Sunday, September 29, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis

          The Coen Brother make perfect films. They are not always great films but they are crafted with such precision and attention, that whatever the genre, they are perfect. Sometimes they are perfect in failure but more often in triumph.

           This new film reaches for greatness but falls a bit short. It takes place during the folk scene of New York in 1961.  Rather than explore that period in a wider scope, the Coen's focus on one particular fictional musician, Llewyn Davis. Davis is played by Oscar Isaac and he is a revelation. His character is very complex, a talented artist but a difficult person. He cares more for his art than commercial success yet he chases the success that eludes him anyway.

            The film also features Cary Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as a successful folk duo, John Goodman as a jazz musician Llewyn meets on a road trip, and F. Murray Abraham as a promoter in Chicago. Most of the actors drift in and out of the movie as it revolves around Llewyn. Besides Mr. Isaac, no one else has any sustained screen time. There is a standout scene involving a recording session with Mr. Isaac, Mr. Timberlake and Adam Driver, but the film really belongs heart and soul to Mr. Isaac. The trick the Coen's pull off is that you keep rooting for Llewyn no matter how abrasive and unlikable he becomes.

            While the film has its flaws (even in it's perfection), the music is terrific so credit executive producer T. Bone Burnett for an outstanding folk soundtrack performed by the actors.
And of course, the cinematography and the visuals in general are outstanding.

              "Inside Llewyn Davis" is a perfectly good film that could have been great, ironically much like the title character.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Don Jon

       This new film, written and directed by and starring Joseph Gordon Levitt is a spiritual cousin to "Saturday Night Fever". The big difference here is unlike dancing, Jon's obsession is internet porn. It's romantic and comedic but far from a romantic comedy.

       Jon is a New Jersey native that lives by a code of eight things. They are going to the gym, his spotless apartment, his car, his family, church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. When he thinks he's met the girl of his dreams, Barbara (played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson), his life and his code are turned upside down.

        The twist here is that another woman, Ester (played by Julianne Moore) has an even greater impact on Jon that he never sees coming. Mr. Gordon Levitt keeps things light and fun but still makes his point about human connections. And while we see plenty of skin in the countless porn videos he watches, the camera work is subtle and the film easily avoids an X rating (although it does deserve it's R ).

         His family is played by Glenne Headley, Tony Danza, and Brie Larson.  It's a stereotypical Italian family in many ways but there is honesty in the script that keeps the characters interesting. The film is very funny and surprisingly touching.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

We're The Millers

  Hoping to recapture the magic of the hysterically funny "Horrible Bosses", this time out, Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis fall short. "The Millers" is funny in a few spots but mostly just crude and rude, predicable and dare I say it...boring.

    Ms. Aniston plays a stripper with a heart posing as a soccer mom along side Mr. Sudeikis, a drug dealer posing as a nerd dad. It's Mr,. Sudeikis's idea to get a fake family in order to smuggle tons of marijuana  across the border from Mexico, stashed in an RV. He also enlists Emma Roberts as a runaway street kid and Will Poulter as the nerd teen next door to pose as "the kids".

      Much of the humor is at the expense of Kenny, Mr. Poulter's punching bag of a character. Ms. Aniston tries to recapture her bad girl image from "Horrible Bosses" (which she did very well and was very funny) but lightning doesn't strike twice and her inevitable strip tease looks more like an ad for a gym than sexy. I will give her credit for being in great shape. Mr. Sudeikis seems trapped in a typically bad "Saturday Night Live" skit that goes on much too long. Even Ed Helms looks embarrassed to play a natty criminal who sends Mr. Sudeikis down to Mexico.

       Considering the price of movie tickets these days, catch it on cable when there's nothing else on.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Short Term 12

     This new Indie drama is a star turn for Brie Larson. It's a powerful story about a young counselor in a temporary housing facility for troubled teens. Ms. Larson is probably best known for playing Toni Collette's daughter on Showtime's "The United States of Tara" but she takes center stage here and is remarkable in a multi-layered performance.

       Ms. Larson's character Grace is very good at her job. She connects easily with her troubled charges, having come from a troubled past herself. When a new girl (Kaitlin Dever) arrives with a similar history, Grace's own demons come back to haunt her, further complicating a new situation.

        Ms. Larson radiates raw honesty and emotion in a complex character. It is an award winning performance. Ms. Dever shows skills beyond her years as she bonds with Ms. Larson. Co-starring is John Gallagher Jr. as Manson, another counselor and Grace's boyfriend. Mr. Gallagher Jr.'s performance is not a far stretch from his character on the HBO series "The Newsroom" but he is adapt at "likable boy next door" roles and he brings much warmth to his role. Rami Malek adds some comic relief as a new counselor learning how to understand the kids. The other actors portraying the residents of "Short Term 12" are all very good but as they are written, the standout performances go to Kevin Hernandez and Keith Stanfield.

          This is a small but powerful drama that deserves an audience. it should garner many nominations for "Independent Spirit" awards.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The World's End

       Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are back to save the world. Working together with writer/director Edgar Wright (Mr. Frost also co-wrote the script), the same team that brought us "Shaun of The Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" return with a new comedy that's two films in one.

        "The World's End" starts out as a buddy comedy, when five childhood friends reunite to finish a pub crawl that they had started years ago as teens. They have all gone in different directions but Mr. Pegg's character, Gary King rounds them all up for one night of camaraderie and lots of drinking. 

           The friends are played by Mr. Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsdan, and Paddy Considine. Roseamund Pike co-stars as Mr. Freeman's sister, Samantha. It's a top notch ensemble cast in what begins as a comedy with heart but dramatically shifts gears in the second half of the film into an all out science fiction romp.

            There are many terrific one-liners and funny moments but when the film shifts, it loses focus and falls apart. It's as if Mr. Wright and Mr. Frost ran out of story and decided that alien pod people and total chaos would provide a good cover masking the fact they didn't know how to finish what they started. If you have a few pints yourself before seeing the film, that won't make much difference and it will probably all seem hysterically funny right to the credits.


      This is the new film from writer/director Neill Blomkamp, who's first film, "District 9"  was a breath of fresh air in in the science fiction genre. "Elysium" doesn't have the same impact but is still an an enjoyable sci-fi adventure.

       The film is set in the not to distant future where the Earth has been reduced to polluted rubble for millions and the elite class live off world in a giant orbiting space station known as "Elysium". It's a man-made paradise where disease has been eradicated by special machines.

        Matt Damon stars as "Max", a former criminal now trying to build a meager life on Earth until an accident at work gives him a reason to find a quick way to "Elysium". Jodie Foster also stars as the cold blooded head of security on the space station. The film features Diego Luna as Max's best friend, and Sharlto Copley as a ruthless mercenary working for Ms. Foster.  The acting is about what you would expect. Mr. Damon is a strong lead, Ms. Foster doesn't really work too hard and Mr. Copley makes a fine villain (a change from his starring role in "District 9").

         The sets on earth look leftover from "District 9" but the robots and spacecraft effects are well done. The story is familiar, class struggle, but Mr. Damon's motives begin selfishly and he becomes a reluctant hero for the masses.

          The film is being shown in IMAX 3-D which is totally unnecessary in order to enjoy it. Save your extra money and see the regular version.