Reel Critics: Tune meanders in 'Llewyn Davis'

I've been a fan of the Coen Brothers' eccentric dark humor for many years. Their unique offbeat style is exemplified in noteworthy movies like "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski" and "No Country for Old Men." This time around, they target a much smaller audience in the low-key indie-style film "Inside Llewyn Davis."

It focuses on a struggling songwriter yearning to succeed in the folk music scene of Greenwich Village in 1961. Oscar Isaac is outstanding as the title character, whose own warped personality is his biggest obstacle. John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and F. Murray Abraham have small roles that add spark to the perplexing events unfolding onscreen.

We follow the curious adventures of the folk singer through a hectic week of his oddball life. The plot has the strange developments and bizarre events you expect in a Coen Brothers film. There are some good laughs and insightful moments. But after all the twists and turns, the story seems to have no destination in mind. The purpose of the whole enterprise remains a mystery.

—John Depko


Who's afraid of the 'Wolf'?

In the frenetic "The Wolf of Wall Street," director Martin Scorsese makes the sex, greed and drugs in "Goodfellas" and "The Departed" look like a walk in the park.

The film is based on Jordan Belfort's memoirs as an obscenely crooked and successful stockbroker in the days when greed was good.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort, who, on his first day with a big Wall Street firm, turned down lunchtime martinis offered by his boss (Matthew McConaughey, in another scene-stealing performance) who teaches him that big money is fun.

The excesses of consumption and drug-fueled behaviors in "The Wolf of Wall Street" are jaw-dropping, appalling and sometimes funny. The acting, especially by DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, is fantastic considering these are nasty human beings without a shred of conscience or desire for redemption.

If Scorsese meant to condemn and not condone this aspect of our society, he did it well.


The perfect imaginary woman

Spike Jonze has written and directed a lyrical, melancholy love story in "Her," a tale of a loner (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer's operating system. When the system has the voice of Scarlett Johansson, it's not such a far-out concept.

Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is a lost soul with a broken marriage, wandering the streets of a futuristic L.A. where everyone seems to be talking to their voice-activated software instead of each other. He buys a new system, voiced by the sexy, playful "Samantha" (Johansson), who yearns to know what the real world is all about.

Through the eyes of his cell camera, Theodore shows "her" everyday wonders that we take for granted — a child, city lights, the sun and sky and sea. They fall in love and no one seems to find it odd at all.

Phoenix has never been more vulnerable or more expressive. After his mannered, eccentric performance in last year's "The Master," it's unnerving to see him laugh and smile and be happy.

"Her" is a wondrous re-imagining of the yearning to connect and open one's heart. It certainly won mine.

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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