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Wylie Writes’ Ten Best Movies of 2013

March 2, 2014 1 comment

BestOf2013

By: Addison Wylie

Now that we’ve recognized the bad movies that were slingshot at audiences last year, it’s time to move on and engulf ourselves in the cream of the crop.

2013 introduced a wide variety of great films to audiences.  I feel like I say that every year, but as I scour my selected picks, the only thing these movies share are the odd genre they’re grouped in.

Take documentaries, for example.  Audiences were shown terrific autobiographies that opened their subjects like books.  André Gregory: Before and After Dinner was one that caught my interest.  Gregory is a writer, an actor, a director, an all around theatrical wiz, yet he presents himself as such a humble human being who could easily sweep the average movie goer off their feet.  Director Cindy Kleine doesn’t have to stretch to find a comfortable groove for this pleasant doc.

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Nicky’s Family wasn’t necessarily a straightforward autobiography like André Gregory: Before and After Dinner, but it told a revolutionary story involving Nicholas Winton.  Winton, who rescued Jewish children before WWII, is shown in high regard with Matej Mináč’s film.  Nicky’s Family may look like something you’d find on PBS on a Sunday afternoon, but the doc’s importance could impact a sold-out stadium.

Rounding out the list of sensational documentaries was Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel, a film that snuck onto our radars when the year was winding down.  The message about the importance of safety during extreme sports follows alongside snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s inspirational story.  Walker’s doc is incredible, and you’ll never want to take your eyes off of it.

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There were a few independent films that caught my attention and impressed me with their storytelling.  The Oxbow Cure, for instance, is a film that moves deliberately slow.  However, Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas were able to chill me to the bone with their frigid settings and drawn out creeping.

Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil was a fantastic feature film debut, providing superb performances from actors who could rationalize their drastic arcs quite well.  Sean Garrity’s Blood Pressure was a worthy-enough thriller with an anchoring turn from Michelle Giroux.  The film has its flaws, but I enjoyed myself all the way through this low budget drama.

And, Tower.  I desperately wanted Tower and actor Derek Bogart to receive more recognition for their contributions to Toronto’s indie scene.  It was an uncomfortable, often amusing and unhinged jarring character study from filmmaker Kazik Radwanski.  I’ve seen a lot of fine performances from lots of actors in 2013, but Bogart’s portrayal of a disconnected wanderer stuck with me all year round.

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Of course, I had some mainstream picks.  I thought The Wolf of Wall Street was great fun.  It was a lengthly film, but it showed audiences that Martin Scorsese is still a gutsy filmmaker willing to tackle any genre at any given time.  August: Osage County was another strong contender.  It’s ensemble cast knocked the film out of the park, and frequently had me in stitches.

Blue is the Warmest ColourThe Spectacular Now, and The Way, Way Back were three coming-of-age films that were unforgettable.  All three featured moving performances from everyone involved, the creative minds behind the flicks were fearless, and nothing was sugarcoated.  Movie goers could sense the filmmakers treating the characters with earnest gratitude, which helped sustain the staying power of each flick.

But, enough lollygaging. Let’s take a look at what fleshed out the top spots of 2013.

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Underrated Movies:

Everyday is Like Sunday
It’s A Disaster!
Nicky’s Family
Texas Chainsaw 3D
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Honourable Mentions:

#15. Tatsumi
#14. Charles Bradley: Soul of America
#13. To The Wonder
#12. Nebraska
#11. Short Term 12

Wylie Writes’ Ten Best Movies of 2013

#10. Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers acts as a statement about the impatient youth of today, and about the need for constant change amongst a modern younger generation.

It’s also a stylistic blast and an interesting conversation starter.  Filmmaker Harmony Korine reassures his fans that he isn’t leaving, and he brilliantly introduces younger audiences to a new way to look at movies.

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#9. Her

Spike Jonze’s poignant work is a personal film about an impersonal society. 

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#8. Downloaded

Downloaded is a fantastic documentary on the brink of a remarkable level involving the rise and the inevitable fall of the file trading peer-to-peer service Napster.

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#7. 12 Years a Slave

An absolutely brutal, but rewarding watch that’s extremely well acted by its vast ensemble.

