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Inside Llewyn Davis
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255 of 276 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2014
Format: Blu-ray
(This review is for the theatrical release.)

I've read a lot of commentary about Inside Llewyn Davis failing to deliver a pay-off. Oddly, this was one of the aspects of the film I enjoyed the most. It is devoid of the glamour and artifice of an uplifting underdog story; Llewyn's story begins and ends in the same alley, no redemption found, his only prize the blood on his lips. Throughout the film, there were many moments I found myself wishing Llewyn would just say, or just do, this instead of that, find a way to overcome his weaknesses and flaws. But he always says, or does, exactly as Llewyn would do.

This is what I find so refreshing about the film, the screenplay driving it and the performances delivering it. The characters on-screen act with the same perplexing unpredictability as we all do. They never know just what to say to each other. They talk at each other rather than to each other. They are weak, and often unlikeable, and often uncomfortably vulnerable. Our expectations as an audience, sculpted by decades of formulaic Joseph Campbell-driven story arcs, are of no consequence here.

I think our desire for packages with bows on them stems from our yearning for life to follow suit. But it doesn't, does it? We are all little islands of feeling trying desperately and confusedly to express some sort of identity and to find a voice that will connect us to others.

I think it is essential to the film that we don't know the details of Llewyn's story. His relationship with Jean, his estrangement from his father, the loss of his musical partner; these things are vague hints, and as such, we can't take sides. We can't make Llewyn a hero or a villain. And so we must perceive him only as a man. A man who is somewhat pretentious, who maybe only knows how to express himself through an art form both nostalgic and exploited, a man who is selfish and yet heartbreakingly exposed.

The screenplay, the performances, the cinematography, and the sound direction are all superb. It is an earnest film. It tells a truer story than most.
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64 of 85 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
This review is fairly lengthy but I think those interested in the "Folk Music" aspect of the film will find it worth reading.

First, a point of information: Amazon has a policy to group all reviews of ALL formats of a film (in theaters,streaming,DVD, and BD) together. It is important to note which version the reviewer is commenting on and to note the date of the review (you can sort by Newest First.) With that said, this is a review of the DVD. It will not be released until March 11, 2014 but I was sent a copy by the studio in advance. I did see the film in the theater in December and my review of the film itself will be based on what I wrote then. The film on the DVD is no different. And, I'm told that Bluray has the same "Special Feature" and the print should be the same. In an "about face" from my usual reviews, I will discuss the "Bonus Features" - since there are 26 reviews before mine about the film itself.

The "bonuses" are really singular: One 42-minute "making of" featurette titled "Inside Inside Llewyn Davis". There is not a trailer - or even previews of other films. While much of it concerns the music in the film and how the pre-recording was done in a studio for "practice", though the performances in the film were done "live on set", there are interviews with both Coens, the costume designer and music producer T Bone Burnett. The rehearsal scenes appeared jump on my HD TV screen and the sharpness varied throughout the featurette. One thing you notice when scenes from the film are included is that the Coens used lots of muted blues and greens in the color palette. They are in sharp contrast from the brighter colors (though still not very bright) of the interview scenes.

For those who saw the film in the theater (as I did and will comment below) and wondered why many of the "real facts" were wrong, the Coen interviews here will shed some light. Near the beginning of the interviews, Joel says " I asked Ethan, "Wouldn't it be fun to start a movie with Dave Van Ronk being beaten up outside Gerdes' Folk City, and he gets beaten up by Jean Ritchie's husband?". And Ethan replied " Who's gonna beat up a folk singer, for goodness sake?". Even Burnett - in his interview - says "we may use real Van Ronk songs, but the rest is a `made-up movie'."
So that's what you can expect on the DVD. I'll now discuss my take on the film itself.

This review is aimed primarily at those who want to know how it represents the "folk music" of the era.

