8 things which tell you you are watching a Coen brothers’ film

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Thirty years ago, a small violent crime drama was released.
The film was Blood Simple and it was the first of the many twisted tales to come from the ingenious minds of Joel and Ethan Coen. Thanks to the likes of Fargo and The Big Lebowski today virtually everyone seen at least one Coen brothers’ film. But just in case you’re in any doubt, watch out for the following…

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1. Crime
Almost every Coen brothers’ film involves crime of some sort usually interspersed with some dark humour. Kidnapping is a particular favourite as in Fargo, The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Raising Arizona.

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2. Frances McDormand is in it
Best known for her Oscar winning performance as the amiable pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson in Fargo, McDormand has been in five other Coen brothers films including Blood Simple and Burn After Reading. She is married to Joel Coen.

Frances McDormand In 'Fargo'

3. Witty quotable dialogue
“What’s the rumpus?” (Miller’s Crossing). “You know: for kids!” (The Hudsucker Proxy). “You’re entering a world of pain!” or “The Dude abides” (The Big Lebowski). “He was kind of funny looking” (Fargo). Nearly every Coen-directed film has been entirely written by the duo and features corkers like this.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

4. Steve Buscemi is in it
The Boardwalk Empire star appeared in five Coen brothers’ films in the Nineties.Bizarrely, he not only dies but his character’s body is mutilated in every one of these films.In Lebowski, for example, his character is cremated after dying. In Fargo, his character’s body is memorably fed into a wood chipper.

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5. Roads
Yes, we are aware most films have roads in them. However, in Coen films like Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men and Inside Llewyn Davis, roads play a major role in the story. There’s sometimes a fair bit of snow too. Watch out for it.

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6. John Goodman is in it
Goodman has first appeared as Hi’s convict friend in Raising Arizona but also cropped up as a horrendous old bore in Inside Llewyn Davis, as well as Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou? John Turturro has also appeared in four of their films (for example as pervert and bowler Jesus Quintana in Lebowski and earlier played Barton Fink himself).

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7. Usually set in the past
Barely any of their films are set when the film was actually released. Lebowski was set during the 1990-91 Gulf Crisis, Fargo in the late eighties (who knows why?) True Grit is set in the 19th century, Barton Fink in the Forties and No Country For Old Men in 1980. You get the idea.

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8. They are weird
The most recurrent theme of the Coens’ films is their strangeness. Why is Fargo called Fargo when it is not even set there but in nearby Brainerd? Why did the Coens pretend it was based on a true story? Why is a batch of stolen money left undiscovered at the end? Why is the ending of No Country For Old Men so odd? Why did they base O Brother, Where Art Thou? on Homer’s Odyssey when neither Coen had apparently read it? Why is Lebowski set during the first Gulf War? Why is there a weird Roswell Incident bit in The Man Who Wasn’t There? Probably we will never know the answers. But the Coen brothers’ brilliance is not in question. Here’s to the next thirty years…

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Presidents on screen

Ronald Reagan

So Daniel Day Lewis has nailed Abraham Lincoln. Bill Murray also apparently masters FDR in the forthcoming Hyde Park on Hudson while Anthony Hopkins (amongst others) have recreated Richard Nixon on screen while Dennis Quaid and John Travolta have (sort of) portrayed Bill Clinton. But what about all the other presidents who have never had a decent shot at being on screen? Here are a few possible contenders:

George Washington

Who was he? Only the first US president (1789-97) and victor in the American War of Independence (or as the Americans more excitingly call it, the Revolutionary War).

Who could play him? Tricky. Tom Hanks? Washington doesn’t actually look much like any contemporary actor.

Prospects? On the one hand, it’s surprising there haven’t been more films about Washington. On the other, films about the early days of the Republic (Revolution, The Patriot, The Alamo) often perform badly at the box office. And are boring.

 

Teddy Roosevelt

Who was he? The 26th president (1901-1909). The youngest ever Commander in Chief whose refusal to shoot a bear on a hunting expedition inspired the creation of the teddy bear. More importantly, he fought and won a vital domestic battle against the great monopolies (trusts) of his day and pledged to “speak softly and wield a big stick” in foreign policy. Later ran as an independent presidential candidate and is distantly related to Democrat president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45).

Who could play him? John Goodman, Oliver Platt, Nathan Lane. Anyone fat basically.

Prospects? Already a major character played by Brian Keith in The Wind and the Lion (1975), Teddy R also had a tragic upbringing and an exciting military career. He was also shot and wounded as a presidential candidate in 1912, but delivered a speech regardless. Potentially a great film.

 

Dwight David Eisenhower

Who was he? Ike was a leading commander in World War II and in peacetime 1953-61) a hugely popular president.

Who could play him? Anthony Hopkins. Ed Harris. Anyone bald.

Prospects? Ike’s military career was exciting but his presidency was uneventful. Unless you enjoy watching people play golf.

 

John Fitzgerald  Kennedy

Who was he? Youthful charismatic inspiration to the world, Cold Warrior, first Catholic president and compulsive womaniser. Famously assassinated 1963.

Who could play him? Was played well on TV by Greg Kinnear and thirty years ago by Martin Sheen.

Prospects? JFK has been portrayed a few times in TV and film, but it’s surprising no one’s done a full scale biopic yet. War hero, family tragedy, nuclear confrontation, the battle for civil rights: it’s all there. That said, it’s quite tricky to square this with his womanising and dealings with the Mafia particularly as the Kennedy family remain such a potent force in the US. Their opposition effectively forced an end to the (admittedly dodgy) Greg Kinnear/Katie Holmes TV series The Kennedys.

 

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Who was he? Kennedy’s successor (1963-69) began his presidency well with a wealth of civil rights and anti-poverty legislation (“the Great Society”) but ultimately became hopelessly bogged down in the Vietnam quagmire.

Who could play him? Liam Neeson. Perhaps Daniel Day Lewis again.

Prospects? Ultimately a bit of a downer story-wise and the garrulous sometimes bullying LBJ is not an instantly loveable figure.

 

Ronald Reagan

Who was he? Simple minded Hollywood actor turned ultra-conservative 40th president (1981-89). Almost started World War III but somehow managed to oversee the end of the Cold War instead.

Who could play him? Warren Beatty, Tom Hanks, Josh Brolin (who played him in the short lived TV series). Richard Dreyfus could play Gorbachev, Sacha Baron Cohen Colonel Gadaffi while John Hamm could be Oliver North.

Prospects? Great. Assassination attempts, arms to Ira, bombing in Libya and Reagan’s ultimate decline into Alzheimer’s. A movie is only a matter of time,

 

Films that sound like they should be about presidents …but are not.

George Washington: 2000 film set in a depressed contemporary US city. Not actually about the first US president.

Garfield: About a cat. Nothing at all to do with the 20th president James A. Garfield who was assassinated in 1881.

Ted: No. Not about Teddy Roosevelt at all. Seth MacFarlane adult comedy about a teddy bear who comes to life.

The Truman Show: A man who grows up in a world entirely created for TV. His name’s Truman Burbank. Nothing to do with atomic bomb dropper Harry S. Truman (1945-53). That one was actually portrayed by Gary Sinese in the decent 1995 TV movie Truman.

JFK: Actually very little about JFK himself, aside from a short biography at the start. O liver Stone’s film is instead a dramatised account of the investigation into why the 35th president was assassinated. And by whom.

Dead Presidents: Hughes Brothers’ crime drama. “Dead presidents” is US slang for banknotes (which, of course, have portraits of dead presidents on them).Image