About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

All is Llewyen, the Lost Snowpiercer


We'll always have Paris!  Llewyn Davis and I, that is. as the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis is the first movie I saw in Paris, a few weeks ahead of its US release, at the UGC Rotunde.  A good film to see in France as it was a star of the Cannes Film Festival, and Joel and Ethan Coen poster children for the auteur theory of cinema.

I am not a fan of the Coen Brothers.  It is nearing 30 years since I saw Blood Simple while in college and couldn't understand the fuss, and for most of the 30 years since I haven't understood the fuss.  I have skipped the occasional film of theirs, loathed some I have seen (Barton Fink), liked the wrong films (Burn After Reading).

By those standards, I have to say that I consider Inside Llewyn Davis to be one of the best films by the Coen Brothers.

Llewyn is a bit of a schlemiel, to use a Yiddush term.  The kind of person who lets a cat escape though an open window but tries to make it right.  Who isn't quite a great musician but who strives mightily.  He is well portrayed by the heretofore little known Oscar Isaac, and he is surrounded by other fine actors and actresses, like a very John Goodman-y John Goodman, and Justin Timberlake not being an overshadowing charismatic Justin Timberlake when indeed he shouldn't be.  Lots of good music.  Nice photography.  A fine piece of cinema.

But...

I got to the end, which begins where it starts, and our lead character is still a schlemiel.  No growth, no development.  And that isn't what I care to see, What was the point, exactly, of spending 1:45 in a dark theatre with Llewyn Davis?

After my time with Llewyn I drifted across the street to the Gaumont Parnasse and saw Snowpiercer, mostly because it was not something I could see in the US, and was on one of the large screens at the complex.  This is a fascinating cross between the short-lived NBC show Supertrain from decades past and Mad Max and a Kung Fu movie, as people ride out a global post-warming freeze on a giant train where the oppressed poor people fight their way to overtake the rich people at the front.  It has known actors like Tilde Swinton, Chris Evans and Ed Harris, but a Korean director, and of course the Korean characters end up conquering all. Memorable in ways good and bad, it is safe to say it will not occupy the large screens at any multiplexes in the US.

And let me talk briefly about All Is Lost.

Like Inside Llewyn Davis, this is very much in the conversation during the film awards season.

In part, it deserves to be.

It's a one-person narrative film, which is extremely rare.  Usually a one-person film might be an adaptation of a one-person stage play or some kind of stunt, but this is an actual narrative film.  As can be expected, it's a simple enough story.  Man on yacht.  Yacht is hit by a container that falls off a big cargo ship.  Yacht is damaged.  Man has to struggle to survive until he can be rescued.

And therefore the story rests entirely on the shoulders of the one person in the cast.  That one person is played by Robert Redford, and his performance is magnificent.

The film is not so magnificent, and for a pretty simple reason.  If I tell you it's a one-person film about a man on his yacht and he has to survive until he gets rescued, tell me how long you think that film should be?  Admittedly Castaway was close to 2.5 hours. but this is one person, one set, a filmmaking exercise.  To me, a film like this should top out at 90 minutes.  Which is maybe unfair.  My Dinner With Andre, even, was 110 minutes.  But, whatever, it seems to me a film like this should be around 90 minutes.  Which this isn't.  It's 106 minutes.  With just one person in the movie, one set, no dialogue.

And there came a point, a very particular point, when I started to feel those extra minutes.

You can tell from the story, because you've seen any other drama that's set on a boat, like last year's Life of Pi, that there's going to be a storm, and there's going to be heavy rain and big waves and lightning.  And we have that scene in this movie.  And the scene just keeps going on and going on and going on and on and on and on.  And as the scene kept going on and on, I slowly started to tune out, to want to sleep even though the wonderful sound system was regaling me with the crash of waves and the beating drum of a hard rain.

It's a disappointment to me not to like this movie more, because the previous film by the writer/director J.C. Chandor, was the excellent Margin Call.  Taut, suspenseful, well-written, very well-acted.  Zachary Quinto fresh off his first Star Trek movie, Kevin Spacey in one of his best performances, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, more.  That got an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, and could and should have gotten more than that and been seen by way more people.  It's unfortunate to see a follow-up that again shows Chandor to be an excellent director of actors, and even a very good technical director just in terms of the staging and other aspects of the production itself, but which by and large is overpraised, and not necessarily even worth seeing for Robert Redford's performance alone.

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