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I saw Inside Llewyn Davis in a sold out matinée in Union Square, NYC
last weekend. The city was cold and dreary, much like the 1960s
Manhattan depicted in this film. I sat with my friend after the movie
and basically railed against the film for the first ten minutes before
slowly admitting that my criticisms were obviously the intended result
and that the Coen Brothers have once again made a great movie that is
simply not easy to digest and certainly not fun to digest.
I'll lead with the greatness. The underlying takeaway of this film is that the actual creation of music - the sound, the beauty and the lyrical story - can embody some of the best attributes about humanity and yet, the creator of such music can nonetheless lack all such attributes and essentially be as ugly a person as his music is beautiful. That is the takeaway, and the Coen Bros intentionally force this upon the viewer. The folk songs song by Lleywn serve as calming beautiful interludes and as stark contrasts to the plot driven by a character who is simply put, a terrible human being stuck in an extremely frustrating, self-made vacuum of an existence.
I assume that most people, like me, gravitate toward wanting to root for the struggling artist. There is a nobility in pursuing your dreams when such dreams consist of the pursuit of an art form. Here, folk music is put on a pedestal and LLewyn's pursuit of it is from the outset, something the audience implicitly will support. In the course of 90 minutes, the Coen Bros force you to question this support, hate the lead character and eventually cheer when he gets punched in the face.
The problem is simple. I did not want any more of LLewyn Davis after 90 minutes. I did not want to hear his music anymore because the lyrics he sung were fraudulent, the beauty of his playing, a guise. And due to his self-made failings throughout the film, I no longer cared where his story went. The Coen Bros could have taken the plot line in any number of ways to give the viewer some foothold to hope that Llewyn may end up on the right track one day. They do not give you that foothold, and for that reason, I was pretty ready for this movie to end when it did. This is admittedly a criticism, but more an observation. I certainly do not need films to end with rainbows and hearts, but this script really forces you to watch a man stuck in a static world where his own actions cause him to go nowhere, and that is a frustrating world to inhabit for 90 minutes.
The best parts of the film are not the Manhattan scenes, but the drive LLewyn takes to Chicago. The Coen Bros have used the theme of "driving at night" time and time again to make some great scenes, usually emotionally charged personal voyages. This is no different. Their cinematography and over all character driven story telling shines when their lead characters hit the road. The bit characters are fun and unusual in the Coen Bro's way, but do little to ease the 90 minutes of crass, immature, self-defeating, out-of-touch and eventually just pathetic life movements from Lleywn's character
For Coen Brother fans, its worth the journey; for general movie fans, be warned, as this is an interesting film, but arguably not an enjoyable one.
Greetings again from the darkness. If you are a follower of the
filmmaking Coen Brothers, then you are quite aware of their complete
lack of artistic interest in any traditionally successful character.
Their work is inspired by life's obstacles and tough luck, even if
brought on by a character's own poor judgment. Coen Brother stories
revolve around those who carry on and have (blind?) faith that their
approach, no matter how ill conceived, is the only option ... the only
path worth taking. Their main character this time out seems to think
life is filled with only careerists (sell-outs) or losers (those who
can't get a break).
The titular Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) is introduced to us onstage at the Gaslight singing a beautiful folk song. Moments later he is lying in the back alley after taking a whipping from a mysterious stranger. It's not until this scene is repeated again at the film's end do we understand the cause of this effect. See, Llewyn is not a very likable guy. We learn he is still grieving from the suicide of his musical partner (as sung by Marcus Mumford), and that he bounces from sofa to sofa amongst acquaintances and family members. Llewyn has no friends, only acquaintances too kind to throw him out ... even if he might be the father of an unwanted baby, or if he accidentally allows a beloved pet cat to escape.
