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Old School Review: “Ed Wood” (1994)

Written by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, and directed by Tim Burton, “Ed Wood” is a comedic biopic about the famed cult film director who infamously made the worst film of all time in “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. This film is partly adapted from the book “Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr.” by Rudolph Grey. Admittedly, this is a film that I hadn’t heard of until I caught an episode of “re:View” on the youtube channel Red Letter Media in which they thoroughly discussed the Tim Burton adaption and the filmmaker Ed Wood himself. This might be my favorite film from Tim Burton, I’ve enjoyed his work before- but since the middling 2000’s Burton has seemed a bit passionless with most of his work, slowly trending towards parody with films like “Dark Shadows” and I wasn’t particularly impressed with his two “Alice in Wonderland” movies if I’m being honest. Here, you can tell that he had a fondness for the atomic-era Z-list filmmaker, and he treated the subject with great care and respect as a fellow filmmaker.

Now, Ed Wood was a very unique character to say the least. Not only did he put out a series of films (unsuccessful as they may have been), he surrounded himself with Hollywood’s rejects, weirdos, and the forgotten to craft together whatever kinds of ramshackle films that he could. He also had a very strange relationship with angora sweaters, only finding comfort and confidence while wearing them and other such women’s clothing. In fact the whole first quarter of the film rests on this strange fetish- but the film never struck me as mockery or slander, but rather towards a more truthful reveal of who Ed Wood was. Granted, this film dances between a heightened and glamorized tone when it comes to some of the performances, most notably with Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the eternally optimistic Ed Wood. However the film also lets dark real world issues creep into it’s plot over the course of the film, especially after Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) enters the picture. Once Ed scrambles together his small theatrical crew and morphs it into one that can tackle his first feature “Glen or Glenda”, the movie kicks up the pace. Even through every scrap and white lie needed to get in the door, Ed Wood’s journey is an inspiring and relatable one, especially if you have any experience trying to get a movie made. He never gave up- even when all common sense suggests that might have been for the better.

After Ed’s been around the block with a couple small features he ends up crossing paths with veteran monster movie actor Bela Lugosi. Ed Wood’s relationship with the former Count Dracula actor is the emotional crux of the film, and its an excellent pairing between the pre and post war remnants of Hollywood. Lugosi’s an aging and out of work actor when Ed meets him, starstruck, Ed can’t believe that the original Vampire himself isn’t being signed onto multiple pictures- so he takes every and any opportunity to get Lugosi involved in his movies. After befriending him when the world had forgotten him, Lugosi accepts the adoration from Ed and agrees to work with him on several films. It’s slyly mentioned early on that Lugosi’s a washed up actor, and it isn’t until he’s on set when the make-up artist silently notices the track marks on his arms representing decades of drug abuse. Lugosi only makes eye contact with the make-up artist momentarily, and knowingly, and then they move on without mentioning the obvious.

This film may have been a financial loss for the studio, but it was well received by critics and it won two Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Landau and Best Makeup for Rick Baker. The cast was excellent, Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Wood meshed 1950’s caricature with genuine earnestness and the film was all the better for it. You also don’t have to twist my arm to get me to watch a movie shot in black and white- but the film’s cinematography was exquisite, there’s a lot of really beautiful compositions throughout the film. “Ed Wood” is a love letter to even the lowliest of filmmakers and it suggests that an unflappable and passionate love of the craft can get you places in life- just maybe not the places you expected.

Final Score: 2 Vampires, 1 wrestler, and 1 motivational speech from Orson Welles

*Check out the re:View that youtube channel Red Letter Media did on Ed Wood for further fun and analysis:

**And, just for fun, check out this episode of the Joe Rogan Podcast where he talks with legendary special effects master and prosthetic make-up artist, Rick Baker:

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Old School Review: “The Running Man” (1987)

Written by Steven E. de Souza and directed by Paul Michael Glaser, “The Running Man” is a sci-fi adjacent action movie adapted from the novel of the same name by Stephen King. The novel, from what I can tell with some light internet research, is VERY different from this adaption with the core concept alone surviving the transition. Which makes perfect sense after giving this one a watch, casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as the main character of a Stephen King novel adaption in the 1980’s wouldn’t have made much sense unless you were going to drastically change the nature of the story. Mostly set during 2019 (appropriately) two years after a worldwide economic collapse, the United States has degraded into a totalitarian nightmare. The government uses TV game shows to keep the public pacified through violence and carnage. The most popular game show is ‘The Running Man’, where convicted criminals must evade armed mercenaries for a chance at parole- or a grisly death!