Inside Llewyn Davis is the newest film written and directed by the Coen brothers and - because of all the music included, with T-Bone Burnett on board as Music Producer - it will certainly be compared with the Coen's O Brother Where Art Thou. But even the Coens say (in press note quotes) that is a different style of film. One of the reasons is that most of the songs featured in the film , and on the Soundtrack CD (coming next week from Nonesuch, a month in advance of the film release), are performed in their entirety. After the name of the film studio (CBS Films/Studio Canal) appears on the screen, we are immediately presented with Isaac (as the "folk singer" Llewyn Davis) singing the traditional song "Hang me, Oh Hang Me" in the Gaslight coffee house in Greenwich Village in 1961. (The film's title refers to the title of a solo album by Davis that was a sales disaster.) The song is performed in it's entirely at over three minutes. Then the story begins. . Davis leaves the coffee house and is attacked by a stranger. Over the next 100 minutes we learn what caused this event. It's the Coen's version of the Greenwich Village music scene until 1961, when Bob Dylan arrived with his new songs. The brothers admit that they are too young to have been there in those years and decided to base the title character very loosely on folk music icon Dave Van Ronk and the posthumous autobiography that was finished by writer Elijah Wald after Van Ronk's death in 2002 at age 66. The word "loosely" is important here. Isaac neither looks, nor sounds like Van Ronk (viewers will hear Van Ronk's distinctive rough voice in a reprise of the Len Chandler song "Green Green Rocky Road" over the closing credits). And, except for the fact that DVR was sang mostly traditional folk songs (though he did write a few), was in the Merchant Marines and travelled to Chicago to try to get a gig at the "Gate of Horn", there is little of DVRs life in the script.

In the earlier parts of the film there are performers who are "composites" of musicians of the era (of which I experienced firsthand) with a soldier from Fort Dix who is obviously based on Tom Paxton (and the actor - Stark Stands - sings Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind"). There is an attempt to show how Peter, Paul and Mary were formed with the Stands' character joining actors Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake - as a duo named Jim and Jean - to sing a "novelty: song -(composed by a "committee" including Timberlake, Burnett and the Coens) titled "Please Mr. Kennedy " and release it as by the "John Glenn Singers" . It's the only new song in the film and on the soundtrack album. Reading the lengthy press kit I kept being struck with how little the Coen's (and honestly Burnett) knew about the music of the period. First, though there was a real husband/wife duo named Jim & Jean (the Glovers) who had a huge hit with "Crucifixion" written by Phil Ochs - who was Glover's college roommate, Ethan Coen is quoted as saying "There was a real act called Jim and Jean but all we essentially took from them - from their act - was their name. I have no idea who they were as people. Jim and Jean, as they are in the movie, they are our invention". And - re: the Kennedy song, Burnett says in an interview that it was based on a real song from 1960s called "Please Mr. Kennedy, don't send me off to Vietnam" by Tom Lehrer (who Burnett says he loves. Well Lehrer never wrote such a song. The closest he ever wrote was "We'll All Go Together When we Go" and the song in the film is probably closer to Larry Verne's 1960 top ten hit "Please Mr. Custer". There was a recording - in 1962 (a year after the film takes place) titled "Please Mr. Kennedy" by a little known group called The Goldcoast Singers, but I'm sure that is not what Burnett is referring to. And the film notes state that state - though not attributed to anyone - that "other musicians who played on the tracks were Punch Brothers, The Lost City Ramblers, and John Cohen, who played banjo". Honestly, I've never heard of TLCR though there was a legendary NYC 60s group, The New Lost City Ramblers, with John Cohen, Tracey Schwarz and Mike Seeger - though Seeger died in 2009 and the group no longer exists. So much for creditability.

Honestly I liked the film. I can't say I loved it. I knew there was a new young cast but I hoped it would be more historically accurate. If you approach it as a Coen brothers' film - with quirky narratives and monologues (John Goodman's monologue as an obese jazz musician -loosely based on Dr. John or Doc Pomus, though, from what is left in the film, you can't tell that he ever played an instrument- is a classic Coen brothers "riff") - you'll enjoy it. And maybe - just like O Brother - younger movie goers will have their music tastes peaked to learn more about Van Ronk and the other Village folkies.

Speaking of music, the Coens decided to have all the songs recorded by the actors in a studio first to get them in the mood. Then, during filming (all of which, by the way, was filmed in New York ; even the Chicago scenes), they played and sang live again. It's my understanding that the "soundtrack" album is, in fact the studio recordings and not what you are hearing in the film. But I can't be certain.

I've been listening to the album for a few weeks and do like it (though it takes some time to get used to Isaac's version of "Green, Green..." .

