Dec 30

“Inside Llewyn Davis”: Can YOU Get Inside This Film?

Although I’m no big fan of the Coen brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis had sounded different. I liked the idea of getting inside someone, a no-brainer given my choice of career.

I also liked (the idea of): Folk singing. The period: 1961. The setting: New York City. The reviews: largely fantastic. An appealing trailer featuring a hand-held mobile cat:

I was disappointed. Unfortunately, as Peter BradshawThe Guardian, notes, “…(T)he title is ironic: these moody opaque songs don’t get us anywhere close to being ‘inside’ the singer’s mind.”

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE FILM

Jonathan Kim, The Huffington Post:

The film follows Llewyn, who isn’t terribly nice or responsible, as he wanders New York scrounging for couches to sleep on from his increasingly annoyed sister (played by Jeanine Serralles), an uptown intellectual couple (played by Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett) whose cat Llewyn loses, and from his folk singer friend Jim (played by Justin Timberlake) whose irate girlfriend and bandmate Jean (played by Carey Mulligan) Llewyn has impregnated. There’s also an attempt by Llewyn to rejoin the merchant marines to make some money, as well as a spur of the moment road trip to Chicago with an ornery jazzman (played by John Goodman) and his assistant (played by Garrett Hedlund) to take one last stab at getting signed to a label.

Another element of the story involves our eventual knowledge of a tragic loss—of the singing partner with whom Davis had once recorded at least one album.

THE CHARACTER-DRIVEN STORY

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, about Llewyn Davis: “…a quietly angry, depressed and penniless young man, dragging his guitar from apartment to apartment, sleeping on couches, annoying everyone, unsure whether to continue in a world that does not understand him, and preparing to abandon his dream and returning to work in the merchant marine. There comes a time with any artist, when failure has become too painful and losses have to be cut. Has that time come for Llewyn Davis?”

A CRITIC’S CONCLUSION THAT REFLECTS MY OWN

Mick LaSalleSan Francisco Chronicle: …enjoyable and yet puzzling and hard to embrace fully. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ goes back to a very specific cultural moment but shows no real interest in the way people really thought, talked or acted then. It visually re-creates the folk era but has nothing to say about it in particular. The Coens, with this film, are like people who fly all the way to Paris on vacation and then eat at McDonald’s every night, because that’s what they know. Why bother making the trip at all?”

BONUS: BORDERLINE SPOILER MATERIAL 

Dana Stevens, Slate:

Ethan and Joel Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis is structured around a temporal riddle that’s also a mordant existential joke. The film…begins and ends with slightly differing versions of the same event…
The repetition of this scene—with a few crucial additions the second time around—lends the movie that comes in between an unsettling Möbius-strip quality. Is the first scene a flash-forward, or the last scene a flashback? Of these two versions of Llewyn’s set at the Gaslight and its unpleasant aftermath, which, if either, actually took place? (Or are we simply witnessing the same event from two different points of view? If so, whose points of view are they?) And if both versions of the evening at the Gaslight are somehow ‘real,’ are we to conclude that Llewyn is stuck in a nightmare version of Nietzsche’s eternal return, doomed to live the same crappy, broke, cold week over and over for the rest of his life?

May 15

“Gatsby” and Its Therapized Narrator Nick Carroway

The newest movie adaptation of classic novel The Great Gatsbyby director Baz Luhrmann and screenwriting partner Craig Pearce, has received decidedly mixed reviews. At least in part, some of the more unfavorable press stems from its unique presentation.

According to John Horn, Los Angeles Times, the following basics of the plot remain true to Fitzgerald’s story of that summer of 1922: “Bootlegger turned millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is desperate to reconnect with former flame Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who is married to a philandering, polo-playing blue blood, Tom (Joel Edgerton).”

