Inside Llewyn Davis

Is Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) a good guy, a jerk or just a victim of circumstances? He’s a folk singer in NYC’s Greenwich Village in the early 60’s. Life keeps punching him in the face but he keeps getting up and chasing his dream.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie about a particular character in a particular setting. The film’s story is almost superfluous.

Music is the fuel that powers ILD and its characters. Most of the performances are top notch; all are, at the very least, passable. Oscar Issac can sing and he can act.

Llewyn has left the merchant marine to sing. He was part of a duo, now he’s a solo act. He’s good but not great. His world includes club owners, record company execs and fellow musicians. Chums Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) are a couple who occasionally vocalize with Llewyn.

They’re among the many who give Llewyn a place to crash. Jean has also been intimate with Llewyn who, on learning of her pregnancy, arranges a then illegal abortion (which she wants). At one home where he sleeps, the cat follows him out as the door locks and he takes care of the kitty (sort of).

The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, share writing and directing on Inside Llewyn Davis. As with many of their lead characters, Llewyn is conflicted. Does he stick with music or go back to the merchant marine? Does he stay in New York or hitch a ride to Chicago to pursue his dream? Can he tolerate his family or is a clean break necessary? Does he want to perform the songs he sang with his former partner or leave them behind?

John Goodman appears in his 6th Coen brothers film as Roland Parker, an obese, sickly, eccentric musician who gives Llewyn a ride to Chicago. The roadtrip provides a change of scenery and provides Llewyn with a frank appraisal of his potential.

I’ve seen the music biz (performance venues and record labels) chew artists up and spit them out. I’ve seen artists who may have found the path to success rocky and gave up too soon. I’ve also seen artists who refuse to give up, despite clear signs that they should move on. Llewyn has the desire and the tenacity. Which may or may not be a good thing.

As referenced above, don’t go to see Inside Lllewyn Davis for its story. Go for the setting—the time, the place, the mood. And go for the characters, especially Llewyn.

Premium Rush

“Premium Rush” is a movie my sons would’ve loved when they were 11 or 12. The movie is kinetic. It rarely stops moving. And some of the bike stunts are really cool. The title refers to the priority delivery status of a package, but it can also describe the adrenaline flow the movie sets off.

The film has hip younger characters, bumbling older characters, a friendly rivalry, a hint of romance, a bit of mystery, several chuckles and danger on many fronts. (Its rating is PG-13.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a bicycle courier in Manhattan. He does all the things that give some urban cyclists a bad rep: running red lights, riding between lanes of auto traffic, riding against the flow of traffic, taking to the sidewalk when the road is clogged, etc. He has no gears and no brakes on his bike.

The story revolves around one important delivery that has to go from Columbia Law School to Chinatown during afternoon rush hour. Michael Shannon is a crooked NYPD detective who wants to intercept the package, in order to pay off a gambling debt. “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi is the courier service’s dispatcher.

From the excellent opening shot, which shows Gordon-Levitt floating through the air in slow motion, director David Koepp takes us back a few hours to set everything up. He picks up from that slo-mo float to get us to the climax. The out-of-sequence storytelling works well.

If you’ve ever driven in Manhattan, you may have experienced bicyclists darting in and out amongst heavy traffic. “Premium Rush” depicts that reckless behavior with multiple shots of the bike riders in precarious situations on crowded streets. Gordon-Levitt’s risky riding is further revealed via many POV shots. One effective technique shows him speculating—in a split second—his chances of success among several options for getting through a congested intersection.

Will those over the ages of 11 and 12 like “Premium Rush?” I think yes. The action blends well with the storytelling. As a bike rider who prefers the Katy Trail, the idea of racing through the streets of NYC is frightening. But the vicarious thrill I get from this movie is a rush.