Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Something Wicked This Way Comes
2007-11-07 09:55
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

Before seeing a screening of No Country for Old Men, the new movie by Joel and Ethan Coen, I decided to read the book by Cormac McCarthy. One, because I haven't read any fiction in years and I figured this would give me an excuse to read a novel, and two, because I get so nervous in thriller movies that I wanted to find out how things turn out in the end before seeing the movie. (There is a twist in the narrative and the Coen's are faithful to the book.)

But once you know the twist, half of the fun is gone. (Do movies like The Sting or The Sixth Sense ever get better with repeated viewings? Not for me.) I didn't care for the book, which is written in a minimalist style that I found pretentious, but it felt as if the Coen's could have written it themselves. It's right up their alley and the book reads like a screenplay.

The movie is skillfully made. There is some vivid imagery (Roger Deakin's photography is often stunning) and wonderfully tense moments. The Coen's use sound very well--the sound of a rotary dial phone, the squeak of a suitcase; in fact, several sequences don't have any music at all. There are familiar Coen touches--tracking shots of the open road from a car's point-of-view, ceiling shots looking down on a sleeping character, grotesquely funny-looking yokels, voice-over narration, goofy haircuts, dry dialogue and inside jokes (Mike Zoss Pharmacy--Mike Zoss is the name of their production company).

The movie is terse, and brutal but I thought it was empty. It's like a B-Movie made with A-Movie talent. There isn't much pulpy fun in it, despite the trademark Coen humor. It takes itself seriously in that it portends to say something heavy about human nature (Maybe it's just another bleak film noir--the Coen's never take themselves too seriously, but the movie felt too serious). As a friend who recently saw the movie said, "it slams you up against the wall and there is no room for your imagination to roam."

When it was over I just thought, "Why? What's the point?" I'm sure the Coen's have their reasons--again, the material is so well-suited to their tastes that perhaps they just couldn't turn it down.

I won't be surprised if the movie turns out to be one of the Coen's biggest commerical hits. But it reminds me of Silence of the Lambs, another technically well-made entertainment that felt soulless. (I don't think Demme has ever recaptured the funky spirit that infused his early movies like Melvin and Howard, Something Wild and Married to the Mob.) This movie isn't a departure for the Coen's, but it feels like an excercise in style. It looks great and delivers thrills, but, again, when it was over, I just shrugged my shoulders and was like, "And...So...?"

2007-11-07 10:43:53
1.   murphy
while somewhat unrelated, i had a very similar reaction to wes anderson's latest, Darjeeling Limited. i couldn't quite place my dissatisfaction with the film till i read, "his movie isn't a departure for the Coen's, but it feels like an excercise in style," in your review, alex.

love the off-season non-baseball pieces. keep em comin.

2007-11-07 10:45:13
2.   Nick from Washington Heights
well, this puts a damper on my Friday night plans.
2007-11-07 11:06:33
3.   JL25and3
Funny, I've heard people say that about Coen movies for years. Impeccable, dazzling style but short on soul.
2007-11-07 11:09:38
4.   JL25and3
By the way, was the title a reference to Shakespeare or to Ray Bradbury?
2007-11-07 11:30:30
5.   Alex Belth
Ray Bradbury, but maybe he got it from Shakespeare! Yeah, the Coen movies I enjoy the most is when there is something warm about the characters--Fargo, Raising Arizona, Oh, Brother...Although, the one style-heavy movie that I really like, especially the more I've seen it is Miller's Crossing.

Also Nick, I think that I'll be in minority in not responding to this one. I think it'll be very satisfying for a lot of people..

2007-11-07 11:31:49
6.   Alex Belth
I didn't see the Darjeeling Limited, but I don't care for Anderson's movies--they are too precious for me. But I know Cliff liked this one and said it was more emotional than some of the others...I remember liking Bottle Rocket the best.
2007-11-07 11:36:55
7.   Yankee Fan In Boston
0 ugh. i was looking forward to this one.

1 i saw the darjeeling limited last weekend. i liked it. it was similar in style (and cast) to anderson's other stuff, but i thought that it stood on its own merits. this one was less "cutesy" and relied more on the acting than quirky characters.

2007-11-07 11:42:52
8.   Jon Weisman
I sort of agree with your take on No Country, Alex (with the caveat that I hadn't read the book, so I didn't have that spoiler). I think there was a there there, but it was more intellectually and visually rewarding then emotionally rewarding.
2007-11-07 11:45:03
9.   murphy
bottle rocket is cool. i understand your concern about rusmore and tenebaums being too precious, but i think he was moving away from that with life aquatic. it's outlandish, fanciful, and a little silly - but it's not precious. i loved life aquatic and thought it signaled a shift to movies with a little more humanity. darjeeling was a bunch of half music videos interspersed with pretty pictures and overly-stylized acting (save brody).
2007-11-07 11:46:16
10.   vockins
I had no interest in seeing Darjeeling Limited after experiencing the trajectory from Rushmore to The Life Aquatic. I imagine Anderson's next movie is going to be exclusively material product placement and Kinks songs. No thanks.

