Code of the Coens: How to succeed in filmmaking

From their audacious 1984 debut Blood Simple onward, filmmaker brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have built a remarkably consistent and unmistakably personal body of work.

Their latest, a hard-edged adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country For Old Men, is one of the frontrunners at this year’s Oscars, tied with There Will Be Blood with eight nominations, including best picture.

While it clearly ranks alongside Fargo and The Big Lebowski as the brothers’ best work, No Country has an unusual place among their movies, in some ways perfectly typical of their style and in others an unexpected reinvention of it. Here’s a quick look at some of the characteristic hallmarks of the Coen brothers’ success.

Originally published on Feb. 19, 2008. Read the complete article.

Review: Gary Louris, Vagabonds

Here’s the obvious first question about a solo artist’s first release after the breakup of a well-known band: How much, if at all, will it sound like the old band? With Vagabonds, former Jayhawks leader Gary Louris takes a few careful steps away from the sounds of the alt-country pioneers—just enough to shine a new light without moving too far from what he’s proven to excel at. Eager to capture the spirit of the 1970s singer-songwriter scene, Louris recorded Vagabonds in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon area—where musicians like Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills & Nash hung out back in the day—gathering a group of backing musicians including The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs and Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis. Producer Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes helps Louris steer the album toward classic rock, but except for the soaring harmonies that were a Jayhawks staple, Vagabonds is marked by the hallmarks of Louris’ style: beautiful melodies, both winsome and sad. It’s probably too introspective to make much of a splash outside his established fan base, but it certainly shouldn’t lose him any fans either.

Originally published on Feb. 18, 2008. Read the complete article.

Steve Gerber, creator of Howard The Duck, dead at 60

Comic-book writer Steve Gerber, best known for creating the character of Howard The Duck, died Sunday of pulmonary fibrosis in a Las Vegas hospital where he had been on a waiting list for a lung transplant.

Gerber contributed extensively to the Marvel Comics stable in the 1970s, working on such mainstream titles as Iron Man, Daredevil, and The Fantastic Four as well as more offbeat series where his creativity was probably seen to better effect, including Shanna the She-Devil and Man-Thing, the latter of which featured the first appearance of Gerber’s cigar-chomping duck. His career was marked by disputes over creator’s rights, including legal action against Marvel over the ownership of Howard, and criticism of the revival by author Jonathan Lethem of the character Omega the Unknown, which Gerber had co-created. He also suffered the indignity of George Lucas’ box-office-bomb Howard The Duck movie, into which Gerber had little to no creative input.

His friend and colleague Mark Evanier, who broke the news on Gerber’s website, also posted an extensive biography and reminiscence of Gerber. Tom Spurgeon also posted a worthwhile obit at the Comics Reporter website.

Originally published Feb. 12, 2008 on Read the complete article.

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