Category Archives: John Goodman

A Second Viewing, A Second View: Inside Llewyn Davis

SPOILER ALERT: This review is filled with SPOILERS for “Inside Llewyn Davis.” If you don’t want SPOILERS for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” do not read beyond this point. I put SPOILERS in bold/caps lock because you see, I’m trying to make a point. 

A Coen Brothers film can be great on one viewing, but no Coen Brothers film has been truly watched until it has been seen at least twice.

So far, I have gotten a mixed consensus from the few people I know who have seen “Inside Llewyn Davis.” For every time it topped a bestof list or got an A+, it also got a negative review. But Joel and Ethan Coen never really get full acclaim across the board, except in the cases of “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men.”

The legacy of “Inside Llewyn Davis” will take time to sort out, but I figured now was an appropriate time to sort out a few things about the film that you and me, but mostly me, might have been having trouble with. Here is my SPOILER heavy rundown of “Inside Llewyn Davis”:

On Llewyn Davis Himself: Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is, as Jean (Carey Mulligan) so lovingly describes him, an asshole. She sure does like to call him that. Llewyn doesn’t intentionally try and hurt others around him (mostly), but he doesn’t really consider how his actions might hurt others in the future. He is more careless than thoughtless. 
On That Note, Llewyn is Kind of an Idiot: Part of the reason I wanted to see “Llewyn Davis” again was because of the technical difficulties during my first screening. One of them cut out a small but pivotal moment, where Llewyn accepts his money for “Please Mr. Kennedy” upfront, and cheats himself out of royalties. He needs the money right away in order to pay for Jean’s abortion and his manager simply won’t help him here. 

Some have said that Llewyn is plagued by bad luck. More accurately, he creates a lot of his own bad luck by being stubborn and uncooperative. Then again, he is also thrown into a lot of situations like this one, where either choice he makes will be a bad one. 

Llewyn Might Be an Asshole, but it “Takes Two To Tango”: The Coen Brothers don’t like to let anybody off easy. Llewyn is surrounded by a lot of jerks, and a lot of well-intentioned hacks. Jean doesn’t blame herself for the fact that she cheated on her husband and might be carrying Llewyn’s baby. No, it’s all Llewyn’s fault. Every time he brings this up, it is as if she didn’t even hear him. One of the defining traits of a typical Coen Brothers’ character is that they seem to be talking to themselves most of the time. For the most part, Llewyn can try and let his music, rather than his actions, speak for him, it would certainly make him look much better.

That Cat: The multiple cats that stroll in and out of “Inside Llewyn Davis” serve many purposes. I would like to say that they serve as a means of motivation for Llewyn. Whether it is the Gorfeins’ cat or the other cat, they are the one thing on this planet Llewyn has control over, and the one thing he really seems bent on helping. Yet, just like with Jean, he gets no thanks whenever he does provide. Even if cats could talk, they probably wouldn’t thank him. That is how cats operate, you see.

Mainly though, a cat is simply perfect comic relief. Mrs. Gorfein’s very weird relation with Ulysses was more pronounced this time (watch what she does with her tongue at one point). “Where is his scrotum, Llewyn?” has made me laugh way too hard on both occasions. The cut to black immediately after it is also perfect.

Comedy Plus Tragedy Equals…: As usual, Joel and Ethan Coen take tragic situations and fill them with comic characters.

Random Questions: How does Llewyn know the Gorfeins? (Likely Answer: Mike was their son) What did Llewyn hit when he was driving on the highway? (Likely Answer: A random tabby cat, and not a goat as my dad thought)

The Chicago Trip: Some might say that the Chicago detour was too long, or even completely unnecessary. In my humble and possibly incorrect opinion, Llewyn needed that trip as much as the audience needed to see it happen.

In any other film, Llewyn would have knocked Bud Grossman’s (F. Murray Abraham) socks off and gotten the gig. Then on the way home, he would have decided to take that awkward first meeting with his son. Instead, Bud doesn’t see any potential and Llewyn passes the exit to Akron. The rejection shows that even when people are pushed this far, there is the chance that they still won’t make it. Some people just won’t get what you do. While this is sad and cynical, there is something very necessary about understanding the life of a failed artist. One can learn more from failure than success.

If these things worked out for the better, this would be a different film. It would be okay, albeit cheesy, and probably directed by Adam Shankman.

Oscar Isaac: I don’t know if he will win, but I am rooting for him to take home the Academy Award for Best Actor.

John Goodman: Somebody with movie power please get an Oscar campaign started for him.