I'm ready for "No Country for Old Men," though, and I haven't seen a movie in a theater since "The Queen" and that broke up a two year drought. I'm on a Cormac McCarthy bender right now. Guy is phenomenal.

In Yanks news, it looks like Torreabla is going to get picked up by the Rox AND they are looking for a BUC. For the love of all that is holy - please get Iannetta, Cashman.

2007-11-07 11:53:06
11.   cult of basebaal
hmmm ... i'm seeing it tonite, it wouldn't surprise me at all to have a similar reaction to it ... then again, my favorite Coen Brothers film is Barton Fink, so the opposite reaction is possible
2007-11-07 11:56:21
12.   Yankee Fan In Boston
9 darjeeling was a bunch of half music videos interspersed with pretty pictures and overly-stylized acting (save brody).

personally, i think that would be more applicable to most of anderson's other films. this felt like a conscious departure from that stuff... for anderson anyway.

anderson relies heavily upon his soundtracks. he always has. i thought this one was great, but i am a sucker for the kinks ("powerman", "strangers" and "this time tomorrow" are great songs and are all in this film) and appreciate eastern music.

i also thought brody was great. schwartzman (sp?) plays everything the same way, but i thought even the wilson brother was pretty good in this. i usually can't stand him.

now... only a nude natalie portman could save the little vignette at the beginning.

...and just barely. (the pun is completely intentional.)

2007-11-07 11:57:35
13.   Yankee Fan In Boston
10 heh... kinks...
2007-11-07 12:01:24
14.   JL25and3
5 Yeah, Bradbury got it from the three witches in Macbeth: "By the pricking of my thumbs/Something wicked this way comes."

I agree that they're best when there's some warmth to their characters, and that Millers Crossing has grown on me over the years. I didn't love O Brother, though, except that it made more people aware of Sullivans Travels.

I'll always have a special soft spot for Blood Simple, which I saw when it came out. It's the least stylish of all their movies, probably because of its extreme cheapness. But it has not only a young Frances McDormand, but also Dan Hedaya and M. Emmett Walsh. Hot damn!

I absolutely loved Rushmore. Precious, perhaps, but also with a sweetness and a sincerity that redeemed it. I didn't like Tenenbaums, and haven't bothered since.

2007-11-07 12:31:14
15.   Alex Belth
Ah, Sullivan's Travels. Good movie. A little preachy at the end, but man, Veronica Lake was some babe. My favorite Sturges movie is probably The Lady Eve, though it lags in the second half. First half is great (and, first half of Kubrick's Lolita is as great as any American comedy too!). Palm Beach Story is also fun, and, is the Coen's favorite Sturges flick.
2007-11-07 13:07:35
16.   JL25and3
15 Makes sense that the Coens are partial to the Palm Beach Story. Touches like the placards at the beginning and end ("And they lived happily ever after...Or did they?") are just their style. And it's the little set pieces and the quirky minor characters - the Wienie King, and the Ale and Quail Club - that really make the whole movie.

Sullivan's Travels is probably still my favorite. Preachy, yeah, but also ambitious. It was also my introduction to Sturges, some 30 years ago, and I was astounded that I'd never heard of him.

2007-11-07 13:23:51
17.   Ken Arneson
Sullivan's Travels, yikes. I hated hated hated everything about that movie except Veronica Lake.
2007-11-07 13:25:57
18.   OldYanksFan
Lohud:" The Yankees want Damon as their LF and DH and to hit leadoff (meaning that if Joe Crede is coming to New York, it's not for Johnny Damon).... and Matsui primarily at DH.
2007-11-07 13:38:52
19.   Alex Belth
Yeah, if you brought up The Palm Beach Story to one of the Coens, they'd immediately say, "The Ale and Quail Club," or "Ah, the Weenie King." Rudy Valee is terrific in that one.

I've heard that Veronica Lake wasn't a very nice person but man, was she ever fetching.

2007-11-07 13:50:49
20.   ChrisS
I fly a lot for work, and the one movie that doesn't ever come out of the iPod is Miller's Crossing. I'm disappointed in reading your review of No Country..., Alex, but I'm still looking forward to seeing the film.

