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  • Lance Mannion
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Dude chill out. You're half wrong about the Coens' movies being cartoons. Yes, they are mechanically, meticulously constructed, but all the movies you mentioned as favorites have overwhelming heart. Even Barton Fink. Think about it, has there ever been a more loveable movie detective than Lebowski? Would it even be possible to pack more soul into O Brother? I think you're jealous of their talent. It's OK. I am too.


i'm not coming off my opinion that the end of no country was clunky...:^(


Fritz: Dude chill out...I think you're jealous of their talent. It's OK. I am too.

Well, there is that. Lot of talent to be jealous of too. So maybe my problem's me.

But I really didn't intend any criticism by calling their movies cartoons. I love cartoons, and some of the best movies of the last ten years have been cartoons, The Iron Giant, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles (Brad Bird seems to be a common denominator here. He directed two of those. Maybe I'll wind up coming around on Ratatouille.) And cartoons can have heart, although I think a lot of the Dude's heart is Jeff Bridges' heart. At any rate, I didn't mean that I think any less of their movies because I think they're cartoons. I just think that they're all at their weakest when they get too cartoony. By the way, it's been forever since I've seen Barton Fink. I need to watch it again.

Bluegrass Poet

Well, I'm on my own hobbyhorse here. I think Barton Fink may be a Betty Boop cartoon from the 1930s.

Mike Schilling

What recent Coen Brothers movie is not mentioned in this post and in fact is almost never mentioned by anyone in any discussion of their work, as if fans are trying to forget it was ever made?

The Ladykillers, and God, was it awful. It tried to be cartoony and goofy too, though and maybe if they had turned Marlon Wayons down about 80% it would have been watchable. (Resentful worked. Belligerent might even have worked. Incessant screaming of obscenities, no.)


Lance, I loved this post, you crazy coot.

Two things. One. I read somewhere once that O Brother was based on a comic book version of the Odyssey. So I don't think you're far off.

Two. The Oscars often don't actually award people for the film they're nominated for (hello, Marty won for The Departed, or Michael Caine for Cider House? - two off the top of my head). So chill out and let the Coen bros enjoy the moment.

Okay, two other things. A) I need to see Barton Fink. B) I think the Titanic Oscars was the last time I was so mad, too.

Sorry for my disjointed lists.

Oh, also, no love for Miller's Crossing? I love that one.


Oops, just re-read and noticed you mentioned it (Miller's Xing). Missed it on my first read through.

Steven Hart

You didn't mention The Ladykillers but you also neglected to say anything about Blood Simple, in which the characters have cartoon views of each other and therefore misinterpret each other's actions in ways that generate a fresh cartoon at critical junctures in the story. I see your Wyl E. Coyote and raise you an Elmer Fudd and a Yosemite Sam.


Tangential: Best part of the night was Joel Coen's reference to a short movie "about shuttle diplomacy" they made as teenagers -- "Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go".


God, I'd almost managed to forget about The Ladykillers.

The whole thing tumbles into my memory hole because it's so odd. The original is such a pitch-perfect...Coen brothers movie. It even fits into your cartoon theory. Alec Guinness' vampire bank robber? Daffy Duck. And the little old lady was Granny. It's the sort of movie they might have made decades earlier, and so the remake would probably have shaped up into a brilliant, gentle-dark comedy starring a cast of wonderful modern character actors. I'll never understand why the Coen brothers decided to turn it into scatstick.


Yes. The Coen Brothers are basically cartoonists - usually Warner Brothers cartoonists. Raising Arizona did it explicitly; No Country for Old Men may or may not have been obvious about it, but it is a roadrunner cartoon, or maybe one of those duck versus rabbit ones...

And you have described O Brother Where Art Thou perfectly: almost perfectly - I think it is more Pogo than anything else - Pogo's rendition of the Odyssey, with Albert as Odysseus... I wonder if such a thing exists - it must, Kelly adapted everything else, somewhere along the line... It does refer as well to Krazy Kat, L'il Abner, Popeye, etc. - as well as the obvious stuff like Sullivan's Travels and Gulliver's Travels... and less obvious stuff like Rossellini's Flowers of St. Francis...

However - I don't see how this can be criticism. Pogo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts are works of art comparable with anything the 20th century produced - those WB cartoons and early Disney cartoons stand with any movies. I think when it doesn't work, the Coen brothers come off as derivative of outstanding models; but when it works - and O Brother works (so do Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country, at least) - they manage the same sets of virtues. Playfulness and seriousness in proportion.


