What to watch when you’ve already watched everything Part Four! Binge worthy, not cringe worthy recommendations from Isolation Studios in the eerily quiet downtown Toronto. Three movies to stream, rent or buy from the comfort of home isolation. Today, rogue cops, troubled troubadours, a chef and a story about a cat!
The Coen Brothers have spent most of their careers as critical darlings, favourites of people like me who love the offbeat sensibility they bring to their films.
Their classic work, which includes O Brother Where Art Thou, Barton Fink and of course, the Oscar winning Fargo dates back to the early eighties with their breathtaking debut Blood Simple.
The Coens made their name mixing off-the-wall comedy with crime stories. Raising Arizona redefined quirky and The Big Lebowski is a cult classic.
The sibling directors set their new film Hail, Caesar! in a fictional movie studio called Capitol Pictures but populated the story with characters ripped from Hollywood history. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s legendary producer and “fixer.” In Tinseltown’s Golden Age Mannix solved star’s problems, allegedly using his influence to keep some of the most notorious crimes and scandals on the LAPD blotter under wraps.
They don’t hit a homerun every time up at bat—their romantic comedy Intolerable Cruelty lacked both romance and comedy and The Ladykillers was an ill-advised remake of an Ealing Studios classic—but their genre-jumping resume contains many marvellous films that are as varied, subject wise, as they are entertaining.
Here are three of their movies that translate easily from the arthouse to your house.
No Country for Old Men: The Coens faithfully adapted Cormac McCarthy’s novel, keeping the dark humor, unbearable suspense and high body count—the ultra-violence would make David Cronenberg proud—while at the same time tightening up their notoriously loose narrative style. This is muscular filmmaking, highly structured but not predictable; it’s well paced and suspenseful. Couple the terrific story with great performances and beautiful New Mexico photography and the result is one of their best films.
A Serious Man: Though billed as a comedy, this may be the bleakest film the Coen Brothers have ever made. And remember these are the guys who once stuffed someone in a wood chipper on film. The story of a man who thought he did everything right, only to be jabbed in the eye by the fickle finger of fate is a tragiomedy that shows how ruthless real life can be. Set in 1967 Minnesota A Serious Man is apparently a thinly veiled look at the early life of the Coens, and if this is true, they deserve the designation of tortured artists. This film is darkly brilliant and funny, but a celebration of life it ain’t.
Inside Llewyn Davis: This one is a fictional look at the vibrant 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene. Imagine the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan come to life and you’ll get the idea. More a character study than a traditional narrative, Inside Llewyn Davis lives up to its name by painting a vivid portrait of its main character, played by Star Wars’ star Oscar Isaac. Sharp-eyed folkies will note not-so-coincidental similarities between the people Llewyn meets and real-life types like Tom Paxton, Alert Grossman and Mary Travers, but this isn’t a history, it’s a feel. It gives us an under-the-covers look at the struggles and naked ambition it takes to get noticed. Once you get inside Llewyn’s head you probably won’t want to hang out with the guy in real life, but you won’t regret spending two cinematic hours with him.
More a character study than a traditional narrative, “Inside Llewyn Davis” lives up to its name by painting a vivid portrait of its main character. Once you get inside Llewyn’s head you probably won’t want to hang out with the guy in real life, but you won’t regret spending two hours with him onscreen.
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is an ambitious folksinger trying to make his voice heard in the center of the folk universe, 1961 Greenwich Village. Essentially homeless, he sofa surfs, imposing himself on an ever dwindling list of friends as he tries to deal with a cold New York winter, a shady record company, a wayward cat, a soured relationship and his career frustrations. Add to that the haunting memory of a former musical partner and you have an abstract parable about artistic temperament and the quest for success.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” opens with a song, the folk standard “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” Performed in its entirety, it telegraphs that the music won’t be relegated to the background; that it will be telling part of the story.
Onstage we see Llewyn at his best. He’s an angel-voiced troubadour whose passionate performances contain the intensity with which he lives his off stage life. Oscar Isaac, in his first leading role after smaller parts in “Sucker Punch,” “Drive” and “W.E.,” has a built-in broodiness that services the character well. He’s a sullen guy, always borrowing money or asking a favor without offering much in return except his talent. It’s a carefully crafted but subtle portrait of the rocky terrain between brilliance and the rest of society.
The loose nature of the story allows for many cameos. People drift through Llewyn’s life like Jean (Carey Mulligan), a foul-mouthed folk singer with a sweet voice and her naïve partner Jim (Justin Timberlake). Mulligan is fiery; an embittered woman angry with Llewyn for very personal reason. Timberlake redeems himself for “Runner Runner” with a nice extended cameo as a wide-eyed folksinger who isn’t as talented as Llewyn but is destined to be more successful.
