Tag Archives: Movies

Movie Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

17 Feb

Inside Llewyn Davis is an extremely uncomfortable masterpiece from the Coen brothers.   What we get is a day in the life of Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk musician in Greenwich Village in the early sixties.  His failure has made him hostile, and his stubborn clinging to artistic credulity limits his options.

This movie really points at the flaws in the American Dream.   First, if you have a dream and work hard enough you will eventually succeed.  Nobody works harder than Llewyn, and he goes nowhere.   The people around him who have a chance of success are no more talented, and often have less passion for the work than Llewyn does.   He’s surrounded by ghosts of his future, people who have followed his road–and none of the endings are happy.  We’ve got John Goodman as the Jazz musician who’s addicted to heroin, Justin Timberlake whose bland persona covers up a suburban worldview where he ignores things that will be obvious trouble later, Carrie Mulligan raging at the whole world, Llewyn’s father who is sinking into blankness under dementia, the professor who has a collector’s appreciation of music, but no feeling for it–nobody in this movie gets fulfillment from their art.

That’s the second myth that this movie pokes holes in–if you follow your bliss, the whole world will unfold before you.   In this movie, Llewyn Davis sacrifices everything for his music.  He throws away his childhood things in a box by the curb, he is broke, he has no place to live, he only has his guitar and a desire to sing–and that makes for a very hard life.   The truth is, he cannot feed off his dreams forever–sooner or later something is going to break.    The world doesn’t run by the secret–wanting something bad enough does not make it happen.

Also talent has nothing to do with it.  Every example in this movie of somebody succeeding has nothing to do with how talented they are or not.   One man in the Army who’s slated for success merely picked up folk singing to pass the time.   The hit song that they recorded was  a novelty.  In fact, for all the music happening in this film, nobody really ever talks about music outside of it being a business.   It’s also clear that the people who are in position to make or break these folkies often have little appreciation for the music.  In fact, during Llewyn’s visit to Chicago, he meets up with a man who’s the biggest producer in folk music, and he mostly judges him in terms of being able to connect with an audience, than how good he is.

Then there’s the myth of the exceptional person.    Nearly every movie is about a person who has that special something which marks them for greatness.  We are told since the beginning of our lives that we are special and we can be anything we want.  Can we?  What if we’re perfectly ordinary?  Or what if we’re even pretty talented and that doesn’t matter?   For many, this is a very depressing thought.  We want to feel like we’re completely in control of our destinies, but generally, we’re not.  Puncturing that illusion of control and significance is a big ego bruise, after all we are all stars in our own lives.   Why isn’t that enough?

In the end Bob Dylan shows up on the stage to perform just as Davis is leaving.   It’s hard to know what we’re meant to feel seeing this.   Perhaps it’s a bit of happiness that somebody gets to become an artist in all this, but at the same time, Dylan is the one who will eventually make the whole folk music scene irrelevant in a few years time.    Also while Dylan is a visionary genius, Llewyn is merely a talented musician.

I find this movie to be excellent–a deconstruction of music history while having every shot look like one of those classic folk covers.   My only quibble is that Justin Timberlake is a very muggy actor.   It’s like everything he says or does is a smirky Saturday night live joke.   Not enough to ruin the movie, but still.


Movie Review: John Dies at the End

2 Feb



If you go to a rock concert at a local hole-in-the wall, you aren’t going for perfectly arranged melodies or high production value, rather you’re going for a rock stompin, balls-to-the-wall, wild time.   That’s John Dies at the End.  End of Review.

Ok, so it’s not the end of the review, and ***WATCH OUT FOR SPOILERS*** not that I think you can have too many honest-to-goodness spoilers in a movie like this.  John Dies at the end is really an episodic series of stories tied together by this man who’s telling his story to a reporter in a diner.   There’s this drug called soy sauce that opens doors to another dimension that all our main characters take.   So in a drug spiked fantasy, you’ve got a man possessed by a swarm of flies, giant leeches, a meat monster, a gigantic tentacled monster intent on conquering the world, a genius dog, and about a million other little things of that nature.   It’s always interesting, and the movie flows at a pretty good pace.

