Those Curious Coen Brothers

Known for their unique characters and gripping dialogue, Joel Coen, 61, and Ethan Coen, 58, are the directors, writers and producers of numerous critically adored films including “Fargo”, “The Big Lebowski” and the Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men”. The Economist

Joel Coen is often listed as the sole director on early projects, but this is only because guild rules stopped two individuals taking credit for one film. They have pretty much shared most roles throughout their careers.

I’ve seen people walk out of the cinema before a Coen film has ended, and I’ve heard the confused and annoyed chatter during the end credits, but the brothers have still managed to break really quite unusual, niche films into the mainstream. Perhaps this is partly due to the large list of popular actors who are keen to work with them.

Anyway, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on my top Coen films…

Burn After Reading (2008) is one of my favourites, with Brad Pitt and John Malkovitch giving hilarious performances, particular when in the same scene. Pitt’s character has grand plans but it’s a Coen film, so you know it’s not going to work out for him!

True Grit is another of my favourites, and it’s thanks to this film, Quentin Tarantino and the Weird West fiction genre, that I’ve finally realised westerns are great. The characters in True Grit seem very honest portrayals of human beings, doing what they want or need to do. I think it’s one of their more normal films too, which probably explains why it’s their most financially successful so far. I’d love some more recommendations for modern traditional westerns. It’s one of the Coen brothers’ few films that doesn’t mash up genres.Business Insider

I saw Barton Fink very late (last year I think) and it’s probably in my top three Coen films, being complicated and super exciting all the way through. It’s a bit of a secret film, meaning different things to different viewers.

Fargo the film is one of the best films of all time, Fargo series 1 was an extremely fun viewing experience… and I’m not sure I can even talk about Fargo series 2. “We have no problem with it. It just feels divorced from our film somehow.” – Joel Coen talking about the TV series. However, all three pieces of work make me wish we had more snowy settings on the big and small screens. Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is possibly one of the best Coen creations.

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No Country for Old Men (2007) is a film that I often forget is by the Coen brothers. Watching it for the first time seemed like such a big experience and I felt like films were changing, they were going in a new, higher direction. It’s also their longest film at two hours two minutes, short by today’s standards. “I mean, after two hours with a character we feel we’re pretty much done with them.” – Joel Coen. Many say “No Country for Old Men” is objectively the best film the Coen brothers ever made. They have a point. “No Country” earned them their first Oscars for best director and best picture. The awards were well-deserved. At first, this doesn’t feel like any Coen brothers film ever made.Business Insider

If I had to pick a favourite, it would be A Serious Man (2009). It’s hard to explain why, but since first seeing it I’ve discovered the short stories of Ethan Coen and this film seems to have a lot of his mind in it. It is hilarious, but it’s also so… well, serious. “A Serious Man” is the most confident and personal film the Coen brothers have ever made… At one point, it diverges into a story about Hebrew letters found on a man’s teeth. That’s because the Coens can. Business Insider

And then there’s The Big Lebowski (1998). 

“The Big Lebowski” is bigger than just one movie.

The story of a laid-back stoner named The Dude (Jeff Bridges), who gets sucked into a seedy LA underworld after asking for a replacement for his soiled rug (“that was a valued rug”), was a box-office flop when it came out. But it slowly gained cult status. Now it plays to sold-out crowds at midnight showings. It has launched clothing lines and even a religion called Dudeism.

And even with the overexposure, “The Big Lebowski” never gets old. After countless viewings, I can’t quite put my finger on it, because my perception of this movie changes every time I watch it. That’s what happens when you have a story so intricate and well mapped out. The mystery gets more intriguing and makes more sense the more you watch it. And yes, this is a film you will want to watch many times.