Filmmaker Steve McQueen shows an anthropological side to the relationship between an owner and his slave, as well as a fascinating, stomach churning outlook on how easy it was for people to consider other people “possessions”.

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#6. We Are What We Are

Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are shows a hauntingly humanistic portrayal of something that’s downright unfathomable: cannibalism.  The film is an excellent slow burn with a jaw-dropping payoff.

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#5. A Hijacking

Unfortunately overshadowed, A Hijacking is a riveting docudrama that I hope gets the respect and attention it deserves despite ingredients that some may be seasick about.

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#4. Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club is an all around exceptional piece of work with flawless lead performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. 

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#3. Mud

Like the film’s stoic bluegrass backdrop, Mud resonates quietly.  It’s an outstanding movie with phenomenal acting and careful direction.

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#2. Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is brilliantly observant with its authentic portrayal of two people who love – and will always love – each other.  The screenplay is simply one of the best.

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#1. The Place Beyond the Pines

A complete 180° for filmmaker Derek Cianfrance.  This sweeping drama about redemption, fatherhood, and “doing the right thing” is absorbing and never drops the ball.  A true classic in the making.

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‘Ten Best Movies of 2013’ Artwork by: Sonya Padovani

3 Days to Kill

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison Wylie3DTKposter

3 Days to Kill pairs action veteran Luc Besson with the imperious directing efforts of McG.  The two filmmakers have unmistaken love/hate relationships with movie goers, but it’s clear that these men have strengths in specific areas.  Besson has shown audiences how action can be exciting with jaw-dropping stunts, and McG knows how to capture an explosion.  The latter may sound underwhelming compared to Besson’s clout, but “flash” is McG’s forte.

Their newest cinematic contribution involves a secret service agent who’s long in the tooth within his career and can feel continual pulse-pounding palpitations while on duty.  His poor health is contributed by an aggressive sickness that is slowly eating away at agent Ethan Renner (played by Kevin Costner).

He’s given an experimental antidote by his aggressively sultry boss Vivi (played by a foolishly directed Amber Heard) in exchange for one last job – to kill a conniving villain named “The Wolf”.  Renner will, of course, have to keep his mission under wraps in front of his doubtful estranged ex-wife (played by Connie Nielsen) and his even more doubtful estranged daughter (played by Hailee Steinfeld).

3 Days to Kill sounds like the perfect vehicle for Besson and McG to bring out those referenced special abilities.  Instead, the film only brings out the worst in both action devotees as this tedious tease focuses on the weaknesses these two both share – straight family sentimentality and comedy.

Audiences will be surprised by how little action there is in a movie titled 3 Days to Kill.  I wouldn’t feel threatened to state that the grand total of casualties is under ten while McG’s explosion count stayed low at a measly one-and-a-half – two at the most.

For the most part, 3 Days to Kill directs its focal point on Ethan’s parental absence.  It’s a film that is much more interested in worrying about why his daughter is unable to ride a bike than to distress about life threatening crime.

Whenever Besson wants to develop troubling families in his past work, it doesn’t last long.  There’s just enough to convince audiences that these characters are human beings.  In 3 Days to Kill, there’s nothing but those preliminary scenes where Ethan tries to have heart-to-heart conversations with his child, or tries to convince her mother that he’s changed.

This film doesn’t show any growth from Besson in regards to writing a realistic troubled family, and the talks between Costner and Nielsen feel like direct pinches from Besson’s Taken screenplay.  He sure doesn’t get any help from his co-writer Adi Hasak either, who unconvincingly fleshed out another Besson story in From Paris with Love.  Both men are also guilty of stupidly stereotyping races, especially Besson who has done this incessantly in the past.  I don’t understand why he hasn’t put a stop to this.  His cultural missteps are unfunny and could easily be offensive.

I tried to figure out what exactly would draw the hyper-active McG to a project like this.  Then it hit me.  McG has obviously realized just how imbecilic his last feature film This Means War was.  This is his attempt to show audiences that his filmmaking can mature.  He’s much more than women in bikinis and fiery combustions.