What it reminds me of the most is The Naked Gun movies–not in subject matter, but in the sense that you’ve got a bunch of things thrown at you and some things will stick and some things won’t.   In the end more of it sticks than doesn’t.  But don’t look for cohesion, or character development, or a nice pretty little story that comes to a really nice little loop at the end.    I have to give the movie a lot of credit for taking an incoherent storyline and making it consistently interesting.  It’s so easy for a movie like this to fall into weirdness boredom where once you get accustomed to the atmosphere and nothing really adds up to anything beyond that.

However, there are a couple of moments this film where the muddiness of plot caused confusion.   The connection to the creature at the end and the oddities going on in the real world could have been stronger, and I’m still not sure how the main characters ran their ghostbusting business.   However, this isn’t the sort of movie that you’re meant to focus on these things.

One thing that gets me is the amount of very negative reviews this movie gets.   I think it’s because this movie is intentionally messy, a little bit hipster, and slightly smug at times.   I get that, but that movies like this are pulling from movies that are unintentionally entertaining (good-bad movies), and trying to intentionally make something like them with a much bigger budget–I don’t see that as blasphemy.   In fact, John Dies at the End has fewer boring moments and lulls than those good-bad movies tend to.   All in all, I highly recommend this movie, if you’re in the mood for something a little different.

Movie Review: Spring Breakers

11 Jan



I wasn’t looking forward to this film.  Harmony Korine can be quite unpleasant, and the subject matter made me think this would be a movie about the downfall of awful people.   However, Spring Breakers is quite the opposite, in fact it’s Korine’s most thoughtful film yet.

Yes, it’s about a bunch of college kids on spring break.   Yes they are shallow and juvenile.  Yes the camera comes from a peeping tom viewpoint, ogling the girls and getting in their space.   But there’s so much more to this.

We have four girls going off to Florida for spring break.    Gradually things descend into more and more depravity.   As it gets to be too much, each girl decides to go home when some invisible line has been crossed and they start to get uncomfortable.  Nobody stops them.   The last two girls are the last ones standing, and after a big shootout they leave with Alien’s car also going home.

Korine has picked up a bunch of influences here that I haven’t seen him use before.   We have Thelma and Louise, Faust, Cassavetes, Scarface, beach movies, Screwballs–and that’s just the beginning.   The film is very constructivist, which is quite odd because up until now I would have called Korine a deconstructionist.   The directions are very clear:  we have growing destruction, growing losses, the colors go from bland and grainy to superinfused with color, to dark and shadowy, when each girl leaves the film starts showing them separating from the group.

Spring Breakers is at heart a parable.  We’ve got four girls who go to spring break.  Three steal money from a local diner to be able to afford to go.   They drive off, get a hotel room, and start to party.   They go to a very wild party that gets a little out of control, and get arrested.  The arrest is enough for one girl, so she goes home.  After getting involved with a local gangster (named Alien), one of the girls gets shot, that’s too much for her so she goes home.   The last two get in a huge shoot-out, where Alien gets killed.  They shoot everybody, and then go home.  All four of the girls call home right before they leave saying that they are coming home and they’ll be good from now on.   All four mean it.

What is intimated here is that this experience is a purging of the wild side before these four enter a conservative life where there will be no drugs or partying.   What’s interesting is that the gang members all seem to be people who “went to spring break” and never left.   While the film doesn’t really comment on whether this rite of passage is a good thing, the film does emphasize that these experiences are meant to be temporary, that if you do try to stay there, you’ll eventually become twisted and wrong.

What’s interesting as well is that it’s unclear how much of a gangster Alien really is.  He doesn’t really have much of a posse, and is more living out a fantasy based on Scarface, than living a real life to speak of.   The other gangster does have a posse, but considering that two girls with guns can get through them very easily, one wonders how real that is as well.

