Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman
Release date: January 16th, 2014
Distributor: CBS Films
Running time: 105 minutes
Best part: The memorable soundtrack.
Worst part: The abrupt resolutions.
Movies about music, due to an artist, movement, or genre’s immense popularity, regularly take on lives of their own. Launching cult classics, trends, and modern re-inventions, these movies range from musicals (Dreamgirls), to dramas (Walk the Line, Ray), to comedies (Oh Brother Where Art Thou!). Despite aiding specific movies’ soundtracks, how exactly does music launch certain big-budget efforts into the cultural stratosphere? Tapping into pop-culture’s infatuation with nostalgia and popularity, Inside Llewyn Davis chronicles one genre’s immersion into the public’s line of sight. Folk music’s long-awaited return to the spotlight is illuminated in this hysterical, insightful, and charming dramedy. Kicked off by chart-topping groups like Of Monsters and Men, Mumford and Sons, and Passenger, folk music’s resurgence has boosted the once-neglected genre’s range, influence, and relevance.
Oscar Isaac & cat.
Despite being a polarising genre, folk brings ageless intricacies and nuances to this kinetic slice-of-life character study. Here, music, love, life, and regret interweave to form an eclectic and meaningful rhythm. Inside Llewyn Davis, bolstered by ingenious performances, poetic directorial flourishes, and, of course, a catchy soundtrack, becomes one of the past decade’s most distinctive dramedies. Touching upon music’s profound social and cultural impact, this movie speaks to the toe-tapping samaritan inside us all. This purposeful narrative chronicles insatiably irritating yet well-meaning simpleton, and former merchant seaman, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). After his musical partner’s catastrophic suicide, Davis struggles to make ends meet. Crashing on friends’ couches or random periods, job prospects run afoul of Davis’ abrasive personality. With downtown club ‘the Gaslight Cafe’ keeping him afloat, burgeoning crowds and unique musicians frustrate Davis. Davis finds a new partner after his friends’ cat escapes from their cluttered apartment. Davis and his feline companion scurry across New York looking for shelter and company. Keeping out of the cold, Davis soon finds sanctuary in his musician friends’ apartment. Briefly staying with Jim (Justin Timberlake), Jean (Carey Mulligan), and their other guest Troy Nelson (Stark Sands), Davis witnesses Jim and Jean become Peter, Paul & Mary-esque Gaslight celebrities. However, Davis, thanks to his irritable agent Mel (the late Jerry Grayson), sleazy Gaslight owner Pappi Corsicato (Max Casella), and friend Al Cody (Adam Driver), hatches an ambitious plan to travel to Chicago. Reaching for a ground-breaking opportunity in the windy city, Davis comes across Johnny Five (Garett Headlund) and crippled jazz extraordinaire Roland Turner (John Goodman).
Though writer/producer/director maestros Joel and Ethan Coen need no introduction, I’m going to give them one anyway. The Coens, ever since Blood Simple shocked film-lovers across the world, have drenched themselves in blood, sweat, laughs, existential angst, and Middle America’s most unique musical movements. The dynamic duo’s range, richness, and tenacity are evident in every project. The Coens, leaping from westerns (No Country for Old Men, True Grit), to hardened gangster flicks (Millers Crossing), to sickeningly dark comedies (Burn After Reading, The Big Lebowski), to frenetic dramedies (A Serious Man, Fargo), place their hearts, souls, and perspectives into each narrative. Their polarising yet compelling efforts, despite the cloying moments, launch horrifying sequences and ambiguous characterisations into the consciousness. Fusing classic and modern Hollywood cinema conventions, their honest direction and ambitious writing tropes shine throughout Inside Llewyn Davis. Giving bluegrass roots a heaving kick-start with Oh Brother Where Art Thou!, the Coens apply their talents and wisdom to the opportunistic folk scene. Fortunately, despite the dour marketing campaign, this slice-of-life drama, from go to woe, is a winning, thought-provoking, and modest examination of the human condition. Pitting man against the cold weather, lacklustre employment prospects, fate, and the future’s ever-looming uncertainty, the Coens inject heart into this comedically callous journey. With slapstick humour and shocking expletives highlighting the first-half’s kinetic formula, the movie kicks off with style, panache, and grace. Moving from one underwhelming destination to another, Davis’ journey is one of heartache, self-discovery, and determination. However, the second half becomes a philosophically powerful yet sombre road-trip-based adventure. Meeting peculiar characters and bizarre revelations, the final third slowly sheds the first two thirds’ malevolent wit and optimistic aura. Ultimately, the Coen’s latest effort discusses our infatuation with varying entertainment mediums. Genres and movements are ably presented as impressive creations crafted by inspiring artists. Here, Davis and co. craft life-changing works out of impulse, burgeoning motivations, and extraordinary ideas.