However, McG falls flat in a harsher way than how Rob Zombie did with Lords of Salem.  McG has married so much attention into making a more adult project that he’s forgotten to add personality or oomph to any of his characters or scenarios.  Scenes drift as bored actors try and stay awake amidst the wooden production and try to look alive when they’re bonded in feigned fodder; such as during a scene where Ethan teaches his needy daughter how to slow dance.

McG, along with Besson and Hasak’s uncooperative script, gets into a routine of setting up stirring situations and cheat the audience with lame outcomes.  Ethan is constantly getting interrupted by his daughter during torture sessions with baddies.  Just as Costner is about to prove his toughness, he’s knocked down by Steinfeld’s annoying pleas for attention.

This also opens the floor up for ill-timed comedy as Ethan uses his father figure persona to help save the day and to benefit his family.  An unfathomable sequence featuring the rough-and-tough Costner trying to get his flamboyantly Italian hostage to help Steinfeld with a recipe for pasta sauce is when 3 Days to Kill officially hits rock bottom.

I felt trapped watching this stupefyingly awful movie.  I couldn’t leave for fear I would miss a spurt of action, and I was never rewarded for my patience.  However, 3 Days to Kill turns out to be Bathroom Break: The Movie.  Every scene is expendable and as absent minded as the one before it.

The only other time recently that I felt invisibly braced to my seat was during this month’s Vampire Academy, and that still defeats 3 Days to Kill in a competition of deplorability.  But, McG’s inane, extremely lacklustre, never-ending action-comedy-drama-whatever is a wreck and always found a way to repel any sort of concern or interest – big or small.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

February 13, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieHGCatchingFirePoster

It was nice to see a young adult book series stick to its gritty tone and not feel the need to make it lighter for a mainstream audience.  That’s exactly what The Hunger Games did with its first venture to the big screen.

It did, however, succumb to attributes that felt reminiscent to other franchises with a widespread teen audience.  One of these beats being complications with affection between two strapping young lads and a strong willed heroine.  I guess that’s what happens when the franchise is being touted as “the next big thing” for that core crowd.

The second instalment to The Hunger Games story – Catching Fire – is even darker than the first film.  It even affects the movie’s colour palette which has a deeper hue to the riveting visuals.

That said, it doesn’t feel as if Catching Fire is trying to purposely separate itself from other films based on books; this is coming from someone who has never picked up a Hunger Games novel.  It completely stands on its own, but movie goers don’t see this as an intentional decision made by producers.  It’s to stay faithful to source material that has an impending sense of doom.  At least, that’s my estimation.  Fans will be the ultimate judges.

What feels like a large portion of Catching Fire is dedicated to the film’s build up.  Katniss Everdeen (played with force by Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (played effectively by Josh Hutcherson) are now dealing with post-game ceremonies, public appearances and keeping up the facade of the “perfect power couple”.

Scenes between Lawrence and Hutcherson are reserved and moderately paced to fit their growing relationship in the film.  After all, they’re still learning about each other.  These exchanges are competently acted by both leads and have a genuine essence of watching two people warm up to one another.

Then, there are the politics behind the confidence and the celebrity statures Katniss and Peeta have to keep up.  Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Lenny Kravitz reprise their roles as the couple’s support team and personal relations committee.  They too are putting on an act and have their stakes raised as quickly as Katniss’ and Peeta’s.

Catching Fire is a film that takes place in its own dystopian universe, but these tricks of the trade materializing each strategy brings that much needed realistic depth to the sequel.  These scenes of planning and manipulating while trying to cast emotions aside are actually more captivating than the action itself.

When Katniss and Peeta are thrown into a new game of survival against past winners of The Hunger Games, I was still interested but I wasn’t as excited as Francis Lawrence’s movie wanted me to be.

Everyone competing in the grand game is a great performer ranging from Jenna Malone’s catty Johanna Mason and Jeffrey Wright’s conserved tech wiz Beetee Latier.  However, it’s as if everyone’s been directed to downplay nearly every element of the battle.  When the brawl gets lively, it catches us off guard and it’s fleeting to boot.

I can appreciate the filmmaker wanting to apply the same taut poker faced suspense that worked wonders earlier in the film.  But, when these characters are faced with more critical life-or-death circumstances, I expect to see everyone sweat a bit more.

