Cinema or Cine-meh?

Sorting out the cine-junk so you don't have to!

‘Transcendence’: Just the same old warning about big technology

transcendence-movie-poster

Transcendence (2014)

Directed by Wally Pfister

6/10  PG-13

By using the same fear tactics to scare us away from a tech-heavy future, “Transcendence” does what “Disconnect” and “Her” did months ago. It’s the directing debut of Wally Pfister, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of seven Christopher Nolan movies…but it was shot by Jess Hall, the cinematographer of “30 Minutes or Less.” And that’s not the only way “Transcendence” gives off mixed signals. Is it a message picture about the ills of technology? Is it just a big-budget action movie? Does it even matter? It didn’t have a very Good Friday, making just over $4 million (including my $5)…hr_Transcendence_17that was only half as much as the “Captain America” sequel, which made almost $10 million on its third Friday in theaters. Ouch.

Johnny Depp is perfectly cast in the role of Will Caster, a mad scientist type who wants to explore the unlimited benefits of artificial intelligence. His wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), is also his lab partner in this journey of discovery. But a group of social activists known as RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) want to keep alive the sacred interactions of free-thinking human beings. They want to stop the spread of intelligent computers. So they kill computer researchers around the country, and attempt to take the life of Will Caster. But with technology, nobody can kill the man behind the most revolutionary science ever created.

johnny-depp-transcendence-photo-movie-stillLike he has in so many movies, starting with his role as God in “Bruce Almighty” but continuing through the Dark Knight trilogy and movies like “Now You See Me,” Morgan Freeman plays what could simply be called “Reasonable Old Black Man.” In “Transcendence,” he plays Joseph, who has always seen the destructive effects that “big technology” could have on humanity and now tries his best to stop it. At this point, long past movies like “Driving Miss Daisy” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” Morgan Freeman has lost his luster. Maybe soon he’ll stop being in movies like “Dolphin Tale” and “Olympus Has Fallen” (both with much-unanticipated sequels coming soon) and take on another good role. Thankfully, we don’t have to see this fall from grace for very long – Freeman’s screen time is relatively short. Unfortunately, the real star of “Transcendence,” Rebecca Hall, has a lot of screen time. Far more than any other actor. But her performance just screams “Mehh.” Maybe she isn’t fit for the lead. And while Depp looks the lunatic scientist part, he underacts as much as he always does.

So back to the big question – what is “Transcendence” trying to tell me? A complicated message makes the case that technology canmorgan-freeman-transcendence be destructive, but then it goes back on its message to tell us that it can also have extreme benefits in the fields of healthcare and criminal investigation. So which is it? Unfortunately, a love story that has no time to develop (unlike “Her,” which gave its central virtual relationship way too much time to develop), weakens any real effect the movie might have on viewers looking for a takeaway. It’s not vague because it’s good, like other Nolan-related movies (“Memento,” “Inception”), but because it’s not good. In the end, we don’t really care enough to decide for ourselves what it was trying to say. It wasn’t even able to transcend my boredom. Maybe next time, Wally.

“Transcendence” is now in theaters.

‘Fruitvale Station’: The whole truth, so help it God?

o-FRUITVALE-STATION-POSTER-570

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Directed by Ryan Coogler

7/10  R

Does it swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help it God? Not quite, according to this Forbes fact-checker’s investigation. But regardless, “Fruitvale Station,” Ryan Coogler’s powerhouse directing debut, uses a refreshing lens of (what seems like) realism to recount the tragic final hours leading up to the New Year’s Day 2009 death of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), a young black father in Oakland.

Critics bash Coogler for twisting the facts to allow audiences to more easily sympathize with the young man, who had recently gotten out of jail, cheated on his girlfriend, and lost his job. All of these flaws are covered, but in ways that nevertheless try to paint a positive fruitvale2picture of Grant. Still, relative newcomer Michael B. Jordan (“Chronicle”) steals the spotlight in a role that garnered its share of positive feedback. What it didn’t get, unfortunately, was any serious critical acclaim. In his breakout role, Jordan is the portrait of a complicated character, one that divides audiences and makes the case that nobody, regardless of their criminal history or morality, deserves to die. The rest of the cast, including Melanie Diaz and Octavia Spencer (playing Grant’s girlfriend and mom, respectively) also sell audiences on the realism of the story.