Garrett Hedlund appears as a monosyllabic beat poet to good effect, but it is John Goodman who wins the cameo showdown. As a jaded jazz player Roland Turner—who sneeringly pronounces ukulele as “ookelele”—he’s as vile a character as has ever appeared in a Coen Bros movie, (which is really saying something). Goodman seems to relish wallowing in the toad-like character’s most unsavory aspects and I suspect audiences will too.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is a fictional look at the vibrant Greenwich Village folk scene. Imagine the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” come to life. Sharp-eyed folkies will note not-so-coincidental similarities between the people Llewyn meets and real-life types like Tom Paxton, Alert Grossman and Mary Travers, but this isn’t a history, it’s a feel. It gives us an under-the-covers look at struggles and naked ambition it takes to get noticed.
In the new Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis Golden Globe nominee Oscar Isaac works opposite an all-star cast. From Justin Timberlake to Carey Mulligan and John Goodman there’s no shortage of star power on the marquee.
There was one co-star, however, he wasn’t looking forward to working with. In fact, he described working with a red Mackerel cat named Ulysses as “daunting.”
“I’m not afraid of cats,” he says, “but a cat put me in the hospital once. It bit me. Ninety percent of cat bites are highly infectious. The next morning I woke up with a red line going up my arm. It had gotten into my lymphatic system. I had to go to the hospital and I was there for two days. That was six years ago.
“Then you cut to the Coens and they’re like, ‘We’ve got five cats and we’re going to attach them to you and you’re going to run as fast as you can.’ It was daunting.”
In his first leading role the thirty-three year old actor, who previously had smaller parts in Sucker Punch, Drive and W.E., plays a broody folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village. To pull off the role he had to perform many songs live on film, an experience he describes as “so incredibly joyful I have no way of communicating it.”
“I knew I could play Llewyn. I knew what was required, which was playing these amazing, beautiful old folk songs that have been passed down. So the songs are great. I’m working with [executive music producer] T-Bone [Burnett} and he’s going to tell me if I am sounding false and is building my confidence throughout and Joel and Ethan [Coen] are filming it so in a way you’d have to try really hard to f**k that up.”
Inside Llewyn Davis is garnering attention for the young actor. Recently he was on the Today show when his name was announced as a Best Actor Golden Globe nominee.
“After the segment was over I went downstairs,” he says. “Then my name came out and I was immediately escorted up the steps to get back on, in front of the cameras to get reaction before I even had a moment to possibly formulate what I would say about it. It’s such a huge thing. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I was even cast in this movie.”
I’m not sure the soundtrack for “Inside Llewyn Davis” is going to do for folk music what “O Brother, Where Art Thou” did for bluegrass, but the tunes are fantastic and the “novelty hit” “Please Mr. Kennedy” (performed by Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac) is a showstopper that’s place Dr. Demento and all other music louvers on your list.
Synopsis: The last couple of weeks have offered up the odd little treat at the movies, like an amuse-bouche to get our taste buds primed for the tastier stuff to follow in December. Not only does the 12th month give us Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve, we also get a delicious buffet of great movies. This week the Reel Guys look ahead to the 31 days that sate our appetite for great movies while feeding the voraciously hungry Oscars.
Richard: Mark, people complain that trailers give away too much of the story, but one upcoming movie has been releasing trailer after trailer — usually not a good sign — and has yet to reveal itself. Apparently The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Scorsese (do I have to write his first name? I don’t think so) and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey, is going to clock in at three hours, so no trailer, no matter how long or how many, can give away all the good stuff. All they have done is make me eager to see this stockbroker meltdown story. What’s grabbed you? Mark: I’m looking forward to The Wolf of Wall Street too. But I’ve already decided that Inside Llewyn Davis, the new Coen Bros movie about the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961, will be my favourite movie of the year. Perhaps I should actually SEE the film before making my decision, but I know, Richard, I just know! I’ve been waiting for someone to make a movie like this for a long time, and who better than the Coen Bros? The trailer looks terrific and Justin Timberlake looks perfect in his orange alpaca cardigan, not that it would influence my decision in the least.
RC: Timberlake is such a conundrum for me. He’s a wildly talented guy whose movies frequently don’t work. My fingers are crossed that for him, Llewyn is more Social Network than Runner Runner. Saving Mr. Banks is another one I’m looking forward to. I’m a sucker for old Hollywood so the story of Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) wooing P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) for the rights to Mary Poppins is up my alley. That, and I’d watch Thompson do anything — bake a chicken, read the phonebook or play an uptight spinster.
MB: Here’s a guilty pleasure: Grudge Match, the story of two aging boxers facing off for the first time in 50 years. Since the boxers are played by De Niro and Stallone, it’s like a dream mash-up: Raging Bull vs Rocky! I’m hoping Will Smith gets a dream sequence cameo as Ali. And let’s not forget American Hustle, David O. Russell’s new film about greed, lust, politics, and the Mafia. Sounds like a perfect title. RC: Three things make me want to see American Hustle: the trailers (which are awesome), Christian Bale’s beer gut and Jennifer Lawrence’s extravagant hairdos.
MB: Wait! Make that De Niro’s beer gut and Stallone’s hairdo and it’s a Grudge Match!