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Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
If The Sun Also Rises were Set in the Sixties...
...Then this would be it. Ernest Hemingway takes his book title from the verse in Ecclesiastes that states "Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; And hastening to its place it rises there again. Blowing toward the south, Then turning toward the north, The wind continues swirling along; And on its circular courses the wind returns." Like The Sun Also Rises, Inside Llewyn Davis doesn't have much of a plot. Its characters, particularly the titular Llewyn, drift from place to place, never really going anywhere. And like Jake Barnes, from the Hemingway novel, Llewyn has a piece of himself missing--his former singing partner, Mike. Llewyn loses himself in this lost part of himself, and thus falls into the wind's swirling, circular course. But his obstinacy and pretension keep Llewyn from escaping, and so, as the movie's beginning and ending scenes suggest, Llewyn is stuck in a rut from which he'll never escape until he can learn to compromise.
And since I've already compared the film to one literary work, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to bring in a few others. Llewyn's cyclical life evokes Sisyphus, although if Albert Camus imagined Sisyphus happy, the Cohen brothers imagined him broken, weary from pushing his meaningless rock day after day.
And then, of course, there was the cat, that elusive creature that kept slipping through Llewyn's fingers, much like his dream of being a renowned musician. I can't help but think of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" here, with the "yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes."
But anyways, I thought the film was excellent. The writing was superb, the direction was great, and Oscar Isaac really shined, even if only as a diamond in the rough. (And mad props to Adam Driver for being one heck of a scene-stealer.)
Love Story (1970)
One of the Few Clichéd Romance Movies that I Can Enjoy
This review is going to be brief, because what can you say about a movie about a girl who died when she was twenty five? Only that it had meticulously-crafted cinematography, witty dialogue, honest performances from O'Neal and McGraw, a perfect score, and a clichéd story line that deserved none of that. But I enjoyed the movie nevertheless, probably because I'm around the same age as Jenny in movie's exposition, and I too enjoy Mozart, Bach...and even the Beatles.
I'll also add (since IMDb asks that I add more lines to this review) that I'm a big fan of Ryan O'Neal's, so pretty much any movie he's in, I'll enjoy. I'll also add (perhaps unnecessarily) that he retweeted me today and it sort of made my life.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
The Fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our Stars, but in this Film Adaptation
I'm not exactly sure how I feel about The Fault in our Stars' film adaptation. On one hand, I thought the casting was perfect (especially Gus and Issac), and I loved that the movie remained completely true to the novel, but on the other hand, the movie didn't really resemble the novel at all. Never would I willingly read a book or watch a movie about a romance between two teenagers with cancer--the whole concept just reeks of cheap sentimentality. But I read TFIOS because I was familiar with John Green's work and I knew that his take on cancer wouldn't be your average, clichéd cancer story--and of course, it wasn't. For all its pretentious, unrealistic dialogue and overcrowded metaphors, the book managed to turn a clichéd concept into a witty, cynical, but ultimately hopeful story that evoked Sisyphus (hence the hamster in An Imperial Affliction being named after the mythological figure): cancer was Hazel and Augustus' rock, but it was their rock, and they made the best of it. The point Green makes in the novel is that Shakespeare's notion that "the fault...is not in the stars, but in ourselves," is pretty much BS. The fault IS in our stars, in a seemingly random, chaotic universe that hands out cancer to undeserving kids.
I didn't get that depth from the movie at all. While I enjoyed watching Hazel fall in love with Gus slowly, the movie went down hill when she fell in love with him "all at once." The film suddenly turned into what Hazel's voice-over kept insisting it wasn't: a gooey, tragic cancer story. The trouble is that I don't know how the script or direction could have been altered to give the movie the book's poignancy. Like I said, it was completely true to the novel. Maybe they could have made Hazel's mom less of a horribly stereotypical mom (she was the worst part of the film, in my opinion). Maybe, just as Hazel can't breathe without her oxygen tank, John Green's story simply can't thrive without his prose.
The Hard Way (1991)
Got out of a Clearance Bin- Pleasantly Surprised!
At my house, our summers have of late tended to turn into extended Michael J Fox marathons; last summer it was Family Ties on Netflix, and this summer is shaping up to be the summer of his obscure comedies. My mom knows we love MJF, so while grocery shopping, she picked up a four-movie DVD she found on a clearance rack, and one of the movies happened to be The Hard Way. I only watched it because my little sister asked me to, and I even brought my phone in the room in case I got bored (because that's what happened when she made me watch Midnight Madness, another little-known Fox film, his first role, actually). However, I never picked up my phone once! The film started out strong, with our first glimpse at the "party crasher," played with manic and slightly terrifying believability by Stephen Lang, and a joke involving Shakespeare plays that immediately got me hooked. Stephen Lang wasn't the only good actor in this movie; surprisingly, the whole thing was earnestly acted and nobody really bordered on cheesy, like they do in most bad comedies from that era. Michael J Fox was endearing- as usual- as the naive movie star shadowing a cop for a role, and even when he had emotionally difficult scenes, he never came off as cheesy (like he occasionally did in Family Ties). And James Woods was especially great as the love-stricken, NYPD cop. I'm usually very picky when it comes to movies- especially comedies- but I enjoyed this. If you're a Fox fan, definitely don't miss it!
