Tag Archives: coen brothers

A Philosophical Examination of ‘Anchorman 2: The Super-Sized R-Rated Cut’

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Anchorman 2: The Super-Sized R-Rated Cut (2014)
Directed by Adam McKay
Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
143 min. (24 min. longer than the original cut)

We’ve all read Greg’s great review of Anchorman 2. He breaks the film down on a mechanical level, getting to the heart of it by working through its raw material: its jokes.

It’s this raw material which has been replaced in this new version.

This isn’t the first time an alternate version of a film has seen theatrical release. Exorcist II and Heaven’s Gate were notoriously pulled from theaters and recut. I remember seeing The New World in New York in 2005, and when it got a wide release a few weeks later, it was about 10 minutes shorter. But unlike these films, the reason for Anchorman 2’s recutting is not because there was something ‘wrong’ with the original—the filmmakers here simply wanted to experiment with the possibilities of cinema.

This isn’t the first recut of an Anchorman movie. Wake Up, Ron Burgundy is an alternate cut of the first Anchorman, which Greg touched on in his review (and which we saw together after acquiring it from the wonderful and unfortunately long gone Kim’s Video of Bleecker Street). It was a direct-to-DVD release, and featured many different jokes, but the main difference was its integration of a completely discarded plot that revolved around a revolutionary terrorist cell robbing banks in San Diego (which was clearly deemed unsatisfactory, and reshot as the Panda Watch section of the original film). The film tries to weave a half-assed narrative out of these scraps, using some leftover jokes as the glue.

The new version of Anchorman 2, however, is not at all different in terms of plot. In fact, beat by beat, it’s the same. If you’re someone who only half-watches movies, you’d be forgiven by some for not thinking anything was different—but you wouldn’t be forgiven by me. The fabric of Anchorman is its jokes, and now, for once, the emperor really does have new clothes.

We may lose a couple great jokes from the original cut, replaced by weaker ones, but these weaker ones often serve as necessary setup for three great new ones that couldn’t have fit in otherwise. In any case though, it’s futile to compare and rate the jokes. Instead what is important and worthy of discussion is the space these jokes occupy. By this I mean the entire philosophical concept of switching one joke for another.
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On Exposition

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There’s a great little story about how on the set of E.T., Spielberg slowly unwrapped a toy off camera to illicit a reaction from the young actor playing Elliott.  I’ve always thought this story was a great way to explain how a filmmaker should approach exposition.  Exposition is the easiest, most fun, and most misunderstood part of storytelling.  But filmic exposition is generally stupid, because people are afraid of it.

Somebody once asked me,  about my 50/50 Rule, “When making a movie, would you pay extra special attention to how it starts, since you lose interest in so many movies so fast?”  The answer is decidedly no, because every frame of a movie is sacred and equally important.  If you treat your entire movie like that, then you don’t need to spend extra attention to any one part of it.  Exposition is too often just underestimated as something that has to be blown through in order to get to the fun stuff.  To counteract this, the indies have bloated their exposition with way too much visual minutiae.  You can build a ‘stark’, ‘oblique’, ‘atmospheric’ world with your story—you don’t need shots that hold too long on a girl as she wistfully puts on makeup.

Jurassic Park is my favorite exercise in exposition, and in a way, the entire movie is exposition.
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The Cosmic Circle: Outside ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

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Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Written and Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
104 min.

Some spoilers ahead.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a frustrating movie. It’s difficult to know how to approach it. Going in, you either know something about the folk music scene of NYC in the early 1960’s, or you don’t—and either way seems to handicap a viewer looking to make sense out of the film. Those who have a familiarity with the subject will be running through their head for facts, looking for characters who correspond to real people, wondering ‘Will Dylan be in this?’ They will be distracted, and in the end, it will not be a very rewarding experience. On the other hand, those who go in blind will probably get lazy and blame their misunderstanding of the film on their ignorance of the subject, thinking it to be full of inside jokes.

If you can somehow make it past that built-in obstacle course, you’ll be able to view the film for what it is—another Coen Brothers film about a cosmic circle. A man, standing still (a la Ray from Blood Simple, H.I. McDunnough from Raising Arizona, Jerry Lundegaard from Fargo, Barton Fink, The Dude) while at the same time, going on an adventure (Tom Regan from Miller’s Crossing, Rooster Cogburn from True Grit, Llewelyn Moss—practically sharing the first name of our main character—from No Country For Old Men, Ulysses Everett McGill from O Brother, Where Art Thou?literally sharing the first name as our other main character, a cat).
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5 Underrated Holiday Movies

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Now is the time of year where we humans rewatch our favorite holiday flicks, the ones we’ve seen a million times and can stand to see a million times more. Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Home Alone 1 & 2 come instantly to mind for me, and I know I’m not an island in that regard. We all tend to revere the same handful or so, largely due to the fact that there really aren’t too many that are transcendent.

In holding dear to our tippy-top favs though, it’s easy to forget about the ones that are just plain very good—or even hear about them. The ones I’ve listed below have yet to get their due, which is a damn shame, because they’re a lot of fun. They may not be perfect, but each has something unique and beautiful to offer. You may not end up watching them every single year, but you may toss them on every couple or so.
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Not All Movies Should Have Jokes, But All Movies Should Have a Sense of Humor

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Click for bigger version.

There is a moment in Fargo (I’ll never stop talking about Fargo) that makes me die with laughter every single time I watch it. The movie is packed with black comedy and irony and brilliant deadpans (the license plate joke, holy shit) and some basic but perfect physical gags (Jean Lundegaard bursting out of the shower draped in its curtain like a kid in a homemade ghost costume), but I ain’t talking abaout all that stuff. I’m talking about the stills above. This moment seems to be more of an editorial in-joke than an actual written joke, but of course you never can tell with the Coen brothers. After Jean’s dad and Stan Grossman and Jerry discuss the plot’s central ransom over breakfast, Jerry is at the counter. The beaming cashier asks how Jerry’s meal was. After he answers rather shortly, he comes back with an affable “How you doin’” and when it cuts back to her, we see her cock her head to the side before it cuts again. All she does is cock her head to the side. No response, no change in expression, just a slight pitch. It’s hilarious. It’s insanely funny.
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