Though it only covers the course of a day, “Fruitvale Station” is surprisingly well-paced. Even if you know how it ends, you stay engaged – it’s not about being surprised, it’s about being moved. Even if Coogler skimps on the negatives, well-informed audiences can make their own judgments. “Fruitvale Station” does a remarkable job of telling a story that keeps audiences captivated and leaves them speechless…or talking back, which is even more impressive.

“Fruitvale Station” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

Reviews of two 2013 Oscar winners!

Life-of-Pi-poster

Life of Pi (2012)

Directed by Ang Lee

7.5/10  PG

I hate myself for waiting so long to see director Ang Lee’s visual marvel “Life of Pi.” I convinced myself that the Yann Martel novel was not a story to adapt into film – it’s just about a boy stuck on a boat with a tiger, after all…right? I was completely wrong. It’s about so much more.

Irrfan Khan plays Pi, a middle-aged Indian man living in Canada with a wife, two kids, and an incredible story. When a writer (Rafe Spall) hears about Pi’s story, he comes to his door to hear it for himself with the hopes of turning it into a book. What follows is a dramatic retelling of, you guessed it, the life of Pi, starting from his childhood but focusing mainly on a terrible accident at sea life-of-pi-film (2)which leaves him (for most of the movie, played by Suraj Sharma) alone on a life boat with an angry, hungry Bengal tiger.

“Life of Pi” is about as visually striking as any movie I have ever seen (“Gravity” might have it, though). Animals (including the tiger) crafted entirely with CGI ushered in a new era of visual effects. It makes me believe in an entirely new form of storytelling. If a movie ever fills you with so much wonder, I’d be surprised. It’s magical. But more than the visual effects, “Life of Pi” has an incredible story (with its Oscar-nominated screenplay) and an ending that hits you like a ton of bricks.

The tiger (crafted from CGI over 80% of the time, according to the film’s visual effects supervisor) strikes terror in your hearts, even when you know he isn’t real. And actor Suraj Sharma, even when he’s screaming and cowering at nothing at all, sells us on the tiger’s concreteness. For a character with very little dialogue (monologue at the digital tiger and narration from older Pi make up most of the words you hear), Sharma is incredible. He deserved far more credit for making “Life of Pi” work than he did.

By looking simply at the trailer, it’s easy to underestimate how awesome and unforgettable “Life of Pi” actually is. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

“Life of Pi” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

___________________________________________________

anna-karenina-movie-2012-poster

Anna Karenina (2012)

Directed by Joe Wright

7/10  R

In 2013, it shared Oscar nominations with “Life of Pi” for Best Cinematography, Production Design, and Original Score, but “Anna Karenina” only walked away with Best Costume Design. Still, this romance epic based on the Leo Tolstoy novel went largely unappreciated amongst moviegoers. It’s a niche art film, using the set design of a theater production while blending in beautiful, aesthetic cinematic elements to make a historical drama unlike any you’ve ever seen before.

When Anna Karenina (Kiera Knightley) travels to visit her sister, she meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and the two immediately have a connection. But her big-shot husband, Karenin (Jude Law), would face crucifying embarrassment if people 15found out. And Anna would lose the rights to see her son if she left Karenin. Stuck between loving the man she loves and staying in a relationship she may need but doesn’t want, Anna is left without hope.

Period romances can be so stale, don’t you think? Not this time. This sultry, passionate love story is enough to steam up the windows. This isn’t your mother’s romantic literary adaptation. From the very beginning, Knightley and Taylor-Johnson spread the sexual tension thick, so it takes a long while to soak all the way in. They have you so convinced, you’ll find yourself rooting for the adultery. It’s a well-adapted screenplay, brimming with intense drama so emotionally charged it’s hard to stop watching. I’ll admit, it does drag on for 15 or 20 minutes too long, but it’s a historical drama that doesn’t. In its grand set design, I found the theatrical acting and dolled-up characters nearly comical. But by using music and dance to elegantly express the built-up sexual tension, it crisply conveys all that it needs to without using throwaway dialogue.

