Lisa Reviews A Palme d’Or Winner: Barton Fink (dir by Joel and Ethan Coen)


With the Cannes Film Festival underway in France, I decided that I would spend the next few days watching and reviewing some of the previous winners of the Palme d’Or.  Today, I got things started with the 1991 winner, Barton Fink.

Directed by the Coen Brothers and taking place in the mythological Hollywood of 1941, Barton Fink tells the story of a writer.  Played by John Turturro, Barton Fink is a playwright who has just had a big hit on Broadway.  We don’t see much of the play.  In fact, we only hear the final few lines.  “No,” one the actors says, in exaggerated “common man” accent, “it’s early.”  From what we hear of the reviews and from Barton himself, it seems obvious that the play is one of those dreary, social realist plays that were apparently all the rage in the late 30s.  Think Waiting for Lefty.  Think Hand That Rocks The Cradle.  Think of the Group Theater and all of the people that Elia Kazan would later name as having been communists.  These plays claimed to tell the stories of the people who couldn’t afford to see a Broadway production.

Barton considers himself to be the voice of the common man, an advocate for the working class.  He grandly brags that he doesn’t write for the money or the adulation.  He writes to give a voice to the voiceless.  When his agent tells him that Capitol Pictures wants to put Barton under contract, Barton resists.  His agent assures Barton that the common man will still be around when Barton returns from Hollywood.  There might even be a few common people in California!  “That’s a rationalization,” Barton argues.  “Barton,” his agent replies with very real concern, “it was a joke.”  Barton, we quickly realize, does not have a sense of humor and that’s always a huge problem for anyone who finds themselves in a Coen Brothers film.

In Hollywood, Barton meets the hilariously crass Jack Lipnik (Oscar-nominated Michael Lerner).  Lipnik is the head of Capitol Pictures and he is sure that Barton can bring that “Barton Fink feeling” to a Wallace Beery wrestling picture.  Barton has never wrestled.  He’s never even seen a film.  The great toast of Broadway finds himself sitting in a decrepit hotel room with peeling wallpaper.  He stares at his typewriter.  He writes three or four lines and then …. nothing.  He meets his idol, Faulknerish writer W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), and discovers that Mayhew is a violent drunk and that most his recent work was actually written by his “secretary,” Audrey (Judy Davis).  He seeks help from producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub), who cannot understand why Barton is having such a difficult time writing what should be a very simple movie.  Barton sits in his hotel room and waits for inspiration that refuses to come.

He also gets to know Charlie Meadow (John Goodman).  Charlie is Barton’s neighbor.  Charlie explains that he’s an insurance agent but he really sells is “peace of mind.”  At first, Barton seems to be annoyed with Charlie but soon, Barton finds himself looking forward to Charlie’s visits.  Charlie always brings a little bottle of whiskey and a lot of encouragement.  Charlie assures Barton that he’ll get the script written.  Barton tells Charlie that he wants to write movies and plays about “people like you.”  Charlie shows Barton a wrestling move.  Barton tells Charlie to visit his family if he’s ever in New York.  Charlie tells Barton, “I could tell you some stories” but he never really gets the chance because Barton is usually too busy talking about his ambitions to listen.  Charlie tells Barton, “Where there’s a head, there’s hope,” a phrase that takes on a disturbing double meaning as the film progresses.  Just as Barton isn’t quite the class warrior that he believes himself to be, Charlie isn’t quite what he presents himself to be either.  Still, in the end, Charlie is far more honest about who he is than Barton could ever hope to be.

When it comes to what Barton Fink is actually about, it’s easy to read too much into it.  The Coens themselves have said as much, saying that some of the film’s most debated elements don’t actually have any deeper meaning beyond the fact that they found them to be amusing at the time.  At its simplest, Barton Fink is a film about writer’s block.  Anyone who has ever found themselves struggling to come up with an opening line will be able to relate to Barton staring at that nearly blank page and they will also understand why Barton comes to look forward to Charlie visiting and giving him an excuse not to write.  It’s a film about the search for inspiration and the fear of what that inspiration could lead to.  Towards the end of the film, Barton finds himself entrusted with a box that could contain his worst fears or which could cpntain nothing at all.  There’s nothing to stop Barton from opening the box but he doesn’t and it’s easy to understand why.  To quote another Coen Brothers film, “Embrace the mystery.”