As for baseball schtuff, getting Tejada and sticking him at 3B is an interesting option. He's a gamer, has pop, and has a good defensive reputation.

2007-11-07 14:02:19
21.   Alex Belth
I think Turturro's performance as The Schamtte is one of his finest.
2007-11-07 14:12:51
22.   Simone
I love Javier Bardem who is one of the finest actors of this era. I see everything that he is in so I'll go see "No Country for Old Men." I don't think that Bardem is near as good in English movies as he is in Spanish movies, but that is probably due to the pathetic writing prevalent in Hollywood movies.
2007-11-07 14:22:11
23.   ChrisS
I hadn't seen the The Third Man prior to seeing Miller's Crossing. But after seeing it, and knowing the Coen's penchant for homage to noir's glory years, it's hard to miss their references.

Agree about Turturro, his ability shines. For me it's where goes from cowering and crying to threatening Tom Reagan.

"In the meantime I'll stay outa sight. But if Caspar ain't stiff in a couple of days I start eating in restaurants."

2007-11-07 14:31:47
24.   Jersey
0 I didn't care for the book, which is written in a minimalist style that I found pretentious

Don't be hatin' on McCarthy! Have you read The Road?

2007-11-07 14:34:23
25.   Hoosier Yankee
To the list of early funky Demme movies you have to add the great Talking Heads concert movie "Stop Making Sense" and the equally great Spalding Gray one-man show "Swimming to Cambodia."

As for Sullivan's Travels, all you need to know is:
John L. Sullivan: I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man!

LeBrand: But with a little sex in it.

John L. Sullivan: A little, but I don't want to stress it. I want this picture to be a document. I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity! A true canvas of the suffering of humanity!

LeBrand: But with a little sex in it.

John L. Sullivan: [reluctantly] With a little sex in it.

Hadrian: How 'bout a nice musical?

Nothing to equal it until "Barton Fink" and "The Player"

2007-11-07 14:49:48
26.   Matt B
I haven't seen it in ages, but if memory serves The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is another essential Sturges flick.

10 Great line...As for Anderson, I've liked all his movies to this point (and I loved Bottle Rocket and Rushmore), but I was just turned off to this one (Darjeeling). I don't see how he's growing at all, and I love the Kinks! I'll see it at some point I'm sure. I think both Rushmore and even Tennenbaums worked because they managed to show some genuine heart amongst the whimsy. But enough already, Wes.

Veronica Lake was insanely hot.

2007-11-07 14:57:18
27.   Sarasota
my 2 cents:

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford........beautiful albeit a little long....and......Lars and the Real Girl..starts slow but great performances/story.

2007-11-07 15:01:20
28.   bobtaco
24 10 Yes, any McCarthy bender and discussion must include The Road.

I think it is the scariest book I have ever read. It also helps to be completely aware of the Peak Oil theory, and be of a firm belief that civilization is quickly collapsing.

2007-11-07 15:53:25
29.   cult of basebaal
24 28 i read The Road this summer and i liked it okay, there are a number of wonderfully written passages, but i can't say i was particularily affected by it

rereading alex's review, this section

It takes itself seriously in that it portends to say something heavy about human nature (Maybe it's just another bleak film noir--the Coen's never take themselves too seriously, but the movie felt too serious)

rang a bell, reminding me of the only Coen Brothers film I really passionately disliked: The Man Who Wasn't There another neo-noir that thought (mistakenly) it had, well, actually, thoughts.

hope i like this one better ...

2007-11-07 17:45:55
30.   Alex Belth
Hey, I don't know if I was hating McCarthy, I just found this particular book to be pretentiously written. I can't speak to anything else he's written.

I've never fully compiled a Top Ten favorite movie list, but whenever I start to think about something like that, two movies always make the list: The Third Man and Dog Day Afternoon. The Third Man feels so much like a Graham Greene book it's scary. Possibly the best star-turn cameo in movie history too, right?

When I was 13 years old, I really wanted to go see "Amadeus." So I went down to the Lincoln Plaza cinemas one rainy Saturday afternoon (you know, the theater where you have to go downstairs), only to find that it was sold out. "Stop Making Sense" was playing and I wanted to see something so I went down and watched that instead, and it was one of the most thrilling experiences I've ever had in a movie theater.

I was familiar with the group--my uncle from Belgium had long been a fan, but was completely unprepared for how exciting the movie was going to be.

2007-11-07 18:16:34
31.   skybluestoday
Re: 30

You did much, much better to go with "Stop Making Sense" than with "Amadeus." I saw it on first release because I was reviewing it for my high school paper; I knew nothing about the Talking Heads beforehand, but it was such thrilling performance-filmmaking. Really special. I've been a huge fan of the band ever since (naturally, they broke up within a couple of years).