“Anna Karenina” isn’t your average period romance. It takes a classic love story and turns it into a sensual dance of mystery and excitement.

“Anna Karenina” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘Paradise’: Liberal, just not on the laughs

11172790_ori

Paradise (2013)

Directed by Diablo Cody

5/10  PG-13

All of the movies written by Diablo Cody were in a competition to see which one can make you laugh the most — “Paradise” lost. Okay, so that was a lame excuse to make a stale literary reference, but the sentiment is true. “Jennifer’s Body” had hilarious and relevant cultural references coming out the ying-yang. “Young Adult” had Charlize Theron as the perfect trumpet for Cody’s sarcastic brand of humor. “Juno” was a pure masterpiece in quirky and comedic writing. But “Paradise,” unfortunately, is just a composite of all of the overzealous religious beliefs ever mocked on-screen by liberal filmmakers. Cody is so liberal, she recycles diablo-cody-paradise_03old jokes. But it’s not eco-friendly…I’d call it echo-friendly, because everything has been said before.

Julianne Hough basically reprises her role in 2011’s “Footloose” — the uber-conservative, innocent, Christian girl who decides to be a little rebellious after some event changes life as she knows it (in that case, the new boy coming to town; in this case, a plane crash that leaves her with full-body burn scars). She doesn’t think God exists anymore, so she goes to Vegas to do a little sinnin’ with the new friends she meets there — William (Russell Brand) and Loray (Octavia Spencer). But she finds her own form of faith along the way. How original, Miss Cody.

Part of me is glad “Paradise” was made. Hopefully the 4.8/10 IMDb rating is proof enough that Cody should stick to writing and not try directing anymore. “Paradise” shows how disastrous the outcome can be if you give Cody complete freedom. The whole “How could a God allow a Christian person to be hurt like that?” argument has been made countless times. It’s made on almost diablo-cody-paradise_06every episode of “Family Guy.” But Cody tries again, and doesn’t add anything new to the argument. It’s just the same ol’ schlock. And, I’ll add, “Paradise” is one of the most unintentionally ironic movie titles ever.

But sometimes, a movie with lousy dialogue can be saved by good characters…too bad “Paradise” only gives us caricatures. No one to connect with, no one to bother caring about, and at only 83 minutes long, it hardly gives you enough time to even remember their names.

While Cody’s directorial debut comes with a few laugh-worthy lines, the rest of the script is disappointing at best. I wish I hadn’t seen it and forever spoiled my perception of a great screenwriter. Sincerely, your used-to-be biggest fan.

“Paradise” is streaming on Netflix.

‘Juno’ is a rare comedic treat

Juno_Movie_Poster_2_by_2bm

Juno (2007)

Directed by Jason Reitman

9/10  PG-13

99 times out of 100, quirky gimmicks and off-the-wall humor falls flat on its face, leaving filmmakers wondering whether they should’ve just stuck to the traditional Hollywood form. 1 time out of 100, you get “Juno.”

Ellen Page hits her career high early playing Juno MacGuff, a totally rad high school junior who unsuspectingly gets pregnant after F5967-14hooking up with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Her parents (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) are obviously concerned, and her best friend (Olivia Thirlby) is her only real ally in the kamikaze attack on Juno’s social life that follows. When she finds what seems like a loving couple, Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), hoping to adopt, Juno thinks her pregnancy plan is finally set. But soon she begins to question what she once thought about love.

An Oscar-nominated, masterpiece first script from Diablo Cody defined a generation of hipsters wishing that they could be half as cool as Juno. It deserves a top-tier spot in the comedy canon. I’ve expressed my love of Cody’s writing before (from “Jennifer’s Body” to “Young Adult” to her memoir, “Candy Girl”), but 01this is where it all started. She gives us enough quotable lines in “Juno” to last us a decade, and a slew of unique, lovable, and truly unforgettable characters. Her obscure cultural references (to old bands, new movies, and a bunch of other iconography) feed right into my sense of humor, but quotable lines don’t just say themselves.

