Much like the somber melodies that float throughout its 105-minute runtime, Inside Llewyn Davis will remain lodged in your head weeks after you and the film first meet. With Oscar Isaac's "Fare thee we-e-ell..." ringing daintily in your ears, you'll shuffle out from the grasp of the Coen Brothers' wonderland of gray, but you won't soon be able to relieve yourself of what is arguable the pair's best film yet. Llewyn's is a story so outstandingly simple — he's a man who's s**t out of luck, and not especially deserving of any. He wakes up, loses his friend's cat, plays some music, and wishes things were better. And yet his is the Coens' most invigorating and deftly human tale yet.
Llewyn Davis makes the bold, but practical, choice of never insisting that we love its hero. He's effectively a jackass, justifying all the waste he has incurred with the rudeness he showers on the majority of those in his acquaintance. But Llewyn Davis isn't the villain here, either. The villain is the industry, and all the uphill battles inherent to its machinations. The villain isn't Llewyn's substantially more successful contacts — an old pal Jim (Justin Timberlake) and new fellow couch-surfer Troy (Stark Sands), but the listening public that prefers their saccharine pop to his dreary drips of misery. The villain isn't Llewyn's resentful old flame Jean (Carey Mulligan), no matter how many volatile admonitions she might shoot his way, but the act of God surrounding their unwitting adherence to one another. And it's not even the cantankerous and foul Roland Turner (a delightfully hammy John Goodman), but the endless, frigid open road of which each man is a prisoner (if the film has one flaw, it's that this segment carries on just a bit too long, but that might very well be the point). The villain is the cold.
Call it all a raw deal. But the real dynamism isn't in the challenges that happen outside Llewyn Davis, but in the determined toxicity brewing inside as he meets each and every one.
But this isn't the Coen Brothers' Murphy's Law comedy A Serious Man — we don't watch a chaotic pileup of every imaginable trick that the devil can manage to pull. Llewyn is steady throughout, not burying Llewyn deeper but keeping him on the ground, with the fruit-bearing branches forever out of his reach. In its narrative, Llewyn Davis is as close to natural life as any of the filmmakers' works to date. Perfectly exhibited in a late scene involving a trip to Akron, Llewyn isn't a cinematic construct, but the sort of person we know, so painfully, that we are very likely to be... on our bad days.
Still, working in such a terrific harmony with the grounded feel of Llewyn himself, we have that Coen whimsy in their delivery of 1960s New York City — rather, a magic kingdom painted in the stellar form of a 1960s New York City. And not the New York City we're given by the likes of Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Closer, maybe, to Spike Lee or Sydney Lumet, but still a terrain unique to moviegoers. A New York that's always recovering from a hostile rain, and always promising another 'round the bend. One that flickers like a dying bulb, with its million odd beleaguered moths buzzing around it against the pull of logic. There is something so incredibly alive about the Coens' crying city; this hazy dream world's partnership with half-dead, anchored-to-earth portrait like Llewyn is the product of such sophisticated imagination at play.
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And to cap this review of one of the best features 2013 has given us, it's only appropriate to return to the element in which its identity is really cemented: the music. Without the tunes bobbing through the story, we'd still likely find something terrific in Llewyn Davis. But the music, as beautiful as it is, is the reason for the story. As we watch Isaac's hopeless sad sack drag himself through Manhattan's winter, past the helping hands of friends and into the grimaces of strangers, as we struggle with our own handfuls of nihilistic skepticism that any of this yarn is worth the agony (or that our attention to its meandering nature is worth the price of a ticket), we are given the rare treat of an answer. Of course it's all for something. Of course it's all about something. It's about that beautiful, beautiful music.
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It looks like Daddy Warbucks has found his Annie in Beasts Of The Southern Wild star Quvenzhané Wallis. The girl with enough poodle purposes to stitch together a life-sized Sandy of her very own, the Oscar-nominated Wallis has been confirmed to Hollywood.com as the new leading lady to tackle the little orphan in Will Smith's remake of the classic. Previously, Smith's daughter Willow was set to take on the golden-hearted inhabitant of Miss Hannigan's home for girls, but departed from the project earlier this year (presumably to whip her hair back and forth a bit longer).
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But it wouldn't be a big-time remake without some other major names attached. Jada Pinkett-Smith is also on-hand to produce, alongside Sean (better known as Jay-Z) Carter. It seems only fitting Jay-Z would hop on board — given his own hard knock life and previously-confirmed affinity for the song with the same name.
The film's director Will Gluck (Easy A) has taken another stab at screenplay re-writes after Emma Thompson and The Devil Wears Prada screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna took a first and second stab at it, respectively.
According to the official statement from Sony's President of Production Hannah Minghella, we're in for a real treat (times three): "Quvenzhané Wallis is a true star and we believe her portrayal as Annie will make her a true worldwide star. She is an extraordinary young talent with an amazing range, not only as an actress but as a singer and dancer, and we can’t wait for audiences to further discover her."
