Tag Archives: ethan coen

Inside Llewyn Davis – Review

31 Mar

I recently reviewed the Coen Brothers’ newest film, Hail Caesar! last month, and now I’m right back at it, but this time with their 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis. I really wanted to see this movie when it first came out, but a combination of laziness and more laziness prevented me from actually making it to the theaters. It’s been quite some time since its release, and I have just now gotten around to seeing it. Let me just say, that it was worth the wait and I feel it is one of the Coen Brothers’ best. Inside Llewyn Davis was one of the movies that really hit me, and not only made me want to evaluate the movie and its different themes and artistic stylings, but also made me want evaluate some parts of myself. That’s a sign of a great movie right there.

inside-llewyn-davis-final-poster

The year is 1961 and the folk scene of New York is a melting pot of different ideals, lyrical storytelling, and melodies that were made to hum to. For Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), music has become something of a burden, despite his overwhelming passion to express himself through song and not be forced to sell out to some giant music industry monstrosity. As Davis navigates his way through the different basket houses and venues of New York trying to find a gig and make some sort of income, he is also confronted by demons from the past that are only making it more difficult for his life to fully come together. On a whim, Llewyn Davis decides to make the trip to Chicago to hopefully gig at one of the most important venues of the city, and also get the appreciation and income he feels he deserves. What Davis doesn’t understand, is that all of his misfortune can be followed back to his own poor life choices and decisions made out of haste.

The first thing I think anyone has to talk about after seeing Inside Llewyn Davis is the outstanding usage and performance of music. The Coen Brothers have always seemed to use music in the best ways possible to enhance their movie, and before this one the primary example would have to be O Brother, Where Art Thou?. A lot of the success of the music in both of those movies is probably due to the fact that songwriting and producing titan T. Bone Burnett was the main creative force behind the song production, composition, and performance. What makes it all even more impressive is all the music in the movie is performed live and not added in in post production. That really says a lot for the musical talent of the actors. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake all sound excellent in the movie.davis12e_zps7d455a27Another thing the Coen Brothers are known for are the memorable, and sometimes even iconic, characters they create. Wether it’s Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, Barton Fink, or Marge Gunderson, the people that inhabit the strange world of these movies never fail to leave an impression. Now I can add Llewyn Davis to the list of Coen characters that really hit me hard. In fact, he might be one of the best characters they’ve ever created. Llewyn Davis is quite an unlikable guy who uses his friends, condescends to people with what he thinks is his unmatchable passion for music, and treats all the people who help in like garbage. At the same time, however, there are reasons as to why he has ended up like this, which makes him something of a tragic character and one that, despite all of his faults, can be understood. I wanted to see Llewyn Davis succeed, but I more so really wanted him to realize it was time to change. He’s such a great character, and certainly one that I won’t stop talking about for a long time.

I’ve seen some people compare Inside Llewyn Davis to the Coen Brothers’ 2009 film A Serious Man. Both movies share a similar theme of a life slowly being destroyed as if it’s part of some rotten cosmic joke. A Serious Man presents this in a darkly funny way where it’s hard not to laugh the entire way through. Inside Llewyn Davis has a lot of funny moments in it, but I can’t consider this a comedy. This movie is far from being a straight up comedy. The humor that is in this movie is the same kind of dark, absurd comedy you see in many Coen Brothers films, but all the laughs really can’t outweigh the overwhelming sadness I felt at the end. This is definitely the Coen Brothers’ saddest film, and maybe part of it is because there’s nothing too hyperbolic about any of the scenarios in the movie. John Goodman certainly has the most outlandish part, but it’s really not hard to imagine that character being a real person. Just don’t expect to feel in a joking mood once the credits begin rolling.

I don’t know how many people agree with me on this, but I believe that Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen Brothers’ strongest films. Not only do they create a believable version of the New York folk scene in the 1960s, which seems to live and breath all on its own, but they also have created a tragic, yet sometimes funny tale about a deadbeat with more potential than he may realize. Everyone in this movie is great, and the music that is performed for the movie sounds amazing. It’s a certainty that you will be thinking about this movie long after it ends, and even though it left me with a rain cloud over my head, it also offers some great lessons and works as an expressive work of cinematic art.

 

Advertisements

Hail, Caesar! – Review

11 Feb

The Coen Brothers have one of the most unique voices in film and have often times taken every convention used to make a film and show you how useless they really are. Case and point can be seen in the lack of simple narrative flow and a true chaotic progression in No Country for Old Men, a movie that redefined how movies can be made. I love seeing these guys go crazy with their movies, and I’ve never been truly disappointed by something they’ve done. Thankfully, the same goes for Hail, Caesar!. This is definitely a polarizing movie that the Coen Brothers made for a certain demographic of film goers, and if you fall into that demographic, it will be hard to be disappointed.

Hail,_Caesar!_Teaser_poster

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) works as the head of Capitol Pictures, and also works as a “fixer,” which means that he puts an extra special interest in keeping his actors and studio in line even if that means bending the law a little bit in his favor. On one average day at the studio, Mannix’s biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is drugged and kidnapped from the set of Capitol Picture’s next epic film, Hail, Caesar!, a film that is also under a strict deadline in terms of its shooting schedule. Now, not only does Mannix have to secure the ransom that is being demanded for the return of Whitlock, but he also has to deal with unruly actors like Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), Deanna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), and Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) while juggling demanding directors and twin tabloid writers (both played by Tilda Swinton). Just another day in Hollywood.

