News Column

opening this weekend [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]

December 6, 2013


"Inside Llewyn Davis"

Rated R for language including some sexual references. 105 minutes. HH

In an alley behind a cafe in New York's Greenwich Village, an unidentified stranger knocks singer Llewyn Davis to his knees.

Within the first 10 minutes of the Coen brothers' latest dark comedy, the filmmakers acquaint us with the curiously obscure, as violent fits are not usually associated with folk music.

The genesis of this animosity is left unanswered until the final moments of the film, leaving the lingering off-kilter question: Why would anyone beat up a folk singer? Thus, we have the perfect onset for this bleak and witty tale of a striving musician.

Here the Coen brothers pluck at the beatnik scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Helmed by long-time Coen collaborator T Bone Burnett, the tunes in this film - which are performed live - bare morbid undertones that correspond with the foremost concepts of the story: poverty, abortion, disappointment and death.

"Out of the Furnace"

Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language." 116 minutes. HH

"Out of the Furnace" is an earnestly crafted, passionately acted working-class drama rusted over by its noble intentions of steel- town sympathizing.

Director Scott Cooper (whose first film, "Crazy Heart," also was drawn to the dwindling options of an increasingly obsolete hard worker) sets his movie in Braddock, Pa., where he also shot it. The town mill hovers as the empty heart of a corroded city.

Cooper lays the atmosphere on thick, suffocating the film with worn interiors, factory smokestacks, dive bars and highway overpasses. It's filled with tattoos, beer bottles, muscle cars, flannel shirts and, to top it off, Eddie Vedder (who opens the films with the song "Release").

The film's cliches are many, but few will doubt its weighty sincerity, its heavy-handed Rust Belt eulogizing.

What's dying? The lives of blue-collar men. The film is centered on the Baze brothers, Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck), both of whom are finding that, as their father dies of lung cancer from years at the mill, life in Braddock is dried up.

"Out of the Furnace" makes an impression thanks to these performances, as well as Bale's captivating stillness. Cooper's drive to tell a story of Rust Belt decay has clearly elicited dedication in his cast.

But it has also given the film such heavy-handedness and hard-to- take allusions to "The Deer Hunter" that "Out of the Furnace" loses much of the authenticity it strives so hard for.

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