A police helicopter pilot by the name of Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is flying above Bakersfield, California, with his crew when he’s given orders from his superiors to fire into a sizable crowd of citizens engaging in a “food riot”. When he refuses, his crew members on board get their own orders to restrain Richards and to quell the rioters with a barrage of bullets. So the system committed a massacre, blamed it on Richards, and threw him in a labor camp for his revolt. After some time he escapes from the camp with two resistance fighters named Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre) and William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto). They make it to one of the resistance camps, but Richards decides to seek shelter at his brother’s apartment not far from the camp. There he meets Amber Mendez (MarĂ­a Conchita Alonso), the new tenant that took up residence after Richards’ brother was taken for “re-education”. Richards then takes Amber hostage and tries to hop a flight to Hawaii, but she outs him to airport security and he’s quickly scooped up by the ICS broadcasting company. Having viewed the footage of Richards escaping the labor camps, Killian (Richard Dawson), the host of ‘The Running Man’, chooses to snatch Richards up before the government can have him- as he’s the perfect candidate for his game show.

Killian coerces Richards to play the game in exchange for his two resistance fighter friends’ safety, which is, of course, a lie. Killian has tracked down Weiss and Laughlin and made them game contestants as well. At this betrayal, Richards swears revenge before Killian sends them down the tubes and into the game. In the abandoned parts of Los Angeles that are the game zone, Richards and his friends keep moving as they’re pursued by the stalkers. Out in the world, Amber sees footage of Richards being captured for ‘The Running Man’ and realizes that the advertisement was doctored and begins to question whether Richards was telling the truth and investigates. After some sleuthing, she discovers that Richards was framed for the Bakersfield Massacre, but she’s quickly caught by the ICS security and thrown into the game for her punishment. After Richards, Weiss, and Laughlin kill Sub-Zero, the first stalker to be dispatched in the show’s history, they begin to search for ICS network’s uplink tech, which they believe to be in the area. Amber catches up with the three and shares her discovery, they then split up as two more stalkers are sent after them.

The majority of the film takes place in the game zone of ‘The Running Man’, and it’s a fairly entertaining time if you’re into cheesy action oriented movies from the eighties. There’s some fun one-liners from Arnold, gratuitous violence involving chainsaws and flamethrowers, and some genuinely fun arch villain acting from Richard Dawson as Killian, who was the first host of “Family Feud”- great casting with that part! The movie also correctly predicted several aspects of what modern society might be dealing with in the year 2019, though not nearly to the degree that the movie suggests. “The Running Man” predicted “deep-fake” technologies and correctly suggested that the people of 2019 would be having huge societal issues with the truth and misdirection due to ever-advancing technologies. It also predicted economic collapse, the disparity between the rich and the poor, and our collective obsession with “reality” TV. While this one may not be the most intellectually engaging, and not exactly the peak of Arnold’s action movies to come out of the eighties, it IS a fun time and a perfectly fine way to spend a rainy (or snowy) night in.

Final Score: 4 Stalkers & 1 Running Man

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Old School Review: “Rumble in the Bronx!” (1995)

Written by Edward Tang and Fibe Ma and directed by Stanley Tong, “Rumble in the Bronx” is an excellent Jackie Chan action film that exquisitely takes what worked so well in Chan’s Hong Kong action movies and plopped the story’s setting in the Bronx, New York City. Admittedly, before coming across a dvd copy of this movie at a closing video store, I had never heard of this one. So I took the opportunity to relish in what I knew would be, at the very least, an exercise in trying not to blink during Jackie Chan’s infamous white-knuckle action sequences. Although I had seen a fairly decent amount of Jackie Chan’s American work, it was only recently that I started to dig into his urban Hong Kong action films like “Police Story 1 & 2”, even though I had seen (and loved) his earlier work in “Drunken Master 1 & 2”. So, I was delighted to see that this film employed those same electric tactics in this new American landscape (even though, yes, the film was shot in Vancouver, Canada).

