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The Coen Brothers Collection(1985-1996)
Four films by the Coen Brothers are included in this boxed set. See individual titles for complete synopses.
For more about The Coen Brothers Collection and the The Coen Brothers Collection Blu-ray release, see the The Coen Brothers Collection Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 24, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, M. Emmet Walsh, Dan Hedaya, Gabriel Byrne, Holly Hunter
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
The Coen Brothers Collection Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 24, 2011
Note: the scores above are averages. See individual film listings for individual scorings. Also, the Audio and Subtitle listings above are overviews; please see more detailed listings in the Audio section below.
It's all too predictable: boy meets girl, good triumphs over evil, crime doesn't pay, killers get their comeuppance. Seemingly since the first frame of celluloid passed in front of a source of illumination, certain tropes have been imprinted into the filmic landscape as if they had been delivered from on high, like the Ten Commandments. And in fact the film industry itself codified some of these ideas when the all powerful Hayes Office came along. One has to wonder how the Coen Brothers might have fared in those overly proscripted times when everything from cohabitating in a bed to uttering any number of four letter words was prohibited. Thankfully the Coens are a product of a more liberal time, though the two obviously love the very films that would have never permitted them the freedom they exploit had they made them. That weird dichotomy is part of what informs most Coen Brothers films, an odd concatenation of expected stereotypes and clichés turned artfully on their head with completely unexpected turns of character and story that typically keep most viewers off kilter and constantly guessing what might happen next. In fact about the only thing that can be counted on in any given Coen Brothers film is that something is going to go horribly, horribly awry. Sometimes this stumbling will have comedic effects, sometimes horrific, but the Coens love to peek behind the curtain of characters in crisis, and more often than not that crisis is some event—sometimes picayune, sometimes gargantuan—that sets these character cartwheeling through alien landscapes and unfamiliar territory. And that means that, in a nutshell, the Coen Brothers' oeuvre is ultimately one of unpredictability. Sometimes that gives their films a literal gust of fresh air, at others it might be at least minimally off putting to certain audience members who want some sort of comfortable basis on which to build their filmgoing experience, but overall it gives the Coen Brothers' films a bracing, often incredibly brilliant, ambience that catapults the viewer into bizarre and fanciful worlds that nonetheless have at least a tangential relationship to what we mere mortals call "real life."
This new set compiles four great Coen Brothers films, including their earliest works and the one that brought them international mainstream acclaim. The set includes:
This is the film that introduced Joel and Ethan Coen to the filmgoing public, and it immediately set the tone for what to expect (if indeed anything can be expected) in a Coen Brothers film. A sort of neo-modern homage to films like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, Blood Simple tells the story of feral bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) who comes to believe (rightly, it turns out) that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with one of his bartenders, Ray (John Getz). That sets an insanely complex chain of events into motion, where Marty hires crusty private detective Loren Visser (M. Emmett Walsh) to procure evidence against them. This proto-noir then devolves into a series of subterfuges, backstabbings, lies and misunderstandings, often the staple of Coen Brothers fare.
What in the 1930's or 1940's would have played out as a "standard" murder for hire scheme is altered into something akin to that famous hall of mirrors scene in another proto-noir, Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai. Everything is reflected—sometimes multiple times—through the prism of the Coens' anarchic take on the genre, with misunderstandings magnifying to such an insane extent that even through the horror many viewers will probably be laughing, if only to themselves and through clenched fists and squinted eyes, much like Visser in fact as the film comes to a close. And while many have commented on the film's brilliant climactic scene, a study in Hitchcockian suspense and editing flair, there's another wonderful sequence that perhaps more accurately recalls Hitch at his finest, namely the horrifying sequence that plays out between Marty and Ray after their showdown. The Coens brilliantly skew noir here, turning the genre's alluring all knowing femme fatale motif completely back on itself, so that Abby is in some ways the most befuddled, confused seductress to ever grace modern film.
