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Kino Korner November 14, 2007
Breaking News! Coen Brothers Are Kinda Talented, Say Critics
No Country For Old Critics By Eileen Jones Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3

Anyway, the story here is not that the Coens are great—we know—it’s the fact that a mere two-decades-plus into their feature filmmaking careers, the Coens have found broad acceptance with American critics. Now they tell us, based on seeing No Country, that the Coens typically “combine virtuosic dexterity with mischievous high spirits, as if they were playing Franz Liszt’s most treacherous compositions on dueling banjos” (A.O. Scott, New York Times). All right, then! Even the Village Voice, that malignant foe of all that is good, especially Coen films, has come around a bit, with Scott Foundas opining that No Country is the Coens’ “most measured, classical film of their 23-year career, and maybe their best.”

Getting uneasy yet, true Coen admirers? You should be. Something very wrong here. Who the hell watches Coen films for measured classicism? Nobody who really likes them, that’s who. The Coens mastered film classicism with their ABCs and zoomed on from there. No, what we have here, instead of critics damning the Coens with faint praise, is critics damning them with loud praise. You keep reading these reviews and you realize the damning part is indeed woven into the praise itself. (“Mischievous high spirits”? What are they, elves?) Or else it’s just about to emerge in the next sentence. That Foundas guy bares his fangs soon enough:

It’s easy to imagine how the Coens, whose Achilles’ heel has always been their predilection for smug irony and easy caricature, might have turned McCarthy’s taciturn Texans into simplistic western-mythos archetypes…

Actually, no. That’s not at all easy to imagine. But you see where this is headed, right? No? Try another one, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly:

No Country for Old Men reverses [the Coens’] slide into arch pastiche, brilliantly. It’s the Coens first movie in ages that doesn’t rely on snark as a backup source of energy, the first Coen script that respects its own characters wholeheartedly, without a wink. And it’s no accident that this measured yet excitingly tense, violent yet maturely sorrowful thriller marks the first time the filmmakers have faithfully adapted somebody else’s work to their own specifications and considerable strengths. Cormac McCarthy’s marvelous, throat-gripping, best-selling 2005 novel of the same name…

Now you see. It’s McCarthy’s novel that’s “measured” and “classical” and “mature.” The Coen Kids merely reined in their mischievous high spirits, their winking snark, long enough to do justice to a far superior artist. Cormac McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for that post-apocalyptic bummer The Road and, more importantly, was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. So the critics all know what to think of him, that he’s the greatest damned writer who ever stepped.

Let’s take a look at his opus, shall we?

Even a cursory skim through the book No Country shows you that the Coens did a pretty faithful adaptation, so I’m willing to admit McCarthy does decent work in spots. No way the Coens are going to use characters and scene descriptions and chunks of dialog verbatim from a writer who’s wholly unqualified. But on closer examination, what’s really telling is what the Coens didn’t use. You want an example of mature artistic restraint? Just go though the book noting how they cut McCarthy off every time he gets pretentious and lugubrious and repetitious, which he does frequently. For example, here’s McCarthy’s Carla Jean character telling a story about meeting her future husband while working at Wal-Mart:

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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

Eleven Years of Threats: The eXile's Incredible Journey
Feature Story By The eXile
Good Night, and Bad Luck: In a nation terrorized by its own government, one newspaper dared to fart in its face. Get out your hankies, cuz we’re taking a look back at the impossible crises we overcame.

Your Letters
Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

Clubbing Adventures Through Time
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eXile club reviewer Babooshka takes a trip through time with the ghost of Moscow clubbing past, present and future, and true to form, gets laid in the process.

The Fortnight Spin
Bardak Calendar By Jared Lindquist
Jared comes out with yet another roundup of upcoming bardak sessions.

Your Letters
Richard Gere tackles this week's letters. Now reformed, he fights for gerbil rights all around the world.

13 Toxic Talents: Hollywood’s Worst Polluters
America By Eileen Jones
Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


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