To me and so many others, Ellen Page will forever be Juno. She’s a kook; it’s as if the role was written for her, she’s that perfect. Well, the Academy loved her enough to give her an Oscar nomination (besides hers and Cody’s, “Juno” got two more Oscar noms – for director Jason Reitman and for Best Picture).  I often get annoyed by teen actors in movies, but Juno is mature beyond her years – and, though Page was 19 when “Juno” was filming, she makes me not hate teen actors so much. She’s as honest and real as Juno as any teen actor I’ve seen. Bateman and Garner portray the morally complicated marital F5967-19relationship that sets this film apart from so many others. Cody plays with stereotypes, but then she flips them on their backs and shows the world how real characters are made.

A Grammy-nominated soundtrack puts “Juno” in a class of its own when it comes to quirks. Talk about hipster. But these catchy tunes only serve to leave an even more indelible mark on you. You won’t forget it because you can’t.

Normalcy really isn’t its style. That’s what makes “Juno” one of my favorite movies of all time (In the 2 spot, but who’s counting?). It’s not just another teen movie. Far, far from it.

“Juno” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘Sabotage’ proves that for Arnold, the third time is not a charm

Sabotage-Movie-Poster-622x958

Sabotage (2014)

Directed by David Ayer

4/10

For Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Sabotage” is just another flop in the bucket. His third straight action blunder (after “The Last Stand” and “Escape Plan”) gives audiences no takeaway. None at all. The appeal of nearly every action movie is its action, right? We can forgive lousy scripts and subpar acting if we get guns and bombs and fists and car chases. “Sabotage” fails to provide even the most basic of action movie thrills. sabotage-movie-photo-3-600x450

Members of an elite DEA special ops team (Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Mirielle Enos and others) led by a big-shot officer nicknamed Breacher (Schwarzenegger) are tired of Uncle Sam getting all the money from their huge drug busts. So they skim the top off of a huge pile of cash they find in the basement of a drug cartel leader. Problem is, when they go back for their cut it’s gone. $10 million, gone. Who took it? Well, only a few people knew its location. When members of the team are killed, suspicion only heightens that someone within the tight-knit group is playing dirty.

Sounds like something you could get emotionally invested in, but “Sabotage” builds more apathy then empathy. This is the type of movie you walk out of. I just had no interest in seeing how it ended, even though the huge finale is supposed to be a shocking climax. They went for shock and awe, but got mock and yawn. It’s snore-worthy, mundane, blah. I have never, and will never, judge the quality of a movie by something as shallow as the attractiveness of its women. But when it comes to action 03movies, guy flicks with nudity and cursing, you’ve come to expect it. “Sabotage” is so bad, it doesn’t even deliver that. Personally, I don’t care. But did they even have their audience in mind? It’s just a failure on every level.

Old man Ahnold is awful. His attempts at wit have always irritated me, but this time he hits new lows. Is his accent getting thicker with age? Anyway, his one-liners are at their absolute worst. It boggles me to think this was co-written (and directed) by David Ayer, who wrote the fantastic action drama “Training Day.” That said, the team’s chemistry is actually somewhat buyable…but only for the few scenes in which they all appear together.

I never expected that “Sabotage” would be great. But it was even worse than I expected it to be. That’s saying a lot. Ouch.

“Sabotage” is in theaters now.

Ranking the feature films of Darren Aronofsky

In a world where sometimes we all need a little cynicism, writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s doomed main characters are a refreshing way of reminding us that the world isn’t always what Hollywood rom-coms want us to believe. Aronofsky never lets us leave the theater without thinking and thinking and thinking about what in the world we just saw. And that is, in part, why he has so quickly become my favorite director. He has only directed six feature films and written one additional, so it’s no difficult feat to watch them all (if you can find 2002′s “Below” on eBay like I did). Now that I have, I feel like a list is in order.