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That's right, Wallis is one of those child stars who can act, sing, and dance! You can really learn it all in the Bathtub. Hushpuppy is a veritable force to be reckoned with. And if that wasn't enough, Wallis' bio proves further proof that she's both a child and a crazy-serious and impressive actress with the greatest of ease. Her bio from the press release lets us know that her "favorite pastimes are reading, singing, dancing, acting, and playing her iPod and Nintendo DS. Her favorite TV stars/singers are China McClain, Selena Gomez, and Miley Cyrus. Her favorite sports are basketball, volleyball, dance and cheerleading. Her upcoming films include a role in Twelve Years a Slave with Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen." Oh, that's all? Annie is set to be released during the 2014 holiday movie season because of course it will.
What do you think of Wallis' casting as Annie? Let us know in the comments!
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What’s in a name? It’s a question that plagued The Bard, and one with which we still wrestle on idle Thursday afternoons. If you scan the local multiplex listings this weekend, you may wonder what’s with the name Parker. It seems such an innocuous label for a studio actioner starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez. In reality, Parker is a somewhat revelatory title. Though on the surface it merely refers to its titular character, the naming of this film Parker acknowledges its connection to an entire series, with entries dotting the cinematic landscape of the last several decades. Parker is a character created by author Donald Westlake (who sometimes wrote as Richard Stark). A master criminal who lives by his own code of ethics, Parker often works with crews, and is usually betrayed by a member of his own team... sending him out on the hunt for revenge.
Many of Westlake’s novels centering on Parker have been adapted for the screen. So why isn’t Parker billed as a sequel? Or a remake? The fact is that each of the previous films adapted from Westlake’s Parker novels has changed the name of its antihero protagonist. It is therefore entirely possible that you have actually seen Parker ply his criminal trade on screen multiple times in the past, and been totally unaware of it. We thought we’d help you navigate this strange name game with a complete guide to Parker in film.
Point Blank (1967) - Parker’s alias: "Walker"
The first, and arguably best, adaptation of one of Westlake’s Parker stories was John Boorman’s Point Blank. The movie is a trailblazer in the neo-noir movement. It centers on the same basic crime story content as previous film noir, but with even grittier characters, bleaker themes, and an amplification of violence. In Point Blank, Parker is called Walker, and is played by the incomparable Lee Marvin. One of Point Blank’s greatest strengths is Marvin’s raw, powerful screen presence. When he occupies a scene, it’s a military occupation. The story is based on Westlake’s The Hunter, in which Parker is double-crossed and left for dead after a heist, and goes on a brutal, ceaseless tear to retrieve his money and get revenge. John Vernon as the villain and Boorman’s seething, unflinching tone are also paramount to Point Blank’s legacy as one of the absolute best crime films.
The Split (1968) - Parker’s alias: "McClain"
Though most cinematic incarnations of Parker portrayed him as a Caucasian male, Gordon Flemyng’s The Split showed us that this need not be the case. This time around, Parker was dubbed McCain, and was played by former NFL running back Jim Brown. Though Brown became an icon of the blaxploitation movement, The Split was released a couple of years prior to the inception of that subgenre, making his casting in the lead an even greater nod to his undeniable talent. His charisma and intimidating physicality serve him well as the leader of a gang of thieves who execute a daylight heist during a football game. The success however does not curb the subsequent paranoia and fallout between the crooks… especially when the loot is stolen. The Split, based on the novel The Seventh, is a bit less focused than Point Blank, but its supporting cast more than makes up for its inconsistencies. Ernest Borgnine, Gene Hackman, Jack Klugman, and Donald Sutherland all appear.
The Outfit (1973) - Parker’s alias: "Macklin"
Robert Duvall would take up the mantle of Parker just a year after his Oscar-winning performance in The Godfather. In John Flynn’s The Outfit, based on Westlake’s novel of the same name, Parker takes the name Macklin. He finds out, after being released from prison, that his brother has been murdered by gangsters. The Outfit is interesting in that it’s the first iteration of a Parker story to touch upon the character’s family tree, the death of his brother offering new incentive for revenge. Though not quite as exciting as Point Blank or The Split, The Outfit is a glimpse into the bare-bones, pragmatic career-criminal grind. The relationship between Macklin and his friend Cody gives The Outfit much of its personality; Cody is played by southern-fried revenge film icon Joe Don Baker.
Payback (1999) - Parker’s alias: "Porter"
Most likely the filmic Parker with whom most people are best acquainted is Mel Gibson as Porter in Payback. Another adaptation of The Hunter, Brian Helgeland’s Payback is a stylistic throwback to the golden era of neo-noir. In fact, the cinematography casts a seemingly constant distinct blue hue over the entire film; almost a film navy more than a film noir. Payback is violent, funny, and irrepressibly cool. Gibson gives us an irrefutably bad guy, a thief and con man with no compunction toward taking lives, but one with so much swagger and charm that we can’t help but love him. Interesting to note with Payback is that Porter/Parker’s ultimate fate dramatically changes depending on whether you watch the theatrical or the director’s cut.
