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.
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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Hopefully some of the folks who were (rightly) conflicted about the emergence of Melisandre's "smoke monster" at the end of last week's episode were satiated when he quickly proved his purpose this week. Yes, the "War of the Five Kings" is down a fighter, and the fallout from Renly's mysterious death is already tearing up old alliances and forming new ones. Not only has Stannis gained enough men to properly siege King's Landing, but Tyrion has sprung into action with a clandestine defense plan that will probably ruin them all.
Camp Baratheon: Renly's death did not prove beneficial for Catelyn Stark, who -- along with Brienne of Tarth -- was the only one who witnessed his death. Brienne and Catelyn saw Stannis' shadow doppelganger swoop in and stab Renly in the heart, but all Renly's men saw was their king's lifeless body in Brienne's bulky arms. The ladies made their escape back to Catelyn's camp, but word had already spread throughout the Seven Kingdoms that one of them had pulled the trigger. If they knew Renly was this close to merging his army with Stark's before his death, maybe they would remove Catelyn from the lineup. With no one left to fight for, Brienne pledged her fealty to Catelyn, on the grounds that Cat would allow her to kill Stannis when the time was right.
Brienne and Catelyn weren't the only pair who immediately fled camp Renly. After some coaxing from Littlefinger, a devastated Loras and a glacial Margaery returned to Highgarden to avoid Stannis' men. Before they left, Littlefinger got Margeary to finally reveal her inner motives: Much like Daenerys and Cersei, she just can't wait to be queen. "Calling yourself king doesn't make you one," she said. "And if Renly wasn't a king, I wasn't a queen." When Littlefinger asked if she wanted to be a queen, she replied, "No. I want to be THE queen."
The Tyrells made their escape, and Stannis and his men quickly took over the camp -- and Renly's bannermen. Stannis was completely unwilling to discuss the shadow-man with Davos, but took his faithful servant's advice when he said that bringing Melisandre to King's Landing would be a bad idea. "If you take King's Landing with her by your side, the victory will be hers," Davos said. Davos was right: The people hate Stannis enough as it is, and having a creepy foreigner with creepy foreign gods on the Throne would not sit well with the crazy folk in King's Landing. We did not see Stannis give Melisandre this news, but I'd bet a whole dragon that she won't like it.
King's Landing: Tyrion gave word of Renly's death to Cersei, who is quickly becoming a Draper-esque day drinker. Tyrion, who is always ten little steps ahead, realized that Stannis gaining Renly's bannermen would be a huge issue for King's Landing, but Cersei insisted that their money -- and Joffrey's war preparations -- made this a non-issue. She gleefully refused to share any of these preparations with Tyrion, so he turned instead to his latest secret weapon -- Lancel.
Lancel revealed that Cersei had been gathering wildfire, which Tyrion found unlikely. Watching Peter Dinklage torture this wimpy, spoiled child has been sublime, and Eugene Simon is equally hilarious as the victim. Let's hope this goes on for awhile."Tell me," Tyrion asked. "If the vile allegations against my brother and sister are true, do you think it will make Jaime more likely to kill you, or less likely, when I tell him you're f**king her?" Lancel's eyes widened in fear -- he would tell the truth. The Alchemist's Guild had thousands of pots of wildfire, to be used against Stannis' ships when the time arrived. With that, Tyrion had heard enough from Lancel: "Tell my friend Bronn to please kill you if anything should happen to me," he said as he kicked him out. Naturally, Bronn was excited by this.
Tyrion and Bronn took a stroll through King's Landing, where they saw a peasant speaking publicly against Joffrey and the Lannister family -- calling Tyrion a "twisty demon." Tyrion was offended, as he's actually been the only one trying to help the general public. The crowd was large, and feverishly supportive. This scene was important, because until now we have not seen the public's reaction to Joffrey's rule. Yes, we've seen them cower and lose body parts in his presence, but now we know that the heat is rising on the streets -- something that Cersei is clearly ignoring as she drinks the day away like an evil Ramona Singer. And in the corner, Madame Defage kept knitting…
Later, the duo visited the alchemists to get the skinny on Cersei's plans for the wildfire. Here's some exposition on wildfire, courtesy of Tyrion: "Piss on wildfire, and your cock burns off." Indeed, the green, glowing substance is so hot it could melt through wood, stone, steel, flesh, and maybe even Cersei's icy heart. Cersei planned on using catapults to hurl the wildfire onto Stannis' ships, which both Tyrion and Bronn knew was a stupid idea. Wildfire was a dangerous toy, and introducing it to the already dangerous, messy war could bring chaos to King's Landing. "Men win wars, not magic tricks," grunted Bronn, who was brilliant in this scene. At this point, Jerome Flynn has absolutely perfected Bronn's casual indifference. He clearly respects Tyrion, but we can also see that this isn't his war: He's still a man for hire, and isn't overly invested in Lannister affairs. He just wants to preserve his own ass. When the alchemist revealed his stash of wildfire, Tyrion was clearly impressed -- there was enough to destroy Stannis' entire army. But not with Cersei at the helm: "You won't be making wildfire for my sister any longer. You'll be making it for me."
