Inside Llewyn Davis

all_rating

Inside Llewyn Davis
swan_very_good
Runtime 111 minutes.
OK for children.

From l, Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake in “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

From l, Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake in “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

There’s a lot more to this film than meets the eye. This is the story of folk music in Greenwich Village just before Bob Dylan arrived and helped create folk rock that swept the country in the ‘60s with people like his girlfriend, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell.

While fictional, all of the characters are based on real people, mostly esoteric people of the folk music scene of whom few have ever heard. Written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, they derived a lot of what’s in the movie from folk singer Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) isn’t Van Ronk, but his background is Van Ronk’s, so there’s little difference between the two. Some of the songs he sings are Van Ronk’s.

And while we’re on the subject of the music, Isaac sings all the songs himself and the music was recorded live. There are no voiceovers or lip syncing to pre-recorded tracks. Even Carey Mulligan, Llewyn’s former lover who hates him, sings in her own voice, and it’s a nice voice, as is Isaac’s.

The story takes place during a week in 1961, coinciding with the arrival of Bob Dylan. The protagonist, Llewyn, is a down and out folk singer who sleeps with friends who are willing to put him up, all the while singing music at a little club. He literally doesn’t have a dime, living off whatever he makes singing, which isn’t much.

So this isn’t about people who became famous. It’s about the pure folk singers who paved the way for what was to come. They were arrogant and unsympathetic to the new people who realized that pure folk wouldn’t sell. They wrote and sang what they wanted, and if it wasn’t popular, then be damned, which, eventually, is what happened to them artistically and career-wise. They looked down their nose at folk rock. This is a testament to purism and financial folly.

This certainly isn’t the romantic tale told by John Phillips and his wife Michelle of The Mamas & the Papas in their hit song, “Creeque Alley,” in 1967 of their struggles to become marketable, which included some time in Greenwich Village in the early ‘60s (hard to believe but they were a group for only a few years, 1965-68, when they fell apart due to infidelity and personal ambition).

Justin Timberlake makes a short appearance as a character reminiscent of Van Ronk-contemporary folk singer, Paul Clayton (a graduate of one of my alma maters, the University of Virginia). Dylan “borrowed” one of Clayton’s songs to write “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” resulting in a lawsuit that was settled when it was discovered that Clayton’s song itself was derived from another that was in the public domain. Clayton committed suicide in 1967.

I’ve never seen Timberlake give a bad performance. Although what he does here is nothing exceptional, it’s a good, workmanlike effort.

I really liked this movie, even though it’s pretty depressing. The music is good and the recreation of the era and the lifestyle is right on.

Swerve
swan_very_good
Runtime 87 minutes.
Not for children.

David Lyons and Emma Booth in “Swerve.”

David Lyons and Emma Booth in “Swerve.”

Lots of movies proclaim that they are “noirs” when they aren’t even close. Noirs all have a few things in common and just to say your film is a noir when some of the basics are missing doesn’t do the trick. This Australian noir is the real thing. When Colin (David Lyons) comes across a fatal automobile accident in the desert he becomes involved with the driver, Jina (Emma Booth), and her husband, Frank (Jason Clarke), and some drug money from the dead driver of the other car.

Written and directed by Craig Lahiff, this is a brilliant noir that would have felt right at home in ‘40s Hollywood. As with most noirs, this is greatly aided by atmospheric cinematography of the sun-burned Flinders Ranges in South Australia by David Foreman and subtle music by Paul Grabowsky that keep the mystery tense.

This follows all of the rules of noir, adding a trouble-shooter Charlie (Travis McMahan) who is working in the background killing people while trying to find the money.

As usual in a noir, good guy protagonist, Colin, is sucked into something he never saw coming by a gorgeous woman and, although suspicious, he just doesn’t know whether to trust her or not. Booth is gorgeous and a gives a terrific performance as the inscrutable femme fatale. Jason Clarke gives his usual top flight performance, equaling what he did in Lawless (2012) and The Great Gatsby (2013). This guy is as good as it gets.

Lahiff does have a couple of scenes that makes one realize this is a movie and not real life. In one, Charlie haplessly drives into the side of a bus in a poorly staged accident that should have been much better staged in this day and age. In another, Frank jumps onto the top of a speeding train that is clearly moving too fast for him to do what he does without serious injury.

But those are minor annoyances. This is a surprise sleeper.

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