The story is based in the folk music scene of 1961 Greenwich Village in the pre-Bob Dylan days. The Coen's were inspired by the memoirs of Dave Van Ronk entitled "The Mayor of MacDougal Street". So while the songs are real and the characters are often inspired or based upon real artists of the time, Llewyn's story is pure Coen fiction. That means cringing, levels of discomfort, uneasy chuckling and moments of rapture ... such as John Goodman evoking a drugged out Doc Promus spewing harsh poetic diatribes.
We never really know if the Coens are making a statement or tossing it out for us to debate. Are they saying that even the ugliness of Llewyn's personality can produce something as beautiful as music, or are they saying that we get tricked by beautiful music into thinking that the artist must also be pure? Carey Mulligan (as Jean) has one of the film's best and most insightful lines when she tells Llewyn he is "King Midas' idiot brother". Her pure disgust (and expert rendering of the F-word) and anger contrasts with her angelic onstage persona with husband Jim (Justin Timberlake).
As always, the Coens provide us a constant flow of interesting and oddball characters. In addition to Goodman's jazz hipster, we get Garrett Hedlund as an ultra cool (til he's not) valet, Adam Driver as a cowboy folk singer, Troy Nelson as a virtuous Army folk singer (based on Tom Paxton), and Llewyn's Upper East side cat owners, his spunky sister, and best of all F Murray Abraham as Bud Grossman, the owner of Chicago's Gate of Horn club. Based on the real Albert Grossman who discovered Peter, Paul and Mary, and managed Bob Dylan, Grossman is the lone witness to Llewyn's audition. This may be the most touching musical moment of the movie ("The Death of Queen Jane"), but it's clearly the wrong song for the moment.
Oscar Isaac is exceptional as Llewyn Davis. He captures that crisis of self that's necessary for an artist whose talent and passion is just out of step with societal changes. We feel his pain, but fail to understand the lack of caring he often displays towards others. We get how his need for money overrides his artistic integrity as he participates in the novelty song "Please Mr Kennedy". Why Isaac's performance is not garnering more Oscar chat is beyond my understanding. It's possibly due to the fact that the movie and his character are not readily accessible to the average movie goer. Some thought and consideration is required.
If you are expecting a feel good nostalgic trip down the folk singer era of Greenwich Village, you will be shocked and disappointed. Instead, brace yourself for the trials of a talented musician who believes the music should be enough. Speaking of music, the immensely talented T Bone Burnett is the man behind the music and it's fascinating to note how he allows the songs to guide us through the story and keep us ever hopeful of better days. This is the Coen Brothers at their most refined and expert. www.MovieReviewsFromTheDark.wordpress.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's amazing how dazzled one can be by so very little these days.
There's very little here--a struggling unpleasant man who sings his
heart out about standard "folk" catastrophes but can't take care of
himself as he goes about damaging others, and animals as well. He's
your 50's college roommate who cooks on a hot plate and sings about
historic heroic starvations. The in- and-out mythic references are
unfocused and a game for undergraduates. When the Coens go flat it's
not even E flat. We're forced to watch this guy's face for an hour or
so without a clue to his demons; he's just a jerk, a driven jerk but a
Best part is the recreation of the early 60's in cars, atmospheres, but then John Goodman shows up from "Where art thou?" and spoils the realistic angst. Sorry, but the early folk scene wasn't this creepy and Bob Dylan didn't rescue it from oblivion or creepiness. Without a political or sexual agenda (it got you chicks) it did flounder, but it needed an audience for shifting values and social awareness. One's suffering couldn't just be for one's art, but had to have a social dimension that this guy can't see. A genius before his time? Hardly--a guy who can't take care of himself, or his friends or family or lovers--anything but "folk." The times they were a changin', but this guy's a talented pathetic scrounge and lacks the connections to others and society that might propel him to sing for the changing times.