Okay, so, this movie isn’t void of flaws even though I loved the experience of watching it. The plot for example, is incredibly one note, and there’s almost no characterization for anyone other than cardboard thin mock-ups that play on cinema’s past or generic action movie caricatures. Granted, that isn’t the point of Jackie’s action heavy films of this period and that’s okay. The whole reason these movies got made in the first place is to marvel at the incredible skill and dedication that Jackie Chan commits to in his movies. He’s the rare actor that actually can fight and he cares a hell of a lot about the filmmaking process surrounding his movies. That being said, the story here is that Jackie Chan’s Keung is visiting from Hong Kong to help celebrate his uncle’s marriage. After some gang members steal from his uncle’s grocery store he tracks them down and fights them to prove a point. This garner’s more unwanted attention and soon Keung gets wrapped up in a crime war between the more chaos oriented street gangs and the highly efficient and professional crime syndicate of New York City. There’s some diamonds in play, Keung’s uncle’s store gets destroyed in retaliation by the crime syndicate- it’s a whole thing.

What’s interesting is that all of the actors in this film spoke in their native languages while on set and each respective country’s post production crews dubbed over the foreign languages. The result can feel like a TV-edit at times, but Jackie’s English dubs do sound like him- and knowing his work ethic I’m willing to bet he did his own English language dubs. At first I thought I might have gotten a strange edition of the dvd, but there are enough rated-R language uses- and enough implied gruesome violence- to have realized by the end that this was just how older movies with language barriers worked back then. The villains of the film were fairly impressive in my opinion. Jackie’s character had to fight the whole range of New York City bad guys. The chaos of the street gang was pretty entertaining, and they reminded me a lot of the look and feel of the many different gangs in “The Warriors”. The Syndicate criminals were incredibly precise with their brutality, they initially suspected the street gang for the loss of their stolen diamonds. So, naturally, they kidnapped two random gang members, threw one into a wood chipper, and sent the remaining guy back with his friend’s gooey remains in black trash bags. Oh, and the whole end sequence with a large hovercraft was pretty fun too!

There’s not a lot more I could say about this film other than to further gush about the excellent stunt work or the wonderful choreography on display. I highly recommend “Rumble in the Bronx”, it’s a great way to spend ninety minutes. If you like Jackie Chan’s older work and action movies in general definitely check this one out!

Final Score: Thousands of henchmen & 1 Jackie Chan!

*For some fun facts about this movie, check out the link below!

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/78395/13-action-packed-facts-about-rumble-bronx

*Also, I’ve probably already shared this video before, but it bears repeating, check out this excellent video essay on Jackie Chan’s action/comedy methodology!

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Review: Jojo Rabbit

*Warning! There will be some light spoilers in this review! If you want to remain completely in the dark then I caution you not to read further- though I do recommend the film on it’s merits.*

Written and directed by Taika Waititi, “Jojo Rabbit” is a dark comedy satire about an overzealous ten year old boy growing up in 1940’s Germany. This wartime comedy performs a balancing act so perfectly poised to elicit boisterous good cheer alongside a dark and grim real world sadness that you’d think Taika Waititi was a genius or a madman for taking on such a ridiculous, yet potent, concept. Waititi has, once again, proven he has a knack for finding excellent child actors and helping to coax memorable and competent performances out of them. Both Roman Griffin Davis as the titular Jojo, and Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, showcase excellent skill as young actors and it’ll be very interesting to see what they do after this. Jojo is a normal ten year old boy, easily excitable and incredibly impressionable, he even has his own imaginary friend- but his is Adolf Hitler as a young boy might imagine him, played with cartoonish sensibilities by Taika Waititi himself. Though, occasionally, the depicted authority figure can get eerily close to the hatred fueled real life version. He lives with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) and he goes to a Hitler youth camp alongside a friend in Yorki (Archie Yates) as they get groomed for war by playing with knives and grenades. After an incident at the camp Jojo returns home to discover a new reality that he must face. His mother has hidden a Jew (Thomasin McKenzie) in the crawlspace of their walls.