I laughed during this movie. In fact, I laughed a lot during this movie. In my opinion, it’s absolutely hilarious. Anyone who is a fan or has knowledge of post-war Hollywood will get a kick out of all of the inside jokes and references that are sprinkled throughout the film, but will also enjoy the backdrop and atmosphere that Hollywood was in at this time. It was a strange transitional period where everyone was under some sort of watchful eye. Hail, Caesar! captures that perfectly in the most over the top and satirical of ways. The Coen Brothers have successfully lampooned major things that I’ve read about in film history textbooks and have hilariously showed us how ridiculous Hollywood’s worst nightmares were during this time.

920x920

The story, or lack there of, in Hail, Caesar! was a bit jarring at first, but once I got into the groove of the movie, things started falling into place. The movie was advertised as Clooney’s character getting abducted and Brolin’s character having to find him. That’s only one aspect of the movie and not exactly what the movie is about. It’s simpler to look at this film as a series of vignettes that eventually come together to tell a story about Eddie Mannix’s crazy life as a Hollywood fixer. What the Coen Brothers seem more interested in, however, is showing the lifestyle of the time and how crazy the studio system could actually be. The story kind of comes second to the characters and the era.

The only thing that I could say is wrong with the movie is that it does leave a lot of people in the dark, and that’s never a fun thing. There’s a lot of jokes and references you might miss out on unless you have a good understanding of how Hollywood operated at the time and some of the more outlandish things that were taken very seriously. This isn’t the first time the Coen Brothers have made a movie about early Hollywood that made a lot of in jokes. Barton Fink was full of references to the time period, but there was also a lot more that didn’t have to do with Hollywood that other people could get a kick out of. Hail, Caesar!, however, demands a bit more understanding of history.

Hail, Caesar! may be polarizing and cater to a certain demographic of film goers, but this is my personal opinion on the movie and I think it’s pretty brilliant. It certainly doesn’t stand up to other Coen Brothers comedies like The Big Lebowski and Fargo, but it is far from falling into the pits with The Ladykillers and Intolerable CrueltyHail, Caesar! falls nicely in place with Burn After Reading in the mid echelons of the Coen Brothers’ filmography. If you know this history and you have a love for post-war Hollywood, this is a movie made just for you.

True Grit – Review

6 Jul

As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of the western genre. There are some modern day westerns and a couple spaghetti westerns that I enjoy, but all in all I’m not really a fan. But, I do love the Coen Brothers, so that was enough to get me to see the remake/retelling of the novel and American western classic, True Grit.

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is an intelligent and persistent fourteen year old girl growing up in the rough and tough old west. When her father is gunned down by one of his hired men, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), Mattie enlists the help of Deputy U.S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a drunken, violent officer of the law. Joining them on their mission is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who has also been chasing Chaney and is tasked with bringing him back to Texas to hang for his crimes. While these three people may go about things in different ways, they all have the same goal: retribution.

This is not your typical Coen Brothers’ movie. The cynicism, strangeness, and all around weird elements that make their movies what they are, are pretty much gone. Every now and then, mostly through the witty dialogue, we remember who is writing and directing this film. But, as I said before, I love the Coen Brothers and I also liked this movie, but it certainly is far from my favorite movie by the directing duo.

The characters and performances are all above average and captivating. Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic, especially at her age, and delivers her lines with ease, even when they get over the top with ridiculous vocabulary. Jeff Bridges runs away with the movie with his tough talking and slurred speech. The thing is, I had to put on subtitles just to understand what he was saying. Great character, but you have to listen closely. Barry Pepper and Matt Damon are fine too, but there’s not competition between Haille Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges. This is their movie.

I was a little shocked by the realism of True Grit, especially for a PG-13 rating. There isn’t a whole lot of violence, but when there is, it’s really intense and has bloody aftermaths. There were times where I thought to myself, “This should be R.” But this works in favor of the movie. Westerns are a genre that really needs to convince me to like whatever I’m watching.  If they’re cheap tame, then I really have no interest. I need my westerns to be raw, violent, and real. With the help of great set design, cinematography, and the realistic violence, I was totally convinced.

I do feel a little cheated by this movie though. I really wanted to see more of a chase between our heroes and villains. Instead, there are a lot of scenes of banter and tracking, which helps with character development, but I got pretty bored. Also, the big showdown at the end was over pretty quickly, but now that I think about, that’s probably what it was actually like back then, so I’ll give it that. Still, there were plenty of scenes that I feel could have been cut down or gotten rid of all together. Slow is fine, but I feel like the pacing of this movie stopped to rest at some points.

In the end, I really like this movie, but it doesn’t really rank at the top of the Coen Brothers list with films like The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and O Brother, Where Art Thou. This is a different Coen Brothers, who want to pay respect to a classic genre and who do it very well. True Grit is a top notch western. I’ll definitely watch it again, and try to look past its flaws.