Also through this movie, the four girls talking about finding themselves on spring break.   This seems ironic, because through all the debauchery and sexual games, it’s questionable that these girls are learning anything.  However, they change once things go too far, promise to follow the straight and narrow.   Is that reaction really learning?  Is spring break just a way to winnow out all the subversive elements of a population in the safest way possible so that people will happily live out the rest of their lives in dull grayness?

The reaction to this movie has been mixed.   From what I’ve read there’s two groups that don’t like this film.  People who wanted this to be a party film don’t like it because yes there’s a lot of nudity and sex, but none of it is titillating–in fact most of it is disturbing.   This movie is not a party film at all–it’s a meditation on excess.   There’s another group which seems to think that this really is a party film and that Korine just slapped on some artsy elements to hide that.    I wonder if they saw the same movie I did, with the dreamlike imagery, and repeated lines, and symbolism.  So very smart.  I only hope that Korine continues to build on this level of filmmaking in the future.

Movie Review: Waitress

4 Dec



This week I’ve been watching more mainstream fare, most of which has been unspeakably bland.  Then I was pleasantly surprised by Waitress.   At first when it began, I groaned.   It seemed just so twee–the pies she made with every emotion, the big haired waitresses, the bake-off.  And if the movie was just that, you’d be stuck into a Hallmark hell and I wouldn’t see the point of this movie.  However, and this was a BIG surprise, this movie has a serious center as a meditation on jealousy.

Jenna is the titular character with her two coworkers Becky (the sassy one) and Dawn (the lovelorn one).   She’s in an unhappy marriage in a small southern town and is about to have a baby.   Jenna does not want this baby–because to her it symbolizes being stuck in her marriage, and she has 9 months to get herself up and out of there before the baby comes.

Jenna’s husband is completely jealous of her.   Waitress really gets the idea of jealousy down–see, most people mix up jealousy, envy, and wishing together.  Jealousy is unease because of a fear of losing something.  Jenna’s husband has this–which makes him controlling and unlikable.  Not to mention that he really doesn’t care what she thinks or wants, and sees her as being there for him and him alone.     He even worries about the baby getting more love from her than he will.    He gets in angry spats with her, slapping her at one point, and coming into her work and raising hell.   Then he becomes so insecure that she agrees with him because she’s got no choice.

That’s the thing with Jenna, she’s got no choice.  She doesn’t have the resources to move on, and she sees the baby as another drain on her already tenuous resources.   She is also jealous.   She fears losing her clean start–even though she has money bundled away all through the house, and possibly has enough to make a clean break of it, she still hesitates.   She wants to move on, but she has nothing to move on to.

Paralleling this story is Becky, the long married waitress–however, her husband is severely disabled.  We never know why or how, but he barely functions.  So she has an affair with the cook.   This has no ramifications.  She can’t abandon her husband, she doesn’t really want another family or anything, but at the same time she has some needs to fulfill.    Again, jealousy keeps her down, because she does not want to be the kind of woman who leaves an invalid to fend for himself.

Dawn is viewed as less than attractive.   She goes on mini-dates, and one day a man falls in love with her.   She doesn’t fall in love back, because he becomes obsessed, writing poetry, crying, getting all gooey.   He comes off as a little ridiculous, and at first Dawn is very turned off by this.   However, though he may be a little strange, she falls for him.  The other waitresses see this as desperation, however their relationship becomes one that is full of love, and free of jealousy.  Her husband was envious of her, pursued her, and became a good husband and father.

Jenna’s arc goes through an affair she has with her Doctor, which is clearly acting out because of her unhappy marriage.   She gives her the attention and care that she craves.  Interestingly enough (SPOILERS) they don’t end up together.  He’s happily married, and she just needed someone to show her affection so she knew what it was like.   Once she gets that, the picture of the life she wants to have gets filled in.