There’s plenty of other theories about what exactly is going on in Barton Fink but, as I said before, I think it’s easy to overthink things.  The Coens have always been stylists and sometimes, the style is the point.  That said, I do think that it can be argued that Barton Fink’s mistake was that he allowed himself to think that he was important than he actually was.  Self-importance is perhaps the one unforgivable sin in the world of the Coen Brothers.  Like most Coen films, Barton Fink takes place in a universe that is ruled by chaos and the random whims of fate.  Barton’s mistake was thinking that he could understand or tame that chaos through his art or his politics.  Barton’s mistake is that he tries to rationalize and understand a universe that is irrational and incapable of being explained.  He’s a self-declared storyteller who refuses to listen to the stories around him because those stories might challenge what he considers to be the “life of the mind.”

Barton Fink is a film that people either seem to love or they seem to hate.  Barton, himself, is not always a  particularly likable character and the Coens seem to take a very definite joy in finding ways to humiliate him.  Fortunately, Barton is played by John Turturro, an actor who has the ability to find humanity in even the most obnoxious of characters.  (As obnoxious as Barton can be, it’s hard not to want to embrace him when he awkwardly but energetically dances at a USO club.)  Turturro has great chemistry with John Goodman, who gives one of his best performances as Charlie.  It’s putting it lightly to say that most viewers will have mixed feelings about Charlie but the film makes such great use of Goodman’s natural likability that it’s only on a second or third viewing that you realize that all of Charlie’s secrets were pretty much out in the open from the start.  Michael Lerner deserved his Oscar nomination but certainly Goodman deserved one as well.  The rest of the cast is full of Coen Brothers regulars, including Jon Polito as Lerner’s obsequies assistant and Steve Buscemi as Chet, the very friendly front deskman.  And finally, I have to mention Christopher Murney and Richard Portnow, who play two of the worst cops ever and who deliver their hardboiled dialogue with just the right mix of menace and parody.

Barton Fink won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, defeating such films as Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever and Lars Von Trier’s Europa.  It also won awards for the Coens and for John Turturro.  It’s perhaps not a film for everyone but it’s one that holds up well and which continues to intiruge.  Don’t just watch it once.  This isn’t a film that can fully appreciated by just one viewing.  This isn’t a Wallace Beery wrestling picture.  This is Barton Fink!

Music Video of the Day: Mr. Percocet by Noah Cyrus (2022, dir by Boni Mato)


Today’s music video of the day is this atmospheric video from Noah Cyrus.  I always enjoy videos that look like they could be dreams.

Enjoy!

you are overly sensitive so i won’t say much
but, my heart gets pulled into pieces whenever you’re poured up

you are malevolent and benevolent
you are the devil that i revel in

i barely recognize you when you wake up in the morning
must be someone else’s eyes that i look into every night
you’re only kind when you’re all fucked up
you’re only mine til your high is gone
But,
i wish you’d still love me when your drugs wear off in the morning

i come second to every Percocet that you take
And I know you want someone to worship the worst of your mistakes

you are malevolent and benevolent
you owe me nothing and everything

i barely recognize you when you wake up in the morning
Must be someone else’s eyes that i look into every night
you’re only kind when you’re all fucked up
you’re only mine til your high is gone
but,
But i wish you’d still love me when your drugs wear off in the morning

You (x8)

i barely recognize you when you wake up in the morning
must be someone else’s eyes that i look into every night
you’re only kind when you’re all fucked up
you’re only mine til your high is gone
So,
Maybe I should leave before your drugs wear off in the morning

Scenes I Love: Berkman Goes Boom from Barry


Today’s scene that I love is a fairly recent one.  

On Sunday’s episode of HBO’s Barry, hitman-turned-actor Barry Berkman (played by Bill Hader) accepted a contract to blow up a house and the Bolivian gangsters within.  He was given a bomb which had been purchased on the Dark Web and which, unfortunately, had been programmed to continually repeat a phrase in Japanese.  He was also given the Detonator App (developed by KABOOM), which would allow him to remotely detonate the bomb.

The only problem is that the app didn’t seem to be working and as Barry tried to figure out why, some of the gangsters heard the bomb “speaking” underneath the house.  Meanwhile, Fernando — who was not supposed to be in the house when the bomb went off — showed up to talk to his father-in-law.  While Fernando discovered that his own secrets were no longer secret, Barry wondered if he would even be able to get the bomb to go off.

Customer service to the rescue!

As I said, I saw this scene on Sunday and, as Monday comes to a close, I’m still laughing about it.  It almost makes me want to get a job at Kaboom.  This is a wonderfully executed and detailed scene and one of the best that I’ve seen so far this year.

“Alright, sounds like we were successful….”

 

Lisa Marie’s Week In Television — 5/8/22 — 5/14/22


Let’s get to it.

Atlanta (Thursday Night, FX)

Atlanta has been pretty evenly split, this season, between “anthology” episodes and the episodes that follow Earn and Al in Europe.  It’s an interesting format but, as I watched this week’s anthology episode, I really found myself thinking about much more interested I am in what’s going on in Europe.  This week’s episode was filmed in gorgeous black-and-white but the story of a biracial teen passing as white was nowhere near as interesting as what happened to Al in Amsterdam last week.