The Dude deserves to be in the pantheon of great cinematic characters as does Walter Sobchak (John Goodman). For creating a timeless comedy and a character whose face decorates both a shirt I wear and a mug I drink coffee out of every morning, I say, “the Dude abides.” Business Insider

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Moving on: The Coens are often praised for the music in their films, and composer Carter Burwell is responsible for the score in sixteen of them. He is not responsible for the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack, one of my least favourite of their films (it’s not a bad film but I expect amazing from these guys now, so I was disappointed). Not planning to be a film composer, Burwell received numerous requests after scoring the music for Blood Simple, the Coens’ first feature-length film. “It is, in fact, just an accident of the way that Blood Simple was received, frankly. Other people started calling me and asking me to do film scores. So, yes, it’s entirely their fault” – Carter Burwell.

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Despite Burwell’s lack of formal training, Joel Coen says the brothers have always felt like they were in good musical hands.

“Carter is so good at sort of moving into these different kinds of storytelling,” he says, “and understanding what the sort of imperatives of the movie are, and what it needs musically.”

That’s good, because the Coens don’t like to give Burwell too much instruction up front. Burwell says they discuss all the practicalities, but he can’t necessarily ask what a scene is really about…”I’m a bit more of a quieter person,” he says, “and often the music is more behind what’s going on.”…Burwell says he tries to work with people who understand the virtue of withholding information or leaving the audience uninformed and even confused. NPR

Their latest film, Hail, Caesar!, another period piece about Hollywood, isn’t released in the UK until next week, so I haven’t seen it yet! It looks silly and fun, so I’m looking forward to it. This twisted love letter to blacklist-era Hollywood finds the brothers at their most absurd, and it totally works. Business Insider

If you’re an aspiring film-maker, the brothers offer some tips here!

My Top 101 Books (part B, 51-101)

Ok, let’s finish this!

51. ARh+ – H.R. Giger. This is a stunning book of A4 images of Giger’s work. As a teenager, I took out all of the pages and covered my bedroom walls! The great thing about a Giger piece is that you can never tire of looking at it. You spot something new every time.

52. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. I loved this book as a child! One night Max puts on his wolf suit and makes mischief of one kind and another, so his mother calls him ‘Wild Thing’ and sends him to bed without his supper. That night a forest begins to grow in Max’s room and an ocean rushes by with a boat to take Max to the place where the wild things are. Max tames the wild things and crowns himself as their king, and then the wild rumpus begins. But when Max has sent the monsters to bed, and everything is quiet, he starts to feel lonely and realises it is time to sail home to the place where someone loves him best of all.

53. The Gashlycrumb Tinies – Edward Gorey. Another Gorey book. I think this is probably the best.

54. A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin. This is for the whole series (or those which have been written).

55. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini. It’s been many years since I read this book, but I have vivid memories of crying uncontrollably on the bus to work. I never did get round to seeing the film adaptation. Anyone know if it’s worth it?

56. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank.

57. The Miracles of Archangel Michael – Doreen Virtue. Michael is my favourite of the Archangels (if that’s allowed!) and this is a wonderfully inspiring book. I’m a Spiritualist in case you’re wondering. archangel-michael

58. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke. Amazon link. I absolutely loved this book, particularly the little stories within the main story. As soon as I finished it I checked IMDB and saw that they were making the TV series, but when it finally aired I gave up after about three episodes as I found it excruciatingly boring.

59. Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Amazon link.

60. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley.

61. Pucca and Garu: First Meeting – Vooz.

62. Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman.

63. All About Symbols – Andrew T. Cummings. A very useful book when looking into dreams, planning art work, etc. ea963cc3ffe181be77fce84a24b344b4 Amazon link.

64. Justine – Marquis de Sade. I love this book because my mind battles with itself all the way through… I feel sorry for Therese… You can do it Therese!… What the hell Therese?! Sorry Therese…

65. The Chipmunka Anthology Volume 1 – Chipmunka. I mostly bought this book for the OCD diary segment, but the whole anthology is interesting. It also covers manic depression, abuse and self-harm.