“If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.” (Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Inside Llewyn Davis).
John Goodman & Garrett Headlund.
Refusing to answer its thesis by the half-way mark,Inside Llewyn Davishurriedly delves into pop-culture’s fascination with nostalgia. Davis and co’s mental, spiritual, and emotional angst paints a haunting picture of the past, present, and future. Nostalgia may bring back fond memories, but won’t play a show-stopping track or put a coat around Davis’ shoulders. The Coen’s statements are illuminated by the movie’s awe-inspiring and memorable musical interludes. Describing key moments of this all-encompassing narrative, the soundtrack is crafted out of love, admiration, and care for this immaculate genre. Conceived by the Coens, Isaac, T-Bone Burnett, and Marcus Mumford, Inside Llewyn Davis becomes a quirky and enlightening musical minus the genre’s insufferable tropes. From the opening frame, music plays a vital part in emphasising and re-shaping 1960s-America’s social, political, economical, and cultural landscapes. The first track, ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’, is a distinctive, impactful, and poetic gut-punch. With Isaac’s haunting vocals carving into the soul, the track potently and engagingly examines Davis’ existential and emotional conflicts. Fortunately, the seceding musical numbers elevate the moody and eclectic material. Yet another Coen Brothers classic is humanised by its characters. Davis, though prickly and distinctively sarcastic, is a strangely likeable presence. Slimily weaving into friends’ lives, this irritable and harmful musician follows a dingy path. Isaac, placing egotism and aura aside, is revelatory in this complex role. Mulligan provides another touching and multi-layered performance as the dismissive friend. Throwing expletives and criticisms at our bewildered antihero, Jean is an exasperating and unconscionable character. Suitably, David and Jean deliver twists, turns, and haunting lyrics. Meanwhile, Timberlake builds charisma and range as the blissful nice-guy. Timberlake, Isaac, and Driver deliver the movie’s most enlightening musical number. ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’, featuring stirling vocals and electrifying lyrics, provides refreshing relief from this heart-wrenching tale. Once again, Goodman electrifies a small yet significant role. Throwing hysterical insults at Davis, his character revels in life’s most intriguing pursuits and absurdities. His comedic lines (“Folk songs? I thought you said you were a musician?”) relieve this dark road-trip story.
With the Coens up for Oscar contention yet again, Inside Llewyn Davis, like its lead character, deserves some much-needed love and care. As a concentrated dose of Coen-Brothers-moviemaking tropes, Coen fans, film buffs, folk aficionados, and average filmgoers will absorb this visceral and confronting dramedy. Laugh-out-loud moments, attention to detail, and tenderness transform this slice-of-life drama into an infectious and award-worthy artistic endeavour. Like the best folk songs, Inside Llewyn Davis‘ poeticism, narrative, and inherent charm will put a song in everyone’s hearts.
Verdict: An intelligent, hysterical, and enlightening drama.
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong
Release date: May 23rd, 2013
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 100 minutes
Best part: John Goodman as a sadistic mob boss.
Worst part: Jeong and Galifianakis.
Some film series’ rely entirely on an absence of logic. Much like John McClane in the Die Hard series, the main characters in the Hangover series continually get into disastrous and confusing situations. Hollywood has now sucked both these series’ dry for a quick profit. Much like this year’s Die Hard instalment, The Hangover Part 3 is one of the most unnecessary, repetitive, and preposterous sequels ever made.
Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms.
Part 3 is a stupid and unfunny action-comedy. It’s not terrible, but it needed something special to separate it from the other Hollywood comedies of its type. In this latest adventure, confused and pathetic layabout Alan (Zach Galifianakis) causes a stir when his new pet Giraffe is decapitated on a freeway, causing an epic car crash. As a result, his family and the other ‘Wolf Pack’ members, Doug (Justin Bartha), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Stu (Ed Helms), stage an intervention, believing that rehab is Alan’s best hope. Their plans are soon cut short by an angry mobster, Marshall (John Goodman). Marshall is looking for Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), the same man the Wolf Pack has run into on previous adventures. Taking Doug hostage, Marshall orders the Wolf Pack to find Chow and the money he stole from him.