The Hunger Games was a good film overall and a pleasant welcoming into a new world.  While Catching Fire’s second and third acts are not as enthralling as I hoped they would be, the sequel is still a notch above its predecessor.  This series is heading in a progressive direction.  Bring on Mockingjay!

Her

February 3, 2014 1 comment

By: Addison Wylieherposter

“Bittersweet” is the best word to describe Her.  Spike Jonze has taken our bad habits with technology and projected them to frame an original love story with messages of poignancy.  It’s a personal film about an impersonal society.

The characters on-screen are closed off to everyone around them.  Among them is writer Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix who is a spitting image of Napoleon Dynamite’s “womanizing” brother Kip).  People are enjoyably and passively soaked into their own world via their devices, and don’t show any attachment – or interest – to the outside world.

As audiences acknowledge that Jonze’s vision of the future isn’t too far off from how we live now, we also fathom how secluded we’ve become because of how modern technology provides everything we need – including social activity.

It’s not just people who are shutting themselves out.  Virtually every location in Her is concealed.  Walkways are cavernous, buildings tower together to make a domed environment, and Twombly’s work and living space closes him off with limited interactivity.  It’s not until he begins talking with his new personalized operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson playing the role of “Samantha”) that he begins breathing in the outside.

Jonze doesn’t show us our antisocial dirty laundry in a cynical way that scolds us for being shallow.  In fact, the most impressive quality about Her is that it doesn’t mock or speak down to its audience.  The filmmaker recognizes and observes our society’s current state, and accepts it.  Her is simply a “head’s up” to one of the paths our lives could take if we continue ignoring.

Twombly, who’s gradually trying to muster the strength to sign off on his divorce papers, opens up to Samantha – a relationship buds.  Since his OS is the only entity who can see into his documented life through his computer, Samantha is the only one who “gets” Theodore.

Her ways aren’t used to manipulate our lead into a gullible twit.  Her inquisitive talks involve Theodore in a way that only his ex-wife could.

As Her flies along, Samantha and Theodore’s relationship blooms.  They both admit that their involvements with each other are introducing them to new things.  Especially Samantha, who is quickly evolving as she writes her own work and experiences Theodore’s sheepish attentiveness.

The connection between Phoenix and Johansson is strong and constantly watchable.  That says a lot since one half of this duo is never seen on screen.  Johansson does a terrific job at developing her audible performance, but Phoenix is sensational as an apprehensive one-man show.

Jonze, who also wrote the script, gets inside the head of someone who is sheltered and successfully establishes them over time in an authentic manner.  His screenplay says beautiful statements about the ups and downs of love, growing up and growing apart, as well as having an observant eye for gawky sweetness without hitting any easy targets.

The competency in the writing continues after the exchanges between Theodore and his OS.  Conversations between Theodore and his friend Amy (played by Amy Adams) are very dear and tender.  Amy, who is also having a tough time herself figuring out the game of “love”, finds her talks with Theodore to be cathartic.  The friendship between these characters is well drawn with real feelings of aggravation and lightheartedness.

If I have a main criticism towards Jonze’s script, it’s regarding the brewing of a dicey “fourth act”.  Around the 90-minute mark, Jonze approaches a possible wrap-up that feels like a natural close to this story.  However, he drives past the exit.

The remainder of Her is constructed well and continues to hold our attention, but there are a couple of moments where it feels as if Jonze is thinking on-the-fly and trying to cover up his missed opportunity.  There were instances where I thought, “where exactly is this going?” only to be surprised to see the final outcome offer movie goers a touchingly humanistic conclusion to this delicate love story.  As an afterthought, I suppose I kind of liked that feeling of not knowing where Her was leading me.

Her is bound to sink into our subconscious soon after watching.  It goes to show that a filmmaker doesn’t have to put up a fuss to establish an opinion on modern day romance and why personable connections are important.  They also don’t have to make a stink about materializing irony and poking at known introverted faults.  Approaching the topics with elegance and civility earns Jonze splendid scenes of emotion and humour.

Spike Jonze, who has shown in early music videos to be an untamed visionary, has grown up to be a delicate filmmaker who can sensibly talk about issues while building an interesting story around them.