Those are the major entries into the nebulous Parker franchise, and all films well-worth delving into before watching Statham take on the role this weekend. For the sake of completionism, it should also be noted that Peter Coyote took on the role of Parker in the wholly underwhelming 1983 film Slayground. In that movie, Parker was called Stone. Also, Jean-Luc Goddard’s Made in USA is unofficially based on Westlake’s The Jugger; his Parker was a woman named Paula Nelson. [Photo Credit: Jack English/Film District]
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In 2010’s Get Him to the Greek wiry British funnyman Russell Brand played a spoiled lush whose immature antics threatened his rock-star comeback. In the 2011’s Arthur Brand plays a spoiled lush whose immature antics threaten his billion-dollar inheritance. Greek turned out to be one of last year’s underrated comic gems; Arthur not so much. Why? The two films are wildly different to be sure but I submit that the biggest reason for the disparity in quality can be traced to one crucial distinction: Arthur is a remake and as such carries with it the acknowledged lack of creativity inherent in just about every remake not directed by the Coen Brothers.
And Arthur does what most bad remakes seem to do dropping what’s essential about the original film keeping what isn’t and wrapping it all up in a glossy generic heavily-promoted package. The storyline is essentially unchanged – to retain access to his family’s vast fortune perpetually inebriated playboy Arthur Bach (Brand) is arranged to marry a respectable woman he disdains (Jennifer Garner) but he jeopardizes his inheritance by falling for a girl of humble means (Greta Gerwig). Much of the soul and charm of the original film are gone however sacrificed for a succession of canned comic scenarios that probably seemed funny in brainstorming sessions (Russell Brand in a Batman costume? Hilarious!) but are considerably less so when rendered on-screen.
But hey – all the characters’ names are the same! And they’ve all been updated with contrived tweaks that these days passes for invention! Arthur’s acerbic English butler Hobson is now an acerbic English nanny (Helen Mirren); his African-American chauffer Bitterman is now a Puerto Rican-American (Luis Guzman); his betrothed Susan Johnson (Garner) formerly a dainty debutante is now a pugnacious high-powered executive; etc. Brand for his part has little hope of measuring up to Dudley Moore who scored an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the title character in the original. He does get a few choice lines and he manages to conjure a respectable romantic spark with the luminous Gerwig (trying her best with a character conceived as little more than an assortment of manufactured quirks) but his talents appear severely constrained by a script that can do little more than dress him up in zany outfits and hope for the best.
The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.
In a mechanized world an imaginative young inventor Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) wants to be as famous as his hero the greatest inventor of all time Mr. Bigweld (voiced by Mel Brooks). With his father's "follow your dreams and never give up" ringing in his ears Rodney leaves his small town and sets out to the big bad Robot City to meet his idol and show him his invention. Once there Rodney meets the Rusties a ragtag group of street-smart bots lead by the wacky Fender (voiced by Robin Williams) who know the ropes. Rodney finds out that Bigweld has gone into seclusion and Robot City is being taken over by an ambitious robot named Ratchet (voiced by Greg Kinnear) whose motto is "Why Be You When You Could Be New?" Ratchet soon halts production on parts for the older robots. If the bot folk can't afford the new stuff they are gathered up and sent to an underground chop shop where Rachet's hideous mother Madame Gasket (voiced by Jim Broadbent) melts them down and turns them into metal for new parts. But the evil duo's plan is soon spoiled when Rodney and the Rusties start fixing the older models and decide the must get the reclusive Bigweld back on track to fight back.
How can you go wrong with such a fabulous cast? They all do a great job including McGregor as the earnest Rodney Copperbottom; Brooks as the soft-hearted boss Big Weld; Kinnear as the vain and conniving Rachet; Broadbent as the repugnantly evil Gasket; Jennifer Coolidge as the hilarious and lovable big-booty bot Aunt Fanny; Halle Berry as the smart and seductive executive bot Cappy; and Amanda Bynes as the perky Piper determined to prove herself. But once again voice over veteran Robin Williams steals the show as the broke down and chaotic robot Fender. With his hundreds of voices and impersonations animated films fit the frenetic Williams to a tee making him the undisputed king.
Blue Sky Animation and Oscar-winning director Chris Wedge who brought us the delightful Ice Age are back turning in another stellar animated effort. Robots is rivet-ing transporting the audience into a world of mechanics electronics and robotics. The best scene is when Rodney gets to Robot City and goes on a roller coaster "cab" ride with Fender through a maze of whirligigs and gadgets. Good fun. Added into the mix is a groovin' soundtrack that makes you want to get up and dance with the characters while snickering at the songs' innuendos. Overall Robots incorporates vibrant colors above the ground with dark rusted images below to bring to life this lively world of metal folk.