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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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Oh, the People's Choice Awards — where The CW reigns supreme, Beilebers face off against Directioners, and Linkin Park, Green Day, No Doubt, and Train being nominated for best band isn't a homage to the '90s, but an actual thing. True some of the nominees are head-scratchers (you know 666 Park and Partners were canceled, right?), but in a time where Lincoln and Argo are all anybody is talking about, it's fun to take a step back and watch Kaley Cuoco give shiny trophies to those who don't get any love during the regular awards season.
It was a pretty tame night overall, and many of the winners weren't announced during the telecast. On the presenter side, Olivia Munn riffed on the debate on whether or not she is a "true geek" during the award for favorite country artist (Taylor Swift), and it fell pretty flat. As for the winners, Christina Aguilera was named the "People's Voice" and performed, as did Jason Aldean and Alicia Keys. Favorite comedic actor winner Adam Sandler gave one of his patented Sandler speeches, awkwardly listing his favorite things. (Favorite Kardashian? Ringo. Fave One-Directioner? Five-way tie. Favorite way to fly? Unicorn. You get it.) Jennifer Lawrence won for a gaggle of things, and was as goofy and refreshingly blunt as we've come to expect her to be. (She apparently dripped sweat all over Robert Downey Jr.)
On the sweet side, Sandra Bullock won a new humanitarian award, Emma Watson seemed genuinely touched when she won best dramatic actress, and Downey dedicated his favorite actor award to an elderly, life-long fan who passed away earlier this week. Anyway, read the full list of winners below, and if you don't agree — well, blame the people.
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Dark Knight Rises
The Hunger Games
Snow White and the Huntsman
FAVORITE MOVIE ACTOR
Robert Downey, Jr.
FAVORITE MOVIE ACTRESS
FAVORITE MOVIE ICON
FAVORITE ACTION MOVIE
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Dark Knight Rises
The Hunger Games
Men in Black 3
FAVORITE ACTION MOVIE STAR
Robert Downey, Jr.
FAVORITE FACE OF HEROISM
Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man
Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games
Kristen Stewart, Snow White and the Huntsman
Scarlett Johansson, The Avengers
FAVORITE COMEDIC MOVIE
21 Jump Street
What to Expect When You're Expecting
FAVORITE COMEDIC MOVIE ACTOR
Adam Sandler Ben Stiller Channing Tatum Will Ferrell Zach Galifianakis FAVORITE COMEDIC MOVIE ACTRESS
Cameron Diaz Emily Blunt Jennifer Aniston Mila Kunis Reese Witherspoon FAVORITE DRAMATIC MOVIE
Argo The Lucky One Magic Mike The Perks of Being a Wallflower The Vow FAVORITE DRAMATIC MOVIE ACTOR Bradley Cooper Channing Tatum Jake Gyllenhaal Liam Neeson Zac Efron FAVORITE DRAMATIC MOVIE ACTRESS Charlize Theron Emma Watson Keira Knightley Meryl Streep Rachel McAdams FAVORITE MOVIE FRANCHISE The Avengers The Dark Knight The Hunger Games Madagascar Spider-Man FAVORITE MOVIE SUPERHERO Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man Chris Evans as Captain America Chris Hemsworth as Thor Christian Bale as Batman Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man FAVORITE ON-SCREEN CHEMISTRY Emma Stone / Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man Jennifer Lawrence / Josh Hutcherson / Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games Kristen Stewart / Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman Rachel McAdams / Channing Tatum, The Vow Scarlett Johansson / Jeremy Renner, The Avengers FAVORITE MOVIE FAN FOLLOWING Potterheads, Harry Potter Ringers, The Lord of the Rings Rum Runners, Pirates of the Caribbean Tributes, The Hunger Games Twihards, Twilight FAVORITE NETWORK TV COMEDY The Big Bang Theory Glee How I Met Your Mother Modern Family New Girl FAVORITE NETWORK TV DRAMA Gossip Girl Grey's Anatomy Grimm Once Upon a Time Revenge FAVORITE CABLE TV COMEDY Awkward Hot in Cleveland It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Melissa & Joey Psych FAVORITE CABLE TV DRAMA Burn Notice Leverage Pretty Little Liars The Walking Dead White Collar FAVORITE PREMIUM CABLE TV SHOW Dexter Game of Thrones Homeland Spartacus True Blood FAVORITE TV CRIME DRAMA Bones Castle Criminal Minds CSI NCIS FAVORITE SCI-FI/FANTASY TV SHOW Doctor Who Once Upon a Time Supernatural The Vampire Diaries The Walking Dead FAVORITE COMEDIC TV ACTOR Chris Colfer Jesse Tyler Ferguson Jim Parsons Neil Patrick Harris Ty Burrell FAVORITE COMEDIC TV ACTRESS Jane Lynch Kaley Cuoco Lea Michele Sofia Vergara Zooey Deschanel FAVORITE DRAMATIC TV ACTOR Ian Somerhalder Jared Padalecki Jensen Ackles Nathan Fillion Paul Wesley FAVORITE DRAMATIC TV ACTRESS Ellen Pompeo Emily Deschanel Ginnifer Goodwin Nina Dobrev Stana Katic FAVORITE DAYTIME TV HOST The Ellen DeGeneres Show: Ellen DeGeneres Good Morning America: George Stephanopoulos, Josh Elliott, Lara Spencer, Robin Roberts, Sam ChampionLive with Kelly & Michael: Kelly Ripa & Michael Strahan The Today Show: Al Roker, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer, Natalie Morales The View: Barbara Walters, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd, Whoopi Goldberg FAVORITE LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST Chelsea Handler Conan O'Brien David Letterman Jimmy Fallon Jimmy Kimmel FAVORITE NEW TALK SHOW HOST Jeff Probst Katie Couric Michael Strahan Ricki Lake Steve Harvey FAVORITE COMPETITION TV SHOW America's Got Talent American Idol Dancing with the Stars The Voice The X Factor FAVORITE CELEBRITY JUDGE Adam Levine Britney Spears Christina Aguilera Demi Lovato Jennifer Lopez FAVORITE TV FAN FOLLOWING Gleeks, Glee Little Liars, Pretty Little Liars Oncers, Once Upon A Time SPNFamily, Supernatural TVDFamily, The Vampire Diaries FAVORITE NEW TV COMEDY Ben & Kate Go On Guys With Kids The Mindy Project The Neighbors The New Normal Partners FAVORITE NEW TV DRAMA 666 Park Avenue Arrow Beauty & The Beast Chicago Fire Elementary Emily Owens, M.D. Last Resort The Mob Doctor Nashville Revolution Vegas FAVORITE MALE ARTIST Blake Shelton Chris Brown Jason Mraz Justin Bieber Usher FAVORITE FEMALE ARTIST Adele Carrie Underwood Katy Perry P!nk Taylor Swift FAVORITE POP ARTIST Adele Demi Lovato Justin Bieber Katy Perry P!nk FAVORITE HIP HOP ARTIST Drake Flo Rida Jay-Z Nicki Minaj Pitbull FAVORITE R&B ARTIST Alicia Keys Beyoncé Bruno Mars Rihanna Usher FAVORITE BAND Green Day Linkin Park Maroon 5 No Doubt Train FAVORITE COUNTRY ARTIST Blake Shelton Carrie Underwood Jason Aldean Taylor Swift Tim McGraw FAVORITE BREAKOUT ARTIST Carly Rae Jepsen Fun. Gotye One Direction The Wanted FAVORITE SONG “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen “One More Night,” Maroon 5 “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Swift “We Are Young,” Fun. ft. Janelle Monáe “What Makes You Beautiful,” One Direction FAVORITE ALBUM Believe, Justin Bieber Blown Away, Carrie Underwood Overexposed, Maroon 5 Some Nights, Fun. Up All Night, One Direction FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEO Boyfriend, Justin Bieber Call Me Maybe, Carly Rae Jepsen Gangnam Style, Psy Part of Me, Katy Perry Payphone, Maroon 5 ft. Wiz Khalifa FAVORITE MUSIC FAN FOLLOWING Beliebers, Justin Bieber Directioners, One Direction KatyCats, Katy Perry Lovatics, Demi Lovato Selenators, Selena Gomez Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna [PHOTO CREDIT: Monty Brinton/CBS] MORE: People's Choice Awards Nominations: Adam Levine, Channing Tatum, Bieber Score Big Russell Brand Is Uninvited to the People's Choice Awards Oscars 2013: Let's Predict the Nominations (and Call the Upsets) From Our Partners: Megan Fox’s 12 Hottest Moments (Moviefone) Ryan Gosling’s ‘Airbrushed’ Abs: Plus 19 More Reasons We Love the Actor (Moviefone)
Honey Boo Boo Spooks Up Some Ratings: Halloween may have come and gone months ago, but Honey Boo Boo still managed to celebrate in style — the ratings tour de force scared up a whopping 3.1 million viewers (the show's most-watched episode) for its Halloween special, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: A Very Boo Halloween. Now that, my friends, is scary.