For those who are knowledgeable of the REAL characters in Van Ron's life, I'd like to make you aware of a discovery I found only after I re-read the cast credits. Near the end of the film you will see (and hear) a woman playing the autoharp. She's a pivotal character - though only on the screen briefly. You may not recognize her but that is Nancy Blake, who with her husband, Norman was part of the folkie/bluegrass movement in the 1960s.

Before I finish this review I want to give special kudos to one of the cast members not previously mentioned. It's not a human but a male cat (actually played by four different ones). The cat's name is mentioned only once near the end and - surprisingly isn't listed in the credits (or even an internet search) but he/they play a major role in the film as you will see. Cats are not as easy to train as dogs and this cat is funny!

I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.

Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
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65 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2014
Format: Blu-ray
That line by Mrs. Gorfein as she accusingly displays the undercarriage of the wrong cat still cracks me up. Besides being by turns deliciously moody and hilarious, this movie boasts a boatload of other reasons to watch it not just once but many times. New York City is a knockout on screen thanks to some seriously crafty camerawork and all the characters are stylishly and inventively filmed. The music itself is folk music obviously but some of it ain't too shabby and the song Please Mr. Kennedy is a priceless slice of time warp. Am falling asleep at the keys here so I'll come back tomorrow and continue my roomy nations. Well it's tommorrow now and boy did it ever snow in the interim: New York in February can be a big fat smorsgaborgy of intensely winterised weather conditions and it's just occurred to me that this movie here also takes place in New York in February coz when Llewyn is signing papers for the session fee I think I caught a glimpse of the date on one of the forms. Jeepers, no wonder Lewyn was a tad splenetic about not having an overcoat. But back to how atmospherically handsome this film looks: Ace cinematographer Roger Deakins has worked his lenser's magic for the Coen boys in a bunch of their previous pictures but here the brothers opted for some French dude, Bruno Delbonnel, and the result is totally tray tray bong: The look is expressively lit nighttime mostly but even the scenes in what daylight there is are beautifully framed and coolly washed out. Acting is top-shelf all round with Oscar Isaac in particular playing a blinder in the lead role. Some folks have expressed reservations about the likability of this troubled troubadour but me personally I found him to be a credibly complicated and intelligent character plus wit-wise he's razor sharp and full of hysterical zingers and one-liners. Kudos to the cat too--he or she more or less steals every scene he or she is in. Another decided merit of this fab little flick is the decision to play out each song to the end--not only does this do full justice to what Llewyn and his fellow folkies are actually really good at but it paces the movie perfectly. These songs are supremely stylish punctuation points, on a par with those other cinematic humdingers put to effective use here: the fade to black and the slow dissolve. The overall chronology of the film had me slightly baffled at first, what with those seemingly identical scenes bookending the action, but I reckon if you take that first scene--where Grandma Moses's husband boxes Llewyn's ears--as the last scene proper and take the second scene where Llewyn wakes up with the marmalade-coloured cat in his face as the actual first scene from which everything then follows naturally, I think some kind of sense can be made of the sneaky way this picture unfolds. By this reckoning one must assume that Lewyn is shown leaving the Gorfein's apartment on two separate occasions--the first is where he locks himself and the cat out and the second is where he just locks himself out. I'm not even going to go into symbolism or allegory here because the meaning of both those words has always eluded me. I mean, the Gorfein's cat turns out to be named Ulysses. What can one say about that? Well there are two Ulysses, aren't there? One is a dude in a book and the other is a book. That's as far as I'm prepared to go and I respectfully leave the remainder to them with the brainpower to successfully winkle it all out. Last but obviously not least is Ethan and Joel's scintillating script: their ability to mix pathos with outrageous humour while leaving ample room for surreal twists of anxiety, wonder and genuine affection is a sight for sore eyes and a sound for sore ears. For example, Lewyn's car ride to Chicago is a perfectly realized descent into existential dread, worthy of David Lynch at his creepiest. For my dosh Inside Llewyn Davis is up there with the best films the Coens have made--and I hate folk music. Hate is perhaps a strong word but I'm generally not partial to lyrics in my music of choice (rock and/or roll), they tend to disrupt the electric and friendly vibe I always find, and folk music relies pretty heavily on lyrics, so you can see the kind of jam I'm in. Still the songs sung here are undoubtedly a passion for those who play them and I fully appreciate their place and purpose in this film. So then, in addition to the five stars above I also give Inside Llewyn Davis eleven thumbs up.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
It surely took me back to The Day. This movie, with its mostly dingy sets and costumes really did recapture the seedy, competitive, mellow, unique, early days of the folk revival where gentle fingerpicked guitar accompaniments nestled around lovely songs, both ancient and newly composed. There was probably some wisdom in underplaying the lead character claimed to be based on well-known singer Dave Van Ronk who I remember as having a more raucous, abrasive persona than appears in this movie. Llewyn Davis is, instead, an ordinary, mostly likeable, forgivably flawed, everysinger, anykid who ever practiced his guitar and his singing seriously enough to develop a halfway competent sound that stood out enough from the ordinary to earn set time on a spotlighted coffeehouse stool, but never developed the originality, star quality, and discipline required to actually function in that cruel, nefarious business that masqueraded as an uneasy amalgam of homey kitchen and antiques mall. That most songs are performed in their entirety throughout the movie is a delight and will result in hefty album sales, though maybe not quite as profitable as the music of "O Brother Where Art Thou" which appeals to a wider audience. Llewyn's rootless, penurious lifestyle so captures the actual situation of many of the young singers who managed to survive just short of starvation and homelessness while they waited (mostly in vain) to Happen in New York and, yes, even in lesser cities. The vulnerability of these young people to exploitation and abuse portrayed in the movie is true to life as is Llewyn's willingness to risk repeated betrayal and frustration in his quest for the featured spot. Once I got over not recognizing Dave Van Roink in Llewyn Davis, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The ending was just delicious, exactly how it felt when the music evolved!!! Inside Llewyn Davis did recapture a remarkable time in our cultural history that many of us remember more fondly than it deserves.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2015
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
Absolutely fantastic movie. If you enjoy the music from the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, or Woody Guthrie then this is the movie for you. A lot of criticism has been said about the accuracy of the portrayal of the Greenwich Village folk scene in this era, I would disregard this. It is a great movie regardless of the friendliness of the real scene as compared to this movie. I would just watch and most definitely enjoy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2014
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
Great film! Very artistic with many layers hidden under the surface of the story. Like many of the Coen Brothers' films there is a lot of realistic emotion here that drives the characters. The ending seems slightly ubrupt, but upon a little thought into it, it makes sense. Give this one a chance!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Nine Things about “Inside Llewyn Davis” (USA, 2013)