This might be the ethos of the Coens and their films themselves--within society but not of it. Their characters struggle with their messy quirky lives but we see them as curiosities rather than representatives of anything important. There's a certain clown show aspect to their films, which creates their charm and fun but little else.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As I walked out of the theater where my friend and I had just paid $11
each to see this film, I thought to myself, "Well, maybe next time
they'll actually make a movie." Because I would not really consider
this a movie. It is a half-baked, moody character sketch of an
unbelievable character. As another reviewer pointed out, Llewyn Davis
is quite good looking and capable of performing passionately. To think
that not one of the women in the clubs he plays would offer him a place
to sleep for the night is absurd. That is only one example of how the
film favors contrivance over believability. John Goodman's character is
another big one.
The movie is a pointless waste of time, a dreary faux-odyssey about a character who is such an awful, self-centered person that you could not possibly care what happens to him. But don't worry, because nothing happens to him. The film ends as it begins, with him getting beaten up for being a selfish jerk. As many have pointed out, this movie does not capture the heady, vibrant spirit of the early 60s folk scene in NYC. If you want that, read Bob Dylan's wonderful Chronicles, Vol. I.
I've enjoyed many of the Coen Brothers films, but they just phoned this one in, I guess. Or they've become so enamored with their own Hollywood brilliance that they can't tell good from bad. And Hollywood is so shallow and moronic that I would not be surprised if this gets nominated for "Best Film." Yeah, right.
I enjoy a lot of folk music, from early Dylan to Nick Drake and many others, but the songs in this film were long and boring and unmemorable. Huge amounts of the film are devoted to Llewyn singing ENTIRE SONGS (like five or six minute long songs) that are in no way remarkable. I guess that's the point, since he's supposed to be failure. Instead of devoting film time to character or plot development, to comedy or entertainment, we are supposed to be entranced somehow by the emotion of this fake music. I guess it worked magic on professional film critics. The "Please Mr. Kennedy" novelty song was beyond stupid. And when Davis abandoned the cat in the car with the passed out, possibly even dead, Goodman character, I thought, "Screw this guy! I hate him. I hope he gets beaten up again. I'll beat him up."
As a work of art, which it clearly aspires to be, this movie lacks intricacy, depth, or insight. The Coens already covered this material with Barton Fink, which I've always enjoyed, but BF was a much more satisfying and entertaining film. I'd rather go see a mindless Star Trek movie than something this pretentious and intentionally pointless. I don't want to see it again, not even for a buck at Redbox. This is the worst Coen Bros movie I've seen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I loved Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?, so I had high hopes for this
flick. I came away very disappointed. It is a slice of life, a week in
the life of a struggling folk musician in 1961. My problem is that the
main character is pretty much in the same place at the end as at the
beginning. Here's the thing: A slice of life, go nowhere movie, with no
transformation of the main character, is probably not going to be my
cup of tea in almost any case. That said, I do think it can work when
it is biographic. Because for a realistic, biographic slice of life, we
get to see REAL LIFE, down and dirty, including the reality that
sometimes there is no great triumph, no big personal transformation,
etc. So, if you give me a window into the true life of an individual,
that can be great even without an evolving character, or any triumphant
However, if you give me a phony, contrived fictional piece, and you force me to sit through contrived moments, my "reward" is to get paid off with a clever ending where everything comes together and stuff foreshadowed at the beginning is realized at the end. A fictional story allows the writer to create a slice of life that has a great symmetry and harmonious movement lacking in real life. And it's frankly part of the bargain you make when you start shoving contrivances down the throat of the audience.
So, my problem with this movie is that it simply was not realistic / biographical enough, but instead it was full of contrivances...yet it still went nowhere. Contrivances that serve no purpose to move towards a happy (or tragic) coincidence at the end? Why bother? Take some examples: We see this guy perform, and it's clear he has something special, with his guitar and voice. No way this guy does not have some chicks ready to hook up with him after the way he plays on stage. So why is he begging for a couch to sleep on from near strangers? Given how we see he is fine mooching off people, it is frankly inexplicable that he is not mooching of any of the adoring Greenwich Village groupies he must surely have from his performances. So his desperate near homelessness, despite his great musical skill and having been in the area for some time (i.e., not a newcomer) makes no sense to me.
