There’s much to admire, but not much to enjoy, in Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest film from the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen, two Minnesota boys, have won great acclaim over 30 years of filmmaking, sharing a dozen Oscar nominations for writing, directing, and best picture. Their films cover an amazing range of genres, from dark and violent, like best-picture winner No Country for Old Men (2007), to quirky-funny, like The Big Lebowski (1998). You could say that, with Raising Arizona (1987), the Coens invented quirky-funny. A longtime favorite in my family is O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), the comic odyssey of a trio of chain-gang escapees in 1937 Mississippi.
Entries in Movie Reviews (163)
The elements of Austenland are terrific: It has a clever premise, is based on a successful novel, has Jerusha Hess (of Napoleon Dynamite) in the director’s chair, and stars cute, likeable Keri Russell and funny, dependable Jennifer Coolidge. It’s produced by Stephanie Meyer who, whatever you think of the Twilight novels, should at least know something about marketability. But somehow the parts don’t come together.
Never seen a Pixar movie before? Monsters, Inc. (2001) is a good place to start. It’s a buddy movie, about Sully and his best friend, Mike. Sully, voiced by John Goodman, is a gentle giant, and Mike, voiced by Billy Crystal, is a short, round guy with overflowing self-confidence. It hardly matters that Sully is eight feet tall and has blue and purple fur, and Mike is basically an eyeball on legs.
The movie hadn’t been on very long, but I had the feeling that most of the funny scenes from the trailer had already flown by. I checked my watch: six minutes. Not much later the rest of the trailer galloped past. Then Dodge, the Steve Carrell character, pulled into his rooftop parking place at work. He leaned forward to check an insect bite on his cheek in the rear view mirror. With a shattering crash, a body landed on his windshield.
As I watched the trailer for Brave I had a sinking feeling. It’s funny, of course, and the images and characters are brightly appealing. But the plot … hmm. A feisty young princess is to learn which of three princes — who range from wimpy to oafish — will be her future husband. They will compete with each other in feats of archery, with the winner to wed the princess. But she refuses her socially assigned fate; taking up the bow herself, she easily bests the suitors and wins her own hand.
As the last scene of this movie faded away, replaced by a screen reading “Directed by Madonna,” I asked my companion, “If you’d known ahead of time that Madonna was the director, would you have enjoyed this movie as much?” He replied, “Honestly, no.”
I have 11 grandchildren. I see plenty of children’s movies. I have acquired a jaundiced eye. As autumn leaves drift into piles, as souvenir teacups proliferate around a royal wedding, thus do crass, crude, cynical children’s movies pile up around the family DVD player.
Until now. The Adventures of Tintin is superb. Grandparents everywhere will babble tearful thanks: it’s so much better than it had to be, given the industry’s steadily decreasing quality (everywhere but Pixar-land). Credit must go to both the stars at the helm, Peter Jackson (of The Lord of the Rings) and Steven Spielberg (of too many hits to mention), and the new technologies (motion-capture animation, improved 3-D process) deserve a toast as well. However, none of this would be here without the hero himself.
This might be an excellent movie; it certainly looks impressive. But I’m only a little less baffled now, after reading up on the storyline, than I was when I walked out of the theater. Suffice it to say that reviews by people who had already read the novel, or viewed the 7-part BBC series, regard the movie with great appreciation. Those who didn’t already know the storyline range from appreciative-but-puzzled to frustrated-and-annoyed.
Playwright Horton Foote (1916-2009) made the comment a few years back, “The people hardest on [my work] always say that not a lot is happening.” Oh, but what delectable nothing it is. Foote won Oscars for Tender Mercies (1983) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and was nominated for The Trip to Bountiful (1985)—all works of great tenderness and insight. (Let me recommend too the little-known 1918, which accumulates quietly and then unexpectedly provokes a painful compassion.) Many of his films also show a good grasp of what it is to be a person of faith, and how to persevere in prayer when things are hard.
First the bad news, for adolescent viewers, anyway: there don’t be any dragons. Not the leathery-winged kind, at least. The title refers to a medieval map-making custom of inscribing the warning “Hic Sunt Dracones” on unexplored regions. In this case the warning refers to the unexplored regions of the psyche, where destructive emotions may lurk.