Over the past few nights, I had the opportunity to watch three films. “Inside Llewyn Davis”, the Coen Brothers film that many thought Oscar-worthy, or at least Oscar-nomination worthy. “Blue Jasmine”, Woody Allen’s film where Cate Blanchett did win an Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role, but which many people didn’t want to see because their antipathy towards Allen has grown. And a film from 1973 which I had never heard of and happened upon on TV, “The Wicker Man”.
“Inside Llewyn Davis”. The Coen Brothers (not that I am an expert and not that I have seen all their movies) tend to focus on perceived losers and on dark films (often with dark comedy). Two of their films which I have seen I think are masterpieces – “Fargo” and “The Great Lebowski”. “Inside Llewyn Davis did not rise to that level for me. It’s the story of a would be guitarist-folk singer who doesn’t have quite the necessary amount of talent, who certainly does not have the personality to make friends and influence people, and anyway, who cares? Folk singing is, in the 1960s of the film, on the way out anyway. (By the way, why did folk singing find itself passe? It seems to me it is universal and timeless. But I digress.)
Davis is thus what one would consider a loser. In fact, he may be THE loser, so far lost that there is no hope for redemption or change. At least that is the way it appears. It seems that his life is one bad turn after another. But – and this is hard to remember considering the events which plague Davis – the film only covers the period of a week. Maybe he used to be different? Maybe he will become different.They say that much of the film is based on the life of Dave Van Ronk, that Van Ronk also had some very tough times. But, as one review of the film that I read said, eventually Van Ronk stopped sleeping on other people’s couches, and people started to sleep on his couch. Maybe that could happen to Davis as well. Maybe.
Oscar Isaac did a very nice job portraying Davis, looking sadder and sadder and sadder, but trudging further and further and further along as the movie proceeded. But there was nothing to cheer him up along the way – not even the overly dark and somber cinematography. At least, in “Fargo” and “Lebowski”, you had bright colors and sunshine. Here it is dark, dark, dark.
Was it an Academy Award film? I don’t think so. But it was a good film to be sure. And not only Isaac, but the entire cast did well, including John Goodman playing an eccentric and overbearing older jazzman, who just doesn’t understand how a folk singer can call himself a musician. And Carey Mulligan, playing half of the Jean and Jim (or was in Jim and Jean) folk duo, on whose couch Davis crashes now and then, and who finds herself pregnant, not knowing who the father might be (it could be Jim, it could be Davis, it could be anybody).
And the music? It’s OK, but I must say that the two songs I enjoyed the most were not Davis’ solos. They were a great rendition of “Please Mr. Kennedy”, sung by Jim (who by the way was a fine Justin Timberlake) and a guy named Al Cody (that’s his stage name – he obviously didn’t like Arthur), begging President Kennedy not to send me to outer space – why outer space, I don’t know, since the original “Please Mr. Kennedy” was about the Vietnam War. (But again I digress). And a great version of “The Auld Triangle”, an Irish folkish song written by Brendan Behan’s brother. Apparently, by the way, all the music was performed by the actors in the film – n o voice dubbing.
“Blue Jasmine”. First, regarding Woody Allen, I have no opinion (except that it is weird for a 50 year old man to start a relationship with the 19 year old adopted daughter of your live in girl friend, about that I have an opinion) about his relationship to his actual adopted daughter, Dylan. (Oh, I do have one other opinion, about the one son that he and Mia Farrow might have actually had together (unless his father was really Frank Sinatra, but who ever really knows who his father is, I guess, at least in those circles.) I think that Ronan Farrow is a terrific guy who has done a lot of good things in a few short years, but as an MSNBC host, I think is has hit his Peter Principle, and I don’t think he will overcome it. But I digress again.
Like “Llewyn Davis”, “Blue Jasmine” is a good film. Well written and directed, and like most of Woody Allen’s films, you can start watching it at any point and, within five minutes, you will say: “This is a Woody Allen film, I bet”. How can that be? Is it the characters that are similar (i.e., have common neuroses), or the screenplay, or the lighting, or the plot lines? I am not sure. But, within five minutes….
“Blue Jasmine” is a film about two very different adopted sisters, one on the West Coast, one in New York, who wind up divorced for very different reasons, and living (actually it’s another film about crashing on couches) together in San Francisco, and how they wind up driving each other crazy. Well, not exactly. Sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) is a little crazy to begin with, perhaps, but she holds together and picks up the loose pieces, and winds up exactly as she starts the film. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) – not so much. This is a seriously crazy lady, living on pills and vodka, talking to herself on park benches, lying through her teeth about everything to everybody (including herself) making bad situations worse. (You say, sounds like a Coen Brothers character. Perhaps, but the Coen Bros. have never dug into a female lead character, have they? Can they?)
At any rate, let’s talk about Cate Blanchett, the Academy Award winner last month. Very simple thing I have to say: SHE DESERVED IT. It is just an extraordinary performance. So put aside your disdain for the director and see the show for Ms. Blanchett.
“The Wicker Man”. OK, “Inside Llewyn Davis” ended, and I was flipping the cable channels, just looking for a film that was about to start, and expecting to be so uninterested in whatever it turned out to be that I would only last fifteen minutes or so. The film that came up was the 1973 film “The Wicker Man”. Is it a cult classic? If not, it should be. It is so wacky, and camp (is that still a word that is used?), that it keeps you going. Oh, yes, and it is filmed (I think) in an absolutely beautiful old Scottish setting. Old village buildings, in perfect condition, a large baronial estate, hills and gardens and a lot of water.
The basic story line? A 12 year old girl is missing and presumed dead. She is from an island in Scotland and a policeman is sent to the island to investigate. No one has ever heard of this girl, including the woman presumed to be her mother. And the happy villagers have another unique facet to their lives. They are not Christian, but rather are members of a pagan sect that has its own series of odd beliefs and practices. Does this have something to do with the girl’s disappearance? Will our hero solve the mystery?
“The Wicker Man”. (It gets a 7.7 rating on Imdb, so don’t think I am totally nuts……But I digress)