1. Joel and Ethan Coen have been making movies for 30 years. This movie proves they still have the ability to come up with compelling quirky comedies full of even quirkier characters.

2. This movie shows a week in the life of a folk singer, Llewyn Davis, in 1961 New York.It’s based loosely on a real folk singer named Dave Van Ronk.

3. Llewyn is a talended singer-songwriter, but his musical career has just never caught on. He’s trying to decide whether he should keep trying.

4. Llewyn has a rather miserable life. He doesn’t have a place to live, he just couch surfs through the city, staying with whatever friend isn’t currently mad at him.

5. As the movie unfolds, we see that his problems come from a mixture of bad luck and bad decisions. Mostly the latter.

6. While this is a comedy, it’s a melancholy comedy with a kind of dark heart. It’s about coming to the realization that nobody cares about your dreams but you.

7. Justin Timberlake plays a small role as Llewyn’s friend. And Coen staple actor John Goodman deserves Best Supporting Actor of the Year with his portrayal of a cranky jazz musician.

8. Characters sing a lot of folk songs in this movie. I’m not a big fan of folk songs.

9. There’s a subplot about Llewyn’s relationship with a cat. That subplot could be a metaphorical representation of the entire movie.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2014
Format: Blu-ray
Such an interesting film, for various reasons! If you just watch it and expect a happy ending or various other cliches then you are in for some disappointments. But do not fear, as this film succeeds in telling the tale of life. This film is unique and special, and I personally would watch it again. I will analyze it from a few perspectives. Acting wise this film did great, with various people that blur together and pop up when needed. Mainly this movie focuses on one mans journey, and his name is Llewyn Davis. Llewyn is just a regular down on his luck kind of guy trying to get out into the world.