Filmmakers and musicians often fall victim to what is called a "sophomore slump," a second film or album that doesn't really seem to fulfill the promise of the artist's debut offering. Some might actually feel that that probably disparaging appellation would be better applied to the Coens' Miller's Crossing than to Raising Arizona, though it can't be denied that reaction to Raising Arizona was decidedly mixed upon the film's release. Playing much more like an overt cartoon than Miller's Crossing (which certainly has its cartoonish elements) this wacky film is long on the Coen's strengths with eccentric characters, but perhaps short on what often seems to hobble Coen outings, namely a cohesive story and enough anchoring in something akin to reality to help ground the film for mainstream audiences. Our eccentric characters in this outing are mismatched couple Hi (Nicolas Cage), a repeat offender who keeps getting his mugshots taken by Ed (Holly Hunter), who discloses she's been dumped and accepts Hi's proposal, perhaps on the rebound. Ed manages to get Hi to ostensibly straighten out his life, until their inability to have kids reveals Ed's infertility. With adoption not being an option due to Hi's rap sheet, the pair embarks on a madcap kidnapping scheme, managing to steal one of the quintuplets of a local furniture magnate named Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). Of course, this being a Coen Brothers film, the kidnapping is only the beginning of a crazy quilt of colliding stories, with Hi's lunatic former jailmates Gale and Evelle Snoats (John Goodman and William Forsythe) showing up to throw several wrenches into the works.
Raising Arizona is one of the funnier Coen Brothers films, and its wryness helps it to overcome its air of unreality. Once again the brothers are simply amazing film technicians aided and abetted by Barry Sonnenfeld's cartwheeling camera work. This is one film where Cage is wonderfully manic without being annoying, and Hunter is marvelous in one of her first major roles (she provided some voice work for Blood Simple). But it's probably Goodman and Forsythe who take home the "unforgettable" honors here, playing something akin to two out of the three stooges. Once again a Coen Brothers ending has left many people wondering what the frell is going on, but the fantasy sequence simply extends the film's unreality (some would argue surreality) to new levels, much like any good Tex Avery cartoon, which Raising Arizona often resembles in tone if not in content. It also brings Hi's penchant for reaching for that Impossible Dream home, literally in this case, in one of the sweeter tie-ups in the Coen Brothers' oeuvre.
Miller's Crossing has long been thought of as one of the "problem children" in the Coen oeuvre. This is a film that can perhaps best be likened to one of those childhood mazes where you had to trace the path from entrance to exit with a pencil, though unlike some mazes, the entrance and exit weren't on opposite sides of the maze but right next to each other. What that means in terms of the film itself is that we are put through an incredibly convoluted series of events built around gangland activity in the 1920's but end up pretty much right where we started. That no doubt put off some, maybe even most, viewers, but seen now from a little distancing perspective, Miller's Crossing is a bracing piece of filmmaking art that if nothing else shows the Coens and Sonnenfeld at the absolute height of their powers. This is a film full of amazing sequences, and a similarly impressive use of dolly, tracking, and oddly skewed framings that make this a sort of nirvana for film geeks. In terms of the story itself, Miller's Crossing may in truth have less to offer, despite its incredibly labyrinthine storyline. Gabriel Byrne plays Tom Regan, a consigliore to Irish crime boss Leo O'Banoon (Albert Finney) who attempts to prevent a gang war with a rival Italian gang led by firebrand Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito). Leo won't give up a weasel named Bernie (John Turturro) wanted by Caspar because Bernie is the brother of his girlfriend Verna (Marcia Gay Harden). What Leo doesn't know, at least not at first anyway, is that Verna is two timing him with Tom. This typically convoluted story only gets more complex as it goes along, with Tom pretending to kill Bernie to get into the good graces of Caspar, after Leo shuns him upon learning of Tom's affair with Verna.