The crux of the film’s story rests on this conflict for Jojo, what will he do when confronted by a real person that he’s been taught to hate his entire life? As we’ve seen Jojo interact with those around him and the world at large for several scenes by this point, we’ve been with him and seen that he’s just a normal boy as Elsa puts it, “Who wants to wear a costume and be part of a club“. In fact, the movie’s title refers to his limited time at the Hitler youth camp in which he’s tasked to kill a small rabbit. Jojo can’t commit to the deed and is mocked for his inability to kill, “Jojo, the rabbit“. After Elsa and Jojo come to the agreement that they both need each other to keep their awareness of each other secret, Jojo begins to question Elsa about the Jews. Initially this is to make an account of “How to spot a Jew” and Elsa indulges him with heaps of sarcasm and jabs at Nazis in general, “We’re just like you, but human“. However the two slowly begin to come to an understanding as Jojo begins to question the nature of his authority figures. This relationship between one of blind fanaticism, Jojo, and of persecuted minority, Elsa, is at the core of the movie’s message. Namely, that personal relationships can prove the humanity between opposing factions, cutting through the power of propaganda and adult manipulation to see the truth. Oh, and to endlessly mock those who would hate others on the basis of ethnicity.

The surrounding cast may be small, but they’re no less critical to the film and it’s message. Both Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf and Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s Mother Rosie are excellent examples of those who would perform acts of rebellion in whatever ways they could from within the power structures they reside in respectively. They supplement the heart and common sense of the film, trying to fight the further indoctrination of family and friends within their communities without attracting the wrong kind of attention. Both of these characters are clever and have heart despite living in the heart of Nazi Germany, doing what they can, for who they can. Rebel Wilson and Alfie Allen also have smaller roles as devoted Nazi underlings and both provide some decent comedic relief sprinkled throughout the film. If you can find a showing of this film, I definitely recommend giving it a shot. It may not surpass his earlier comedic work in “The Hunt for The Wilderpeople” for me personally, but it’s a pretty decent film that’s worth a watch.

Final Score: 7 German Shepherds

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Old School Review: Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” (1974)

Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, “The Conversation” is a paranoia-thriller surrounding a man within the surveillance industry, released fittingly during the height of the Watergate Crisis. The private surveillant in question is Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), and we first encounter him in the field, covertly recording audio of a conversation between a young couple (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) out for a walk. The two seem innocuous enough as they circle through the crowded plaza, we only get bits and pieces of their conversation as Harry and his small team use a variety of methods to capture their exchange. This film has a simple, but taught, premise and while it may be a slow burn as far as the pacing of the story unfolding- it is one wrought with tension, analysis, and questioning. It’s also a small miracle that this film is as good as it is because it was made and released inbetween Coppola’s first two “Godfather” films!

After Harry begins to analyze the audio back in his lab alongside his partner in the business, Stan (John Cazale), he uncovers a possible motive for his client wanting this information- with deadly implications. As a private, small time, surveillant Harry rarely knows intimate knowledge of who he’s tracking or why somebody wants them to be followed. He only knows the target and any knowledge relevant to getting information out of them through stealth and carefully applied technologies. As things escalate Harry finds himself between two sides of some high level corporate espionage, driven to prevent the murder of the young couple he was hired to tail. Harry Caul is an interesting character, especially for Gene Hackman after winning the Best Actor Oscar in “The French Connection” just two years prior. Here Hackman turns in Detective “Popeye” Doyle’s bombastic grit for a more measured and inward determination within Harry Caul. Harry’s a quieter detective, one whose problems are more internalized than Doyle’s.

Which leads me to the only real crux of an issue that I have with the film. After visiting a surveillance convention and meeting up with several acquaintances, Harry brings them back to his lab for a social drink. Up until this point in the film Harry has exhibited a very careful and fairly paranoid persona, he doesn’t let people into his life and he hides his secrets well. He’s even known by the others at the convention to be a shrewd businessman by making his own tech and never sharing his blueprints or prototypes to anyone. So, why has he invited a group of people to his working lab where his audio reels and secretive methods are hidden? After some deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a couple beats and one earlier scene that showcase how conflicted Harry Caul really is when it comes to social interactions and the nature of his relationship with intimacy. He seems to be a character that craves camaraderie and attention, but he also seems incapable of cultivating it in his own life. This character flaw is the only reason that I can fathom as to why he would loosen his standards so far as to let an unknown woman close to him and his secrets- which she takes full advantage of. Other than this scene, the movie feels flawless in Coppola’s hands- and most of it is as far as I can tell.

