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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It's Friday the 13th, a day laced with paranoia, superstition and the occasional machete-wielding psychopath. On this day of misfortune, it's wise to cast an eye over your shoulder every once in a while, lest you fall victim to a day feared by many. Even if your'e not particularly triskaidekaphobic, there are lessons to be learned from Friday the 13th — specifically from those characters on television who represent the pitiful end of the luck spectrum.
Some of TV's most beloved characters are also the medium's unluckiest, facing pathetic misery in the form of cougars (Kim Bauer!), ripped pants (Jerry Gergich!) and cursed lottery numbers (Hurley!). In honor of Friday the 13th, our writers decided to take a closer look at their favorite unlucky so-and-sos:
Alison Parker (Melrose Place) Sure, there were many twists and turns on Melrose Place (which is 20 years old this week), but the person who always had it the worst was Alison Parker. Not only was she an on-again-off-again alcoholic, but she got pregnant, had a miscarriage, tried to adopt, and then was denied a child when she got caught drinking. Then she married a man who was lost in a boating accident on their damn honeymoon. And this was after she lost her job and was transferred to Hong Kong. Oh, and let's not forget when she went blind when Kimberly blew up Melrose Place. Don't stand next to this lady in a thunder storm. — BRIAN MOYLAN
Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) Poor Sookie... how many times has this girl been forced to mop up the blood of loved ones on her Gram's kitchen room floor? Not to mention all the supernatural creatures that want her dead: 3,000-year-old vampires, Maenads, witches, jealous werewolf girlfriends. The list goes on and on. If it wasn't for her continuous steamy hookups with insanely hot men, this would be one completely depressing life. — KELLY SCHREMPH
Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm) Sure, he's worth probably half a billion dollars, maybe more, but no amount of money will ever enable Larry to escape or reinvent the social mores that plague his daily life -- and the often mortifying, always hilarious consequences. For that, though, we the viewers of Curb Your Enthusiasm are very, very lucky, indeed. — BRIAN MARDER
Louie (Louie) Louis C.K. has been playing unlucky sad sacks since the days of Lucky Louie. While his fate with television success has improved tremendously, his character hasn't fared nearly as well. Louie has gone on some of the worst dates known to mankind, constantly finds himself in painfully awkward social situations, terrible misunderstandings ("Wave to me!") and was once made to feel bad by none other than Dane Cook. — ALY SEMIGRAN
Kenny (South Park) Let's see: Volcano, mutant turkey, mosh pit, goldfish — ask for ways in which Kenny hasn't been killed, and you'd come up with a much shorter list. But it gets worse for South Park's resident parka-flanked mumbler: Not only was Kenny forced to regularly suffer death, but Matt Stone and Trey Parker chose to kill him off permanently in Season 5… only to revive him — and kill him all over again — in subsequent seasons. You bastards! — KATE WARD
Hurley (Lost) Oh, Hurley, you poor soul. After winning the lottery (everyone’s assumed ticket to eternal bliss), the Lost character was treated to a rash of unfortunate events starting with simple things like his new house burning to the ground and not quite ending with his crash landing on the infamous Island. Then comes the heartbreaking moment, just after Hurley’s finally found the Kate to his Jack — Libby — only to have Michael return and murder her in the hatch. It just makes you want to hug your television. But then again, if we’re looking at it Hurley’s way, it’s not really bad luck. It's all about the numbers he played to win the lottery. The same numbers that reset the ominous switch in the hatch. The numbers that lined up with the potential candidates to replace Jacob as the Island’s protector. The numbers that served as coefficients of an equation that predicted mankind’s extinction. The numbers, man. The numbers. — KELSEA STAHLER
Eugene (Hey Arnold!) Poor Eugene is the victim of his own unfortunate fate: he was born on Friday the 13th. That probably explains why the accident-prone, soupcan-haired kid is a total jinx, crying out "I'm okay!" after any pitiful pratfall or bicycling accident. He's been mugged, had his bike destroyed, his pet fish murdered, and his childhood superhero revealed to be a depressing sham — and yet the ginger remains optimistic! Why? Because he's in musical theatre. That's why. — MARC SNETIKER