Qarth: Dany and her followers were now refreshed and well-fed in Qarth. Dany's only concern was trusting her host, the supremely wealthy Xaro Xhoan Daxos. He had sent Dany a beautiful gown, but she knew that his gifts hid some sort of an agenda. Her solution? "Men like to talk about other men when they are happy," she said to her handmaid Doreah. Basically -- Doreah, go have sex with the men of Qarth and have them tell you their secrets.
Later that day, Dany's khalasar attended a party in her honor, where pretty much everyone in Qarth kissed her ass. A mysterious Qartheen warlock performed a fancy trick as an attempt to woo Dany to his "House of the Undying" -- but Xaro quickly pulled her away. From there, things got even stranger: A woman in a metal mask approached Jorah Mormont, told him she knew who he was, and left a memorable warning. "You watch over her," she said. "Everyone will lust over her. Dragons are fire made flesh, and fire is power." Until now I had not been keeping track, but I think that the "what is power?" question has been brought up in every episode this season. Cersei proved to Littlefinger that power is power. Varys undoubtably thinks that secrets are power. It's a good central theme for this season: After Ned and Robert's death, everyone is scrambling to hold on to, or gain, some sort of power. But most of them don't seem to have any clue what that means, or how to fully obtain it. Probably because Westeros is crazy.
Dany took a private stroll with Xaro, who quickly revealed his not-so-secret motive. He offered Dany ships and an army to invade the Seven Kingdoms… if she'd marry him. Not for love, of course -- the widowered Xaro made it clear that this would be a marriage built on ambition. To further convince her, he told her something that the rest of us knew last May: Robert Baratheon was dead, leaving the Throne up for grabs. Her eyes lit up with joy, probably because she's never met Joffrey. Dany would really benefit from those ravens that spread news so quickly over in Westeros. Maybe she'll find out about Renly in season four.
Of course, Jorah Mormont hated this marriage idea. When Dany seemed to actually consider it, he suggested taking one ship to Westeros instead, where she could align herself with a powerful family and take over with her dragons. It would be far better for Dany to reclaim rule with a Westerosi Great Family than with a foreigner. Note, this is the second time in the episode that it was suggested that the Westerosi don't take kindly to foreigners.
The Iron Islands: Oh, Theon. He sure did try to earn the respect of The Sea Bitch's crew, but it was pretty clear that everyone onboard thought Theon was the actual sea bitch. He tried to prove his dominance by shouting, stomping his feet, and acting like Joffrey without the power, and all he got was laughter and more humiliation from Yara. If Theon weren't "I need my daddy's approval" Theon, he'd be smart enough to take the next boat back to Camp Stark -- at least they respected him there. But no: After Yara rubbed it in that she had an entire fleet at her command, Theon's first mate made a suggestion that could mean very bad things for Winterfell. He suggested that instead of ransacking the unimportant fishing villages, Theon should set his sights on a bigger mainland target -- Torrhen's Square, which is a hop, skip, and a jump from Winterfell. Theon countered that if they did that, Winterfell would send out all of its remaining men to fight back. And then Theon's face changed -- a lightbulb had gone off in that dimmer than a New York Italian restaurant head. I bet if Ned Stark could go back in time, he'd say "no thanks" to a hostage from the Greyjoy family. Bastard.
Harrenhal: Arya was now Tywin's full-time cup bearer, a position that offers no benefits except for the ability to overhear how Robb's armies are doing -- which, to Arya's quiet delight, was "pretty awesome." Tywin seemed to have a hesitant respect for Arya's cleverness, but he certainly did not trust her. He asked her where she was from, and when she could not identify the sigil of a house in southern Maidenpool, she had to admit that she was a northerner. He asked her what the northerners thought of Robb Stark, and she responded that rumors said he could transform into his direwolf and could not be killed. He asked her if she believed that."No, my Lord," she replied. "Anyone can be killed."
This point was later proven by Jaqen H'ghar, the sexy and mysterious prisoner Arya rescued from a fiery death. In the dark halls of Harrenhal, he promised to repay that debt: With three lives, no more, no less. "Speak three names, and the man will do the rest," he said. See, acceding to Jaqen, only death will pay for life -- and he owed Arya (whom he knew all along was a girl) these deaths in exchange for the three lives she saved. Arya was hesitant, but had nothing to lose. Surprisingly, the first name she offered wasn't one of the ones on her list -- sorry to the millions of you who punched a wall when she didn't say "Joffrey." Instead, she chose "The Tickler," that pleasant blonde fellow who tortures people by putting rats in a bucket then lighting said bucket on fire so the rat will claw its way through the victim's chest. He would be sorely missed.
