Tag Archives: Charles Durning

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

This year’s New York Film Festival played host to a 15th Anniversary screening of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Coens’ Dirty Thirties road movie, though it hardly seems like that much time has passed. I might have described O Brother differently — say, the Coens’ Dust Bowl love letter or the Coens’ Homer homage or the period highbrow escapee buddy whatever — except that the directing duo melted all of that babble away in the post-screening “discussion” of their writing process. “We just started with ‘three guys on the road'” said Joel; Ethan added, “then we tarted it up with Homer.” That was that. Next question. The Coens are experts at both of those things: interpretive film direction and film interpretation deflection.

But they were no less the storytellers on stage, despite their succinctness, and they were joined by O Brother stars George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as well as legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. The latter was a pleasant surprise, and though the Coens have recently worked with the likes of Emmanuel Lubezki and Bruno Delbonnel it’s endlessly exciting that Deakins will return to the fold (as will Clooney) for the next Coen film Hail, Caesar!; if it’s at all the blend of O Brother and Barton Fink that it appears to be, then it can’t come soon enough.

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The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

The Coen Brothers’ filmography seems to alternate between “beloved” and “pretty much unknown.” For every Fargo and Big Lebowski there’s a Man Who Wasn’t There and A Serious Man. Nonetheless, it’s this writer’s opinion that each one of their movies is carefully crafted to near-perfection. (Okay, the jury’s still out on Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty. ) Of course, if I hold all their movies in such high esteem, what’s the point of a review? Well, because first of all I want you to know that The Hudsucker Proxy exists. And secondly because it deserves as much analysis as any of their other films.

In a hyper-Art Deco 1930s Manhattan, Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), president of Hudsucker Industries, has flung himself off the top floor of the downtown headquarters. With company stocks about to go public, the board of directors, led by Sydney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), plots to depress stock prices by hiring an incompetent president as a scapegoat and then buying back the company. That incompetent proxy turns out to be oblivious business student Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins). But that’s only the beginning of the Coens’ madcap screwball parody that satirizes every rung of the workforce ladder, from the mailroom grunt to the head honcho. Continue reading The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972)

Michael Crichton had an extremely productive early ’70s. Multiple film adaptations of his works were in the making, including a successful version of his 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain, and Crichton himself began foraying into directing and screenwriting. But he continued with prose as well, publishing five novels in the first three years of the decade. Three of these bore his pseudonym “John Lange” and one of them (The Terminal Man) bore Crichton’s actual name; the fifth, a collaboration with his brother Douglas Crichton, was published under another pseudonym that combined the names of both brothers. Suspiciously, an actor named “Michael Douglas” became pretty damn famous not long after.

But that Crichton Brothers book — a somewhat zany story called Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues — sadly is the least effective of those early tales. It’s obvious, even in the film version of the novel, that the pair of writers either couldn’t agree on a direction for the story or just succeeded in writing a story that goes nowhere. Dealing is an absolute slog, and so maybe Michael Douglas’s uptick in fame should be attributed to something else (“like what?”) and not to his deft scriptwriting ability.

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