While some have tried to shoehorn Miller's Crossing into a proto-noir genre, the film is perhaps too cartoonish and outright funny at times to really be thought of in that idiom. In fact it's this film's resolute refusal to really fit into any genre which no doubt led to a lot of head scratching when it was initially released. What the film does offer is a slew of killer (no pun intended) performances. Byrne is measured and menacing, but also surprisingly vulnerable, and Finney has a field day in this late career role which lets him essay a role unlike any other in his long and distinguished career. Polito seems to be channeling Danny De Vito for much of the film, but he delivers a comedic spark to the film that is undeniable. What Miller's Crossing also provides in spades is a doctoral thesis in filmmaking technique. There are a number of standout sequences in this film, with none more impressive than the long and virtually operatic segment where Caspar's henchmen attempt to assassinate Leo, all set to a haunting version of "Danny Boy." Miller's Crossing may indeed be a case of style over substance, but with style like this, why complain?
This is the film that unequivocally established the Coens as a mainstream success story, and it couldn't have happened due to a more peculiar, weird, and idiosyncratic movie. Everything people had been loving (and hating) about the Coens was superbly amplified in Fargo, including lovable eccentrics, plots that require a flowchart to keep track of, and an off kilter sense of humor that leaves many wondering out loud, Are they kidding? The Coen's anarchic sense of humor is present even in the film's title: while there's a major plot element that takes place in North Dakota, this is just as much a film about, well, Minneapolis. But even more than that sleight of locale, can a film that seemingly kills characters every few minutes really be funny? The answer is a resounding "Yes!". Fargo's two main characters are hapless car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), whose frantic attempts to get himself out of serious debt put him squarely in the sights of very pregnant Fargo policewoman Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). In between these two bookends is a typically dense Coen Brothers concoction of kidnapping, ransom, idiotic criminals and even more idiotic would-be criminals.
Fargo is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious, probably tonally the most ambitious and, perhaps surprisingly, the most successful of all the Coen Brothers' outings. Any given scene can include both horrendous violence and uproarious laughter, not always drawn from the squeamish nervousness of seeing that violence play out. A perfect example is the kidnapping scene, where Peter Stormare's vicious thug attempts to say "unguent" while the hapless wife of Macy's character runs around with a shower curtain wrapped around her head, making her incapable of escape. This is also the Coens' finest film in terms of naturalness and pure heart, as exemplified by Frances McDormand's astonishingly brilliant turn as Marge, the no-nonsense cop who makes up in native smarts what she lacks in sophistication and big city glamour. In fact Fargo is a riot of brilliant performances, from Macy's milquetoast Jerry to Harve Presnell's grunting and growling turn as Jerry's father-in-law to two standout triumphs by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare as the increasingly desperate kidnappers. The Coens' writing genius is fully on display here, with a coterie of characters, all of whom are perfectly defined, and a plot that, while incredibly complex, is always easy to follow while never being predictable.
The Coen Brothers Collection Blu-ray, Video Quality
All of these films are presented on Blu-ray with AVC encodes, in 1080p and 1.85:1. The relative merits of each high definition presentation outweigh any negatives, and the films more or less fall into a hierarchy based on their vintage, with Blood Simple being by far the softest, followed by Raising Arizona which is a bit sharper, and then Miller's Crossing and Fargo at the top of the scale. Blood Simple has never really looked great, either in its theatrical exhibition or on its many home video releases, but the Blu-ray ups the color saturation significantly, and though the transfer still is hobbled by some very apparent crush, there is quite an increase in shadow detail, especially in many of the dimly lit bar scenes. Raising Arizona also benefits from some excellently robust colors which only make its cartoonish aspect all the more apparent, though occasionally reds bloom, if ever so slightly. Fine detail is very good to excellent throughout the presentation. Both Miller's Crossing and Fargo look very good indeed, though both suffer from occasional aliasing in scenes with trees, unfortunately regularly recurring motifs in both of these films. Miller's Crossing's darker ambience makes for a surprisingly effective display of solid black levels and excellent shadow detail, and fine detail is also excellent. Fargo still has its ultra-grainy look in several of the snowbound scenes, and there is some noticeable haloing and edge enhancement in several sequences, but the film overall looks incredibly sharp and well detailed, especially in the brighter lit outdoor moments. Whites never bloom and snow never devolves to digital noise levels.
