Tag Archives: Here and Sphere

Inside: Llewyn Davis

26 Dec

‘Inside Llewyn Davis’: An impassioned troubadour with real couch jumping skills

By Tom Meek
December 20, 2013

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If there’s one thing about a Coen brothers movie, it’s never boring and usually a fresh spin on something that’s been dogeared and begging for a makeover. Sure, they’ve had some arguable miscues (”The Ladykillers” and “The Hudsucker Proxy”), but you have to admire the brothers for their panache, appetite and diversity. Their southwest thriller, “No Country for Old Men,” exceeded the vision of Cormack McCarthy’s laconic prose, “The Big Lebowski” become an instant cult staple and “Blood Simple” was a perfect Hitchcock homage without egregiously lifting. And of course there’s “Fargo,” perhaps the crowning jewel of the duo’s quirky repertoire. If the brothers Coen decided to step in and helm the next chapter of “The Expendables” franchise, even if addled by a script by series star Sylvester Stallone, I’d be the first in line to buy a ticket. You can’t go wrong. Whatever they do, it might not be your cup of tea, but it will stir your gray matter.

122013i Inside Llewyn DavisFor their latest, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Joel and Ethan have wound back the clock to bohemian New York circa 1960, as doo-wop fades, mixes with the passion of the beats and folds in with the rising folk rock movement. It’s a time of discovery preceding Vietnam, counterculture rebellion and free love, yet still rooted loosely in post-World War II morality. The film’s titular hero, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), is an idealist and a self-absorbed asshole who’s intermittently sympathetic. By trade he’s a merchant marine shipping out with a gunny sack for long hauls, but he’s also an impassioned troubadour, plucking gentle, heartfelt ballads about daily misery and eternal yearning.  Llewyn takes himself quite seriously, and he’s also quick to take a handout and has no qualms about bitting the hand that feeds.  Continue reading

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The Book Thief

23 Nov

‘The Book Thief’: Stars and cinematography overcome cheapening of Holocaust setting

By Tom Meek
November 22, 2013

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Call me a curmudgeon about all these flimsy, quick-read books hitting on one or two hot issues and built around a slightly-more-than two-dimensional hero or heroine that become template fodder for profitable spins into film. “Twilight” may be the most egregious example, but “Fifty Shades of Grey,” itself notoriously birthed from the “Twilight” franchise, is in the making. Then there’s the “Hunger Games.”

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Why is a book about the Holocaust lumped in with this phenomenon? Because Markus Zusak’s novel, which the movie “The Book Thief” is based on, is little more than a safe, PG-rated watering down of the horrific events that took place in Germany leading up to and during World War II. It’s more young adult than dramatic literature or historical record. And, as a matter of fact, it’s not history at all, but historical fiction, a genre that like YA is fertile ground for studio execs seeking a ready-made and willing-to-pay audience.  Continue reading

All is Lost

25 Oct

‘All is Lost’: Redford, alone at sea, silent, carries film soaked with beauty and fear

By Tom Meek
October 24, 2013

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Vastness can be an aesthetic wonderment, breathtaking to behold like the dark cold of outer space in “Gravity” or the endless desert in “Lawrence of Arabia,” but given a rip in a suit or a missed rendezvous at an oasis, that hypnotic intoxication with the serene forever can quickly become the edge of a hapless demise where outside intervention becomes a mathematic improbability and personal perseverance is the only shot at salvation.

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In his sophomore effort, “All is Lost,” young filmmaker J.C. Chandor – who got an Academy Award nomination for his bold debut “Margin Call” – employs the sea as his beauteous hell. The film’s title is a shard from a letter written by a hopeless yachtsman adrift at sea in a life raft.  Continue reading

The Fifth Estate

19 Oct

‘The Fifth Estate’: WikiLeaks film redacts likability, any understanding of Assange

By Tom Meek
October 18, 2013

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WikiLeaks, a renegade news outlet, takes hacked secrets from government agencies and publishes them to the world sans redaction, protecting the identity of the whistleblower through an elaborate “submission platform” that’s so secure even the publisher doesn’t know the identity of the leaker. The site’s notoriety reached its apex when it published reports exposing U.S. intelligence assets abroad and snippy interoffice memos from State Department officials trashing world leaders. But that’s just the background and part of the denouement of “The Fifth Estate,” which is really more a character study of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his rise to international infamy.