Barry (Sunday Night, HBO)

This week, Barry attempted to make things up to Gene by getting him a role on a plausibly terrible television show.  Unfortunately, for Barry, it turned out that Gene isn’t just going to forget about Barry murdering his girlfriend in return for a role.  Meanwhile, Sally was forced to take part in a series of vacuous interviews in order to promote her new television series.  Everyone wants to know: “Who should be the next Spider-Man?”

Better Call Saul (Monday Night, AMC)

This week, we got to see what Saul’s office was like before he redecorated it.  It was kind of a slow episode.  Better Call Saul is always watchable because of the performers but its status as a prequel also means that there’s a certain lack of suspense as to what’s going to happen to everyone.  Still, this week’s episode was worth it for the boxing scene.

Beyond the Edge (Wednesday Night, CBS)

The remaining celebrities continued to try to survive living in the jungle.  Jodie Sweetin finally ran the bell and removed herself from the show, just leaving a bunch of former pro athletes to continue the competition.  I don’t blame her.  Jodie lasted longer than I would have.

The Brady Bunch (Sunday Morning, MeTV)

I don’t remember anything that happened during last Sunday’s Brady Bunch episodes so I guess I should count myself lucky.

Candy (Hulu)

I reviewed Hulu’s latest true crime miniseries here!

Dynasty (Friday Night, The CW)

Having missed most of the latest season, I finally got caught up on Dynasty this week and I was reminded of why I enjoy this wonderfully over-the-top and self-aware show.  Unfortunately, no sooner was I caught up than the CW announced that they were canceling the show.  Booooo!

Fantasy Island (Hulu)

Several months after watching the pilot, I finally watched the rest of Fantasy Island’s 1st season this week.  It’s an extremely silly but fun show.  Roselyn Sanchez plays her role with just the right mix of gravitas and mockery.  The show’s a bit heavy-handed at times but I think that’s to be expected.  The island looks lovely and the fantasies themselves are ultimately harmless and good-natured and that’s all the really matters.

Full House (Sunday Afternoon, MeTV)

If I remember correctly, Jesse was worried that he was losing his cool and Joey said, “Cut it out.”

Ghosts (Paramount Plus)

I finished binging the first season of Ghosts on Monday and Tuesday.  What a sweet show!  I’m kind of amazed that it took me so long to give this show a chance.  I’ll be curious to see what happens with the second season.  Hopefully, the show can keep up its momentum.

Law & Order (Thursday Night, NBC)

“This story is fictional….”

Yeah, whatever.  This week’s episode started out as an homage to Inventing Anna and then it ended as an homage to Dopesick.  Price decided to make a deal with a murderer so that he could then prosecute the owner of a pharmaceutical company.  It was all because Price’s brother died of a drug overdose.  To be honest, Price didn’t really make his case and he should have been fired for wasting tax payer money on a personal crusade.  But the jury disagreed.  It may sound like I’m trashing this episode but it was actually pretty well-acted and I actually appreciated that it totally turned into a different story during the second half.  That said, I don’t think the Law & Order revival will ever be known for having a particularly nuanced political outlook.

The Love Boat (Sunday Evening, MeTV)

Vicki discovered that one of the passengers was hooked on speed.  Luckily, everything worked out in the end.

Survivor (Wednesday Night, CBS)

I reviewed the latest twist-filled episode of Survivor here!

We Own This City (Monday Night, HBO)

It was a pretty boring episode this week.  The cast is convincing and Baltimore continues to be a fascinating portrait of the American Dream gone bad but David Simon doesn’t really seem to have much to say, beyond pointing out that cops are bad and federal investigators are underfunded.

Miniseries Review: Candy


It’s strange how things work out.

In 1980, something terrible occurred in the town of Wylie, Texas.  Candy Montgomery, who was a Sunday School teacher and who had what seemed like the ideal life, killed Betty Gore.  Betty was reportedly one of Candy’s closest friends but Candy still ended up striking her 41 times with an axe.  After Candy was arrested, she revealed that she had cheated with Betty’s husband.  She also said that she attacked Betty in self-defense.  At her trial, she was ultimately found not guilty.

It was one of those small town scandals that the media tends to love and, 42 years after it all happened, it’s still spoken of down here in Texas.  Every five years or so, there’s a big “where are they now?” article in the Dallas Morning News.  Betty’s widowed husband married a woman that he started dating a few weeks after Betty’s death.  Candy’s lawyer, Don Crowder, tried to launch a political career and, when that failed, got addicted to cocaine and ended up committing suicide.  As for Candy, she divorced the husband who stood with her through the trial and apparently now lives, under a new name, in another town.