I loved Demme's early work (even the women-in-prison exploitation flick "Caged Heat"). I thought "Something Wild" was one of the best American movies of the 1980s -- it really got at something about the dark underbelly of that late Reagan era Americana thing that had previously been tapped in "Blue Velvet" -- but with all of Demme's funky idiosyncracies (and excellent soundtrack choices, courtesy of David Byrne, no less) intact. I actually thought that the 1986-1991 (or so) period was maybe the last great era of American filmmaking.

2007-11-07 18:58:49
32.   Alex Belth
Yeah, "Something Wild" actually came out the same year "Blue Velvet" did, right? 1986. You know what, 89 was a good year for American movies. Just some of the worthwhile movies that year...

Do the Right Thing
New York Stories (just the Scorsese part, which is one of my favorite things he's ever done)
Casualties of War
Sex, Lies and Videotape
Drugstore Cowboy
Sea of Love
The Fabulous Baker Boys
Enemies, a Love Story
Say Anthing
My Left Foot
Henry V

2007-11-07 19:11:23
33.   Matt B
30 Alex, The Third Man is just a perfect movie. Speaking of Graham Greene and Carol Reed, Reed's adaptation of Greene's "Our Man In Havana" with Alec Guinness, was on TCM the other night. Recorded it. I just read the book a month or so ago. Curious to check it out.
2007-11-07 19:15:57
34.   nemecizer
100 days until pitchers and catchers report!
2007-11-07 19:52:06
35.   SF Yanks
From Pete at LoHud:

"Meanwhile, Roger Clemens told the Astros he wants to start his 10-year personal services contract with the team, which means spending time as an instructor and consultant."

What does that mean exactly? What happens after the 10 years? And what does this mean exactly? Did I just repeat myself?

2007-11-07 22:00:14
36.   SF Yanks
Don't everyone answer at once, please. Really, you are too kind. Where would I be without you guys? /sarcasm

Hmmm....hello?.... Anyone there?

Maybe nobody knows the answer?

2007-11-07 22:05:51
37.   OldYanksFan
35 It's huge news actually.
It's means Clemens might be retiring.
2007-11-07 22:13:33
38.   yankz
I had to share this via FJM:

"The Pirates upper management has widely ignored OBP (on base percentage) in the past. How important will OBP be in player evaluation under your leadership?
-- Eric S., Pennsboro, W.Va

We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We'll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) , WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), Runs Created, ERC (Component ERA), GB/FB (ground ball to fly ball ratio), K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), K/BB (strikeouts to walks ratio), BB%, etc., but we'll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP (value over replacement player), Relative Performance, EqAve (equivalent average), EqOBP (equivalent on base percentage), EqSLG (equivalent slugging percentage), BIP% (balls put into play percentage), wOBA (weighted on base average), Range Factor, PMR (probabilistic model of range) and Zone Rating."

Oh my stars and stripes that is awesome.

2007-11-07 22:35:24
39.   yankz
14 But they got it from the Harry Potter 3 soundtrack.
2007-11-08 03:32:12
40.   JL25and3
38 They can use all those things, but the question is, will they use them to make intelligent decisions?
2007-11-08 06:39:43
41.   Raf
40 Maybe, maybe not, but it's a step in the right direction. Better to hear that than the "we need a new stadium to compete because the Yankees keep outspending us for free agents" crap we hear from "small markets."
2007-11-08 06:50:43
42.   ChrisS
30 In the extras on the Third Man dvd, Orson Welles said something to the effect that Harry Lime was the star of the Third Man because they spend the entire first half of the film talking about him.
2007-11-08 10:32:18
43.   cult of basebaal
so ... saw No Country last night with 2 friends ... have to say i think Alex's review was rather too kind ... it's a movie in search of an acceptable third act, which is really McCarthy's fault, since the Coens do adhere to the book, but in the end is no excuse. Overall the response ranged from "i never need to see that again" to my more ambivalent "i'd watch the 1st half if i stumbled on it on tv one night".
2007-11-08 11:08:28
44.   weeping for brunnhilde
4 5 Macbeth.

The weird sisters: "By the knocking of my drums, something wicked this way comes."

2007-11-09 11:33:57
45.   The Mick 536
Of the most recent Coen productions, I loved the Man Who Wasn't There. James Gandolfini was great, as was Mrs. Coen, the OCD detective, and Mean Santa. But then again I liked the Lady Killers and Intolerable Cruelty. Not a Coen film that I didn't like.

And, as for Sturges,Palm Beach.

Saw Blue Velvet last week. Still works. Something Wild, one of my all time favs.

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