Monday, December 30, 2013

The Tales of Brave Ulysses

Here's what I think of Llewyn Davis.

Spoilers, so just stop reading now.

I think that the Coens were hanging out listening to old records and decided that it'd be fun to try writing some song lyrics. This led to talk of a movie.

Being the Coens, they got someone to put money behind it. Being the Coens, they got T Bone Burnett interested. They got actors who could sing. They thought up a few episodes in the life of a 60s era folk singer that would lead to singing.

Thinking about working with T Bone again, they started thinking about what a good time they had messing around on O Brother which got them to thinking about how they love riffing on their favorite work of all time, that wellspring of Western Lit. They decided to string the songs together with a meandering Odyssey motif, underscoring it by mashing it up with that other classic story, The Incredible Journey. This film is about a young cat trying to find his way home.

Except there is no direction home. There is no home. Dig?

Finally, the Coens wanted to hang out with their good buddy John Goodman so they wrote some crazy shit for him so he could ham it up and they could all have a great time together. And the audience gets what it wants, which is exactly this larger-than-life Goodman (and life-sized Goodman is already pretty large). Of course, his role is there for a reason beyond its immediate humor (he is the aged musician and he is the one who gets us the info about Mike Timlin in a way that undercuts the emotional horror with a good laugh).

For all of what I imagine was slap-dashery in its conception, it is also carefully constructed and executed perfectly. It works as a loving telling (I insist that the Coens are always loving) of one folk-singing jerk's story and it works as an examination of the broader cultural shift of which the Greenwich folk scene serves as microcosm.

It all adds up to a great film. It's a film that I respect. I wanted to love it and I almost do, but I've had to talk myself into doing so. The film just didn't pack the same punch for me that recent Coen titles have. I didn't immediately connect to it emotionally the same way I did with True Grit and A Serious Man. Then again, it took me a second viewing to really appreciate and love No Country for Old Men. And it took me over five years and a few re-watches to understand that The big Lebowski is a masterpiece.

I guess I'm in the "this is minor Coens" camp at the moment. The thing is, the Coens are so in control, so at the top of their game, that even their minor work is more important and more worthy of regard than just about everything else being made on film today.

The best thing that I can say about Inside Llewyn Davis is that I'd love to watch it again, sooner rather than later.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I hate ketchup.

I just realized that I'm behind on a few films here. Letterboxd has spoiled me. I feel like I've already written a little bit about all of these things on either Letterboxd or CR5FC-FB.

Re-watching World's End confirmed for me that I love the film.

I've already expressed my distaste for Frances Ha over on Facebook.

Ordinary People, our mandatory non-mandatory pick, is a solid film with great acting, even if the Freud stuff resolves it all too easily if not neatly.

Side Effects loses its way in the end.

The Kid with a Bike killed my iPhone. I enjoyed it anyhow.

Ender's Game gets some things right, but mostly it's like some grotesque puppet version of the book that appears alive but is obviously not.

I'll write about American Hustle and Inside Llewyn Davis soon.


I enjoyed Frozen a whole heckuva lot.

Brandon wrote: "True princess love, set to song and not even slightly out of step with every other movie of its ilk, trumps all and sends its tumbling back into the closet."

And this is precisely where he's wrong. Not only is Frozen "out of step with every other movie of its ilk," it does them one better. It is refreshing to see a children's film that feature not "strong girls" but "mostly real girls." We get a powerful girl learning to harness her powers through opening herself to others and we get a young pixie girl maturing into a fixer-upper. The film examines how previous "princess films" have revolved around prince-princess romance. Here, when the prince tropes show up, they are subverted. When the pauper tropes show up, they are lovingly played with. The central emotional drama is between two sisters. The way that this is played out is superb. The "true princess love" on display is "out of step" with all previous Disney "princess" movies. In a similar way that Brave explored mother/daughter dynamics, Frozen takes a look at sister/sister dynamics. It is quite nice that Disney, under Lasseter's oversight, is making films in a feminine key.


I thought that Olaf the snowman was funny. Which was as much of a surprise to me as to anyone else. I always hate Disney "animal friends."

The musical numbers added an element of glorified speech, a heightened realism allowed by movie magic. The montages possible through many of the musical acts communicated quickly and efficiently attitudes and shifting feelings and the passage of time. And the Olaf summertime song was funny.

I thought that the animation was consistently lovely throughout.

Finally, I admit that I'm totally biased toward enjoying a movie when my lovely daughters are giggling all around me.

I do have criticisms of the film.

First, you're right that the songs aren't all that great.

Second, there is a whole lot of shorthand that's built up in those musical montage scenes. I wrote above that they are effective. I think that they are. I also think that they're a bit of a cheat.

Third, related to first and second, I think that the whole "conceal/don't feel" aspect was way too heavy-handed and the parents are portrayed as real idiots (and the troll king doesn't come out looking so wise either). Related to that, the "coming out of the closet" moment in which Elsa embraces her "repressed identity" is stupidly over-the-top. That sequence itself wouldn't have been that bad on its own considering how it is offset later by the need for the loving community of her family (her sister) but it's disturbing that it's chosen to play again over the ending credits as if the message of that song is the central message of the film.

So, Frozen is flawed. So what? I had a great time watching it and think that it might just be the best "Disney Princess" film so far. Brave (Pixar is basically Disney at this point) is the better film in terms of its craft and sustained narrative, but Frozen wins a whole ton of points for some of its final moments. These two movies together are the best two films that Disney has given to young girls. They both beat the hell out of the abomination that is The Little Mermaid.