I would say we need more filmmakers like Spike Jonze in the world, but I like how we have only one artist like him.  Like Theodore’s Samantha, he’s a wonder of a storyteller who is a marvel to behold.

The Wolf of Wall Street

January 31, 2014 2 comments

By: Addison WylieWoWSposter

You have to hand it to Martin Scorsese.  At age 71 with dozens of classics under his belt to which he directed, he still has the courage to make a provocative fireball of a movie like The Wolf of Wall Street.

The Wolf of Wall Street chronicles the fast track lifestyle of real life wall street broker Jordan Belfort.  Belfort is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who soaks in the shadiness with a boisterous role that challenges the actor in unimaginable ways.

It can be argued that living a filthy rich life whilst being surrounded by dazzling women is not too far of a stretch for the charming actor.  However, this is definitely the first time a film has asked DiCaprio to play a hard-edged, untrustworthy loud money grubber who has to hold a balance between being charismatic and being a smarmy ass.

There’s been a lot of talk about whether Scorsese’s film exposes Belfort and his excessive ways in too much of a positive light.  According to The Wolf of Wall Street, partaking in lots of partying as well as snorting and huffing a lot of drugs didn’t put Belfort on too much of a crash course.  The film proposes that his debauchery may have made him more likeable towards co-workers and opened more business opportunities for the millionaire.  Scorsese doesn’t shy away from any consequences, however.

We see that Belfort’s work is all fun and games, but it never detracts from why these activities are considered lewd and criminal.  We like watching the insanity unfold and watching these guys get into trouble during the calamities, but the audience never wishes to be involved in any way.

It’s the American dream turned on its ear.  The satire is always noticeable and Scorsese doesn’t rub our face in it – no matter how wild the film’s life gets.

Terence Winter (who is adapting from Belfort’s autobiography) does a fine job at keeping the attitude of his screenplay upbeat but also maintaining the criticalness of what happened in Belfort’s turmoil.  You may question how much the screenwriter has elaborated for heightened visuals, but The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t step away from the central truth of a situation.

What I admire most about Scorsese’s latest is that he isn’t afraid for his film to dabble in other genres.  It’s almost protocol by this point for biopics to be a little stuffy for fear that the film may disrespect the subject.  It’s better to play it safe than to stick your neck out and possibly be offensive.

Given the nature and riskiness of Belfort’s acts, Scorsese comprehends that a lot of what happened could have stronger resonance if the zippy tone oscillates between being a routine recap and trailing into a slapstick cartoon.  And, that’s what the filmmaker does fantastically.

Understandably, labelling specific sequences as simply “slapstick cartoons” undercuts the impact of these scenes.  There’s more to them outside of the comedy.  There’s one extended scene where Belfort and his cohort Donnie Azoff (played to great effect by Jonah Hill) ingest expired drugs.  The delayed hallucinogenic trip, however, makes the boys pay a price at a tricky time.

The physical comedy is brilliantly played for hilarious results, all the while mirroring the characters’ high stakes.  It’s one of the most memorable movie moments from 2013.

These funnier times don’t deter the momentum though.  The film manages to still make stockbroker politics into a topic that is easy for us to follow, and we get loads of hearty moments from the supporting cast.

Along the way, the movie touches upon office behaviours that teeter on fraternity antics.  Scorsese even humours the fact that Belfort could’ve been seen as a god amongst the penny stocks, prostitutes, and copious amounts of blow and quaaludes.  Scorsese, being a smart guy, doesn’t plunge too much into that heavy-handed symbolism and focuses more on the qualities of Stratton Oakmont that made employees feel protected and invulnerable when faced with any sort of measure.  It’s when the film has to take on another balancing act: utmost joy and foreboding misfortune.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a three hour film that moves along nicely.  That isn’t to say the film could be trimmed here and there to make the overall experience even more digestible to the average Joe who’s only here for the office antics.  But, if those movie goers are game enough to endure unthinkable inhabited wackiness and dirty money, they’re going to be thrilled with where the movie takes them.

To those who may find the crassness to be a bit much: there’s still a razor sharp script apparent and enough praiseworthy performances and versatile direction to send you home with a smile.