“The Conversation” is an excellently poised film within Coppola’s 1970’s filmography. Squeezed inbetween his first two “Godfather” films and followed up by “Apocalypse Now” in 1979, this was an excellent decade for the director. Rarely do I recommend a film based on it’s technical aspects- but even if the plot or performances didn’t catch your eye then maybe the audio and editing skill on display will, they’re absolutely fantastic for the film’s time. As a plus, a pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford makes an appearance as a villainous corporate underling! What’s not to love about that?

Final Score: 1 Mime

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Review: The Lighthouse

Written by Max and Robert Eggers, and directed by Robert Eggers, “The Lighthouse” is the second film directed by Eggers after his horror period-piece debut “The Witch” in 2015. Similarly to his first feature, “The Lighthouse” is also a period piece, though it’s more of an abstract thriller than a straight horror film. Don’t fret if you were hoping for a fright fest, as there’s much to be feared here. Between the eerie imagery, the dialogue that perfectly fits the time period (The 1890’s for this unsettling yarn), and the use of sound throughout- “The Lighthouse” is a totally unique film, but especially among the majority of other offerings currently at the box office. This is a film that is unconcerned with popular trends or any proven box office metrics, and it’s all the better for it.

Not only is the film shot in black and white, on 35mm film no less, but it’s also framed in an aspect ratio of 1.19:1, visually connecting it to cinema’s silent era. Early on the film feels evocative of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” at times, but with more straightforward storytelling. The first twenty minutes or so have little dialogue, with the constant bellow of the foghorn amidst rummaging machinery that becomes rhythmic as the two “Wickies” settle in, and it isn’t long before you can sense that the air is full of potential for inducing madness. The two men in question are Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). Wake’s a seasoned veteran of the job, and a near cruel overseer of his new younger apprentice in Winslow. Winslow’s a man of few words, but unfortunately for him Wake loves a good conversation over dinner and this is one of the many grinding conflicts between the two men. As time goes on the film becomes more and more abstract, the imagery evolving towards something more mystical than a simple tale of two men on a jagged rock, beset by torrential rain and crashing waves. This film does what few can even hope to accomplish, it transcends the form and plays with your expectations, it becomes cinema as Myth.

The film is essentially a power struggle between the two Wickies. Wake covers the night shifts- and he rules the light with an iron fist. No matter the standards and rules of their superiors, Winslow is not permitted to tend the bulb. Of course, all of the worst, most back-breaking, work is relegated to the younger Wickie. Slowly, through madness or some other dark art, Winslow’s grasp on reality becomes slippery, and his trust evaporated. I really don’t want to get mired in over-explaining the machinations at work here, but trust me, this is a film you should definitely see in theaters, we need more weird art like this one!

“The Lighthouse” turns in two excellent performances from both actors here. Willem Dafoe swings big in this one; he playfully dawdles with turn of the century English so delightfully that you may be transfixed enough to have forgotten that you’re watching a movie. While Robert Pattinson plays his slow burn descent into insanity with aplomb and a finality that suggests, perhaps, that he’s finally given a performance so engaging and new that no one even will ever again associate his name with those terribly awful Vampire movies- which in itself is a Christmas gift come early. Go see this one, you don’t want to miss it!

Final Score: 2 Keepers of the Light, 1 Seagull

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Review Catch-Up: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a somber American tale following the titular Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) set within 1961’s New York City folk scene. The Coen brothers, obviously, are masters of cinema with an unmistakable creative voice and skill. Here again, as in “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?”, the duo return to an American landscape of music synonymous with a certain time and place. This time around, the odyssey belongs to Llewyn Davis, a down-on-his-luck folk singer in Greenwich Village who survives the cold winter months mostly due to the hospitality of friends and neighbors in the upper west side. We first find Llewyn at the Gaslight cafe giving an evocative performance of melancholy mood and airy atmosphere.