Ted (Scrubs) “Awww…” That’s the sound of a man at the end of this wits. A man who has nothing left to cling onto (except, maybe, a couple of reruns of Gilmore Girls). Ted Buckland, resident attorney at Sacred Heart Teaching Hospital, is this man. Scrubs’ Ted is the definitive sad sack: a loser who has been tricked, insulted, rejected, injured, and resigned of all dignity since his youth. The divorced, incompetent lawyer gets the brunt of Chief of Medicine Dr. Kelso’s malevolence, is constantly ignored or offended by his coworkers, and has an odd proclivity for dropping ice cream… which doesn’t always stop him from eating it. Even when Ted does find love at the end of the series, it doesn’t last… his character reappears in Bill Lawrence’s follow-up series Cougar Town, once again alone, confessing that he “should have seen it coming.” Fortune so bad, it isn’t even confined to your own TV show? Now that’s bad luck. — MICHAEL ARBEITER
Wile E. Coyote (Looney Tunes) It would be easy to call Road Runner's foe lucky — not everyone can survive accordion-like existence after a nearly-fatal piano collision — but he's waited decades for one of his schemes to work in his favor. What's a guy gotta do to get ACME's destructive tools working? Switch to another brand? No one likes change! — KATE WARD
Kim Bauer (24) You know 'dumb luck'? Kim Bauer didn't have that. She had dumb un-luck. Part jinx and part dumdum, she was the character to run in the direction of a car bomb, catch on fire, and get caught in an animal trap and be hunted by a cougar. A cougar, people. — MICHELLE LEE
Jerry Gergich (Parks & Recreation) Damnit, Jerry! Jerry Gergich, king of the pointillist "murinal," is also the "schlemiel" and the "schlemazel" of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation office. And maybe the universe as a whole. The butt of seemingly every joke (ever!), Jerry's status as happy-go-unlucky office klutz has been cemented from day one. The man just cannot catch a break. Ever. He can't even lie well: too embarrassed to admit he'd fallen in a stream (come ON, Jerry, really? A stream?), he explained that teenagers mugged him in a park. The man is constantly asking — nay, begging — for every single taunt and tease he wearily accepts from his P&R cohorts. Wait, his name is Gerald? Gary? Gerry? Garry? Since he thinks it's too rude to correct us, we may just never know. I heard he played a beautiful Tinkerbell back in '64, for what it's worth. Damnit, Jerry! — ALICIA LUTES
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Part Mean Girls part Heathers—hell there’s even a little bit of Hilary Duff’s ridiculously stupid The Perfect Man thrown in there—John Tucker Must Die fits the genre nicely. But the word “die” is a little harsh. Actually when three high school girls—wannabe journalist Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) head cheerleader Heather (Ashanti) and vegan activist Beth (Sophia Bush)—find out they are all dating the delectable John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe) the school’s basketball star they decide to get even. After several embarrassing tactics backfire the girls come up with the perfect idea. They’ll recruit pretty but anonymous new kid Kate (Brittany Snow) doll her up and get Tuck to fall in love with her so she can ceremoniously dump him. Wow I can’t see anything going wrong with that plan. Not at all. Talk about some pretty people John Tucker has got them in spades starting off with the insanely handsome Metcalfe who literally had women weak in the knees as the hot gardener who woos Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria. It’s not a big stretch to see him as the sexy Tuck the most popular er player in school. Then there’s the trio of revengeful hotties: tall lean and blonde Kebbel (Aquamarine) as the “smart” girl; curvy singer/actress Ashanti (Coach Carter) as the bring-it-on “cheerleader”; and luscious and exotic Bush (TV’s One Tree Hill) as the “experienced” one. But really its the perky Snow’s (The Pacifier) show effectively playing the “invisible” girl no one knows or even cares to know who moves around a lot whenever her mother (Jenny McCarthy in a nice bit part) breaks up with a “John Tucker” herself. What’s wrong with these single moms dragging their daughters all over the place after their hearts get broken? Betty Thomas best known for her turn as Sgt. Lucy Bates on Hill Street Blues doesn’t have the best track record in town as a director (I Spy is hers for example). But she’s helmed enough passable comedies (The Brady Bunch Movie Dr. Dolittle) to grant her admittance into the club. Problem here is Thomas isn’t teamed up with a sharp writer like Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey whose Mean Girls script simply zings. John Tucker is pretty standard fare taking bits and pieces from the already established high-school formula. Still the coveted teen market will more than likely enjoy all the antics in the film—especially the whole “thong” bit in which Tuck caught wearing a thong in one of the girls’ schemes makes it cool for guys everywhere to wear thongs. Yeah you get the picture.