What the Film Lacks in Character Development, it Makes Up for in Back Story: “Inside Llewyn Davis” is the first film of its kind that I would actually watch a prequel to.

The Chicago detour ultimately means less time spent with the characters introduced during the first act. Unlike most writer/directors, the Coen Brothers work best with flimsy characters that border on being one-dimensional. Llewyn is a fairly selfish man, and all that matters about the other characters is how they have somehow factored into Llewyn’s life. Through this, we learn a lot about their past, and that tells us a lot about who they are today. Most of these characters are not meeting for the first time. We are barging in at a very random moment in their lives, so now we have to adapt. We are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. This applies to the audience watching as well as to the characters on screen.

That Moment: When Llewyn looks at a poster for “The Incredible Journey,” and you realize that “Homeward Bound” is a remake. 
That Ending: “Inside Llewyn Davis” starts and ends in the same place. The same event is shown twice and on both occasions it carries two different meanings.

Basically, Llewyn performs at The Gaslight. He is called outside to meet a “friend.” A shady man proceeds to beat him up. The first time we see it, we know basically nothing about it. It is a confounding event. The second time we see it, there is much more context. Llewyn made fun of the man’s wife. He has once again failed to connect with people. This time, it is very tragic.

Before he gets punched in the face, it almost looks like “Inside Llewyn Davis” is about to end happily, even though we know what is actually going to happen. Llewyn has his most successful performance in the entire whole film. For the first time, he really seems to connect with an audience. After a spectacular rendition of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” Llewyn belts out “Fare Thee Well.” Remember, “Fare Thee Well” was a song he would duet with Mike. Earlier in the film, listening to Mrs. Gorfein chime in with Mike’s verse was painful for Llewyn. He could not even finish the song (also for reasons of selfish pride, but let’s not get into that now). The second time, Llewyn gets through the entire song without a hitch. This is like his moment of redemption. But when you’re a character in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” unlike other films, you will actually have to face the consequences of your actions. Then the punch came.

As Llewyn leaves the bar, unaware of what is about to happen, he happens upon the now familiar sight and voice of Bob Dylan. Dylan is not what Bud Grossman would call a moneymaker, but the fact that Dylan’s insane lyrics and scratchy voice connected so much is almost a miracle.

As Llewyn gets beaten up, you can still hear Dylan singing “Farewell” inside The Gaslight. Yet, Llewyn sits outside in an alley. He is cold, bloody, and defeated. No matter how close he gets to great success, something will bring him down unexpectedly. He is doomed to be a perpetual outsider.

Llewyn Davis strikes me as one of those artists who won’t become famous until long after he is gone. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a sad yet beautiful portrayal of potential both squandered and fully realized. Some people make it, and some people do not. When you don’t make it, sometimes it is your fault, and sometimes you can’t avoid it. There are some people who will get so close to being Bob Dylan, but instead end up lying in an alley with no house, jacket, or furry animal to return to.

Some people thrive on this chaos, and some people, well, they are Llewyn Davis, and they cannot be described in so few words.

Movie Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

Cat in the big city. Image via Rotten Tomatoes

Yes, Joel and Ethan Coen have given us a musical biopic. It doesn’t mean they had to give you one about a real musician. Or even make the movie you wanted to see.

“Inside Llewyn Davis,” the Coen Brothers’ first film in a very long three years, is a welcome return to the big screen. It is the perfect awards season film that is also an anti-awards season film. It’s a tale for the holidays that wears its icy heart on its sleeves.

Like most Coen Brothers films, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is based on something else, but how much it’s based off of that thing is questionable. Davis is based on Dave Van Ronk. Most the songs in the movie are his, but Davis’ personality is different. This mystery just adds to the charm.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” takes place in the winter of 1961 and follows, well Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a struggling folk singer who is just trying to get his voice heard. Llewyn is very talented and he has even released a few albums, yet no matter what he does he can never quite reach success. He has no permanent roof over his head, a cheap manager, and a former love interest who is convinced that he is the worst person on earth.

Adam Driver’s character on “Girls” would also wear that outfit.

And maybe he isn’t so great. The Coen Brothers don’t like perfect and kind protagonists. That is part of what makes all of their films so interesting: they are more interested in the people who keep on going, despite never quite getting what they want.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is damn near close to perfection, and I get the sense that it is a result of all the right people meeting at the exact right time. Isaac’s musical ability coincides beautifully with his acting talent. Justin Timberlake continues to show why he is more talented than all of us. Meanwhile, as Llewyn’s ex, Carey Mulligan serves as Llewyn’s reality check. She sure gets a lot of mileage out of the word “asshole.” Together, the three of them bring new life to old tunes, and make 1960s Greenwich Village feel so alive. Just like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” before it, you will want to buy the soundtrack the minute you get home.