We also see him visiting his father, and his sister, so apparently his whole family is local to the New York area, which again begs the question how he got to be 30-ish and needing to beg strangers for a couch to sleep on, in his own home town. His sort of living seems more appropriate if (a) he was new to the area, and (b) he was not all that good or polished with his music.
Another contrivance: When he loses the tabby cat, and finds a near identical cat right around the corner. I mean, come on! That color, and size, cat, and quality of grooming, eyes, etc., that's got to be pretty rare for cats wandering the streets of New York, it's definitely not your average alley cat, in coloration or size. So for him to find this identical but wrong cat, so we can have a big confrontational moment, is a blatant contrivance.
It seems like the writers were looking for ways to create contrivances to screw with the main character, to mess up his life intentionally, as if to say, "sucks to be you." Again, what's the point? I mean, if this were truly biographical, it would tell me something about the nature of the universe. But since it is a fiction -- and we know the guy it was loosely based on was nothing like the character in the film except in the most superficial sense -- we are not learning anything except that the writers can think of ways to kick some one when they are down. But I kind of know that already, so I learn nothing of value.
At the end of the movie, we have now seen the main character find out he probably has a two year old son he never saw, but he decided not to go look for him when he passed by that town and had the opportunity. We see he chose to take a flat fee for music, and there is some hint the song will turn out to be a hit and he will later kick himself for not having any royalty rights, but we never see that develop.
I'd also note that to care about the movie, to be moved by it, you have to identify with the main character. But he is just flat out unlikeable. And with the writers throwing contrived tragedies at him, you don't want to link up emotionally with him. So without that, without caring about this jerk who will heckle a poor old woman just because he's having a bad day, how are you supposed to be moved any direction by his failures and lack of success? It just makes no sense, I don't see how audiences get moved by the pap.
On the positive, I think there is some beautiful music, and some beautiful imagery. There is perhaps some poetry to the audio-visual elements, and a nice timing, variation, with some of the dramatic moments, but honestly that's just too little, like a cake that is beautifully decorated with sweet icing but dry and tasteless in the middle.
Well, that's my 2 cents.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read the other reviews here and am at a loss for words. When it ended, my wife turned to me and said it was awful. I told her it was very, very dull. A stranger in front of us also hated the film. There was a blow-up of a review of the movie in the lobby, and about twenty or thirty audience members were clustered in front of it, no doubt trying to reconcile the review with the cinematic lobotomy we had just endured. The only things I liked about the movie were seeing Dad's old 1961 Chrysler Newport on the street, and F. Murray Abraham. I respect all other reviewers' opinions, but this is mine. And yes, I've seen other Coen brothers films and liked them.
Inside Llewyn Davis is an intimate, well-executed, and honest slice of
life. It features a humanistic, heartfelt performance by Oscar Isaac as
the titular folk singer, arresting cinematography, and a sharp,
tight-fisted script by the Coen brothers, who also directed.
It's Greenwich Village in the early sixties, when folk music was either coming into its own or ready to be usurped by a more mainstream genre. Llewyn has no home, drifting from gig to gig and crashing on couch after couch as a matter of design; is vagrancy is his life's plan. Llewyn is at turns a noble soul who exists for the sake of making the music he wants to make and a resentful twerp who mooches off friends just to sustain his unsustainable lifestyle.
The movie is only somewhat linear, with closing scenes mirroring opening scenes, and it is told entirely from Llewyn's point of view. The Coen brothers masterfully show us not only Llewyn's perspective but also an outside perspective; this allows us to feel both empathy and loathing toward him.
Llewyn is nothing if not complex. The movie does a terrific job of avoiding the usual clichés, such as a down-on-his-luck musician catching a lucky break, or a bitter man having a quick change of heart. It's not that Llewyn is constantly sneering at everyone, holding his poverty up as both a shield and a trophy, it's that he is so multilayered that when he does a kind act or offers some praise or thanks, we don't feel that his doing so is in any way out of character. Llewyn is a self-tortured soul, but unlike caricatures of wandering folkies, he is at his center a realist, albeit a prideful one.