NBC Gets New Blood: Miss the dearly departed multiple reality drama Awake? You're in luck! Err, sort of. Awake and Lie To Me scribe David Graziano is teaming up with Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) for an NBC pilot called Bloodline, a "contemporary pulp action thriller in the vein of Kill Bill." It will star a young woman who is caught between two warring families, and has to kill her mother. Light fare, for sure. [Deadline]
A Brat-Packer Gets Awkward: Nothing was more awkward than the '80s (except for maybe the '90s) so it makes total sense that The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles star Anthony Michael Hall is set to recur on MTV's hit teen drama, Awkward. He'll play a sadistic creative writing teacher who likes to steal upperclassmen's panties likes to push students out of their comfort zones. [EW]
OWN-ing Up To It?: Looks like Lance Armstrong will finally tell his side of the story. The disgraced former seven-time Tour de France winner will be the subject on OWN's Oprah’s Next Chapter on Thursday, Jan. 17 in a 90-minute special. This will be his first appearance since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency charged the cyclist with using illegal performance enhancing drugs during his career, and there's no telling what he'll say about the controversy, being stripped of all his titles, losing his corporate sponsors, resigning from his charity LiveStrong, or being banned from pro-cycling for life. [Deadline]
Making Her Soapy Comeback: Emmy-winning Genie Francis is returning to the ABC soap that launched her career: General Hospital. She will reprise her role as Laura Spencer for the daytime drama's 50th anniversary this year. “I don’t know what the story is,” Francis says. “I have no idea, but [executive producer] Frank [Valentini] is very persuasive, energetic, infectious and has a sense of fun, a positive-ness that makes you want to work for the guy. He assured me there was going to be nice stuff to play. I am choosing to believe him!” [EW]
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[PHOTO CREDIT: TLC]
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Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all...hell is about to break loose! It starts when a snowstorm grounds all planes at Chicago’s fictional Hoover International Airport. Nobody’s happy to be potentially spending Xmas at an airport but least of all are the Davenport siblings Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) and his little sis Katherine (Dominique Saldana) as well as airport security boss Oliver (Lewis Black). The two kids are escorted to the airport’s “Unaccompanied Minors Lounge ” where kids run wild and terrorize pushover Zach Van Bourke (Wilmer Valderrama) who acts as chief airport babysitter. One look at the madness is all it takes for Spencer and Katherine to bust out along with fellow kiddie anarchists Charlie (Tyler James Williams) Timothy (Brett Kelly) Donna (Quinn Shephard) and Grace (Gina Mantegna). They embark on a pratfall-heavy game of cat and mouse with Oliver who is the Grinch to their collective Santa Clause as they try and salvage Christmas--and their families. Unaccompanied Minors makes some odd but admirable choices when it comes to the cast with virtually every single actor attempting a “Frat Pack” mutiny--Daily Show mainstay Black is joined by “correspondent” Rob Corddry as the Davenports’ Hummer-hating dad not to mention parts from The Office’s B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling Arrested Development’s Tony Hale and Jessica Walter SNL’s Rob Riggle and Kristen Wiig Paget Brewster David Koechner and a rare Kids in the friggin’ Hall (Kevin McDonald Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney) sighting. But the “Who’s that?” cameos aside the screen time is hogged by Black Valderrama and the children. Black the notoriously vulgar curmudgeon of a comedian shows great range and skill by dulling his shtick down but not so much that the kids watching won’t crack up while Valderrama’s performance is the same as his role--that of a bumbling easily overmatched lackey. With all the proverbial child actors in the mix it can seem a little Star Search-y but Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) steals most scenes with his amazing overall talent while Mantegna (Joe’s daughter) fares well too. Kelly (the bullied kid in Bad Santa) is exploited for his physicality and Christopher will likely go on to be a great actor even if he seems too seasoned at such a young age. The reason for the off-the-beaten-path cast is simple: director Paul Feig. The occasional actor has in the past directed episodes of The Office and the late Arrested Development Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks. It also might explain why he fell for a script--by Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark--that takes a few stabs at grown-up comedy (i.e. Corddry’s character has a car that runs on vegetable oil). Such jokes will be lost on the exclusively preadolescent audience but almost all else will reel them in. Feig also seems adept at making the oft-unfunny (physical pratfalls) somewhat funny and he does so with little mention of bodily functions. Of course he stays true to the formula but all kid flicks are the ultimate exercises in contrivance--Feig just chooses to treat the viewers like kids instead of idiots.