Mainly, this film would not have been possible under any other writer or director. The Coen Brothers have one of the most distinct voices in modern cinema. Every time they portray the past, it is a past that did not quite exist: it is a Coen Brothers universe filled with unfortunate circumstances and off-beat, mumbling side characters.

While every Coen Brothers film has a sense of humor, “Inside Llewyn Davis” might be the funniest one they have done in years. Usually, it takes multiple viewings to find the humor in their films (“A Serious Man,” for example, becomes more of a comedy than a drama the more times you watch it). There is an unavoidable humor to John Goodman’s mean-spirited Roland Turner, and so many jokes mined at the expense of the oblivious kindness of the Gorfeins. Still, I refuse to ever call the Coen Brothers mean-spirited.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” relishes in its musical moments because the Coen Brothers, in collaboration with T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford, are so good at recreating the magic of watching a live performance. Yet, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is also an anti-musical. The songs do not teach lessons or move people to tears. “Inside Llewyn Davis” uniquely portrays a performer who’s central problem is that he cannot connect with others. Watching a portrayal of artistic failure might be sad, but it is important to know that sometimes those with talent can go completely unnoticed. Llewyn is honest and authentic, and those seem to be the exact qualities that get in the way of his success.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is often so grim yet it never feels tragic to watch. It does not follow a fluid plot but rather a series of situations that Davis is thrown into. The film is never meandering or dull, especially when this dark world is populated with such colorful characters. “Inside Llewyn Davis” strays away from all of the directions that similar films would have taken. The Coen Brothers don’t want to give you the ending that will necessarily satisfy you; they want to show you the world as they see it through their eyes as filmmakers.

After watching “Inside Llewyn Davis,” you too might realize that there might just be no better way to view a film from now on.

Brain Farts From The Edge

  • I went to a screening riddled with technical issues. There were sound and image problems, so the film had to be started over. Then, the reels had to be changed manually. Every time, a reel ended, we had to sit there and wait for the next reel to change. I definitely need to see this film again straight through. However, watching it this way was definitely an interesting experience. Call this a Coen Brothers Grindhouse experience.
  • Once again, the Coen Brothers nail the regional accent, dialect, and attitude. 
  • The Coen Brothers love them some characters with hard to pronounce/spell names.
  • “Inside Llewyn Davis” is set in 1961. In the Coens’ universe, that is exactly 20 years after “Barton Fink,” and just a few short years before The Dude would occupy various administrative buildings and smoke a lot of thai stick.
  • The cat itself is a great extra character. His name, which I won’t reveal, probably has a symbolic meaning which I have no idea of.
  • That ending. Will have to discuss it further in a spoiler-heavy review.
  • My favorite song in the film: the beautiful and moving rendition of “Five Hundred Miles.” I do have to give Adam Driver some credit for his hilarious vocal contributions to “Please Mr. Kennedy.”
  • I still am not sure whether or not this is intentional, but this poster for the film looks remarkably similar to this poster for “Taxi Driver.” It makes sense, as “Davis” has the mentality and feel of a 70s film as well as Scorsese’s understanding of New Yorkers. 
  • People Who Look Exactly Alike: Oscar Isaac, David Krumholtz, Jake Johnson
  • I like how Garrett Hedlund immediately left “On the Road,” took mumbling lessons from Rooster Cogburn, and then walked right onto the set of “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Movie Review: Argo

Ben Affleck pulled off the impossible and made a movie about the making of a movie that isn’t cheeky or ironic. Then again, it’s hard to be overly ironic when the movie you’re making is fake and you’re dealing with a hostage crisis.

“Argo” plays perfectly like a classic thriller: it’s smart, suspenseful, and fun. “Argo” is both an entertaining thriller and a disturbing document of a very bad time in history.

“Argo” is equal parts reenactment, documentary footage, and artistic license. It starts off with a nice refresher  on the past 60 years of Iranian history. In just about a minute, it makes much more sense out of what happened to that country than CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News ever could combined. It goes up to 1979, the year in which the Shah was overthrown and the Iranian Revolution began. Director Ben Affleck gives us a full fledged reenactment of the Iranians breaking into the US Embassy in Tehran. This scene would have felt overlong, if it wasn’t so important to the rest of the story, and directed with nail-biting intensity.

