BLUE RUIN REVIEW

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It’s always the films that you expect to do nothing that surprise you. I went in fearing the worst (my usual stance these days) and was rewarded. This time it’s with a hard boiled, gritty Deep Southern revenge flick. That being said, it’s not without its flaws but worth a watch. Just has enough to stay afloat among the swamp of bottomless flops that have flooded our local cinemas.

At its best, it mixes the darkly comical moments of No Country of Old Men with a splash of Dead Man’s Shoes. At its worst, you can’t help but feel I could be watching either of those two films instead.

Here we follow Macon Blair as a mysterious hobo wandering the desolate harbour, salvaging scraps from bins and seeking shelter in a battered up blue car. It makes for an intriguing, if slow, opening as all the usual questions pop up; why is he in this state? What happened? The general point of a film.

However, his strange and sheltered existence is soon turned upside down as he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family. I won’t divulge too much and spoil the story as I have tended to do when I rant. This is hardly a film to rant about. Praise, more like. But basically by trying to do what’s right, our hero inevitably puts himself in even more trouble by upsetting a nasty family deep South.

His transition from a hapless hobo to a calculated killer is very well done and well acted. Blair is a likeable lead, even if his character is a little strange. A stumbling nervous individual. His initial first kill came as a shock because you honestly thought he wasn’t going to do it or balls it up, which he nearly did. At times, it does make for infuriating viewing because at times his character makes so many stupid decisions that you are practically (well literally in my case) yelling at the screen; “Don’t do that!”, “Pick the weapon up”, “Don’t go in that room”. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Unfortunately, at times the film is left to Blair a little too much and his character doesn’t have enough charisma to carry it in parts. The supporting cast are limited and bar a few exceptions are hardly memorable. When Blair is on the run or staking out his hunters, the suspense is executed perfectly. A brilliant scene in which Blair hides out in his sister’s home for his supposed captors is fantastic and nail-bitingly tense. It almost became a a dark take on Home Alone. An opportunity involving Blair and a garden tool was horribly wasted.

When Blair finally gets to deal with his estranged sister (Amy Hargreaves – Homeland) does make for good viewing as we get to see a little more into his past. The pair work well together and to be honest, I would have been happy to see more on that side of the story. The actual villains in this piece are very stocky and generic, bar Kevin Kolack who was delightfully snidey and creepy. A nasty addition that was heavily wasted as his counterparts were very weak, stereotypical and . . . weak, mainly. The other stand out performance was Blair’s gun-toting old high school chum Ben (Devin Ratray). Devin Ratray. Ring a bell? No? It’s only Buzz from Home Alone. I kid you not. Couldn’t believe it. A good performance with a darkly comical encounter that broke up the slackening pace.

It’s stuttering pace is relieved by solid, suspenseful moments but I have seen this sort of story line done a lot better before. However, it’s not all bad and definitely worth an investment. Blair’s transition is very good and the final moments make for brutal if predictable viewing as one man’s search for redemption leads him into more chaos that will require even more redemption.  3/5

Currently ranks #78 out of 177!

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Inside Llewyn Davis Review

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Inside Llewyn Davis (that sounds incredibly rude! Pack it up. Come on, we’re better than that). Well . . . a mixed bag of sorts. Great cast, great performances, good songs but a somewhat slackening pace and a journey that gets incredibly bleak and downbeat with a somewhat flat ending. Not the Coens worst, but certainly not their best.

Looking back at the Coen Brothers’ filmography, I can’t help but feel how their films come off as marmite to me. At their best, we have the Big Lebowski, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men (after numerous viewings for a dissertation on contemporary noir, it went from meh to brilliant). At their worst, Burn After Reading and the shambolic Ealing classic remake the Ladykillers. Inside Llewyn Davis is somewhat in the middle of these two categories. The cast cannot be faltered. The pair have found a leading man in Oscar Isaac as Llewyn. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of the chap. I had to IMDb him. Turns out, he played supporting roles in Robin Hood, Sucker Punch and Drive. Well, I’ll keep tabs on him now and expect to see him in more movies after this performance. He provided much depth and brought a likeable if conflicted and flawed protagonist to life.

The things that irritates and always surrounds the Coens films is the needless hype. After the uproar at their omission from most of the “important” categories of the Oscars, I expected much more from this. I believe Isaac should have got a nod for Best Actor. His singing was fantastic as well. We follow struggling folk singer Llewyn Davis as he battles the wintery conditions of the Greenwich village scene as he tries to get his music out there, despite having no money, no home and no coat. The Coens provide their usual checklist light hearted humour and the first hour blazes along quite nicely, with the aid of a great cast of supporting characters, including the likes of the erratic Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake. Hardly need to say much about JT’s singing, after all, it is his profession (He nails it). I was surprised at how good Mulligan was. You could argue that their characters don’t have enough screen time but when they do, they all excel. The humourous episode with Llewyn being stuck with a ginger cat and the numerous attempts to capture it were a nice aside. The songs are memorable and sung well. It turns out most of the folk songs were sung live. If any were mimed, then either the sound editing and dubbing was executed perfectly or Mr Timberlake may too good a mime artist, but I digress. It does help to enjoy or be fan of folk music. Fare Thee Well, Hang Me, Oh Hang Me and the annoyingly catchy Please Mr Kennedy were the stand out ones for me. Please Mr Kennedy may have been a deliberate jab at the stupidity of jingles and catchy songs just to get a hit but it is a good song in itself.

The film is hardly original in it’s telling of one man’s journey trying to get a break. If anything the Coens truly demonstrate perfectly a protagonist’s stage of nadir (the bottom of the barrel) with the road trip from hell. The movie turns and gets incredibly dark and painfully bleak (to be expected from the Coens) with the sinister scene stealing supporting turn of a Coens regular, the legend that is John Goodman as cane-tapping Roland Turner. He growls and grumbles along, milking every minute. (Unfortunately, the poor bloke has put the pounds back on. Some might be saying, did he even lose weight?). We drudge along through this bleak journey as you hope Llewyn get’s that break. He’s not completely painted as the victim. Was he a victim of the times? Or was he afraid to actually get success? Was the rut that he had been put in due to pure bad luck? Or was it down to his own accord? You feel for Llewyn when he has no coat, seeks anybody who can spot a spare couch and tries to warm his icy soaked feet under the cafe table but at the same time, you get angry for him when he gets work that is not to his ideals, he snubs it. He snaps at the only people who are helping him.

However, the end result leaves you somewhat slighted. The journey goes full circle and without spoiling too much, ends unexpectedly and very flat. If anything it was quite disappointing, especially when you’re rooting for this underdog. All in all, not a complete failure. The songs are still stuck in my head, the performances are brilliant and there are more pros than cons but in context of the Oscar categories and best film of the year? Not so much. Another hype bites the dust? Coens do folk, I guess. Get back on the crime movies, guys! 3/5

Currently ranks #54 out of 130