7. “The Fountain” (2006)

Aronofsky’s mind-f*ckiest film is also his lousiest. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz star in this dramatic love story than spans a 1db23d8thefountaicouple thousand years. It’s beautiful, but super confusing. It’s like “The Tree of Life” and “Cloud Atlas.” Yeah, messed up. And not in the good way. You know behind the weird CGI is a social message about interconnectedness and the environment and all that. But it doesn’t make you believe much of anything besides “Why did I just watch that?”

6. “Noah” (2014)

I really do wish I could put this anywhere else. Despite Russell Crowe’s fantastic effort, a dramatic script that draws on the Bible and Aronofsky’s imagination, and a great bunch of special effects, “Noah” managed to be both too weird and too boring for most of its two hours. Not a bad movie, but disappointing for an Aronofsky offering.

5. “Below” (2002)

Aronofsky co-wrote this feature about a haunted submarine and the creepy, claustrophobic happenings that go on 30,000 leagues under the sea, but he left the directing duties to David Twohy (the “Riddick” movies). The suspense that’s built is hard to compete with, and the horror is real. Think “The Descent,” but with even less room to run away. I get shivers just thinking about it.

4. “Requiem for a Dream” (2000)

The movie that put Aronofsky on the map, and his highest-rated on IMDb (it’s the 76th best movie of all time, according to users), requiem-for-a-dream-poster“Requiem” introduced Aronofsky’s now-classic artistic style of mixing the grotesque with the artistic. Creepy is art. Oscar-winner Jared Leto is superb as a drug-addicted Coney Islander, son of a pill-addicted mother (Ellen Burstyn, even better) with lofty aspirations to be on TV. His friends (Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayons) are in the drug business, too. How else are they supposed to make money? In one of the greatest endings of any movie I’ve ever seen, the stories of these four characters reach their unfortunate rock-bottoms.

3. “The Wrestler” (2008)

As former professional boxing great Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Mickey Rourke gives a career-best performance. “The Ram” is old. He’s washed-up. He’s out of shape. And to top it off, his only consistent company is that of strippers (like Marisa Tomei). Plus, his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) doesn’t want to hear a word from him anymore. His life is in the crapper, and the only thing that makes it bearable is wrestling. But the doc said his ticker isn’t in good enough shape to do that anymore. So does he keep living his current life, working at a supermarket and having few human relationships, or does he risk injury and stage the pro wrestling comeback he’s been dreaming of? You guess.

2. “Pi” (1998)

Aronofsky’s first feature film is a screechy, dark, twisted story about a man on the brink of finding the true meaning of the number pi. He’s facing pressure from mathematicians and others with more immoral motives. Everyone wants the number, but only his compulsive, paranoid mind can figure it out – if the pressure doesn’t get to him first. It’s shot in black & white, but the morals are all shades of grey. “Pi” is the preeminent paranoid psychological thriller. It’s enough to give you a headache, but it sure doesn’t let you forget about it.


1. “Black Swan” (2010)

Natalie Portman gives an Oscar-nominated performance as Nina, a ballerina who wants to be the lead in Swan Lake. She’ll Black Swan 1do anything for the role. But when she gets it, she has to do some major training to really get into the role of Black Swan. “Requiem” and “Pi” were the first Aronofsky films I had seen, but “Black Swan” made me look up his name and search out the rest of his features. Everything, from the performances of Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassell, to the nearly perfect Clint Mansell score, to the script, all the way up to the punch-in-the-gut ending that made me rethink what I had thought about movies…everything made me proud to be a film buff. And those are the types of movies you love to love.

‘Noah’ sometimes hits choppy waters

noah_movie_poster

Noah (2014)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

7/10  PG-13

I was flooded with excitement over two years ago when I first heard the news that my favorite director, Darren Aronofsky, would be taking on the Biblical epic of Noah’s Ark. I remember when Russell Crowe was announced as Noah, when the first poster came out, when the trailer released. Now, finally, I got to see what I’ve been so highly anticipating this whole time. However, I’m sad to announce, “Noah” drowned in the hype I had spent so much time creating for it.