66. Snuff – Terry Pratchett. Probably my favourite Sam Vimes Discworld book. According to the writer of the best-selling crime novel ever to have been published in the city of Ankh-Morpork, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday would barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.

67. Louise Bourgeoise – Ann Coxonlouise_bourgeois_spider_iv_d5739118h

68. Mindfulness Plain & Simple – Oli Doyle“Wish I’d heard of this years ago I could have been well chilled out by now.” – from a four star Goodreads review by Julia. This book does exactly what it says! “Nicely written, very simple and calming, and full of wisdom.” – from a five star Goodreads review by Ben Payne.

69. John Cage – Rob Haskins. I’m a little bit in love with composer and artist John Cage and this is a wonderful book all about him. I highly recommend watching a couple of Youtube videos of Cage speaking if you don’t know who he is. “I am a fan of John Cage. He shattered the barriers between composition and philosophy.” – from a four star Goodreads review by Tara Brabazon. Amazon linkRob Haskins is Associate Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator in the Department of Music at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and has been involved with John Cage’s music as both a scholar and a performer for almost twenty years. He is the author of Anarchic Societies of Sounds: The Number Pieces of John Cage (2009). john-cage-2

70. A Little Book of Sloth – Lucy Cooke. Who doesn’t love a full-colour photo book of sloths?! “I loved this book so much that I renewed it from the library until I couldn’t renew it anymore, and after returning it, I went to Barnes and Noble on the same day to buy it.” – from a five star Goodreads review by Michelle.

71. The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka.

72. Mermaids 101 – Doreen Virtue. Amazon link. This does at times seem like an excuse for Doreen to show off in her special mermaid costume, but it’s a cute book anyway.

73. How to Meditate on the Train: A Commuters’ Guide – Michael J.W. PockleyA brief, simplified guide to meditation for those who have to commute by train. Readers will learn postures and techniques appropriate to travel by train, transforming their commute from an uncomfortable waste of time into a joyful opportunity for personal advance. 51lgphLQhPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

74. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain. Unfortunately, I never got round to reading this as a child, but I love it as an adult!

75. All-American Ads 60s – Taschenil_570xN.305180607 I try to avoid current advertising as much as I can, but I love looking back at old adverts!

76. The Visionary – James Hawthorne. Amazon link.

77. If This Is a Man – Primo Levitumblr_lp7ct3bkIf1qzn0deo1_1280 An unforgettable, harrowing, necessary book. I briefly studied Italian literature at university and this was on the reading list. I don’t know why it’s not on the UK school curriculum. It may have been at some point I suppose, but it wasn’t when I was at school. It belongs in the literature or ethics class just as much as it does in the history class. Levi is an amazing writer and I recommend his other books too. The photo above makes chemistry look super exciting. In my school I just doodled on the tables until I got sent out of the lab. There’s a lesson to be learnt here. In 1943, Primo Levi, a twenty-five-year-old chemist and “Italian citizen of Jewish race,” was arrested by Italian fascists and deported from his native Turin to Auschwitz. Survival in Auschwitz is Levi’s classic account of his ten months in the German death camp, a harrowing story of systematic cruelty and miraculous endurance. Remarkable for its simplicity, restraint, compassion, and even wit, Survival in Auschwitz remains a lasting testament to the indestructibility of the human spirit.

78. BloodMarked – Lu J. Whitley. This isn’t normally the sort of book I would read (it describes muscly men taking their shirts off etc), but I really enjoyed it. A ‘townie’ college student, living off campus with her overprotective mother, Greta Brandt thought everything about her life was right on track. Everything, except for the nightmares that have been plaguing her for as long as she can remember.
When her reality is torn apart, Greta finds herself adrift in a world she thought only existed in her fevered dreams.