Actually, “Argo” is not about the hostages in the Embassy but rather a select few that nobody knew even escaped. A group of Americans hid out in the Canadian Embassy. The Canadians didn’t quite bother the Iranians as much as the Americans did, as the Canadians never seem to bother anyone, as they are the greatest country ever to exist.*

But I digress. The CIA needs a way to safely get the Americans out of the Canadian Embassy and back to America. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is on it. Tony is good at his job, and, like almost any government agent on film, he just wants to get home and see his son. You’ll hear more about this later in the review.

Tony and his boss Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) go through every option and can’t find a logical way to sneak the Americans out of Iran. As O’Donnell, Cranston is much more subdued than I’m used to seeing him. But then again, anyone in government who’s most concerned with following orders isn’t going to chew up the scenery. As the clock ticks, no idea seems to work. That is, until Tony comes up with the craziest idea ever: shoot a fake movie in Iran, and sneak an entire fake crew out of the most dangerous country in the world.

“Argo” is a heist film in which the big heist involves the making of a movie. This is the kind of story that can make any film buff go crazy. When rescuing the Canadian hostages, Tony tells them that they all must assume the roles of certain members of a film crew. They must learn and memorize their backstories for when they are questioned at the airport. They are essentially memorizing characters and becoming a part of a lie. While making a fake movie, they are essentially acting one out in real life. And we, of course, are seeing that movie be acted out in real time.

To make this fake movie come true, Tony goes to Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who then brings him to legendary producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, who utters a line of dialogue that has already become classic). They bring Tony a script for “Argo,” a B-grade sci-fi film that could be filmed perfectly in the Middle East. They have their cover. It is too bad that the “Argo” within “Argo” never got mad. I’d really like to see this tale of overthrowing a king on a distant planet. The story of the sci-fi “Argo” actually sounds alarmingly similar to what was happening in Tehran during that time. Get on it, Affleck.

“Argo” marks Affleck’s third time behind the camera. With every feature, he gets better and better as a director. He directs “Argo” like a confident, old pro, and not just a young director still searching for his voice. Behind the camera, Affleck is someone who is incredibly well versed in both movies and the art of filmmaking. As he also showed with “The Town,” Affleck has a talent for strictly following genre conventions yet also making them fresh and exciting. He has conquered the chase scene. Towards the end of “Argo,” there is one chase that totally puts any chase in “The Town” to shame. Some of the final chase in “Argo” might be fictionalized, but Affleck knows that part of showing history on film is bending the truth a little bit. After all, even in a story as exciting as this one, facts can be boring.

Sometimes, the cinematic conventions that “Argo” follows work to its advantage, and other times not. While I understand that Affleck just wanted a strong back story for Tony, I would not have minded if they just completely removed everything about his estranged family. It didn’t make Tony any deeper or more complicated as character. All I wanted to see was Tony at work, and how his job effected him. “All the President’s Men” didn’t need to show personal relationships in order to flesh out Woodward and Bernstein. In a movie about the workplace, showing someone being good at their job can often be enough to bring out character.

I am not against character development. However, I am against character development that turns the character into a prototype rather than a human. I can site a more recent example, actually also about the CIA, in the show “Homeland.” The most important details about the CIA Operative main character are how her mind functions and how that effects her job. Tony’s relationship with his son didn’t effect his job. His job effected his relationship with his son. This was mentioned several times, but never explored deep enough. There was one possible ending nestled in “Argo” that would have been a little darker, yet absolutely perfect. Instead, the ending they went with pushes a little too hard to tie things together nicely. Hard-boiled thrillers should never end with a perfectly tied little bow on them.

But maybe I am being a little tough here. After all, Tony’s relationship with his son is partly forged on a love for movies. If it wasn’t for his son watching “Battle of the Planet of the Apes,” Tony might never have thought of his crazy rescue idea. There is something wonderful about the nature of cinema that I think “Argo” showed flawlessly: movies can connect two estranged people, or two people from completely different cultures, in a way that most other art forms can’t. The idea of a story can cross a threshold even if two people don’t even speak the same language. “Argo,” in simplest form, is a love letter to filmmaking. Pay very close attention to the graininess of every shot. That’s on purpose. This could be one of the last times you see a movie that’s actually shot on film.

*Note: I am not Canadian, and they are not the greatest country ever. However, I am a big fan of their country.