Once Jenna has the baby, she finds something that is worth her attention and love.  She kicks her husband out, and her life clicks into place.

Also in this movie is Andy Rooney who is just remarkable as a crotchety old businessman.

Admittedly this movie is a bit gooey, but one thing I have to emphasize is that because the conflict is so real, the fey trappings makes it all the more understandable.  Of course Jenna would through herself into making pies, it’s all she has.  Of course the waitresses would have the same discussions over and over, they know each other that well.   So that at the end, when we get our fairy tale ending, it feels earned.  Jenna tried to leave many times, each time failing, but at the very end, she leaves for good.  And you feel good for her.

Movie Review: Friday the 13th Part 2

9 Nov

frida the 13th part 2


Well, even though Halloween is over, I’ve continued my 80’s slasher films, because they’ve been fun.   For Friday the 13th Part 2 I was pleasantly surprised!  This must be one of the best sequels to a movie like this ever.   SPOILERS FOLLOW so proceed with caution!

I think this film could be a good tutorial for anybody trying to make a sequel in a franchise.   Here’s what it does right:

–It assumes you’ve watched the first one, but is still simple enough to follow if you haven’t.   A lot of movies either completely start out new after throwing a few biscuits out to the original without worrying about continuity (annoying) or get so ham-strung in continuity it forgets to be fun.   F13 part 2 does neither of these things.   We get a little flashback scene at the beginning, and clearly all the action is based on the past movie, but it is happy to go in a new direction.

–It messes with its own formula.   This film knows what the audience expects–you think the guy in the wheelchair is gonna get stuck?  Nope.   You think that the girl from the last movie is going to go head-to-head with Jason?  Nope.  You think the funny one is going to die?  Nope.   The film has a deft hand at playing with the expectations an audience would have and changing them.

–The movie has an interesting theme, not covered in the first one.  Sure it’s not Shakespeare, but the theme of urban legend vs. reality is a very interesting one and brings the story into new territory.   The whole set-up is that the Jason story is now well known and there’s a fascination with Crystal Lake as well as the whole Jason experience.  We get campfire stories, and even theories over why he is the way he is.   What we don’t get is the total unvarnished truth.  Very clever.

–The movie doesn’t weigh itself down in exposition.   We don’t need to know the life stories of every counselor that comes to this place.

–Most (though not all) of what happens makes perfect sense if you think about it.  Like the ending–we don’t know what truly happened that night because the main actress is insane.   Jason’s house makes sense as well as his obsession with his mother.   Even little things, like how the cop acts, is perfectly in character and not blown over the top.

–The main actress uses her head to get past Jason.   In part 1 all of the characters acted like idiots, but here they make plans, they get prepared, they make semi-sensible decisions.

–The film has a sense of humor about itself.  One of the best jokes is when the girl gets out of the shower, and looks at the camera.  Is she facing a stalker?  Nope, she’s just getting out of the shower.

However, this wouldn’t be a fun movie if I didn’t notice some things.  For instance:

1.  The clothes–Look at the knit plaid overalls the first woman is wearing–why do they balloon like that?  At first I thought she was pregnant, but then later we see her being very unpregnant in a kimono.   Then there’s the shorts the jogger wears that manage to cover her belly button but not her butt cheeks.   Or what about the brown panties one girl changes into that bulge in the back in a very unflattering way?   And I’ve never seen so many half shirts in my life!

2.  So the first girl was traumatized by the killings at Crystal Lake, so she chooses to get a house in the nearby town?   Wasn’t she from far away?  Also what’s up with all the clown paintings she’s doing?  Therapy?

3.  They can’t use the Crystal Lake camp, so these people open up a new camp off the same lake–that’s awfully close.   Also, were there always two camps near this little podunk town?

4.  Jason’s house has a toilet that’s not hooked up with blades of grass in it.  I don’t even know what to do with that information.

