Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
Like many tales about the good vs. the evil, the evil mostly steals the show from the good in "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1941), a cautionary moral tale based on Stephen Vincent Benét's short story which is sort of a New England version of the tale of Faust. Though it was made 70 years ago, the movie remains as a darkly enjoyable movie with the wonderful moments that can both amuse and chill us with the subtle creepiness pervading its rural background. Sure, we are happy to see the soul of an ordinary American luckily saved from the eternal damnation in the end, but, folks, can we deny that we had a fun with Mephistopheles before the obligatory finale?
Clint Eastwood is one of the few filmmakers whose work I always attend on his reputation alone. This is not to say they've been classics (think of his orangutan movies) but when entering a theater I can be reasonably confident, worst case scenario, of seeing something above average.
Eastwood has had several defined periods, such as his Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and the cop pictures of the 70s and 80s (which arrived a bit late here in Mexico because "Dirty Harry" was censored). In a career that spans five decades and included dozens of features, a single splits it into Pre and Post, and that film is "Unforgiven." It's hard to think of a single feature that puts into perspective a filmmaker's career like this one does for Eastwood, and it opens the door to his current stage which has included some of his best work.
During the revolution Egyptians referenced "V for Vendetta" more frequently than any other work of art. Protestors held up signs that read "Remember, remember the 25 of January." On the internet, Photoshop was used to alter Pharaoh Tout Ankh Amoun's face into a Fawkes smile.
Sarah Abdel Rahman, an activist who ended up on TIME magazine's cover page during the revolution referred to scenes from the film when I discussed the revolution with her. Guy Fawkes' bumper stickers are stuck on the back windows of dozens of cars driving through Cairo traffic; his mask painted red, white and black resembling the Egyptian flag. The list goes on and on, there's no doubt about it, in 2011 "V for Vendetta" stirred up as much conversations in Egypt as when it first spread controversy the day it was released here.
How long does it take for a good movie to convince you to watch it? Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men," announced itself in the first scene, presented its product in the second, introduced paperwork in the third, and closed the deal in the fourth. The two hour long "Matchstick Men" sold in me less than seven minutes.
Every semester, I ask my students this one simple question. "Can you honestly say that you are happy?" In a class of 40 students, maybe only six will raise their hands. And that is pretty sad.
Are they plagued by those uncertainties of youth? Are they wondering if they will find a career, love, or meaning? Are they terrified by the threats of terrorist attacks, financial collapse, climate change and, well, the Apocalypse? Or, have they decided that the "American Dream" was not Thomas Jefferson's vision, but is instead a sappy Hollywood fantasy? Or, maybe they just hate my class? Sure.
In answering this question, Gabriele Muccino's "The Pursuit of Happyness," takes many usual directions that Hollywood movies take. At first, he seems to answer the question the way we would expect a Hollywood filmmaker to answer:
He had these smiling eyes. And a self-deprecating manner which seemed to belie his very good looks ("He's so cute," my 19-year-old assistant exclaimed), about which he was fairly oblivious. Most of all, he was simply a very good guy.
Gary Winick, a many-hats-wearing filmmaker and digital pioneer, died of complications following a 2 year battle with brain cancer on February 27th, the day of the Academy Awards --- an especially sad irony for a vital man, weeks shy of 50, whose passion for film and storytelling had filled the decades of his adult life.
The private memorial service was held at the Time-Warner Center in Winick's beloved New York. Overlooking Central Park as the sun set, an invited group of 400 (some going back to childhood, some famous, many with whom he'd worked, even some he'd made sure got a decent meal when they were struggling) assembled to watch film clips, to hear and tell stories - to cry, yes, but also to laugh at so many experiences they certainly cherish now.
In the middle of Boaz Yakin's "Fresh" (1994), there is the crucial scene that gives us the insight into its hero's plan. While playing chess with his father, he learns a lesson. And then he applies its logic to the real world for his own purpose. However, in the world case, the game is not a simple matter of win or lose. A small false move can result in not a mere checkmate but a dour outcome for him. And (this is one of the most interesting aspects of the film) he is only a 12-year-old kid. He can do it, and we know that, but can he endure to the end?
If we are to believe some of his many fans, then Tupac Shakur was never murdered. Rather, he is today living a quiet life, perhaps playing chess under quiet New Zealand clouds with Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley. And while Lauren Lazin bookends her documentary, "Tupac: Resurrection," with his murder, the movie takes us through the turbulent world that formed and informed his biography. The movie convinces us that we have entered not only his mind, but his heart.