The Coen Brothers Collection Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is a rather large disparity in audio specs among these four films. Before speaking to the films' audio mixes, let's do a cursory list of what each film offers:
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1; French DTS 5.1; Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1; German DTS 5.1; Italian DTS 5.1; Russian DTS 5.1; Castellano DTS 5.1; Magyar Dolby Digital 2.0; Polish Dolby Digital 5.1; Thai Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish; French; Portuguese; Danish; Finnish; German; Italian; Dutch; Norwegian; Russian; Castilian; Korean; Swedish; Croatian; Greek; Cantonese; Mandarin; Hungarian; Hebrew; Polish; Slovenian; Thai
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English Dolby Digital 5.1; French DTS 5.1; Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1; German DTS 5.1; Italian DTS 5.1; Castellano DTS 5.1; Thai Dolby Digital 2.0; Turkish Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish; French; Portuguese; Danish; Finnish; German; Italian; Dutch; Norwegian; Russian; Castilian; Korean; Swedish; Greek; Cantonese; Mandarin; Hungarian; Hebrew; Thai; Polish; Turkish
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English Dolby Digital 5.1; Castilian DTS 5.1; Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1; French DTS 5.1; French (Quebec) Dolby Digital 5.1; German DTS 5.1; Italian DTS 5.1; Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH; Commentary; Castilian; Castilian Commentary; Portuguese; Cantonese; Croatian; Czech; Dutch; Dutch Commentary; French; French Commentary; German; German Commentary; Greek; Hebrew; Hungarian; Italian; Italian Commentary; Korean; Spanish; Mandarin; Polish; Thai; Turkish
Taken as a whole, all of these films sound fantastic on Blu-ray, though audiophiles probably will be jonesin' for a lossless surround mix for Blood Simple. While that film "only" has a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, it's incredibly full and packs a potent wallop in the low end. The other three films have really beautifully immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, all with abundant LFE (with Miller's Crossing indubitably winning the "rattle the floorboards" contest due to its omnipresent gunfire). The films also benefit from Carter Burwell's often incredibly idiosyncratic underscores, which feature everything from yodeling to deep mournful orchestral effects. Dialogue in all of these films is well positioned and very clear, and balance between dialogue, score and effects is also very well handled. Miller's Crossing and Fargo offer an abundance of excellent ambient environmental noise, and Miller's Crossing especially delights in some great panning effects (listen closely in the forest glade scenes in particular).
The Coen Brothers Collection Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Coen Brothers Collection Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I'm one of those guys who loves the Coen Brothers even when they don't hit it out of the ballpark, simply because they're so damned unpredictable. When you have to slog through as many paint by numbers movies as we reviewers regularly have to, you come to appreciate the unexpected even when it doesn't fully deliver on its premise. The good news is these are four of the Coens' best pieces, though Miller's Crossing still presents some problems and some may not fully appreciate the lunatic humor of Raising Arizona. But these films show a startling growth in craft for the brothers, from the already impressive beginnings they made with Blood Simple. The contributions of DP Barry Sonnenfeld also can't be discounted, and each of these films bears the imprint of his very deliberate mode of cinematography. While this collection is a little light on the supplements department, it still offers a wealth of great film experiences and it comes Highly recommended.
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The Coen Brothers Collection Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Blu-ray Deal of the Week: The Coen Brothers Collection and... - November 11, 2012
Amazon's Blu-ray Deals of the Week affect both Twentieth Century Fox's The Coen Brothers Collection and selected The Walking Dead packages from Anchor Bay. These deals expire at 12 AM PST/3 AM EST next Sunday, November 18th.
• The Coen Brothers Collection Blu-ray - June 8, 2011
This August, 20th Century Fox will release The Coen Brothers Collection on Blu-ray. A bundle featuring Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, and Fargo, The Coen Brothers Collection also marks the Blu-ray debuts of Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, and ...
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