Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Written and Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
Some spoilers ahead.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a frustrating movie. It’s difficult to know how to approach it. Going in, you either know something about the folk music scene of NYC in the early 1960’s, or you don’t—and either way seems to handicap a viewer looking to make sense out of the film. Those who have a familiarity with the subject will be running through their head for facts, looking for characters who correspond to real people, wondering ‘Will Dylan be in this?’ They will be distracted, and in the end, it will not be a very rewarding experience. On the other hand, those who go in blind will probably get lazy and blame their misunderstanding of the film on their ignorance of the subject, thinking it to be full of inside jokes.
If you can somehow make it past that built-in obstacle course, you’ll be able to view the film for what it is—another Coen Brothers film about a cosmic circle. A man, standing still (a la Ray from Blood Simple, H.I. McDunnough from Raising Arizona, Jerry Lundegaard from Fargo, Barton Fink, The Dude) while at the same time, going on an adventure (a la Tom Regan from Miller’s Crossing, Rooster Cogburn from True Grit, Llewelyn Moss—practically sharing the first name of our main character—from No Country For Old Men, Ulysses Everett McGill from O Brother, Where Art Thou?—literally sharing the first name as our other main character, a cat).
Continue reading The Cosmic Circle: Outside ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
Whether or not we can learn a thing or two about the current state of cinema by examining the 1980 film Maniac by William Lustig and its 2012 remake by Franck Khalfoun is difficult to say—both films were not made for mainstream audiences. And both have leading men that wouldn’t ordinarily be considered leading men: starring in the 1980 film is Joe Spinell (the extremely prolific character actor who had bit roles in such films as The Godfather 1 & 2, Taxi Driver, Rocky 1 & 2, and Cruising) and in the remake, Elijah Wood, star of the immensely successful Lord of the Rings saga (as well as many other films that aren’t necessarily known as Elijah Wood vehicles). The original Maniac was shot in the very seedy New York City, with Spinell stalking about the grimy 42nd St theaters that would soon be playing the very film he’s acting in. When it was released, it caught some of the backlash that all “slasher” films were experiencing at the time—namely, accusations of being merely an exercise in violence for its own sake. (Gene Siskel took pride in claiming he walked out of Maniac after 30 minutes.) The remake was shot in sunny Los Angeles, mostly in the downtown area. It has yet to have a wide release here in the US.
Continue reading Multiple Maniacs
Grown Ups 2 (2013)
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Written by Fred Wolf & Adam Sandler & Tim Herlihy
In 2010, Adam Sandler and his band of merry men released Grown Ups, a film that I felt, at the time, wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination. I couldn’t understand why they chose the jokes they did, why they acted as if their actions had no real consequence from one scene to the next, and why the characters, when they weren’t at their absolute broadest, began to meld into one another to form just one character. I chalked it up to a case of bad movie syndrome.
Catching up with it on television, coming into the film at various points, it slowly began appealing to me. And then one day, while splitting my time between watching it with the sound down and reading, I realized why. The film is like a silent comedy, not like those told through space like in Buster Keaton pictures, or through pathos and character like Charlie Chaplin, but those told through time, like that of the great Mack Sennett and his band of merry men (namely the Keystone Cops). If you watch Grown Ups with the sound turned off while reading a book of jokes, it amounts to the same thing as with sound, except you can always refresh the jokes.
Its sequel, the imaginatively titled Grown Ups 2, is without a doubt obsessed with the idea of space (progressing from Sennett to Keaton). For instance, the film opens with a moose running amuck in Sandler’s mansion, which seems to happen only to give us a remarkable (for this day in age) view of the layout of the Sandler’s home and personal space.
Continue reading Grown Ups 2: The Art of Space