After a stirring rendition of an age old folk tale “Hang me, Oh Hang me”, the beleaguered Llewyn is told by the bartender that a friend is waiting for him outside. Que the snarky and sarcastic singer getting beatdown by a shadowy figure for reasons that are initially unknown. Llewyn awakens the next morning on the couch of some wealthy academic friends, the Gorfeins, and heads out after recouping momentarily- but not before accidentally letting their cat escape! Having locked the door on his way out, he grabs the Gorfeins’ cat and heads to the apartment of his friends’ Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan)- though their relationship to Llewyn is strenuous at best. Hoping to stay a night on their couch, with cat in tow, Llewyn is met with polite simmering rage by Jean who has two pieces of bad news for him. First, that the couch had already been offered to a soldier in town for a few musical gigs before heading back to the service, but more importantly, Jean’s pregnant and it could be Llewyn’s unborn child. Jean can’t discern whether the father is truly Llewyn, or Jim to which she is engaged. Llewyn’s allowed to stay, on the floor, after hashing it out with Jean and swearing to pay for her abortion- with money he doesn’t have. Cue another morning of mounting anxieties and you’ll begin to understand the crushing existence that Llewyn lives, right as he watches the Gorfeins’ Cat leap out Jean’s open window and scampering off into wild bluster of the city.

This propels the wandering Llewyn to chase down the cat and it seems as though each step brings him closer to failure or the ultimate sin for artists, giving in to financial pressure. We get a lot of background information about Llewyn through his interactions with those aware of his past and of him encountering those from his past, notably his family and those who knew that he was part of a musical folk duo- that is, until his partner Mike jumped off a bridge. Through Llewyn’s sister and father, there’s a sense of practicality over expression, and a lot of Llewyn’s stubbornness to continue struggling for his art stems from the anxiety and dread he experiences when visiting his father late in the film- which was the push he needed to follow through with a life he wanted versus a life of regret. It’s not necessarily explicitly said in this scene, but you can sense the nature of it. What I really found inspiring in this film is exactly that, Llewyn’s innate nature to get back up after being knocked down, no matter the severity of blows that life throws at him. I’m skipping a bit here to my personal consensus about the film overall, but that’s because the journey that this film, and Llewyn himself, are going on is a great one and I don’t intend to spoil the whole damn thing for any of you out there. There’s a lot of small aspects of the movie that have endeared me to it. The world that Llewyn resides in has a desaturated color palette of cold blues and greens that give it a texture akin to a furled and beaten paperback novel. This analog world of the early 1960’s is lit with soft and full lighting when focused on any of the musical performances throughout the film, while a crisp and harsher eye is applied to scenes shot outside, within small and cramped New York City apartments, the dark and grimy alleyways, or the humorously narrow hallways like the one Llewyn and Adam Driver’s Al Cody squeeze past each other at one point. Which brings me to the performances. As with every and all Coen Brothers films, the deadpan, sarcastic, heartening, and unique nature of the characters involved ties the film together with a bow only Ethan and Joel Coen could craft so neatly. Justin Timberlake’s Jim holds no resemblance to the world famous singer, if only through vocal talent- Carey Mulligan is poise perfect with a grumpy under-pinning that makes her “Jean” feel like a real person with dreams and purpose. There’s also, yes, a John Goodman cameo as an aging Jazz man critically destroyed by a Heroin addiction and a nasty case of spite and bitterness. Goodman’s paired with a similar yet opposite side of failure with musicians in Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund), a quiet poet who’s controlled by an older cynic in the industry, from failure breeds further failure. Llewyn stumbles across these two when deciding to hitch-hike to Chicago to see how the record he’d put out after Mike’s death was any good and to see if he could audition for the studio owner. It’s this audition that drives Llewyn back home to New York City, and ultimately back to the Gaslight Cafe.

While some may find this film a bit too Melancholy for their taste, I’d recommend watching (or maybe re-watching) and focusing on how Llewyn navigates his troubles and how nothing seems to stop him. Even though his failures do have an affect on him, he doesn’t let those failures define him, he picks himself back up and goes forward. There’s a wistful nature about the film that suggests that part of the joy of the struggle is the unknown element and pure expression of it all. There are deep undercurrents of the authenticity versus commercialism debate that everyone who’s ever wanted to, or tried to, live off of their art knows full well. Maybe that’s why I was so struck by the beauty of this film’s circular storytelling. At the end of the film Llewyn is back where he started, singing at the Gaslight Cafe and getting beaten up in the alley. Every artist, failed, successful, or otherwise- knows this cycle all too well and it’s a welcome nod to those who keep going for it. Oscar Issac came on the scene in a big way with this film and if you’ve only ever seen him in the recent Star Wars movies, then I suggest giving this one a watch.

Final Score: 2 Cats, 1 Roadtrip

*Check out this video essay on the film! Caution, there are spoilers for the film within the video: