Sunday, December 29, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen brothers are arguably the most consistent American directors of the last 2 decades. They have a tendency to make fantastic movies about individuals who are complete underachievers. We've seen it in Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, and A Serious Man. The Coens have now given us the pleasure of seeing another spectacular underachiever with Inside Llewyn Davis.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a struggling folk singer living in New York City in the early 1960s. His singing partner, Mike, has recently committed suicide and left Llewyn to pick up the pieces of his struggling career. He is a freeloader of epic proportions, bouncing from couch to couch across the city, preying on the giving nature of his “friends”. He is a jerk to everyone around him and scrapes by on performing a couple of gigs here and there while trying to promote his solo album, Inside Llewyn Davis. He desperately wants to succeed at his craft but he is constantly sabotaging himself by only focusing on the short-term rather than the long-term.

This movie is an experience, we get to see and feel the full array of emotions over the run time of the film. The Coens give us a glimpse into one man’s seemingly crappy existence and we get to see his ups and downs, and it is magnificent. There is no main goal to the story, no maniacal villain, and no damsel in distress. It is a movie about a man struggling with his dreams and his inability to make good decisions. I think the reason that I loved this movie so much is due to the fact that Llewyn’s life seems incredibly relatable, with his lack of direction and the cyclical nature of his life. He loves being a musician but is completely unwilling to bend in his beliefs to become successful and lacks the decision-making skills to counter his lack of adaptability. He is simply doomed to make the same mistakes over and over.

Oscar Isaac gives a breakout performance as the titular character, and handles singing duties to go along with his incredible acting performance. I believe the greatest aspect of his performance is his ability to make a mostly unlikable character and turn him into an endearing character that you constantly root for, but he is still a massive asshole. He is a dick to almost everyone that he comes into contact with but the people around him continue to love him, no matter how horribly he acts towards them. Oscar also has some serious singing chops and he infuses each performance with a staggering amount of emotion, and makes you feel the pain that come out in his character feels.

The supporting characters are solid as well with Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan playing a singing duo, Jim and Jean, who are Llewyn’s closest friends. Mulligan spends most of her time being completely pissed off at Llewyn but also has some touching moments with him as well. Timberlake’s character just exists in the movie and is not given a ton of scenes to fully develop but he isn’t the focus of the movie. The real scene stealer is John Goodman, returning to the Coens after 13 years. He plays a jazz musician, whom Llewyn hitches, a ride with to Chicago. The jabs that his character and Llewyn exchange are some of the best in the movie.

Inside Llewyn Davis revels in its main characters misery. There are no over the top situations or a huge dramatic conclusion. We simply get a magnificently filmed glimpse into the life of a chronically underachieving artist. The low-key tone of this movie was done perfectly by the Coen Brothers and continues their string of masterpieces that hopefully lasts for decades to come.


Inside Llewyn Davis doesn’t have the memorable lines of The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona, or the memorable characters of Fargo and No Country for Old Men, but it is masterpiece nonetheless. This is another masterful addition to the Coen Brothers’ movie resume, I can't wait to see what they have up their sleeve for us in the future.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Walking Dead- "Miles Behind Us"

Now we move onto the second arc of The Walking Dead, Miles Behind Us. For people just beginning to read the series after watching the show, this arc is the basis for the second season of the AMC show. Just keep in mind if you plan on reading "Miles Behind Us", that it is completely different than the show. You will realize how superior the comic series is after you read this arc.

This arc leaves us with Rick and the group of survivors searching for a new place to live. They find what they think is a safe gated community, that they quickly realize is infested with zombies after one of their own is taken down. While in the community, a new set of survivors is brought into the mix. We are introduced to the badass known as Tyreese, as well as his daughter and her idiot boyfriend. The group then moves onto a farm after another near tragedy and shacks up with Herschel and his family for a few issues.

The interesting thing about this arc is that there is no villain or any real presentable danger to the group. After being chased out of the gated community, they find Herschel's farm and then spend the rest of the time getting to know each other. I have seen where this series goes and this portion of the series really serves as a calm before the storm. Most of the pages are spent getting the characters more familiar with each other. There is also a sizable jump in time from the first arc to this one, with several months passing. There is still the weight of the deaths from the first few issues on the group, and it is examined a few times. That is what makes this series so special, it is not just about zombies but how people are affected by this crazy situation.

 I thought Herschel had a hard time in the TV series accepting that there was no cure for the zombie virus, but in the comic series he seems like a belligerent idiot at times. You have to keep in mind that a large portion of his family is still alive at this point and he has several more children. His idiocy leads to the death of more than a few people. He is not the moral center of any group in the comic series and the only reason people love this character is because of the TV show. Most of the time in the comic he is just a pile of uselessness with a shit attitude.

This arc was a way for Robert Kirkman to get us acquainted with the cast before he brought them to the prison, which is where the series really begins to take off into greatness. I never got the sense that any of the main cast of characters was in any real danger. This is a necessary evil when a writer has a long term plan in place, and seeing where this series goes just reaffirms my belief in my previous statement. Keep picking up the graphic novels until you catch up with where the series is currently. The series just keeps getting better and better. With no endgame in sight, I am excited for the series every single time a new issue comes out.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Walking Dead "Days Gone Bye"

If you are not a fan of The Walking Dead, you may want to skip this article. 