Manhattan- As Vapid as its Namesake
Being only the age of Mariel Hemingway's character in the movie, I've only recently discovered Woody Allen, and after watching and obsessing over Midnight in Paris and (especially) Annie Hall, I thought I should check out some of Allen's other films. I wanted to start with Sweet and Lowdown (because that's my favorite Gershwin piece and it sounded kind of awesome), which seems to be one of his lesser-known movies, but it wasn't on instant Netflix so I turned to Manhattan. It's set to a strictly Gershwin soundtrack, it's a post-Technicolor black and white film, and it reunites Woody Allen and Diane Keaton- what more could I ask for? As it turns out, a lot. Watching this film was very much, for me, like visiting New York City for the first time. I had heard about New York from Frank Sinatra, seen it in Breakfast at Tiffany's, walked its streets with Holden Caulfield, but when I stepped foot in Manhattan for the first time, I wasn't in Manhattan at all. I was in a dingy city lit up by too many wasted watts of electricity, a city with too many McDonalds and not enough trees. A woman actually blew cigarette smoke in my face and everything! I wasn't in New York City at all, because New York City doesn't really exist, except for in Woody Allen movies and those sorts of things. And so it goes with Manhattan. Here it was, inarguably Allen's magnum opus, his love letter to dear New York City, a guest at the Oscars- but it wasn't. I was hoping for the witty writing, the stand-up comedian sort of humor I had come to expect after watching Annie Hall, but it all seemed very old hat to me, like a watered-down version of Woody Allen movie. I don't mean to sound awful, but I can't help but wonder if he wrote the script just so he could film romantic scenes with someone twenty years younger than himself. And God was it pretentious. It was so pretentious. I'm all for allusions to art or literature or what have you ("your self-confidence is a notch below Kafka's"- that line- sorry if it isn't verbatim- did make me laugh), but nobody in real life goes on about van Gogh (gah?) and all the way Keaton's character did. Well, maybe people in New York City do.
Les Misérables (2012)
I Dreamed a Nightmare...
I feel a pressing need to rant about Les Miserables because OH MY GOD IT Stunk. No, seriously. It stunk. It stunked bad. Or, as they might say in the movie, iiiiiit waaaaaaas baaaaad.
First, let me say that I am a theater geek. I've seen Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, I once snuck into Avenue Q, and a good chunk of my iPod is composed of songs from musicals. I had never seen Les Mis, never read the original Hugo novel, didn't know anything about it except that it is set during once of the most interesting periods of history- at least in my opinion- the French Revolution. I went into the theater with an open mind and expected to come out with a new crop of songs to sing in the shower.
I guess I'll have to stick to my old tunes.
I think the movie is bad because the source material wasn't that great to begin with. A policeman, Javert, chases after Jean Valjean, a thief-turned-hero (He stole a loaf of bread! Oh, the horror!) for, what, 19 years? And all because the guy broke his parole. And when Javert realizes he will never catch Jean, who, for whatever reason- I guess because he's nice and believes in hope and love and rainbows- spared his life, Javert kills himself. And thank God for that, because Russell Crowe cannot sing.
And that's what really gets me about this movie. They could have AT LEAST CAST SOMEONE WHO COULD SING INSTEAD OF CASTING SOMEONE JUST BECAUSE HE'S FAMOUS. I mean, really. I'm no brilliant actress myself, but I can't imagine it requires any Brando-esque acting chops to pull off Javert, you know? There are probably a million starving actors out there who could have pulled off the part and perhaps earned an Oscar nod.
And speaking of Oscar nods, I read an article in Entertainment Weekly about Anne Hathaway and it made me very sad. I'll tell you why: She literally had to starve herself for the role of Fantine, and she said she couldn't sleep at night because she was so hungry. Even worse, she said filming wasn't a fun experience at all. It took 9 hours to film "I Dreamed a Dream," and when she got home she "crawled into her husband's arms" because she was so emotionally-drained. And all for a 20 minute role in absolutely awful script. I hate thinking about how much emotion she put into a script that has no inherent emotion itself. I really didn't feel too bad when Fantine died because I hardly had time to get to know her. I was only sorry that Anne didn't have any more screen time. Or a better script.
In a nutshell, the whole police chasing a criminal who redeemed himself by helping out a prostitute plot seemed to me like a watered-down, French adaptation of Crime and Punishment. And even though I hated that book, I can at least appreciate it for its depth and (dull) brilliance.
As for Les Mis, I can't believe I wasted ten dollars on that movie when a certain Daniel Day-Lewis(!!!) was being all cute and super Method-y right in the next theater.