This set up promises that the following events will be climactic and enjoyable. However, from this point on, the film rapidly descends into being awkward and unfunny. This is the biggest disappointment of 2013 so far (and that’s really saying something!). Please don’t think of me as a cynic when it comes to Hollywood comedies. I fell in love with The Hangover upon its release back in 2009. Its bursts of energy and hysterical gross-out jokes helped it become one of the biggest box-office success stories of the last decade. However, in 2011, a carbon-copy sequel took away the series’ enjoyability and thrills. The stench of laziness festering in that sequel is also apparent in this one. I suspect that the public may wish to avoid this new instalment after its predecessor (or at least go into it with extremely low expectations). This cynical sequel is proof that worthwhile ‘R-rated’ comedies are difficult to pull off. This sequel may have deviated, story-wise, from the first two instalments, but it’s still as uninteresting as the second film. It feels like this sequel was made by someone with little to no knowledge of gross-out comedy logistics. Director Todd Phillips (Old School, Starsky & Hutch) has gone from being the king of gross-out comedies and road trip films (Road Trip), to pumping out one disappointing farce after another (Due Date).
His latest Hangover is more agonising and annoying than an actual hangover. The intrigue and zaniness promised in the fun trailers is missing. The screenplay is one of this sequel’s biggest problems. The original’s witty yet shocking jokes have been replaced with cheap references to the first two films and mean-spirited insults. The comedy consists almost entirely of animal murder and physical violence. Chickens, dogs, and the aforementioned Giraffe are needlessly slaughtered for a quick laugh. Phillips is obviously a big fan of crass/black/frat-boy humour of this type (hence the tranquillised tiger and drug-dealing monkey in the previous instalments). However, the audience I saw it with wasn’t impressed. Jokes fell flat on regular basis, while the strange lack of gross-out gags was alarmingly noticeable. I wouldn’t have minded all this if the movie had a quick pace and some mindlessly fun moments, but these elements are also sorely absent. The negative aspects of this instalment don’t stop there. It inorganically transitions from a gross-out comedy, to an Ocean’s 11-style heist flick, to a trip back to where it all began for the Wolf Pack. Whereas the original seamlessly mixed elements of gross-out comedy and film noir, this instalment has no original or innovative surprises at all. It came to a point where I was inexplicably clamouring for another Mike Tyson cameo!
“My name’s Allan and I bought a giraffe! Oh, my life’s perfect!” (Alan (Zach Galifianakis), The Hangover Part 3).
The Wolf Pack.
The characters here spend their whole time repeating lines and yelling at one another. These characters, that we once found hysterical and endearing, have been reduced to one dimensional caricatures. I will say that I chuckled during the film’s first third. the characters’ charming re-introductions almost convinced me that this instalment would be a breath of fresh air compared to Part 2. However, my hopes were quickly dashed when Chow eats dog food and sniffs Stu’s butt (I wish I was joking!). Worst of all is the sub-plot involving a bromance between Alan and Chow. Galifianakis and Jeong hit the big time after their hilarious performances in the original. However, their crazy antics, seen in this and many other movies, have become increasingly tiresome. Their shtick also becomes repetitive rather quickly. Galifianakis’ character has gone from a well-meaning weirdo to a narcissistic and mean-spirited moron who refuses to change. Alan, Chow’s infuriating Asian stereotype, and Melissa McCarthy’s tough-chick persona are as tolerable as three car alarms going off at once! Cooper and Helms look extremely bored throughout the entire film. Meanwhile, Heather Graham makes a pointless cameo as Stu’s ex-Vegas wife. The only tolerable performance here is from Goodman, acting like he’s in a Coen Brothers’ crime-comedy.
The original set the bar extremely high for Hollywood comedy. However, the sequels have taken that bar, lowered it, then snapped it in half, and used it to mix the crazy alcoholic drinks the Wolf Pack would’ve guzzled down during their wild drunken adventures. I can safely say that I would rather suffer an actual hangover than suffer through Parts 2 and 3 again. Sorry, frat-boys.