During his travels and travails, Llewyn encounters people ranging from the genuine (his singing friends Jim and Jean, played by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) to the absurd (a rotund, blustery John Goodman). Oh, and a cat that travels with Llewyn - at least until he can get him or her back to the owner. The encounters with the genuine folks feel just as normal as if you or I encountered them; those with the more absurd of the lot feel perfectly surreal, and when they do end one almost wonders if we've all imagined the encounters through Llewyn himself.
The music is beautiful and moving. Isaac himself performs Llewyn's songs, with a sweet, vulnerable voice that offers a touch of soul to Llewyn's otherwise-bleak surroundings. When Llewyn is really on, you can feel his pain leap right off the screen into your brain; when he appears to be going through the motions and not singing from his heart, you can feel the lack of depth that his intended audience also feels. Isaac is just flat-out terrific.
Ultimately, it is Isaac and the music that push this film into the territory of great cinema. The story itself is stark, moody, unyielding - just like a New York City winter, really. And the movie, like Llewyn's own life, appears to have no point - except to illustrate just how pointless Llewyn is making his life, through his stubborn marriage to his craft and a desire to stay uprooted
I am completely smitten. I have long admired Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
and what they have offered the realm of cinema. I am in love with
"Fargo" still until this day, and they've provided solid efforts on
nearly every outing since. Their newest endeavor that focuses on the
folk scene in 1961 is an absolute dream. Everything from the impeccable
Oscar Isaac to the music that enriches the deepest trenches of the
soul, "Inside Llewyn Davis" is one of the best pictures of the year,
plain and simple. It's the Coen Brothers finest film since "Fargo."
Our story begins with a folk singer, Llewyn Davis that has continued to pursue a music career in 1961 despite being penniless and lacking any real stability. Migrating from couch to couch, we get a deep look into a character with a dream that just won't die. As he fights for his chance to share his voice with the world, following an unexpected loss of his singing partner, Llewyn is hard to love. He makes poor choices and seems to lack any responsibility in his life. It's a wonderful creation of a character that offers insight into a changing time in our history.
First of all, I can't get the amazing music out of my head. All the songs used are absolutely brilliant. Oscar Isaac's richly matured tone is so soothing and authentic; I'm surprised a music company hasn't nabbed him up to make a record yet. His opening and closing songs are his, as well as the film's, pivotal moments that encapsulate the endearing message and theme. "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" and "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)" are astonishing records that may not just fall into an Oscar race but a Grammy wouldn't shock me in the least. It has the same magical effect as "Searching for Sugar Man," two films that seemed to capture the innocence and culture of a generation that seems lost. In terms of performance, Isaac is incredible. So raw and genuine, it's one of the year's finest performances by any actor. He has made himself one of the most exciting actors to watch in the coming years. This will lead him into more challenging and accessible roles. This guy could become one of our finest actors in just five years' time. This is something that should land him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. It's very much deserved.
In their respective but short screen times, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, and Carey Mulligan are all infectious and notable. Goodman plays a character similar to his "Harling Mays" from Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" and makes the most out of his appearance. Mulligan is volatile and I loved every second of her. She brings lots of dark humor and fire to a role that shows the depth of her abilities as an actress who can perform impeccably in any genre. We even get her singing again which had me melt two years ago during her "New York, New York" in Steve McQueen's "Shame." Hedlund comes and goes but makes his mark as he often does.
Justin Timberlake has made a seamless transition from musician to actor and back to musician. Great in roles like "The Social Network" where his star power doesn't distract from the story at hand, in a Coen Brothers film, where he sings (in a very current pop way), he becomes a bit distracting. I was very aware that Timberlake, probably this generation's Michael Jackson, was sharing the screen. More than likely not his fault, it could be a case of being "too big" for your movie.
One thing that the film has taught me we need to give Adam Driver more movie roles. Timberlake, Isaac, and Driver put their marks on one of the songs "Please Mr. Kennedy," and make it one of the year's most fun and remarkable numbers.