5.  And the biggest bit–the dog.  So the dog disappears halfway through the movie, and the kids find a torn up animal with the very same ribbon on it.   They say the animal is unidentifiable.   (Though it looks pretty much like the same dog from here.)  Later the dog just saunters back in.   So did Jason kill some other animal and put a ribbon on it?  The thing is the person who owns the dog never even heard about this finding, so it can’t be to creep people out.   *shrug*

Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street

30 Oct



Well, continuing the list of movies my mother wouldn’t let me watch–here’s a Nightmare on Elm Street.   Since I was like 6 when this movie came out, I can’t really blame her.  However, this movie was WAY better than I expected.    Though the cover–why does it look like they pasted Johnny Depp’s face to this poor girl’s head?  (BECAUSE HE WAS THE PRETTIEST!  DURRRRRR!)

Again, I’m not going to go too far on the plot bit–Freddy Krueger haunts kids–got it.  One thing this movie’s got on its brethren is the level of care in the details.   Watch Friday the 13th and you might as well turn your brain off–you start noticing inconsistencies and the whole thing comes round.  This one though rewards attention, I mean it’s not Citizen Kane, but I really like some of the details:  like the stay awake pills being on her desk later, the details of the dreams, why everything ends up in a furnace room–it all sorta makes sense, and because most of the violence happens in dreams any consistency holes get layered over by the dream frosting.

The biggest thing to say about this movie is that while it plays with dream imagery, a vast majority of the film focuses on real world stuff, or things that could happen in the real world at any rate.   The fight against falling asleep is always hinted at, but never directly addressed.   And the best thing about this movie is Ronee Blakely!  My god that woman is a genius, I could watch her saying her lines all day in that super expressive too sweet to be true motherly voice.    Really, why they couldn’t have kept her around for like three more movies is beyond me, because her scenes all rock.

Some little things I noticed though–

Nancy’s father sure wears a lot of makeup.

Ok, so we see Nancy’s mother remove a pot of coffee and like three mugs from Nancy’s room, but Nancy has a coffee pot under her bed?  Does she have to have a fresh cup every time she pours herself more?

Until Nancy mentions her mother drinking, we never see any liquor–after that point she’s got a bottle at hand through the rest of the film.

Also, Nancy’s mom dug through the warehouse fire to get Freddy’s glove?  Why?  Was it still connected to his hand, because ewwwww.

What was the point of Freddy pretending to be the hall monitor?  Even Nancy just shrugged at that one and Nancy screams at EVERYTHING.

Also they’ve got to have the fastest bar manufacturers in the country because Nancy was out for maybe a couple of hours and Mom had all the windows in the house barred already.

There’s no way that Johnny Depp could possibly sleep that way with the TV on his groin.  Those “portable” TVs were HEAVY.    Also he’s watching Miss Nude America on broadcast TV?

Most of the effects were pretty good–except for Freddy with the long arms, which just looks silly,   Also in her dream Nancy got Freddy’s hat?  How?

Also the Scooby Doo plan of Nancy, I’d accuse Nightmare of stealing from Home Alone but it was years later.  Still–I couldn’t help but think of it.

Movie Review: Friday the 13th (1980)

28 Oct



Well this year G and I are celebrating Halloween by watching stupid classic slasher movies.   First up, the original Friday the 13th!  This movie also has the benefit of being one of a series my parents banned me from ever ever watching–so I was all feeling rebellious last night watching this and eating gobs of candy.  HAHAHAHA!  I should take a picture of myself and send it to my mother–I’m grown up now MOM!

Ok, so I’m not going to go on about the plot–and oh yeah, in case you don’t know anything about anything SPOILERS FOLLOW.  Just a few observations about this movie.

1.  Man this must be about the worst camp ever.   We hear they’re for 50 campers and they have three canoes, one haybale with a pretty janky looking target on it, one functioning sink in the bathroom, and electricity that seems to start and stop at random.  Actually a more entertaining movie would be if there was no killer and the campers came and we had to watch inner city children be bored.