I have been meaning to write about The Walking Dead comic series for some time. Of any series that I have read, this is by far the best in terms of long term quality. At this point, we are nearing 120 issues and there has not been a noticeable drop in quality. If anything, the series has gotten better with age. Days Gone Bye, is the opening arc to the series and is the most recognizable to mainstream audiences, as it is the basis for the first season of the the wildly popular television adaptation of the same name. This is also the only arc to feature the artwork of series co-creator Tony Moore, and the arc is worth reading for the artwork alone.

Days Gone Bye details the beginning of Rick Grimes' journey through the zombie apocalypse. Rick is a small town sheriff in Kentucky, who is injured in a shootout and lapses into a coma due to his injuries.He soon wakes up to a disheveled hospital room, and as he ventures into the hospital he learns that there is something definitely wrong with the world. His motivation for surviving is to find his family and make sure that they are safe. His journey leads him to Atlanta and that is where all the fun begins.

The thing that I truly love about this arc and the series in general is that the writer, Robert Kirkman, always focuses on the characters rather than the zombies. The zombies are still a huge threat but humans are the scariest creatures in this story. Zombies have no motivations and are simply there to find their next meal and devour anything in their path. The human characters have their own motivations, histories, and the most dangerous of all, the need to survive. Shane is more unhinged than ever and you can see him breaking from the first moment that we meet him. He might have had a larger role in the television series but his impact in the comics is more effective. The subsequent arcs really delve into the fact that humans are the real danger when society begins to breakdown and I'll get to that as I start breaking those arcs down in the future.

People need to keep in mind that this arc is before Rick is the leader of the group of survivors and fan of the television show are going to have to forget everything that they have seen before, because the comic series is a whole other beast. There are more characters of importance in the comic than in the TV series and they each play a pivotal role in the series. It is also strange that the character sin the series are written in a more realistic manner than in the comic series. Once Lori finds out that Rick is alive there is no more romantic feelings with Shane. It is completely over in her eyes, but not in Shane's eyes, which leads to him being the series' first villain. Rick is singularly focused on finding his family and only when he does, does the full effect of what is going around him affect him. The whole thing with the first arc is that it is slowly world building, we get a sense of how the zombies function and how this group has been surviving in the world.

Most of you reading this are either fans of the TV series or a fan of both the TV series and comic series. The differences between the two, even in the early stages are drastic. Characters such as Andrea, Lori, Shane, Dale, and Carl are vastly different in each medium. Andrea is not a weak character and she only gets one shining moment in the first arc but it is vastly different than her lesser television counterpart. Lori is not caught in a love triangle and is simply happy to have her family back in one piece. Shane snaps much earlier than in the TV show and is not as well developed as his TV counterpart. The one character that the TV series really did a disservice to is Dale. They made him into this overprotective father figure for the group and never allowed him to really develop as a character. His comic version is a father figure and moral center for Rick more than anyone else, and that only starts in later arcs. In this arc he is one who jumps into action to save Lori from a zombie attack and also is there to comfort Andrea after she has to kill her sister after she is bitten. There opportunities were wasted by the writers of the TV series because they were more interested in having the group seek a cure for the zombie infection, which was dumb decision. What makes the series compelling is the human reactions to the situation that they have been thrust into.

This is essential reading for any comic fan and for anyone that loves the TV show. If you are a fan of the show and have never read the comic, you are going to be in for a treat. This arc, even as a standalone story, works incredibly well. Read this anyway that you can, buy it at your local comic shop, download it from Comixology, or torrent it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Walking Dead- "Dead Weight"

Would the real Governor step forward, please.

About time this happened.  These last two episodes that were focused on him solely felt like a time-out in the progress of the season.  I understand why the show did this, but his arc was so quick I could have used more time seeing him portray Brian.  Alas, the man is back, in charge, and wanting revenge on everyone.

The episode starts with a back and forth between Meghan and The Governor, and Martinez and The Governor.  His initial talks with Martinez are tense and show anger between the two.  His talk with Meghan though gets his brain moving towards making the next move in life.  This was the first sign that he was back and ready to make moves.  After a supply run that some good walker deaths they were back at camp.  Martinez made a joke while using the golf clubs from Woodbury about sharing leadership with The Governor.  Needless to say The Governor didn’t find it funny and that was all she wrote for Martinez.  It was a beautiful death and words will do it no justice.  The acting was superb and the scene was great.

The Governor tried to leave before anything else happened.  He gathered up his new family, including Tara’s new girl fling, and they all drove out in the middle of the night.  Soon enough they were stopped by a slew of walkers stuck in quicksand like mud in the middle of the road.  Some great make up work here as the walkers have only been getting better as the season has gone on.  Having to go back to the camp, The Governor decides it is time to take charge.

With a brutal death to Pete and a decision to see if he can get Mitch on his side, Pete’s brother, The Governor takes full reign of the camp.  The theme again has been can you ever come back from something and still be who you once were.  The Governor clearly can go straight back into his all-out crazy mode of controlling everything and being the leader again, despite the look of him not really wanting to take the mantel.

Of course he knows of a place to keep everyone safe and we get a great ending to the episode with him secretly spying on the prison.  With a raise of his gun, the episode cuts to black in a great cliff-hanger to the last episode of the year.  It seems as if he will do everything in his power to keep Meghan, Tara, and Lily safe.  I think the last episode of the year is going to be explosive, exciting, and see many deaths from some of the regulars we have come to know and love.