Movie Review: The Artist

Who would have thought that a modern black and white silent film could be funnier and more entertaining than most films made with sound and color nowadays? Sound might have been improved film, but “The Artist” proves that a step back into silence every once in a while isn’t such a bad thing.

For anyone resistant to seeing a silent film, “The Artist” is only partly one. It incorporates the orchestra that would usually play live alongside a silent film as well as a few incredibly clever sound tricks. “The Artist” is an “I’m big, it’s the pictures that got small” story about silent star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), with a last name evoking Rudolph Valentino and a mustache and toothy grin evoking Clark Gable. In 1927, Valentin’s Hollywood career is soaring. He stars mainly in action and romantic pictures which usually boast names such as “A Russian Affair” and “A Chinese Affair.” His dog, who is always on his side in both movies and in life, probably plays dead better than most dogs.

Movies are all about those little coincidences that, like a butterfly effect, later have a huge impact. After leaving one of his premieres, Valentin bumps into a fan (Berence Bejo) with a made-for-Hollywood name: Peppy Miller. Her name, and pictures of the glance that the two exchange, is all over the tabloids the next day. In order to get closer to George, Peppy auditions to be a dancer in his next movie. As she gets her start, George teaches Peppy the most important rule in being a successful actor: look distinct.

Around the same time that Peppy becomes a household name, the cigar wielding studio head (John Goodman, perfect for the role) decides that silent movies are out, and talkies are in. George wants absolutely no part in the talkies, and he pays the price for his arrogance. The inside of the studio is shown in one scene as a never-ending staircase in which people constantly walk up, but rarely down, like the Hollywood machine that mass produces movies and stars. Valentin becomes just another piece of unnecessary inventory.

“The Artist” is both a satire of the way movies are made and a movie with the broadest of plots and characters. Archetypes are usually unacceptable to me but here, they are just so lovingly that they actually work. As a movie star, George Valentin has no singular appeal, as he can play both a swashbuckling action hero and a dazzling romantic. These roles only seem to suit him in silent movies, and his fear of speaking makes his attempted comeback all the more difficult.

When the new form of motion picture medium first developed, the early filmmakers were like magicians constantly trying to play tricks on audiences. “The Artist” revives that spirit of visual trickery that is so often missing from today’s movies. Some see 3D as a new form of this. What “The Artist” shows is that the image of a woman putting her arm through a man’s jacket and moving it around can give off the appearance that it is actually someone else’s arm. That didn’t even require a pair of 3D glasses.

“The Artist” plays many more tricks with sound, both silent and audible. With one very subtle yet shocking clank, sound is brought to a silent world. A title card that reads “Why won’t you talk?” could be considered hilarious despite the dramatic nature of the scene that it is placed in. Another card that appears at the movie’s most thrilling moment, which I will not spoil here, will leave you relieved and stunned. You’ll be relieved at what it really means, and stunned as to how easy it is to play with words.

Watching a silent movie is a totally different viewing experience. A silent movie will make even the most casual viewer pay more attention, as actions and gestures are the only things guiding the way. Audiences in the 1920s must have been some of the most engaged moviegoers there were. By bringing together silence and sound, “The Artist” ties the past and present together. Silence might enhance viewing in several ways but in a way, movies were never meant to be silent. After all, every silent movie was accompanied by a live orchestra. A moving image can only go so far.

“The Artist” also uses the silence as a sense of humor. The cue cards, perfect in their font, display dialogue that is both hilarious and thoughtful, and not just plot focused. Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius makes the style fit into every ounce of the overall theme.

Anyone can make a silent movie. The true achievement of “The Artist” is how it gives this old technology a raison d’etre. Some characters were just meant to be seen as silent. Looking past the silent element of “The Artist” is a movie that is funny and entertaining in the most timeless sense possible. The mark of most great movies is that you never want them to end. “The Artist” may be one of the year’s best movies, but its biggest problem is that it begins to lag on in its third act. The darkest portion of the film begins to feel contrived and repetitive after a while, basically bringing down everything the movie had so beautifully built up.

But then, “The Artist” miraculously saves itself in its closing minutes with a few final lines that basically define the entire movie: clever, but not at all snarky. Just as seen in “The Artist,” the Hollywood studio machine churns out an uncountable amount of movies every year. Few rarely stick. Every once in a while, a movie like “The Artist” comes along in which you wish the characters would dance off the screen and into your own lives. Maybe it helps when that machine is French. 

If you liked this movie, you’ll also like: Singin’ in the Rain, Sunset Boulevard, Barton Fink, Modern Times, Citizen Kane, Hugo, Midnight in Paris