Jaqen wasted no time living up to his promise. In one of Harrenhal's yards, Arya chatted with a shirtless Gendry, who has quickly become Game of Thrones' latest and greatest sex symbol. They've aged him from the books, so I guess it's okay. Someone needs to make up for the lack of Jaime Lannister. Anyway, Arya heard a scream, and saw that the Tickler had mysteriously fallen to his death. She looked around for Jaqen, and found him smiling from above. Nice one, Jaqen. So who's next?
Beyond The Wall: First, a weather update from beyond The Wall: It is still really f**king cold. With that out of the way, here's some plot: The wildlings were on the move, and the Night's Watch wanted to know why. They met up with Qhorin Halfhand, a VIP ranger in the Watch who suggested taking a small group of men to scope out the wildling camps and learn their plans. Jon Snow volunteered, so after enduring half a season of Kit Harrington wandering listlessly in the snow, we will finally get to see him do something cool.
Winterfell: Oh hey, Bran and Rickon! Remember them? During one of their boring meetings with the townsfolk, (These meetings are way more fun in Pawnee) Ser Rodrik announced that Torrhen's Square was under attack. Bran commanded Rodrik to take as many men as he needed, leaving Winterfell virtually defenseless. In a sign of bad-things-that-are-probably-yet-to-come, Bran told the slave Osha that he had dreamt of Winterfell's ruin -- by the sea. "I saw waves crashing into the gates, and water came flowing over the walls. Flooded the castle. Drowned men were floating here -- in the yard. Ser Rodrik was one of them." Osha tried to brush it off, but Bran's track record with dreams is pretty good -- remember when he saw Ned Stark wandering through the crypt? She was spooked. Also, remember that the men of the Iron Islands call themselves "Drowned Men." Things aren't looking good for Winterfell's fallen prince. Or for Hodor.
Viewers -- What did you think of tonight's episode? Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna [Image Credit: HBO] MORE: 'Game of Thrones' Recap: Labor of Love TV's Craziest WTF Moments of 2012 So Far 'Game of Thrones' Already Renewed for Season Three
Since they were young girls growing up in the Midwest Connie (Nia Vardalos) and Carla (Toni Collette) have shared the same dream--to become the next biggest thing to hit musical theater but so far performing in an airport lounge is the closest they've come. Their lives change however when they witness a murder by some nefarious drug dealers and in an attempt to escape end up in Los Angeles which has "no dinner theater no musical theater no culture at all." It's the perfect place for them to hide out and all goes to plan until Connie and Carla happen upon a local drag club. Suddenly they see an excellent way to elude their pursuers--and fulfill their need to be on stage at the same time. Pretending to be men dressed as drag queens Connie and Carla are soon headlining at the club belting out the show tunes they love. They become a huge hit getting the fame and recognition they've always wanted--but as time wears on the whole charade turns out to be a real "drag" ("pun intended " as the gals like to say) especially when Connie falls for nice guy Jeff (David Duchovny). Still with the killers hot on their trail Connie and Carla have to stay incognito--at least until they can find a way to come out of the closet without getting killed or disappointing their growing legion of fans.
The very charismatic Vardalos wowed audiences with her first feature the smash hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding and is probably feeling more than a little pressure to follow up with something just as good especially since the Big Fat Greek spin-off TV series failed miserably. Luckily she succeeds with Connie and Carla due in large part to her co-star Collette who finally--after a string of dramatic movies such as The Sixth Sense and The Hours--gets to use the comedic skills she deftly showed in her feature film debut Muriel's Wedding. Together the actresses' natural rapport and infectious charm permeate the film and despite a sometimes hackneyed script they keep things lively and boy can they sing! Vardalos and Collette make the most of their musical theater backgrounds working the stage and making the film's musical numbers truly memorable. Vardalos also displays a fair amount of chemistry with Duchovny as the straight Jeff desperately struggles with his burgeoning feelings for someone he believes is a man. The last little plus is C and C's supporting cast including the bonafide drag queens the girls befriend at the club. Led by the Tony-winning Stephen Spinella (Angels in America) as Robert/"Peaches " who also happens to be Jeff's estranged brother the supporting guys/dolls add that certain La Cage joie de vivre.
As she did in My Big Fat Greek Wedding writer/actress Vardalos' script speaks from the heart with genuinely fresh funny and down to earth dialogue. Apparently she did loads of dinner theater in her early years so she's familiar with the subject. Unfortunately she relies on a contrived Some Like It Hot plot about vengeful drug dealers to get Connie and Carla to L.A. but once the film gets into drag it zings. Connie and Carla is also in capable hands with director-actor Michael Lembeck (The Santa Clause 2) a former song-and-dance man himself at the helm. The broad comedic style he picked up directing countless television sitcom episodes serves well here and he turns the musical numbers into mini show-stoppers each one topping the next. The last is the best of course when the girls launch into "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No" from Oklahoma capped by a special guest appearance from the musical theater goddess herself Debbie Reynolds. Classic.