The Selfish Giant

January 25, 2014 1 comment

By: Addison WylieSelfishGiantPoster

The Selfish Giant gives off an aroma of a film that will be remembered for a very long time.  The staying power of its troubled characters as well as the painfully realistic portrayal of a down-and-out community in Northern England are quite remarkable.

This directorial feature debut from British director Clio Barnard trails the life of two young troublemakers trying to make sense of their early teens.  Both boys always yearn to help either their struggling family or friends.  The loudest of the duo Arbor (played by Conner Chapman) hates to see his pal Swifty picked on.  In fact, it’s Arbor’s adamant roughness that gets himself and Swifty (played by Shaun Thomas) suspended from school.

Swifty, who is only asked to leave for 10 days, is Arbor’s rock.  Rather than enabling Arbor’s rowdiness, he’s usually helping the foul-mouthed rebel soothe down after adults treat the twosome with brash language and constant discipline.

It’s stupefying how natural Chapman and Thomas are in front of the camera.  Each line and pause all feel habitually motivated.  A large portion of the film feels as if we’re infringing on their hang outs.

The youngsters also decline any chance to beg movie goers for sentimentality or easy reactions.  These are two actors who understand that the story and reacting to those subtle beats are essential parts to making this viscerally moving film succeed.  These are old souls who are showing rather quickly that they have the hang of acting.

Some – if not all – of The Selfish Giant is tough going to watch.  Whenever families are the prime focus, there’s always chaos.  There’s always a collection of disarray happening in small spaces with blue language being whipped around.  It all looks and feels just as invasive as watching the leading boys by themselves.

Barnard hasn’t overdone the purity within these moments, which is a great sign of what’s to come with her filmmaking career.  We don’t find too many details about the different adults other than hearing local gabbing on the school yard and seeing visual cues that give us just enough to draw conclusions.  These scenes come at full force one after another during the first act – undoubtably disarming.  But, once we are sucked into these stressful environments, it’s hard to veer our interests away from the candid calamities.

As we watch Arbor and Swifty slowly enter a working man’s world as they earn money for collecting scrap metal, the lack of a concrete narrative never feels like a problem.  Arbor and Swifty dig through heaps and keep their eyes open for available wires to steal and sell.  Those illegal activities are what drive the film forward, adding extra nervousness while elaborating onto and reinforcing Chapman and Thomas’ characters.  Observing how Swifty becomes more outgoing and how Arbor develops jealousy towards him is a forceful dynamic.

For Arbor, the scrapyard is just the life for him that fits his hyperactive interests.  Swifty, on the other hand, finds his calling when he’s allowed to tame and tend to the horses around the scrapyard.  In a lot of ways, this free pace around unique symbols resembles Cilo Barnard’s film to Harmony Korine’s audacious directorial debut, Gummo.  What separates the two films, however, is that The Selfish Giant has more of a filmmaker’s professionalism to it.  It also has more of a direct focus on portraying youthfulness and less inclinations to shock the audience.

When an earth-shattering climactic event drops, the audience feels the impact from every possible direction in a matter of seconds.  It’s hard to take in.  Mostly because we don’t want to accept that it’s real.  Barnard handles the consequences that carry out in all the correct ways.  Her direction, along with her screenplay, is instinctive with the audience’s perceptions.  Just as the actors have shown, this filmmaker has shown – yet again – how strong she is at her craft.

As the end of the first month of 2014 grows near, I feel happy to know the bar is being set high for phenomenal indies.  The Selfish Giant has me excited to tell people about this accomplished work, and has me eager to see what Clio Barnard, Conner Chapman, and Shaun Thomas will do next.

Inside Llewyn Davis

January 22, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieILDposter

My experience with Inside Llewyn Davis is not like any I can recently recall off the top of my head.  My appreciation for it came hours after watching it and declaring the film was a bit of a wet noodle.

The latest film from the Coen Brothers was unsatisfying.  Then again, the film was the type of work from Ethan and Joel Coen that is not my cup o’ tea.