2.  Is it just me or is Annie’s life dream to work the cafeteria for a children’s camp very specific?   Also there’s talk with the truck driver about the curse on Crystal Lake which involves:  Jason’s drowning (ok) and  two kids slashed (that’s pretty terrible) but both of these things happened 25 years ago–so what’s the rest of this curse?   Fires and bad water?  I don’t even know what he means by bad water–was it poisoned?  Did it get sulphery?

3.  Also when Annie hitches a ride with the killer, why exactly is the killer speeding up the car?  (Oh yeah and GIANT SPOILER–the killer is Jason’s mother)–was the plan to drive Annie somewhere else and then kill her there?    Why go faster?   Also Annie seems like she has no survival skills considering she’s been hitchhiking for awhile.

4.  Kevin Bacon’s Speedo–WTH?  I mean is he stuffing that thing or what?  G and I were watching and then all of a sudden Kevin Bacon’s junk is just there right in the screen.  Weird misshapen square junk.   Other weird forms of male flesh–Ned in a sweatshirt diaper and indian headdress, and the head of the camp in really short jean shorts and red socks.  None of it is remotely attractive.

5.   Ok, so Kevin Bacon and his girl are making out on the bottom bunk when a corpse is on the top bunk with no idea whatsoever?   Couldn’t you tell?   Also, was Jason’s mother just lying under the bed the whole time?   Also how much blood must be up there if it’s dripping THROUGH the mattress?

6.  Strip Monopoly?  I don’t even know how that would work.   At this point in the movie G and I got into a heated debate about a clothing based economy which may have ended by me calling him a tea-party fanatic and him calling me a bleeding heart liberal–but I digress.

7.   Jeez these girls have no problem with running around in the rain in just their underpants.   Maybe those inner city kids would have been entertained after all.

8.   “Hi my name is Marcie!  I hear creepy noises in the disgusting bathroom so guess what I’m going to do?  Kathryn Hepburn impressions!  YES!”

9.  Wow that is one HOT waitress at the diner.   I don’t know if it’s her orange fro or her gigantic glasses, but I wasn’t prepared for this much cuteness when I signed up.

10.  Pamela Voorhees–When I was watching this with G, he was all like “this is a mystery!”  even though I knew who did it before even watching.  Let me tell you something, even if you know nothing about this movie, THIS IS NOT A MYSTERY.  Sure there’s a few half-baked red herrings, but unless you think Steve drove off, unhitched his trailer, killed Annie, then rehitched his trailer up (which seems unnecessarily elaborate), there’s absolutely no clues as to who might be doing it.  In fact, it’s pretty evident early on that the killer is nobody we have met yet.  On top of that Pamela immediately goes into psycho shriek mode when we meet her.

11.  By the way Pamela’s got superhuman strength or something.  She throws a corpse through a window, arranges the rest in trees an top bunks, gets hit in the face by a shotgun, a cast iron skillet, a metal poker and an oar, and even then Alice had to cut her head off to make sure she was dead.   And the woman fights dirty–at one point even biting Alice’s leg.

12.   Also, Alice isn’t too bright.  She barricades the door from the inside, even though it opens out, with a piece of wood, a picture from the wall, and a couple of chairs.  Also, she leaves her gas stove on boiling water as she searches for her boyfriend.   Each time she knocks Pamela out, she just kind of wanders off, at one point just looking at her own face in the water of the lake.    Also, why do they have like 30 shotguns?  To keep the inner city kids under control no doubt!

13.  The end is kinda confusing.  I think we’re supposed to take from it that Jason is still alive (but then why all the reports of a drowned kid?) or at least a body was never recovered.  I think her “dream” of Jason was supposed to be just a hallucination?   I don’t know, it’s not like this movie went too far into the story.