a perfect mark; The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, All the Colors of the Dark and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. I also loved Torso, Gambling City and A Man Called Blade; actually I have enjoyed all 11 of the Martino films I’ve seen. Martino’s Giallo have all the important elements that make the sub-genre so bloody brilliant and beloved by me! The twists and red herrings, glove-wearing killers, beautiful women, amazing cinematography and sex and violence! Martino is also a big fan of Edwige Fenech and Anita Strindberg and so am I!! These two beautiful talented ladies are just another compliment to Martino’s great flicks! His thrilling puzzles are constructed by the great Ernesto Gastaldi who penned all my aforementioned faves. Seriously, you gotta check out Gastaldi’s resume; the man has written some seriously awesome shit! I’m ashamed I only discovered Sergio Martino’s films relatively recently. Martino is a Giallo master!

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#14. Roman Polanski

What I’ve Seen: Knife in the Water (1962), Repulsion (1965), Cul-de-sac (1966), Dance of the Vampires (1967), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974), The Tenant (1976), Tess (1979), Frantic (1988), Bitter Moon (1992), Death and the Maiden (1994), The Ninth Gate (1999), The Pianist (2002), The Ghost Writer (2010), Carnage (2011)

I have seen 15 of Roman Polanski’s 20 full length feature films (he also has a film in pre-production called D). I love several films on this list but Polanski has lifelong membership in the favourite’s club due to his “Apartment Trilogy”; Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. These are three of the best films I have ever seen in my life! Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby have been on my top 100 favourite horror film list since I started keeping one! Although Repulsion is masterfully filmed I think Catherine Deneuve probably deserves equal credit. Deneuve’s performance as Carol in Repulsion was a freaking revelation! The woman is positively alarming! Mia Farrow’s performance in Rosemary’s Baby is also pretty bloody fantastic. And I do love my satanic-oriented shenanigans! The Tenant is more of a dramatic thriller and it is a wonderfully quirky and mysterious one! It stars Polanski who is not only a great director he is an actor and writer (along with Gérard Brach who collaborated on the writing of several of Polanski’s films). It also features the lovely Isabelle Adjani. I also love and adore Knife in the Water, Dance of the Vampires, Cul-de-sac and Chinatown. While I don’t actually dislike any of Polanski’s Post 70s films they don’t move me the same way as his earlier work. Beautifully-filmed, well-written, character-intensive and with a ribbon of black humour running through them; Roman Polanski’s films mesmerize me and fill me with wonderment.

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#13. Ishirô Honda

What I’ve Seen: Godzilla (1977), Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), Mirâman (1973), Space Amoeba (1970), Destroy All Monsters (1968), The War of the Gargantuas (1968), King Kong Escapes (1967), Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), Monster of Monsters: Ghidorah (1964), Dagora, the Space Monster (1964), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), Atoragon: Flying Supersub (1963), Matango (Attack of the Mushroom People) (1963), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Mothra (1961), The Human Vapor (1960), Varan the Unbelievable (1958), Rodan (1956), Godzilla (1954)

20 is a significant number of titles to see from one director, but it is just a drop in the bucket of Ishirô Honda’s 52 full length feature films! Japanese director Ishirô Honda is maestro of the monsters and the undisputed king of the wildly fun sub-genre! I have enjoyed every single title on this list! Godzilla was the first film I ever seen and I have seen it countless times since! The film was a pretty monumental achievement for its time! His collaborations with special effects guru Eiji Tsuburaya are particularly grand! 100s of miniature structures smashed to bits for my entertainment! I am also a huge fan of Honda’s Destroy all Monsters, The War of the Gargantuas, Mothra Vs. Godzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla, Matango, Mothra and Rodan!! A friend said “You can’t put Ishirô Honda in between Polanski and P.T. Anderson” and I said “To hell I can’t!” Seriously! For the pure joy Honda’s films have brought me over the years he really deserves to be in my top 10! Damn rankings! Ishirô Honda holds the key to my heart!

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#12. Paul Thomas Anderson

What I’ve Seen: There Will Be Blood (2007), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Magnolia (1999), Boogie Nights (1997), Hard Eight (1996)

Paul Thomas Anderson has the teeniest resume in my entire list of 50 directors with just five full length feature films! I have seen every single one of his films in the theatre and gave four out of five of his films a perfect score! His deeply flawed characters and dysfunctional families appeal to me on a variety of levels. I was slightly horrified by the news that Adam Sandler was to star in Anderson’s follow up to Magnolia. I really am not fond of Adam Sandler but his turn here is magnificent! Anderson creates one of the most unlikeable-likable characters I have ever stumbled upon! Who the hell wouldn’t be a little “off” being the only male among a family of overbearing sisters constantly intruding in your life? Punch-Drunk Love has become one of my favourite love stories of all time! Generally speaking, Anderson employs many of my favourite actors and actresses; John C Reilly, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Watson, Daniel Day-Lewis and Jason Robards among others. It can’t hurt your film having some of the most talented actors/actresses working today! All of Anderson’s projects feel like a new experience; Boogie Nights and Magnolia are these brilliant massive ensemble pieces with multiple key characters where Punch-Drunk Love and There will be Blood are more intimate looks at a central male character. In any case, the one thing all Anderson’s films have is intriguing wonderfully written characters! Anderson’s sad, lonely, angry, broken characters are a breath of fresh air in a sea of happy-ending sappy drivel. I would be hard pressed to choose which of Anderson’s films my favourite is; I like each one for different reasons. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most talented and intriguing directors working today and I am beside myself with excitement to check out The Master coming out soon.

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#11. Joel & Ethan Coen

What I’ve Seen: True Grit (2010), A Serious Man (2009), Burn After Reading (2008), No Country for Old Men (2007), The Ladykillers (2004), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), O 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)

I have seen all 15 full length feature films from the Coen brothers. I really struggled with Joel and Ethan Coens placing on this list! I have loved the Coens since seeing Raising Arizona in the theatre in the 80s. Up until recent years the Coens never ever disappointed. While I feel no less strongly about the films I love from the duo they have had a few “oopsies”; The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty, and True Grit. The mighty Coens have five films I gave a perfect rating to; Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo and The Big Lebowski; Raising Arizona, No Country for Old Men and Brother Where Art Thou? would not be far behind. From Crime to comedy Coen’s films have highly entertaining stories, characters and seriously fucking talented actors and actresses! Some of my all time favourite actors and actresses have appeared in the Coen’s films; William H. Macy, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand, John Turturro, Peter Stormare, and Albert Finney among others! I have seen just about every single one of the Coen’s film on the big screen and actually went to see Barton Fink at the theatre three times! The extraordinarily talented writing, production and directing team of Joel and Ethan Coen have already left their unique signature on cinematic history but I think they just might have a few more tricks up their collective sleeves. I look forward to checking out Inside Llewyn Davis which is in post-production. Despite a few broken eggs I look forward to the potential omelette of awesomeness these amazing multi-talented men might concoct next!

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