The Coen’s are excellent filmmakers and have dabbled in almost every genre imaginable.  My favourites are their movies involving crime – Fargo and No Country for Old Men jump to mind.  I even like when their brand of atypical humour share the screen with eccentric characters and scandals.  O Brother, Where Art Thou and The Big Lewbowski are examples of how they were able to hit home runs with this winning combination.

The films I’ve had a hard time liking are the films where a well-meaning lead is belittled and degraded throughout the flick.  I didn’t like when this happened in A Serious Man, and Inside Llewyn Davis followed in similar footsteps.

Oscar Isaac plays the title role with bitter, but endearing candour.  Llewyn’s music career hasn’t taken off as strongly as he hoped it would after the departing of his long time collaborator.  Now, he plays different gigs in local places and hopes they pay.  He’s a wanderer who tries to adjust to his ever-changing surroundings while trying to hide his distain towards struggling artist dry spells.

Isaac is captivating as Davis, and he has one hell of a voice.  You feel and hear every bit of his heart and soul as he makes each verse pack purpose.

The film’s soundtrack is an absolute standout.  The folk songs are their own characters and the addictive tunes are – by far – the greatest attribute of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Inside Llewyn Davis has a free form.  The film is a week-in-the-life documentation of how Llewyn couch surfs and lives with no plans on a minimal income.

Much like Llewyn, the Coen’s allow the airy pace to float along.  Movie goers have no clue as to where Davis will end up, and I had a feeling the Coen’s didn’t know either.  This structure feels like a great fit for a little while, but soon grows tedious as it becomes more apparent that the film isn’t exactly going anywhere in particular.

Pardon the pun, but Inside Llewyn Davis is a one-note film.  A lot of people dogpile onto Llewyn as he deals with big wigs who constantly push him away.  The Coen’s take this formula and wash, rinse, and repeat.  The constant nagging and Llewyn’s nice guy stubbornness is like watching a live action Charlie Brown cartoon.  Actually, Carey Mulligan’s Jean Berkey does pull the football out from underneath Llewyn at one point with climactic news.

The film, along with Mulligan’s presence, features small supporting characters who fleetingly enter Llewyn’s life.  These appearances have their amusing moments.  John Goodman steals every instance he’s on screen as he plays a drifting, craggy musician, and Justin Timberlake’s ditzy spryness during a performance of Please, Mr. Kennedy brings out smiles.

The major hangup, however, is that the Coen’s never have these characters stick around.  Because they’re in Llewyn’s life as quickly as they part ways, movie goers have a hard time investing into the acquaintances.  Most of the actors don’t have enough time to make any sort of impact with their roles.

I found Inside Llewyn Davis to be a very flat movie, giving audiences very little apart from the excellent music and some capable performances.  It didn’t resonate as well as it should have, and I had a hard time figuring out who this film was geared towards.

Now, bear with me.  If this review becomes too personal, apologies in advance.  It’s the only way I can really describe how I came to a conclusion resulting in me finding admiration in this grey flick.

Hours later, I kept thinking about the Coen Brothers’ plain movie while humming Isaac’s Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.  I then noticed a lot of things happening around me (including meet ups with friends and coworkers) that were like the motions Llewyn went through.  Even observations were uncanny.  As I thought up how to write this very review, I was going through a creative process that was akin to how Davis rehearses.

That’s when it hit me.  I had a difficult time feeling out Inside Llewyn Davis.  As I let the movie sink in, I realized that the Coen’s have made a movie that’s for anyone who ever pursued a hobby, a craft, or a certain art.  You don’t need couch surfing experience or have had to bum money off of your friends to find a connection in the world of the “starving artist”, but the highs and lows of maintaining a passion for an area of succession are universal.  In that case, the Coen’s have done a wonderful job at providing a representation of this love/hate relationship.

Post epiphany, I still think the film is aimless to a fault.  I don’t have any desire to revisit Inside Llewyn Davis, even though I’ll be listening to the soundtrack on repeat in the near future.

However, I have no problem admitting that I appreciate what Joel and Ethan Coen have done.  Like always, these two brave filmmakers have tackled a movie that’s a tough code to crack.  There is importance within their acclaimed work and a worldwide relation beneath the sheet music and guitar strings.  For that, I can’t simply knock it as a failure.