The whole idea of the film can be summed into a simple phrase: "One man trying to succeed at what he loves doing." The movie follows the journey of Llewyn Davis and his various travels. In the beggingin of the film Llewyn is beaten up because he heckled a perfomer on the stage of his local club, after this he proceeds to play a song the net day. Throughout the film you see how not many people "like" Llewyn, and that's understandable. He's had a rough life, losing his best friend and musical partner, his dad lacking strong mental capacity, and the girl of his dreams hates his guts for getting her pregnant.

All of these things factor into why Llewyn doesn't see much to life. But after day in and day out of the same ol' thing, he decides to do something about it. After travling a rough trip to seek out a famed music producer, he is turned down. As he is lacking what he needs to be famous, a musical partner. Realizing that the one thing he needs is gone forever, Llewyn returns home. Deciding that he will never make it in the music industry he decides to go back to sea as a seaman. The shipping union he was previously left now requires he pay back is late dues, which Llewyn does not have. Left with nothing he goes back to the club he always plays at. He heckles a performer, then scene cuts to the next day where he is playing the song from the begging of the film, where afterwards he makes the same comments he did before. As he leaves the club, the audience hears/sees Bob Dylan begin to perform(he is unknown at this moment in time) Llewyn then gets beaten up in the alleyway as he did at the beginning.

This film shows that no matter what seemingly random act Llewyn committed, he always ended up back at home. No matter how he tried to escape fate, fate pulled him back. Seeing Llewyn smile in the alley at the end makes you realize he knows that, and his miserably journey was not pointless, but it indeed ended with him realizing he belonged where he always was.

Inside Llewyn Davis is perfectly compared to Oedipus Rex, in the sense that no matter what seemingly free choice the protagonist made they always were redirected back to the path they were always fated on. What a work of art this film is. Plus the music is great.
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20 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
"Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013 release; 105 min.) brings the (fictional) story of a folk singer named Llewyn Davis as he tries to build fame in 1961 New York. As the movie opens, we see Davis perform at the famous Gaslight Café in what appears to be just another routine performance. Soon thereafter, we learn that Davis has no money and literally couch-hops from one night to the next between friends. We get to know Davis; friends Jean and Jim, and later learn that Jean is pregnant and she is not certain who the father is although she thinks it's Llewyn, not Jim. Out of money, Davis bitterly complains to his agent that he didn't get an advance on his recently released solo record (called "Inside Llewyn Davis") and surely he should get some royalties? Now he is desperate and he decides to go to Chicago to meet with the legendary Bud Grossman, an influential guy in the music business. To tell you more about the film 'plot' would ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Several comments: first and foremost, there has been quite a bit of speculation in the press and elsewhere whether this movie is intended as a parody or send-up by the Coen brothers of the early 1960s folk scene. I can tell you that this is not the case at all, and that this is actually a straight take on that era. Second, the movie takes some inspiration from the real-life NY folk singer from that era, Dave Van Ronk. Third, the Coen brothers have admitted in interviews that 'there is no plot in this movie, reason why we threw in the cat'. Yes, the cat owned by the Gorfeins (friends of Davis) plays a role but to the Coens' point: this movie provides a snap-shot of that era, and does not focus on plot twists or even plot resolution. It didn't bother me one bit, as I was fascinated with the impressions of that era as painted by the Coens. Fourth, this movie oozes great performances, starting with Oscar Isaac in the title role, but check out Carey Mulligan as Jean, in her best role since "An Education" and Justin Timberlake as her husband Jim. But make sure to watch for F. Murray Abraham in the small role of Bud Grossman. After Davis does an on-the-spot audition for Grossman, Grossman comments dryly and devastatingly to Davis "I don't see a lot of money here", wow! Towards the end of the movie, Davis comments to the Gaslight Café audience "it's never new and it never gets old, it's a folk song", and that about sums it up.

I saw this film during a recent family visit in Belgium, and the theatre where I saw this at was reasonably well attended, which surprised me a little bit, given the heavy American tone and focus of this. I guess some people in Belgium do care about the New York folk scene from the early 60s after all. If you are a fan of that era, this movie is a must-see, but even if you are not, I would recommend it. I know I enjoyed this from start to finish. The movie is finally coming out shortly in the US, and is already rumored to ne in line for multiple award nominations, and deservedly so. "Inside Llewyn Davis" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2014
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
Generally entertaining movie. Not many real points of high drama or good laughs. It's a good natured trip through the New York folk music scene of the early 1960's.
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