The Morning After: Dec. 16, 2013

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Berberian Sound Studio

A talented foley artist (Toby Jones), travels to Italy to work for a legendary Italian director on a Giallo horror film, his first such project. As he navigates the infuriating studio atmosphere, the film’s sordid subject matter begins grinding down his psyche until he can no longer tell fact from fiction.

Jones delivers a mesmerizing performance as a soft-natured British sound designer, caught up in an unusual environment where getting paid for his work may be the least difficult aspect of his new project. Jones carefully navigates the challenges of creating a gentle soul corrupted by the film’s salacious premise.

Set in the 1970’s when foley artists worked with reel-to-reel tapes and improvised props, Berberian Sound Studio is a love letter to sound designers, exposing the tricks of the trade while employing those very techniques in a pleasing, aural masterpiece. Tinges of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Dario Argento’s work, most specifically Suspiria, director Peter Strickland carves out a unique place in that pantheon of films, taking us to mysterious and unforeseen places and enticing us with his appreciation of a fascinating subset of horror history.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

When Peter Jackson announced that he had enough material to turn The Hobbit from a two-film set into a trilogy, fans and purists alike groaned at the prospect of another series of lengthy, bloated films. The first film had a touch of bloat, but moved briskly enough to diminish the impact of the running time. With The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson tightens up his narrative and ratchets up the intrigue and excitement. He gooses the tension and delivers genuine thrills that up the ante for the climactic final chapter due next year.

The cast is dependable, adding Evangeline Lilly as a completely new character to the film and bringing back Orlando Bloom as Legolas. Also added to the Elven cast is Lee Pace as the vain, distrusting King Thranduil, briefly seen in the first film. Pace and Lilly do excellent work, but Bloom tests the breadth of one of the weaker characters from the first trilogy. Luke Evans and Stephen Fry add solid supporting work as men of Laketown.

There are countless exciting scenes on display, but none is more spectacular than the outlandish and brilliantly choreographed barrel ride sequence. Jackson nearly matches that level of genuine thrill with his final altercation with the dragon Smaug voiced with perfect menace by Benedict Cumberbatch. There are plenty of scenes left for the final film, which explains how Jackson could find a way to make three movies out of his material. It may irk purists with his vast departures from the source material, but fans of the world of Tolkien and the material left out of the book, but featured in prologues, afterwords and other material, should find something genuinely beautiful in this middle chapter.

Inside Llewyn Davis

I’ll preface my words on this film with my general unconcern with the work of the Brothers Coen. Unlike many of my friends and contemporaries, I find Fargo and No Country for Old Men wildly overrated, but genuinely love their films The Man Who Wasn’t There and A Serious Man, in spite of those films being considered minor efforts for the filmmaking brothers. On the subject of Inside Llewyn Davis, I find myself in a middle-ground position between my feelings for the Coens of acclaim and the Coens of unconventional.

Davis looks at a week in the life of a New York folk singer struggling to make ends meet while moving from one crash pad to another. We examine his life in misery following the departure of his musical partner, never quite understanding where or how he’ll proceed alone. Moving from gig to gig, Llewyn Davis, played with exceptional misery by Oscar Isaac, has to decide whether he’ll work stick to his artist’s principles or go back to the Merchant Marine where he’ll at least be secure in the knowledge that he can survive.

The Coens introduce plenty of colorful characters, seemingly toned down from the outlandish folk of their prior films. These characters aren’t as insane as the ones in Raising Arizon and The Big Lebowski and aren’t as subdued as those in No Country for Old Men or True Grit. A fitting middle ground makes them seem more realistic than many of their previous outings adding depth to their story. Gone too are the quirky, unbelievable events that pepper their most beloved films, which make the film feel more fresh and inventive. Whether this means the Coens are genuinely stretching as artists or biding their time until their next off-the-wall excursion in filmmaking remains to be seen, but with three films in a row I’ve genuinely enjoyed, perhaps I’m warming to the post-No Country Coens.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.