79. Nothing Is Strange – Mike Russell. Ok, so the truth is: Mike Russell is my other half. But! I was a huge fan of his writing before we were a couple and this is genuinely one of my favourite books of all time. Inspiring, liberating, otherworldly, magical, surreal, bizarre, funny, disturbing, unique… all of these words have been used to describe the stories of Mike Russell so put on your top hat, open your third eye and enjoy: Nothing Is Strange

80. Pucca: Hands Off My Dumplings! – Vooz. Pucca is one of the cutest things to have ever been created. mnIJoHRuIqx8rFuzqlPhlHw

81. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – George R.R. Martin. This is a great way to fill your time whilst waiting for the next book in A Song of Ice and Fire!

82. Mapwise: Accelerated Learning Through Visible Thinking – Oliver Caviglioli and Ian Harris. I went to a workshop run by Oliver Caviglioli and he’s very passionate about visual learning, particularly through the use of mapping. The book is inspirational for teachers and students, no matter what their preferred learning style may be. He spoke about not labelling people as visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners any more and I think this is really important. Once someone has given you the label, or you’ve attached it to yourself, you start to believe that you cannot learn in other ways. 41KV2GWTV3L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_

83. Louise Bourgeois – Deborah Wye.

84. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers. I’m actually only halfway through this book, but I know it belongs on this list. It’s just so strange and wonderful, and I have no idea where it’s going! I love every character. I will have to search for more books by this author. Any recommendations? Please let me know in the comments. thialh *10 out of 5 lonely, burning stars, light years apart, yet winking together in a shared cosmos.” – from a five (or ten!) star review on Goodreads by Traveller. Amazon link.

85. Challenging the Prison-Industrial Complex: Activism, Arts & Educational Alternatives – Stephen John Hartnett.

This is a must-read for anyone who can see what’s wrong with the (US) prison system.

Stephen John Hartnett is an associate professor and chair of communication at the University of Colorado Denver. He is the author of Incarceration Nation: Investigative Prison Poems of Hope and Terror and Executing Democracy, Volume One: Capital Punishment and the Making of America, 1683-1807.

86. Magnificent Vibration – Rick Springfield. This book is hilarious, but it’s also surprisingly thought-provoking and emotional. It’s full of “laddish” humour and features the main character talking about (and to) his penis a fair bit. But it’s also full of romance, friendship, spirituality and self-reflection.

87. The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter. Amazon link. A truly scary book. I’m quite new to Angela Carter, having only read this and The Sadeian Woman (mentioned earlier in this list). I’ve also seen a couple of her films. So far, everything is fantastic, so I’m looking forward to reading the rest! Any suggestions on what to try next? I think I have most of the books, so it’s just a matter of choosing. 1410384986 Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne, in 1940, Carter was evacuated as a child to live in Yorkshire with her maternal grandmother. As a teenager she battled anorexia. She began work as a journalist on the Croydon Advertiser, following in the footsteps of her father. Carter attended the University of Bristol where she studied English literature.

“Fairy tales reimagined for feminist times” (Grazia)

88. The Dalai Lama’s Book of Daily Meditations: The Path to Tranquility – Renuka Singh. Amazon linkHis Holiness the Dalai Lama is the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. Today, he lives in exile in Northern India and works tirelessly on behalf of the Tibetan people, as well as travelling the world to give spiritual teachings to sell-out audiences. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. This is a page-a-day book. Sayings, prayers and stories drawn from the life and teachings of one of the world’s greatest spiritual teachers are here brought together – for the first time – as reflections for each day of the year. His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks with an informal practicality about almost every aspect of human life, from the secular to the religious. Reminding us of the power of compassion and meditation, he shares his thoughts about science and its relation to the spiritual life, and how we can still retain the simple values of love and courage in spite of the fact that the world is changing so fast. he also points out the interdependence between an action and its result so that we never forget the responsibility that lies in each of our deeds. Wise, humane and inspiring, these words will bring daily solace to all with their message of hope and their deep yet easily understandable philosophy of kindness and non-violence.

