Posts Tagged ‘The Coen Brothers’


no-country-for-old-men_30262_4ea5fa772c058837cb0027d1_1320295952The Coen Brothers have spent most of their careers as critical darlings, the favorites of people like me who love the offbeat sensibility they bring to their films. Their classic work, which includes O Brother Where Art Thou, Barton Fink and of course, the Oscar winning Fargo dates back to the early eighties with their breathtaking debut Blood Simple.

The new millennium, however, hasn’t been kind to the brothers or their fans. An attempt at romantic comedy, Intolerable Cruelty, lacked both romance and comedy and The Ladykillers was an ill advised remake of an Ealing Studios classic. Happily, they found their footing with their new film, an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel No Country for Old Men, featuring a serial killer with a Beatles haircut, a title borrowed from the first line of W. B. Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium and some of their best work in years.

The story begins when down-on-his-luck Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), hunting near the Rio Grande, stumbles across the site of a drug deal gone wrong. Bullet-ridden dead men litter the landscape, and a several kilos of heroin and a suitcase stuffed with two million dollars in cash have been abandoned. When Moss makes off with the money his life and the lives of those around him are changed forever.

In hot pursuit of the runaway and the cash are disillusioned Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who vainly tries to contain the situation, a cocky bounty hunter played by Woody Harrelson and an enigmatic killer named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).

Bardem’s performance as Chigurh (ironically pronounced “Sugar”) is the film’s secret weapon. The movie is top heavy with good performances—Jones is at his world-weary best while Brolin continues his comeback winning streak with another strong outing—but it is the quiet menace that Spanish actor Bardem brings to the film that gives it is oomph. His diabolical killer cavalierly flips coins for people’s lives, speaks in a monotone when he does speak, but usually he just lets his weapons—like a pressurized air gun usually used to stun and kill cattle—do the talking for him. His near catatonic countenance, Prince Valiant haircut and seeming indestructibility make him the best and strangest on-screen villain of the year.

The Coens have faithfully adapted McCarthy’s novel, keeping the dark humor, unbearable suspense and high body count—the ultra-violence would make David Cronenberg proud—while at the same time tightening up their notoriously loose narrative style. This is muscular filmmaking, highly structured but not predictable; it’s well paced and suspenseful. Couple the terrific story with great performances and beautiful New Mexico photography and the result is not only their best film since 1996’s Fargo, but also one of the best of the year.

METRO MATH MOVIES In Focus by Richard Crouse METRO CANADA Published: September 21, 2011

moneyball_22Two plus two equals four isn’t really a compelling idea for the plot of a movie, but filmmakers have often turned to mathematics as the basis for a story.

The Coen Brothers focused an entire film around the Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Mechanics. In A Serious Man Prof. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) teaches his classes the principle, but desperately wants to believe, despite the equation, that life makes sense. It’s not a movie about wave-particle duality and the DeBroglie hypothesis—it’s a very human story about a man searching for answers—but the math is crucial to the story.

The same holds true for Moneyball, the new Brad Pitt movie opening this weekend. The story of a baseball team’s general manager who uses algorithms and computer-generated analysis called sabermetrics to draft his players isn’t strictly about the math, but the story wouldn’t be the same without it.

A Beautiful Mind shows how mathematician John Nash, played by Russell Crowe in the role that won him an Oscar, would visualize math problems in order to identify patterns and solve equations.

The Hangover uses a similar trick. At a Las Vegas casino Alan (Zach Galifianakis) counts cards at a blackjack table as mathematical equations appear on the screen. In reality none of the equations—like the Fourier theory of additive synthesis—have anything to do with cheating at cards, but it’s a funny scene that inspired the facebook page “Alan from The Hangover makes math seem AWESOME.”

A love poem called The Square Root of Three appears in the raunchy comedy Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. “I fear that I will always be a lonely number, like root three,” writes the lovelorn Kumar (Kal Penn), “A three is all that’s good and right. Why must my three keep out of sight?”

The Da Vinci Code famously uses the Fibonacci sequence—1 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 5 – 8 – 13 – 21— as a key to unlock the movie’s mystery and Cube sees people trapped in a giant cube with mathematic problems as clues to their salvation.

The John Astin comedy Evil Roy Slade features some frontier math. Schoolteacher Betsy asks Roy, “If you had six apples and your neighbor took three of them what would you have?”

“A dead neighbor and all six apples,” he replies.