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Top Picks - Arkansas Daily Deal


By Karen Martin

This article was published March 14, 2014 at 2:28 a.m.

Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (R, 105 minutes)

Inside Llewyn Davis is funny and smart and sad, a rich and wonderful film, filled with excellent music, that’s one of the Coen brothers’ best. Oscar Isaac, previously seen in sorry movies like Madonna’s W.E. and Sucker Punch, is a talented musician and a gifted actor. Here he’s the star of a shaggy dog (or, more accurately, cat) story that charts what might be a more eventful than usual week in the life of a luckless folk singer in New York’s Greenwich Village in February 1961.

Llewyn, who’s not the most pleasant person you’ll ever meet, goes on a journey - physical and philosophical - and ends up back where he started. All the people around him seem more facile and successful (unless they’re over-dosing in bathroom stalls or freezing in the backseats of Cadillacs). Llewyn will never make it; he’s too caught in the folk singer ethic. He is constantly confronted with sunnier, more plastic (less authentic) versions of himself, all of whom seem to have better prospects.

One of the film’s best moments is a “sellout” session in which sniffily purist Llewyn joins his friend Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Al Cody (Adam Driver) to record a novelty song called “Please Mister Kennedy.” Llewyn is disdainful of the song, but he does it for the money. He’s poor and homeless (freeloading on others’ couches), with an album that won’t sell, a manager who has little faith in his prospects, and a cat named Ulysses who picked the wrong time to escape from his comfy Upper West Side habitat. It all comes together on screen. Really.

The Blu-ray and DVD releases feature a 40-minute making-of documentary titled “Inside Inside Llewyn Davis” with insights from the filmmakers, cast, crew and musicians including Isaac, Elijah Wald, Stark Sands, T Bone Burnett, Carey Mulligan, Timberlake, Marcus Mumford, Chris Thile, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham, Jess Gonchor, Mary Zophres and Bruno Delbonnel.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (PG-13, 146 minutes) Moody teenager Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) didn’t get much time off after winning the brutal 74th annual Hunger Games competition. Soon after returning home to Panem’s poor mining District 12, she hits the road again on a Victory Tour of other gritty, impoverished Panem districts - the opposite of its garishly gleaming Capitol. Being a hero and all, fierce Katniss soon figures out that a rebellion is brewing just in time for the 75th annual battle, an assembly of previous winners who are being brought together for a televised fight to the death in an arena.

The pricey, stylish second film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy moves the story forward with great energy and suspense while still holding out the promise of a gang buster climax that’s likely coming in the conclusion of the series.With Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks.

Philomena (PG-13, 94 minutes) Judy Dench’s understated, inspiring performance asan unsophisticated Irish Catholic woman who gives birth to an out-of-wedlock son is the main attraction of Philomena. The film, directed by Stephen Frears, concerns aging Philomena Lee’s efforts to find her long-lost child - with no help from the Catholic orphanage where he was born - who was adopted decades earlier by a couple in the United States.

Aiding (and sometimes getting in the way) in her dogged mission is Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former BBC reporter. Arrogant and condescending, he’s only interested at first in scoring a good story. Then he gradually falls under Philomena’s gentle spell, and the search shifts for him from professional to personal.

The Book Thief (PG-13, 125 minutes) Directed by Brian Percival, The Book Thief is a sometimes inspiring, sentimental drama about a charming orphan named Liesel (Sophie Nelisse). Sent to live with a foster family in a small German village circa World War II, she begins collecting books wherever she finds them, creating a magical world that’s a far cry from the upheaval around her. With Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson; based on the young adult novel by Markus Zusak.

Out of the Furnace (R, 116 minutes) Violent, dark and featuring a terrific cast that’s able to overcome a faulty script, Out of the Furnace is focused on Russell Baze (Christian Bale), who works a steel mill by day and cares for his terminally ill father by night. His routine is upended when brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) returns home from serving in Iraq, gets lured into one of the most ruthless crime rings in the Northeast and disappears. So big brother takes it upon himself to seek justice. With Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker; directed by Scott Cooper.

Iron Sky (R, 110 minutes) An intriguing idea that’s poorly executed except for some very funny interludes. Near the end of World War II, a secret Nazi space program evades destruction by fleeing to the dark side of the moon where, during 70 years of secrecy, the Nazis build a gigantic space fortress to use in taking control of the Earth. With Julia Dietze, Peta Sergeant, Udo Kier; directed by Timo Vuorensola.

Enemies Closer (R, 85 minutes) A muscular, spirited actioner. Enemies Closer stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Xander, a forest ranger (and former Navy SEAL) who, after a shipment of drugs disappears in the wilderness along the U.S.-Canadian border, lurches into survival mode when a drug cartel forces him to help retrieve the downed package. With Orlando Jones; directed by Peter Hyams.

Mademoiselle C (not rated, 93 minutes) A well-made and inspiring documentary concerning revered French fashion editor and image-maker Carine Roitfeld’s launch of New York-based magazine CR Fashion Book after her resignation as editor-in-chief for 10 years of Vogue Paris. With Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace. Directed by Fabien Constant. Subtitled.

MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 03/14/2014

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