Verdict: An irritating, offensive, and disappointing end to the Hangover trilogy.
Stars: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood
Release date: November 2nd, 2012
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 138 minutes
Best part: The plane crash sequence.
Worst part: Some awkward religious preachings.
Remember the events of January 15, 2009? US Airways Flight 1549 departed from New York City’s LaGuadia Airport. Shortly after take-off, fortuitous circumstances forced the pilot, Capt. Chesley Sullenburger, to ditch the plane into the Hudson River. Flight depicts a similar story of a brush with death and destiny. It’s a stirring achievement, capturing every detail of a startling and emotional narrative.
Thankfully, this particular story is fictional. The idea of capturing a disastrous event from one person’s perspective is certainly an alluring one. Here, the pilot of a fateful flight is put on the chopping block. Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) wakes up early one morning with a raging hangover, bottles strewn all over his hotel room and a naked air hostess, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez), waltzing out of his bed. After an angering phone call, he snorts a line of cocaine and makes his way to the airport. His decrepit state is no match for flying, but he does it anyway. Obtaining a wink of shut-eye and tiny Vodka bottles on the flight, his fun times are disrupted by a heart-wrenching jolt. Rolling the plane in mid air before crash landing in an open field, his miraculous actions save 96 out of the 102 souls on board. Despite being labelled a hero, his issues are far from over. Whip must then collide with various ‘acts of god’ and the demons of his past, before incriminating evidence sends him into a deeper emotional spiral.
Washington & Kelly Reilly.
Flightis a profound and engaging film that is definitely not for the faint of heart. This character study, sure to anger some and scare others, is a truly vital experience for anyone used to being under the influence or in over their heads. This story of temptation is one of many to deal with mental instability and intoxication. It succeeds due to its compelling story of faith and well-being. Washington’s intense performance adds poignancy to his already solid character. Whitaker is clearly a troubled individual. The outcome of this investigation rests almost entirely on his behaviour. He never means to fail, yet alcohol and illicit drugs continually draw him back into making the same pathetic mistakes. Every time he looks into a bottle he sees a shining light which briefly takes him away from his gruelling problems. As a man without a family, hope or true identity, his story is about acceptance more so than finding a miraculous cure. Issues concerning trust and father/son relationships also become part of this heart-wrenching journey. He must find freedom before the press and airline officials take it away.
This story deals with faith in a way that never talks down to religion nor elevates it. This ‘act of god’ is merely a sign of something much greater for Whitaker. It allows him to make up his own mind about faith and humanity. But the film is not without its over-bearing moments. At one point, a cancer patient hammers home preachings about fate. It’s a funny scene, but one that could’ve finished with a much less abrasive conclusion. The accident helps Whitaker find solace through other individuals. Sub-plots, though effective in establishing Whitaker’s emotional complexity, fail to develop beyond a certain point. At one stage, he becomes intimately acquainted with a down-on-her-luck addict, Nicole (Kelly Reilly). The first half-hour provides a window into her degraded existence. She struggles to pay rent, frequently injects herself with illicit substances and almost falls into pornography. It seems she may become a much more important character. However, her involvement ceases when Whitaker is depicted in a more enlightening manner.
“Hey, don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking, okay? I know how to lie about my drinking. I’ve been lying about my drinking my whole life.” (Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), Flight).
Washington, Bruce Greenwood & Don Cheadle.
Director Robert Zemeckis is, arguably, one of the most versatile directors in film history. He has gone from classic action-adventure (Romancing the Stone, the Back to the Future series), to uplifting drama (Forrest Gump, Cast Away), to imaginative motion capture-driven animation (Beowulf). Flight combines Zemeckis’ talents into a moving and thought-provoking experience. The plane crash sequence is one of the most vertigo and tension-inducing set pieces since Cast Away (his last live-action film). Zemeckis smartly concentrates on the emotions flowing through this unpredictable event. It should leave any viewer biting their nails or tightly holding the arm rest. This claustrophobic sequence, ironically, launches the film sky high. The supporting cast is vital to this personal drama. Bruce Greenwood is his usual charismatic self as Whitaker’s frustrated friend. Don Cheadle is an enlightening presence as Whitaker’s determined lawyer. In their first film together since Devil in a Blue Dress, Washington and Cheadle create a comfortable dynamic here. While the ubiquitous John Goodman steals the show as Whitaker’s vulgar and hilarious hippie-esque Drug dealer. He breathes a sigh of relief into an otherwise dark narrative.