Still, despite the case’s continuing notoriety in Texas, I was recently a bit surprised to learn that there was not one but two Candy Montgomery miniseries in development.  HBO has Love and Death, which stars Elizabeth Olsen as Candy.  Love and Death is scheduled to come out later this year and it’ll probably suck because it’s written by David E. Kelley and this is exactly the type of story that’s going to bring out all of his worst instincts.  Meanwhile, Hulu produced Candy, starring Jessica Biel as Candy and Melanie Lynesky as Betty Gore.

Candy aired, over five nights, last week and I have to say that Hulu did a good job of presenting the story.  I’m usually a bit cynical about true crime miniseries (especially ones that are set in small town Texas in the late 70s) but Candy was actually really good.  The first episode featured a somewhat frazzled but always smiling Candy as she tried to balance a day that included swim lessons, bible school, taking the kids to see The Empire Strikes Back, and, of course, killing her best friend.  The final episode featured the courtroom drama, in which the ghost of Betty Gore could only watch as Candy Montgomery made herself the center of the tragedy.  In between, Candy provided a portrait of small-town life, church gossip, a mid-life crisis, and a lot of shag carpeting and wood paneling.  The miniseries balanced melodrama with satire but it also worked as a portrait of a group of people who all realized that their lives hadn’t turned out the way that they wanted them too.  Both Candy and Betty are portrayed as being frustrated and dissatisfied with what the world has to offer them.  The difference is that, while Betty wears her pain for all to see, Candy hides everything behind a quick smile and a superficially friendly manner.  In the end, one gets the feeling that Candy was acquitted because no one wanted to believe that someone who seemed so perfect could do something so horrific.

Candy is also well-served by its cast.  Melanie Lynesky is often heart-breaking as Betty Gore, while also still playing her with just enough anger that Candy’s story of being attacked is not easy to dismiss.  Jessica Biel keeps you guessing as Candy, playing her as someone who you would probably want to be friends with, even though you can’t help but suspect that she would also probably gossip about you behind your back.  Timothy Simons and Pablo Schrieber are well-cast as Candy and Betty’s clueless husbands.  Simons especially deserves some credit for generating sympathy for a character who, as written, could have been portrayed as just being a caricature.  And yes, Justin Timberlake does show up as the deputy who investigated the crime.  While it does feel a bit like stunt casting, Timberlake is convincing once you get used to the 70s porn mustache.

Though it aired without the fanfare that greeted other Hulu miniseries like Dopesick, Pam & Tommy, and The Girl From Plainville, Candy is a compulsively watchable and, at times, even thought-provoking work of true crime.  Without any of the slow spots that marred The Girl From Plainville or Dopesick‘s preachiness, Candy is definitely one that will benefit from being binged.  Check it out the next time you have five hours to kill.

 

Happy Friday the 13th From The Shattered Lens


Happy Friday the 13th, y’all!

Usually, I am inevitably seem to end up spending Friday the 13th up at the Lake, sitting out on the deck of the lake house and suspiciously looking over at the nearby woods for movement.  This week, however, I’m spending Friday the 13th at home so I should be safe!

(For the record, the Lake is next week.)

Anyway, everyone knows that Tuesday the 13th is a far more dangerous day than Friday the 13th but, for whatever reason, Friday the 13th is what gets all the attention.  In fact, I’ve written several posts all about Friday the 13th.  Here they are, for your reading enjoyment:

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th Part 2

Friday the 13th Part 3

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

Friday the 13th: Jason Lives

Friday the 13th Part VII: A New Blood

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday

Jason X

Freddy vs Jason

Friday the 13th: The Pointless Remake

12 Thing You May Not Have Known About Friday the 13th

My review of Camp Crystal Lake Memories!

Anyway, have a good Friday the 13th!  I would tell you to stay out of the woods but …. you know what?  We, as a society, need to be willing to take more chances.  So, go into the woods.  Skinny dip in the lake.  Ignore the signs that say stay out.  Make love in a deserted cabin.  Smoke weed at the deserted summer camp.  Laugh at the camp fire stories about Jason.  Strip down to your underwear and then wander around in the rain as if that’s the most sensible thing that you’ve ever done.  Yes, Jason might get you.  But you also might have a lot of fun.  It’s worth the risk.

Music Video Of The Day: Do You Wanna Touch! by Crud (2012, dir by JIMI Custer)


As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a part of me that’s all sophisticated and all about discussing impressionism and classic literature and then there’s the other part of me, the part that just loves a good demolition derby! Guess which side this video appeals to.

Enjoy!