89. The Power of Mindfulness – Nyanaponika Thera. Amazon link. A very small (60 pages) but helpful book.

90. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton. Amazon link. A 320 page classic. 51sZlvr2pcL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_ The House of Mirth tells the story of Lily Bart, aged 29, beautiful, impoverished and in need of a rich husband to safeguard her place in the social elite, and to support her expensive habits – her clothes, her charities and her gambling. Unwilling to marry without both love and money, Lily becomes vulnerable to the kind of gossip and slander which attach to a girl who has been on the marriage market for too long.

“Superb, utterly perfect, I recommend this book.” – from a five star Amazon review by Francesca Abagnale. A sad but wonderfully written book. Considering how much times have changed, the story still feels so relevant (unfortunately). “Lily is marriage material. And within Manhattan’s high society at the turn of the century, women are meant to marry; and in order to marry women are meant to maintain a reputation of “pale” innocence (indeed, they must).

Lily hesitates to question these two fundamental rules that bind her, save on rare occasion in conversation with Lawrence Selden, the man it seems she would marry if the choice were hers, and who stands far enough outside Lily’s circle to critique that circle from an apparent distance. Selden, however, presents Lily with several problems.” – from a five star Goodreads review by Jason.

91. The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way – Ethan Coen. Amazon linkProvocative, revealing, and often hilarious poems by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of No Country for Old Men

In his screenplays and short stories, Ethan Coen surprises and delights us with a rich brew of ideas, observations, and perceptions. In his first collection of poems he does much the same.

“I have never read a book of poetry from cover to cover before…mainly due to induced narcolepsy after the first few pages. It was therefore with some degree of drowsy trepidation that I received this gift from a close friend. I read the first poem, then the next, then the last…and wondered where this guy had been all my reading life.
I found these poems to be surprising, cleverly metered and worded, and very, very funny. I loved “Agent Elegy”, a scathingly intimate portrait of a Hollywood agent in repose.” – from a five star Amazon review by A. Customer. “Hysterical! Just what you’d expect from a Coen. The author is Ethan Coen who is half of the Coen brothers duo who are famous for the movies, Fargo, Barton Fink, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, etc. the limericks are crass just as a good limerick should be” – from a four star Goodreads review by Jaidene. I love this collection of poems. I don’t think anyone else could manage to be so filthy, clever and emotional. 144 I-can’t-believe-my-eyes pages!

92. The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Brothers Grimm. Amazon linkWith the words once upon a time, the Brothers Grimm transport readers to a timeless realm where witches, giants, princesses, kings, fairies, goblins and wizards fall in love, try to get rich, quarrel with their neighbours, have magical adventures of all kinds and in the process reveal essential truths about human nature. When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm set out to collect stories in the early 1800s, their goal was not to entertain children but to preserve Germanic folklore; and the hard life of European peasants was reflected in the tales they discovered. However, once the brothers saw how the stories entranced young readers, they began softening some of the harsher aspects to make them more suitable for children. We have a lot to thank them for! 744 pages in fact.

93. The Haunter of the Dark and Other Tales – H.P. Lovecraft. Amazon link.

94. Five Children and It – Edith Nesbit. Free on Kindles! A good, old-fashioned children’s story. I think I saw a TV adaptation or a film of it as a child, but I loved reading this as an adult recently.

95. Surreal People – Alexander Klar. mg_9737

96. Children as Artists – R.R. Tomlinson.

An old and tiny book (31 pages).

97. Anna Dressed in Blood – Kendare Blake. Amazon link. ac6b35c41e854db268b036904c75c189

98. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot. 370 thought-provoking pages.

99. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson.

100. Making History – Stephen Fry. “Slow to get started, but once the set up ended (around page 150), it got completely awesome and very interesting. Michael and Leo try to fix the world by making it so that Hitler was never born, except the world that results is even worse.

I loved the glimpses of the technology in the alternate world.” – from a four star review on Goodreads by Shelley.

101. Diving Magic: The Seven Sacred Secrets of Manifestation – Doreen VirtueDivine-Magic

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