Washington has delivered his most ground-breaking work in years. Flight is an electric and potent story of hope and redemption. Denzel, delivering his best performance since Training Day, grapples his A-list statues and never lets go. With so many intimate elements, Zemeckis’ new film is flying high.
Writers: Chris Terrio (Screenplay), Antonio J. Mendez (book), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Release date: October 12th, 2012
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 120 minutes
Best part: Affleck’s work as director and actor.
Worst part: The uneven tone.
Throughout the last decade, Ben Affleck was seen as nothing more than an acting and tabloid-media joke. Since 2007, however, he has carried out one of the biggest comebacks in modern Hollywood history. After his astonishing directing début with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s thrilling crime-drama The Town, his new film goes in a completely different direction. Argo is a tense and authentic docu-drama, based on one of the most emotionally powerful and influential events from the past 50 years.
In 1979, Iranian protesters took over the US Embassy in Tehran and held 63 Americans hostage. During the start of the conflict, six US consulate officials escaped the embassy and took shelter in the Canadian ambassador’s house for over ten weeks. CIA hostage specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) creates an absurd yet clever idea for freeing the six escapees. He will create a fake Hollywood film production, alert the press and help the victims to escape as members of a film crew currently location scouting in Iran. With the help of CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Mendez enlists the aid of Oscar winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and revered producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Mendez must pull off his plan however before the Iranian Militia finds the six hostages trying to escape the country.
Affleck & Bryan Cranston.
Affleck has now proven his worth in multiple elements of filmmaking, showing the sceptics that his Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting was no fluke. Affleck creates a nail-biting and affecting docu-drama in the vein of Munich and Good Night and Good Luck. Despite faltering under the direction of others, Affleck delivers a subdued yet charismatic performance, showing his determination in getting these prisoners out by any means necessary. The snappy dialogue, delivered by the plethora of underrated character actors here, is a rarity in modern cinema. Argo places the viewer in each heated and engaging dialogue sequence while showcasing Affleck’s talent for obtaining powerful performances. Bryan Cranston, finally proving his dramatic and comedic talents outside of AMC series Breaking Bad, is memorable in his small role as the embittered middle man between Mendez and the Jimmy Carter administration. John Goodman is dynamic as the sarcastic Hollywood heavyweight. While Alan Arkin impresses as the egomaniacal and foul mouthed producer unaware that his best days in the industry may be behind him. This story, known as ‘The Canadian Caper’, is still as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. With the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq being major events in the past decade, the film provides an honest and relevant account of our ongoing political strife with the Middle East. Based on information declassified by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and a Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, Argo provides an objective yet enrapturing look at this harrowing true story.
Constantly on the lookout for danger, climactic scenes between the six hostages effectively create an intense and claustrophobic feel. As illustrated in his first two films, Affleck knows how to create tension in many of the film’s most terrifying sequences (similarly to the underrated thriller Spy Game). This is a situation where being seen means being killed, and the Iranian people’s anger towards american superiority provides a substantial threat for everyone involved. Affleck subtly increases the tension with each suspicious figure and militant roaming the streets. Meanwhile, the anticipation builds to an edge-of-your-seat final third. The film, however, loses the grit and danger of its opening kidnapping sequences, shifting focus to the absurdities of the major Hollywood system and its broad yet profound similarities with the US Government. Despite many humorous and satirical moments, the bold look of the 70’s era studio takes the urgency away from the situation on the other side of the globe. Affleck does, however, create an inventive and pulpy visual style in these sequences, in the vein of the 2007 political dramedy Charlie Wilson’s War. Constant references to classic film and TV icons such as Star Wars, James Bond, Star Trek and Planet of The Apes, along with the salty bite taken out of mainstream studio practices, are entertaining yet diffuse the importance of this particular situation. The film walks a fine line between patronising and complimentary. The film manages to succinctly touch upon various Hollywood and government systems.
This story is about globalisation saving people’s lives whilst, at the same time, condemning them to be targets of the Iranian people. Argo, thanks to Affleck’s momentous will to succeed, pulls its audience in, shakes the viewer around, and sends them packing!
Verdict: An intelligent and nail-biting political thriller.