You know the story. World is intolerably wicked, so God takes Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family (Jennifer Connelly, Logan 347363,xcitefun-noah-2014-movie-wallpaper-4Lerman, Douglas Booth, Leo McHugh Carroll, and Emma Watson) and two of every animal to fill an ark while he floods the world, creating a totally new (and probably super muddy) planet for the survivors to re-inhabit. But what takes four Bible chapters takes a little over two hours in cinematic time. So Aronofsky gets creative. Rock giants (no, not like Mick Jagger) inhabit the planet to protect what little good is left. Aronofsky’s Noah doesn’t just take lions and tigers and bears on the ark. What creatures we do see are mostly unknown to us, because thousands of years (if we’re going by the Bible timeline) would cause a few evolutionary changes. The biggest difference, though, is the heated conflict caused when the descendants of Cain (led by Ray Winstone) attempt to take the ark and kill Noah, the last descendent of Seth (lesser-known brother of Cain and Abel).

Under the direction of auteur Aronofsky (“Black Swan,” “Pi”), the Noah story strayed from the Bible. But if it wasn’t for Aronofsky’s long-time cinematographer Matthew Libatique, it wouldn’t have looked half as stunning. “Noah” needs to be seen on the big screen. 347365,xcitefun-noah-2014-movie-wallpaper-2Aronofsky and Libatique’s artistic vision is incomparable. The world, even in its desolation, looks beautiful. Noah’s creation story, told to his children, is a marvelous interpretation of the first days of existence. At times, it looks like the Discovery Channel’s
“Planet Earth.” According to Aronofsky, Noah is the world’s first environmentalist. He values the lives of God’s creations – and after seeing the world in “Noah,” so do we.

In the Bible, Noah doesn’t speak a word of dialogue. Obviously that needed to be altered. A script by Aronofsky and collaborator Ari Handel (“The Fountain”) isn’t perfect. “Noah” emphasizes the natural drama of the Biblical story. Dramatic lines are repeated for emphasis (“The end of everything,” Watson muses. “The beginning,” Crowe corrects. “The beginning of everything”). Is it at times annoying? Maybe. But Russell Crowe has the gravitas to pull it off. You know when a dramatic line is coming. But somehow, you still want to cheer after Crowe lets a real killer of a line rip with soap opera timing. But Crowe’s actions speak even louder than his words. This isn’t the Noah you read about in Sunday school. The Old Testament was a dark and twisted place ruled by a jealous God. As Aronofsky noted in an interview, the world before the flood was a world before 1388682350000-Noah-movie1rainbows. Noah was ready to do whatever it took to save his family, save the animals, and repopulate the Earth. Apparently, badass Noah was even ready to kill.

“Noah” is a little more artsy than I thought. And, though I came in expected something that strays from the original story, Aronofsky gives us something a little too close to “The Lord of the Rings.” But it’s dramatic. Clint Mansell’s booming score sets the mood. And it’s breathtakingly gorgeous to look at, especially on the big screen. If you go into it with the mind of a Bible purist, you’ll have no fun. And I guess I can’t blame you. But if you go for the epic excitement of a mythical take on one of the world’s most exciting stories, you should have a blast.

“Noah” is in theaters now.

‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ stays folk, avoids commercialization

inside-llewyn-davis-poster03

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

8/10  R

I’ve never been a fan of the Coen Brothers, but something about “Inside Llewyn Davis” (the directing duo’s first since “True Grit” in 2010) impressed me. More than anything I’ve seen from them before, “Inside Llewyn Davis” uses the brothers’ cold, dry humor entirely to its advantage, without relying on it.

inside-llewyn-davis-1Even more impressively, it starts off with virtuosic star Oscar Isaac singing – yes, actually singing – a haunting and entrancing folk song in its entirety. “Inside Llewyn Davis” doesn’t commercialize for the mass audience that wants to hear the highlights – you’re going to hear the whole song, and you’re going to watch Oscar Isaac (or whoever is singing at the time) perform it…you don’t get the pleasure of watching some montage with music in the background. For “Inside Llewyn Davis,” music is never the background. And that’s why it’s so spectacular.