What omar and weepingsam said. I haven't even seen the frigging movie yet, and I haven't read Cormac McCarthy, but I know the Coen brothers are two of the artists I've really felt grateful for over the decades, whether I loved/liked/hated/been indifferent to their movies, and it's a 25/25/25/25 split for me on that score.

And my two favorites, just as a reference point, are "Raising Arizona" and "O Brother." They are cartoonish, funny, and cinematically dreamlike at the same time, a very rare bit of alchemy.


I can only say that Intolerable Cruelty was just plain bad. I simply cannot get past the fact that you liked it, Lance. I will have to take the rest of the day off.

Susie from Philly

Blogger trivia: I was in a high school play directed by Jon "Miller's Crossing" Polito (he was still John then) and we even went out once. The highlight of the evening was when I went to close his car door and it quite literally fell off in my hand.

He's gay now. Draw your own conclusions.

Susie from Philly

Blogger trivia: I was in a high school play directed by Jon "Miller's Crossing" Polito (he was still John then) and we even went out once. The highlight of the evening was when I went to close his car door and it quite literally fell off in my hand.

He's gay now. Draw your own conclusions.


I know I exist on a lonely island with this opinion: but I think O'Brother is one of the worst Coen Bros. movies. It's just ... too much.

I don't know how else to describe it. And I'm also aware of how strange a criticism that is of the Coens. But I think their genius is in how they keep the "too much" quality of their films from tottering over into a total shambles. That's one of the many reasons why Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing, Raising Arizona, and Lebowski are so amazing - that the calvacade doesn't collapse on itself.

And for the record, I think Barton Fink is the best film they ever made.

And that's also why I don't care for Hudsucker and O'Brother - they just seem too unwieldly.

All that being said, No Country is amazing for its leaness. It's really a full 180 return to the days of Blood Simple. And after the steady stream of crap they've been churning out, I was immensely pleased to see it.


I'll have to get back to ya on this, but you've given me food for thought. No Country was one of my top eight of 2007, but I thought There Will Be Blood and a couple of others were better.


Okay, back, now that I'm semi-conscious. Seeing them as cartoonists isn't a bad comparison, although they're definitely good cartoonists, like Walt Kelly or Carl Barks. I had a film professor that pointed out that Miller's Crossing had some screwball comedy elements in it, and he was right. There's the direct Preston Sturges homage with O Brother Where Art Thou? and of course Raising Arizona and Intolerable Cruelty are very much screwball - The Big Lebowski, too, in its way, although it's more Marx Brothers anarchy than Hepburn-Grant battle of the sexes.

You're right that the Coens love movies, and do so in a way Tarantino doesn't. Certainly Tarantino doesn't really care about his audience - he's making a film for himself and his buds. I'm not sure the Coens care about the audience's tastes that much, but like Hitchcock, they do consider what the audience is feeling and thinking, and tweak that (while Tarantino is unconcerned about committing the worst cinematic sin of all - being boring). My sense is that the Coens make films that amuse themselves, full of details and original touches that delight them, but because they truly love, love movies, the end product is generally quite good, and the very least intriguing or fun. In any case, I've always been a fan of flawed-but-interesting films that take some risks, and generally prefer those to the slicker, cookie cutter Hollywoods studio pics. (My favorite Coen brothers flicks might still be Raising Arizona and Millier's Crossing – while I think they mishandle two key moments in Miller's, I think it's vastly underrated. Barton Fink is good, but my take has always been critics loved it beyond its merits for two reasons: one, it's was more "intellectually correct" to embrace it over Miller's, and two, they were so damn pleased with themselves for catching the blatantly obvious shout-outs to Citizen Kane. I'd argue some of the same dynamic was at play with My Own Private Idaho, too.)


Sorry to be late to the party, but the question that everybody's ignoring (thus proving your point) - is the answer 'Crimewave'?

Mike Stone

There is another cartoon connection with "O Brother, Where Art Thou." I remember quite clearly there being a plot line in Li'l Abner where a Sullivan-like film directing character visits Dogpatch and talks about making two films: one was "O Brother, Where Art Thou"--the other being "How Green Was My Corn" (an obvious combination of "The Corn Is Green" and "How Green Was My Valley.)" I wish I could find the reference; perhaps someone else will come across it.

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