Joel and Ethan Coen continue to show their ranges in directing and writing. Flawlessly executed in character understanding and keeping our story moving. Llewyn Davis is such a complex and interesting man and their screenplay gives Isaac room to breathe and explore the subtle nuances that make his character unique and real. As their alter ego Roderick Jaynes, the film moves like a smooth monorail, hitting all its marks and picking up new and exciting quirks along the way.
An almost silver-green canvas evokes the dark and grey tones of the New York scene in 1961. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel masterfully captures the ticks and beats of Isaac as he sings with heartbreaking emotion and walks through the frigid cold streets. Jess Gonchor's production design places us all in the folk scene, with intimate bar settings, old-time music studios, and even the classic feel of a Greenwich Village apartment building.
CBS Films has a gem on their hands with "Inside Llewyn Davis." A sure- fire Oscar contender in several categories including Best Picture. If there's any justice in the film world, Oscar Isaac would firmly sit near the top of the finest performances of 2013 in Best Actor and nab nearly every award he comes in contact with. "Inside Llewyn Davis" is sensational and an instant classic to be remembered.
Read Oscar Predictions @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
Saw the prescreening at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI with
average expectations, this is my reaction:
This film is an experience, but not for any sort of superficial special effects, action or CGI. It's an experience in which you will feel fear, joy, hate, hope, sorrow and contempt all within an hour and 45 minutes that feels more like 15 minutes. We are sidelined, watching a short snippet of Llewyn's seemingly dismal life, drudge on by, yet we are drawn. We connect with Lleywn's anger and struggles, as if we too are burdened by his failures and challenges. But amongst the bad, there are moments of cheer, and laughter and peace reminding us that good still exists. What dominates is power, balanced by music, money and pride, yet this movie is better served as a reminder that life is an experience, and individualistic. We are reminded that more often than not, things do not fall into place and luck is rarely on our side. But no matter how many times people fail you, one should never fail, before one's self. This movie is an experience, it indirectly breaths life into each of our souls, and should appeal to anyone in touch with the most crucial human emotions: compassion and empathy. Hold on tight, because it is one experience that will remain with you long after the credits are through. Perfectly casted, perfectly scripted, perfectly filmed; perfectly entertaining.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a hard film to quantify. It is very much a Coen
Brothers movie, and it is very much its own thing. I did not know the
history of the story. I did not know the story behind the Gaslight club
in New York nor did I know of the famous figure who started at the bar
back in 1961 when the film takes place. I found out after the film was
over. However, not knowing that, I still thought this was an incredible
There are oddly poetic scenes in the film. There is a scene where the main character Llewyn Davis hits a cat with his car. As he watches the cat limp away into the darkness injured, I felt that it was an interesting image that seemed to mirror Llewyn's life in the film. Although I was aware of the poetic aspect of the film, I did not feel that they were forced moments. In interviews the Coen Brothers always seem to play dumb. In an interview for this film the Coen Brothers talked about the cat in the movie, and how they didn't know what to do with the story, so they threw in a cat. Anybody who has seen a Coen Brothers movie can appreciate that this is far from the truth. Every moment and image seems to be very specifically placed, and that was the case for this movie as well.
You can't judge this movie the same way you would judge every other film this year. It's almost as if the Coen Brothers have their own language that they are speaking, that the audience does not fully understand. We catch some things, and even with those few moments, I was mesmerized. Sometimes I really notice their style like in their film A Serious Man, and I find myself confused and bored, but this film felt very true to me. I sympathized with the main character and his struggles, perhaps because I consider myself a creative person as well, so I know how hard it is. At one point Llewyn says, "I'm just so f-ing tired," this line says a lot more than just I want to sleep. It is something we can all relate to, a feeling of just wanting to give up, and in this way, the story is a universal one, but then again it's the Coen Brothers, so automatically I know some people might not like it, but I loved it.
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