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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Last fall's Breaking Bad finale ended with a very literal bang — Walter White successfully eliminated what was then his biggest threat, Gus Fring, via a bomb that would never be traced back to him. It was a game-changer, and despite a personally tumultuous (half) season five, Walt has remained on top as "Heisenberg" in his work life ever since. Well, tonight, a different sort of bomb was dropped (sorry), and it's one that definitely signals the beginning of the end for Walt. (Spoilers Ahead!)
On Thursday, Dean Norris basically told us that Hank would find out at some point, but we didn't know it was going to be tonight — and in such a delicious fashion, reminiscent of his "since when do vegans eat fried chicken?" epiphany of yesteryear:
I love Norris' "putting two and two together" face. He also told us that there was going to be a "holy s***" moment during tonight's finale, but we were not taking him literally at the time.
Going into tonight's finale, it did seem likely that Walt's messy Mike murder — where his demeanor arguably slipped from Heisenberg back to Walter White for the first time all season — would lead to his downfall. He slipped up by killing a DEA target, and the fact that that DEA target had left behind nine potential witnesses who could hammer the nail in Walt's coffin was just icing on the proverbial cake. Instead, Walt spent most of the episode on top — he recently told Jesse that he was in the "empire business," and he certainly dealt with his Mike dilemma in a way that proved he was capable of handling such an empire. He hired Todd's prison-connected uncle to brutally (but neatly) take out all nine witnesses (a gaggle of fathers, blue collar workers, and former small business owners, natch), successfully hid Mike's death from Jesse, entered into the international drug trade with Lydia, and then (supposedly) left the business to mend fences with Skyler all before we hit the 50-minute mark.
Then, s*** very quietly hit the fan. At the beginning of the episode, when the camera briefly focused on Walt's copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, it became clear that Whitman's famous celebration of nature, humanity, and the senses would rear its ugly head before the end of the night, either directly or metaphorically. And, really, Hank's toilet discovery could be seen as both — yes, he saw the deceased former Fring cook Gale Boetticher's note inscribed on the first page, but Walt wouldn't have had the balls to leave such a valuable clue in his hallway bathroom without the same pride Whitman writes about in the book's most popular section, "Song of Myself."
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself/ and what I shall assume you shall assume/ for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you," Whitman writes. Walt had been celebrating himself a bit too much ever since he took out Fring, with his massive, arguably sociopathic ego rising until it eventually (tonight) found itself in a place where it no longer valued human life that wasn't its own.
A few weeks ago, when Walt basically brushed aside the murder of an innocent child, it seemed as if he couldn't possibly get any worse. Then, Mike happened. And tonight — sorry, Walt apologists — Walt finally proved his utter lack of humanity when he arranged for the murders of all of Gus' former associates. Yes, they turned a blind eye to or helped facilitate the meth trade, which made them technically less innocent than a 14-year-old boy, but the fact that Walt had them massacred without a second thought was bone-chilling. A lot of these guys were family men, and Walt casually contemplated crappy hotel room artwork as a group of skinheads discussed how they were going to bash their brains in.
Nothing's impossible I have found
For when my chin is on the ground
I pick myself up
Dust myself off
Start all over again.
This was the song that played as Todd's uncle's goons brutally took out Gus' men, and until Hank sat down on Walt's toilet and reached for some classic American poetry, its lyrics could have been seen as Walt's reality as this chapter came to a close. (Aside: Same goes for Tommy James’s “Crystal Blue Persuasion," which played during the show's other memorable montage — the one that showed Walt's sunny-sky reality as he staked his claim in the international meth trade.) Because with these men out of the picture, Hank no longer had much of a case, and Walt was free to make a bazillion dollars with Lydia. (Aside, again: Yay, we finally found out why Lydia was in so deep with Fring! The skittish Lydia never seemed like an ideal employee for Gus, but her international hook-ups would definitely be an impetus for him to ignore her shadiness and her grating personality.) His chin was on the ground with Jesse figuratively, and Mike literally, out of the picture, but when we flashed forward to a scene of the Whites and the Schraders peacefully reunited by that damned pool, it definitely seemed as if Walt had finally rid himself of all of that nasty Fring murder fallout. He'd made his money with Lydia, (seemingly) left the drug trade, reunited with his children, and peacefully tied up loose ends with Jesse. It was maddening, but as soon as Hank entered the White house solo, you knew what was coming.