It looks like another bleak winter for starving artist and folk musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) in Greenwich Village. Crashing from couch to couch after each successive unsuccessful gig, Llewyn struggles to make it by as a solo artist after his group career sort of fell apart. As we follow him along his week, we see his struggles first-hand – in fact, he appears in every scene. He’ll bump into old friends Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan), an aged jazz musician (John Goodman) who picks him up as he hitchhikes, and others. But that’s all it’s about…the ups and downs of a Greenwich Village folk singer. It’s so humdrum it’s refreshing.inside-llewyn-davis-movie-poster-13

One can’t review this film without mentioning the array of incredible folk music. It even turned my mom, who groaned when I told her what the movie was about, into a sort of folk fan. While purists may object that it’s not “folksy” enough, it serves as a remarkable re-entry of folk music into pop culture in a way that makes me interested in something I was never quite interested in before.

Isaac brings his deadpan arrogance to a role that wouldn’t exist without it. Isaac makes Llewyn hard to love sometimes, but that’s what makes him such a notable protagonist. Llewyn’s imperfections are exactly what make him the perfect character. And Isaac is as phenomenal at putting a face to a ton of Llewyn’s emotions as he is at singing and playing guitar. He deserves immense praise. In their smaller roles (because a drifter like Llewyn doesn’t see too many people for very long), Timberlake, Mulligan, Goodman, and the others don’t disappoint.

Inside-Llewyn-Davis-oscar-snubsPerhaps the most distinctive part of the film is its ambiguity. The Coen script doesn’t wrap up all its loose-ends…I mean, we leave Goodman passed out in a car on the side of the road and never see him again…but Llewyn’s life is the same way. We don’t have the benefit of knowing what happens because Llewyn doesn’t. In that way, the film stays honest and consistent. It’s not going to pander to please you – you’re going to have to deal with not knowing some things. It sure makes you sympathize with Llewyn.

I have mad respect for a movie that doesn’t give in to commercial temptations, one that stays committed to the task at hand. For “Inside Llewyn Davis,” that task is showcasing great folk music and following one starving artist through a week in his bleak New York City life. And that’s just what it does. You can try to watch it actively, but it’s better if you just let it sweep over you. Try it.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘The World’s End’ is a riotous adventure

the-worlds-end_810

The World’s End (2013)

Directed by Edgar Wright

7.5/10  R

“The World’s End,” the newest witty blast of British fun from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the tenacious duo that brought us “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”), was one of 2013’s funniest offerings. I mean it. Pegg is an absolute riot, and though his character’s relationship with Frost’s is a bit sketchy to start, they end up with that old “them against the world” mentality that they always The-Worlds-End-2have…but this time, it takes on a more literal meaning.

Nearly 25 years ago, five best friends attempted a difficult pub crawl in their small, rural England town…but they didn’t make it all the way. For Gary King (Pegg), nothing since that night has lived up to his expectations. He’s still stuck in the 90s, driving his same old car and trying to relive the glory days…in doing so, he turned into an alcoholic. Now, “King Gary” is ready to do it again…and make it all the way through this time. So he tries to gather his friends (played by Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan) from their jobs around the country to return to their hometown and conquer The Golden Mile and reach the crawl’s final destination, The World’s End. But they’re all grown men with jobs and families, so they’re reluctant…until they get back to their hometown and see that nothing has changed. Except the people they thought they knew.

the-worlds-endTo watch these escapades unfold is to enjoy them. “The World’s End” is a grand ol’ time, and it’s all thanks to its riotously entertaining cast. Like I said before, Pegg looks like he’s having a blast. You can’t help but smile when you watch him in his element. As good as any comedic performance I’ve seen in a while, Pegg’s jokes fly at just the right points. His timing is impeccable. Freeman is a hoot. Fight scenes between the men and the zombie-like hoards of robots (or “blanks” or “blue bloods”) that have invaded their small town are humorously choreographed for the desired effect – serving as both fast-paced action sequences and slapstick comedy. It’s certainly an adventure. And the laughs stick…not like some of 2013′s unfunny duds (I’m talking ’bout you, “This Is The End” – 2013′s other, much lousier attempt at apocalyptic comedy). Whatever the reason, “The World’s End” is a ton of fun to watch. I couldn’t stop smiling.

“The World’s End” is on Blu-ray and DVD.