Review: Barton Fink

Even though I’m a big fan of the Coen Brothers, this is the first time I’ve ever watched this.  I guess the story never really appealed to me, but I always knew I would get around to watching this sooner or later.  This kept popping up on lists of neo-noir films, so I thought it was about time to watch it and give it a review on here.  Would this hold up to my Coen Brothers favorites like Fargo, Blood Simple, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Miller’s Crossing?  This was actually written when Joel and Ethan Coen had writers block while writing Miller’s Crossing.  I recently reviewed this often overlooked classic here:

Our story is about Barton Fink, played by John Turturro, a writer from New York who soon finds himself in Los Angles to be part of the Hollywood machine.  He check’s into a hotel where he meets his neighbor Charlie Meadows, played by John Goodman.  Fink is hired to write a script for a wrestling film and he has some writers block.  We meet a wide range of Hollywood types throughout the film.  It is a wild ride, but to be honest we don’t get into the noir part of this film until the second half and though we get a bit of a twist, its pretty minor.

On thing I noticed watching this, is the list of amazing actors in this film.  The other is we get no matinée idols here, just a cast of great performers who are their based on their talent and not on their looks.  This is something we don’t see very often.  Some of the actors we see here are Michael Lerner,John Mahoney,Tony Shalhoub, Jon Polito and Steve Buscemi.

This film has a lot of hidden meaning and almost feels more like a David Lynch film then a Coen Brothers film.  For instance the theory that the hotel is actually hell.  Keep that in mind next time you watch it and see what you think.  The ending also made me feel like something out of a Lynch film as well.

Even though it isn’t a pure neo-noir film like some of Coen Brother’s other films, it is a very good film.  The Coen’s make the hotel and old Hollywood look great, the story is interesting(you wonder how much of this film comes out of the Coen’s frustration with the Hollywood system), and it is a thinking man’s movie.  If you are new to Coen Brothers films, I would start with the four films I listed earlier.  If you already have seen most everything from these guys but haven’t seen this yet, you should give it a try.

Favorite Tidbit: John Mahoney’s character is based on William Faulkner.  Faulkner’s first work in Hollywood was for a wrestling movie.  Barton Fink was based on Clifford Odets, a screen writer in Hollywood in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  He wrote screenplays for some great films including’s favorites Deadline at Dawn and Sweet Smell of Success, as well as a few other great noir films we will look at.

Review: The Gambler

The Gambler is a neo noir film from last year and I was finally able to see it on Blu-Ray.  The reviews are a mixed bag for this film.  I got to say I really enjoyed it.  I loved the noirish cinematography, the story and the performances. Reading some of the headlines for the negative reviews for this film, mention how it don’t stand up to the original.  I’m the first to jump on the” re-make is unnecessary” camp and understand where these people are coming from.  I, unfortunately have never seen the original(though I hope to someday) so I went into this film with no preconceived idea of what to expect.  Maybe this is why I enjoyed it so much.

This film is based on the original screenplay by James Toback and tweaked for a new generation by William Monahan who has done some great neo-noir and crime films.  The film is directed by Rupert Wyatt.

This film stars Mark Wahlberg as our anti-hero main character.   He is a writer and a professor, but that is second to being a gambler.  We also have Jessica Lange as his mother.  Brie Larson as his brilliant student and his romantic interest as well as perhaps his saver.  We have Michael Kenneth Williams and John Goodman as opposing gangsters. We also have Williams’ co-star from The Wire,Domenick Lombardozzi, showing up as Goodman’s top henchman.

Our story starts with Wahlberg gambling in a Korean gambling den.  He is playing blackjack and doing very well at first, he then loses.  The Korean’s want their money, Williams offers Wahlberg $50,000 to try to get even, he doesn’t.  He then goes to Goodman for a loan.  Goodman reminds him that Williams will kill him if he doesn’t pay back his debt.  We then find Wahlberg at his day job as a professor.  We take off from there as he juggles his debt, his family, and his class of students.

I really liked the neo noir filming style in this film.  One of the things you will notice while watching this is each person our protagonist owes money has their own color,the Korean’s color is green, Michael Kenneth Williams’ gang has the color black and John Goodman’s color is red. I first picked upon this in the scene where Wahlberg is waiting to be picked up by Lombardozzi.  I noticed all the cars are white, grey and black in a wash of Land Rovers and BMW’s we see Lombardozzi pull up in a bright red Porsche Cayenne.  There are a lot of beautiful noir like scenes in this from the smokey gambling halls, to a grayed out class room, to the neon lights of a casino.  I also loved the soundtrack for this film and how it was used.  Also pay attention to Wahlberg’s suit throughout the film and how it changes.

Like I said, I really liked this film, but I have not seen the original.  I think if you go into this with fresh eyes and do not compare it to the original you may enjoy it too.  I would love to hear from those lucky enough to see both of these films and what your thought on both are.

Favorite tidbit: Mark Wahlberg dropped 61lbs for his role going from 198lbs to 137lbs, to show the characters lack of caring about his health and well-being.