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Assange is played by Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan in the last “Star Trek” chapter) who in long white locks and with piercing blue eyes looks somewhat ethereal or otherworldly, like the fair-haired elves in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy or the calmly maniacal Julian Sands in the “Warlock” films. Cumberbatch’s Assange is a hard beast to wrap your hands around. He’s gruff, arrogant, but at the same time an idealist who spends time in Africa trying to expose corrupt governments stealing money from the people and killing anyone who questions their brutish entitlements. The film’s window of insight into Assange’s mystifying persona is his early collaborator Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl, who played Niki Lauda in “Rush”), who at first idolizes Assange and his mission but later has ideological differences over what to do with the military papers the then-Bradley Manning leaked to them (it was Manning who exposed himself in a chatroom).  Continue reading

Captain Phillips

11 Oct

‘Captain Phillips’: True-life pirate drama never hits dramatic depths you’d expect

By Tom Meek
October 11, 2013

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Back in 2009 the world watched rapt as a U.S. cargo ship was seized by pirates off the coast of Africa. To save his crew, the captain offered himself up as hostage and was subsequently cordoned off in a lifeboat pod with a posse of armed and anxious pirates looking for a multimillion-dollar ransom. Eventually the Navy and SEAL Team 6 got involved and brought about a quick resolution. It made for great drama then and would seem a natural fit for film, but as harrowing as “Captain Philips” is, it never quite gets below the surface of the whole ordeal.

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All of this might come as a bit of a surprise, because “Phillips” is directed by Paul Greengrass, who so adroitly chronicled the intrepid doings of doomed 9/11 passengers in “United 93.” His insight and meticulous care for every passenger and their story and plight rang through cleanly and with genuine earnestness. Here that acumen feels lost or, at best, severely muted.  Continue reading

Rush

28 Sep

‘Rush’: Howard finds a winning formula in a true-to-life racing tale from the 1970s

By Tom Meek
September 28, 2013

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Ron Howard’s directorial career has been all over the map. Early on he made a spate of serviceable comedies (”Night Shift” and “Splash”) and took dips into the fantastical (”Cocoon” and “Willow”) before entering a very serious stage that saw “Backdraft,” “The Paper” and “Ransom.” During that stretch Howard also delivered his crowning achievement, “Apollo 13” (it’s a far more competent and complete work than “A Beautiful Mind,” which garnered a slew of Oscars) as well as the ill-conceived reality TV satire, “edtv.” Along the way Howard unsatisfactorily attempted an adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch who Stole Christmas” and ventured into Dan Brown territory, directing the lackluster “Da Vinci Code” films. More recently, the man who had once been Opie of Mayberry appeared more than ready for the directorial graveyard after laying the clucking Vince Vaughn and Kevin James dud, “The Dilemma.”

092813i RushBut like the hero of his 2005 boxing drama “Cinderella Man,” Howard has come off the ropes with “Rush.” To sit through the real-life Formula One speedway drama, one might think they were viewing the work of an emerging auteur just hitting his stride, that first big studio budget behind him.   Continue reading

Don Jon

27 Sep

‘Don Jon’: Self-pleasuring love story turns into a … well, touching good time for all

By Tom Meek
September 26, 2013

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So you’re a ladykiller and you’ve got abs and a workout routine that would challenge The Situation (not to mention a bit of his Jersey gym rat accent), so why live the life of a chronic masturbator when you can have any babe in the house? A good question, and pretty much the rub of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s rom-com, where he not only tackles the role of the buff Jersey boy of the title but also makes his feature debut as writer and director.

092613i Don JonThe film’s intrepid protagonist is so tagged Don Jon (a play on his first name, Jon, coupled with that of the notorious lover, Don Juan) by his boyz because he always scores, though in private his ideal sex partner is 10 minutes of Internet porn and a tissue. Even after landing a nine (on a 10 scale), it’s not atypical for Jon to slip out of bed as the conquest du jour snoozes and fire up the laptop for a quick porno-boosted topping off.   Continue reading