I guess it was telling that Vince Gilligan chose to begin the episode with a close-up of a fly, as it was a fly in season three's beloved claustrophobic bottle episode that signified the threat of chaos in Walt's life. (Also, flies really love s***.) Walt royally freaked out Jesse when he refused to leave the lab until he'd killed the little bugger, who theoretically could have altered Walt's almost-perfect meth — the only thing keeping him alive at the time. Walt wasn't bothered by this new fly, but if we're going super-metaphorical here, then Hank really has been one of the many flies buzzing around Walt this whole time. Hank and cancer, which — evidenced by Walt's ambiguous CT Scan (the results weren't shown, but he did look pretty resigned when he washed up in the hospital bathroom) — may be rearing its ugly head during next summer's final (half) season.
So, now — where do we go from here? We know that Walt will be on the run by the time he reaches his 52nd, and he certainly didn't seem to have anybody by his side. Norris says he thinks that Hank will go back to "basic training mode" when it's time to confront Walt, but will he do it right away and ruin their little get-together? Will Marie completely side with Hank, or find a way to help save Skyler? Is Hank capable of tearing apart his family by killing Walt? Oh, and where does Jesse fit into ANY of this? Will he ever find out about Brock and/or Jane, or will the final arc focus more on the battle between Hank and Walt?
We have about a year to ponder all of these questions and more, but stay tuned for more thoughts from Norris and his on-screen wife Betsy Brandt, who shared her thoughts on Marie's future with Hollywood.com. And before you enter a state of despair and start collecting minerals because Breaking Bad is gone for what seems like an eternity, start chanting the following words: "Walking Dead. American Horror Story. Justified. Mad Men. Game of Thrones." All of those shows and more will have come and gone by the time you see Walter White again!
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[PHOTO CREDIT: AMC]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Haven is one of those purposely nonlinear films in which multiple stories cross at "random" times and locations only to wind up being inextricably connected to each other in the end (thanks a lot Quentin Tarantino). In this case the two main arcs belong to shady businessman Carl (Bill Paxton) and his teenage daughter Pippa (Agnes Bruckner) and to laid-back fisherman Shy (Bloom) and his secret love Andrea (Zoe Saldana). Carl and Pippa flee to Grand Cayman from Miami when the Feds find out about his deal with cynical British businessman Allen (Stephen Dillane) while Shy has spent his whole life on the island getting by just fine until he falls for the boss's daughter and incurs her family's wrath. Their stories collide on one hot fateful night when tensions stretch to their breaking point and it becomes virtually impossible to tell who's out to get who--and why. Most of the film's characters are fairly one-dimensional but you can't really blame the cast--defiant Daddy's girl slick island shyster gun-toting gangsta crooked businessman poor fisherman with a heart of gold and so on. But because of that--and the fact few of the actors end up getting significant screen time due to the movie's fractured storytelling style--not many of the performances are all that memorable. Anthony Mackie (who also impressed in Half Nelson) does a good job seething with rage and resentment as Andrea's older brother Hammer and Saldana has her moments as a good girl brought down by heartbreak but everyone else seems to be in it more for the island location than the chance to stretch their acting muscles. As for Bloom he continues to prove that while he's good at "earnest" and "vulnerable " while "complex" and "tough" elude him. Making a movie like this work is no small challenge but unfortunately it's one that director Frank E. Flowers doesn't rise to meet. He juggles the interconnected stories awkwardly--after following Carl and Pippa for the first 30 minutes or so the film abruptly abandons them to switch over to Shy with no real explanation on where the other two have gone. It's only much later that the timeline and plot start to become clear but by then the characters' motivations and double-crosses have gotten so muddled that it's difficult to care all that much about how everything fits together. It's one thing to make an audience think a little. Memento and The Usual Suspects are fine examples of head-scratchers that reward you for giving your brain cells a workout. But it's quite another to confuse them with unnecessarily complicated details that don't end up making a difference in the end.