One of the interesting twists in this movie, though, is that the narrator, Nick Carroway (Tobey Maguire), Gatsby’s neighbor and a former college classmate of Tom’s, is now institutionalized in the “Perkins Sanatorium.” While getting help for “morbid alcoholism” as well as other issues, Nick is telling his Gatsby-focused story not to us but to his shrink, who’s played by Jack Thompson.

The preview below gives viewers a sense of the overall feel of the film, which is available in 3-D:

Maguire’s role as Nick isn’t actually garnering much attention, at least of the positive kind. Two of the most comprehensive reviews I’ve seen of his portrayal—and the script behind it—also happen to be among the worst:

Joe MorgensternWall Street Journal: “This dreadful film even derogates the artistry of Fitzgerald, who wrote ‘The Great Gatsby’ while living on Long Island and in Europe. In a deviation from the book that amounts to a calumny against literary history, Nick, the author’s surrogate, is discovered in a psychiatric hospital where, as an aging alcoholic, he struggles to comprehend the vanished figure at the center of the long-ago story, and finally completes his treatment by writing the novel. It’s literature as therapy, and Gatsby as Rosebud.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer:

As the new Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio is hopeless, a little boy in his first After Six tuxedo. Worse still, he is no longer the centerpiece of the story, a task that falls into the incapable hands of the incompetent, miscast Tobey Maguire as Jay Gatsby’s friend, neighbor and all-seeing matchmaker and Daisy’s cousin, Nick Carraway. He might suffice as a callow Spider-Man, but as the film’s narrator, saying campy things like ‘They were careless, Tom and Daisy … they smash people and then retreat back into their vast world of money and carelessness …’ Even with these masterful lines from the book, he just sounds like he’s reading from a college yearbook. Mr. Maguire is supposed to be the camera through which the tragedy unfolds, but he is light years away from possessing the range, craftsmanship and experience required to play a Fitzgerald hero.

Dec 16

“Shame” Movie Validates Sex Addiction

The new Shame movie helps legitimize sex addiction. It lies in the camp of those who see this disorder as a growing “epidemic”; not in the camp that isn’t sure it even exists.

Writer Tracy Clark-Flory‘s recent article in Salon, “Don’t Believe the Sex Addiction Hype,” is in that latter camp. Clark-Flory calls sex addiction a “cultural phenomenon, not a legitimate medical diagnosis.”

Psychologist David Ley, author of the upcoming book The Myth of Sex Addiction, is quoted by Clark-Flory as perceiving this diagnosis as a “moral attack on sexuality” that’s not substantiated by science. He’s afraid that if the DSM proceeds with adding “Hypersexual Disorder” to its new edition next year, too many people with a high frequency of sexual behavior will be inappropriately labelled and thus harmed.

Isn’t this blaming the diagnosis instead of the misguided diagnoser?

Actor Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a sex addict, in Shame; Carey Mulligan portrays his sister. Fassbender has already won awards for his performance.

Sheila Marikar in her review for ABC : “If you’re still in doubt about whether or not sex addiction is real, see ‘Shame.’ There are few things as depressing as watching a man defile a series of prostitutes while his suicidal sister sobs into his answering machine.”

According to Newsweek, Steve McQueen, the director of Shame, is among those who doubted the validity of this addiction—until he researched it by attending meetings of Sex Addicts Anonymous. Much as anyone with an open mind might when exposed to others’ stories of anguish, he became a believer—and made his movie.

As for dealing with the titular emotion of the movie, psychiatrist Garrett O’Connor has reportedly stated that addicts of all types carry at least some degree of malignant shame.

Shame, in turn, is also what often propels the addiction. This vicious cycle is what some would call the “shame spiral.”

Considering this, you may be sorely disappointed if you see Shame expecting sexual thrills, then. In fact, be prepared to experience the opposite, say reviewers.

Back to the issue of whether or not there’s such a thing as a sex addiction disorder, noted film critic Roger Ebert cuts to the chase on his website: “Whatever it is, Brandon suffers from it.”