The Coen brothers returned this week with Inside Llewyn Davis. Set in the early ’60’s Llewyn Davis is a folk musician trying to make his fortune in the music business but is never really able to make his mark. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, Inside Llewyn Davis is a restrained yet warm tale of a struggling musician who can’t seem to manage to sell out.
The film is full of the usual Coen charm, all shot in the soft focus with saturated colours and beautifully framed images we follow Llewyn as he sofa surfs and travels about the States looking for a decent management deal. The film is frequently funny and full the Coen’s quirky humour which is at times very black particularly in the case of John Goodman’s hilarious character. The film looks so good that no matter what’s actually happening on screen you’re drawn to it. Fortunately that stuff that’s going on is just as interesting this a a deep character study of an extremely flawed lead character. While many critics have deemed Davis an unlikable protagonist I found him quite sympathetic, despite disagreeing with a number of his decisions I felt pity for him in many ways. It’s full of metaphors for his characters throughout and the ginger cat he’s holding in the picture above which are well thought out and often very clever but if you were to pick a flaw in the film it would be that there are a few too many of these existential moments that don’t seem necessarily needed. But that is being overly picky.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a highly enjoyable, masterfully made film it may not be the Coen’s best effort but it certainly deserves a lot more recognition than it’s got from the Academy.
In a year that promises to be big for hip hop, last week saw Jay-Z’s hotly anticipated latest album released. With the undoubted genius of Kanye West’s Yeezus fresh in everyone’s mind Magna Carta Holy Grail had a lot to do if it was going to stand out. But while Jay-Z’s celebrity profile only seems to grow and grow his music lacks a punch it once had and this latest studio effort hasn’t really changed things.
With his last record, 2009’s Blueprint 3, we saw the rapper move further into the realms of slick, pop-like hip hop and with Magna Carta… he continues that direction. With collaborations from Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and Frank Ocean it was obvious that really his interests are in other areas than hip hop nowadays. His rhymes here a mostly lazy and uninspired, back when he was coming up with classic albums like The Black Album and the first Blueprint there was a real emotional charge to his lyrics as he told stories of hood life, drug dealing and breaking out of the projects, with Magna Carta… we get him comparing himself to Picasso numerous times with no real justification, and giving us a poor sample version of Smells Like Teen Spirit. At points his lines don’t even make sense its clear he’s put them in for a nice rhyme, with things like ‘Leonardo Da Vinci flows, Riccardo Tisci Givenchy clothes’. The production can’t really be faulted continuing in the polished style of Blueprint 3 the beats tick away nicely providing a distraction from Jay-Z’s less than gripping vocal performance. Some of the tracks are great to listen to F.U.T.W and closing track Nickel and Dimes are a couple of stand outs but this is overall a disappointing record.
It’s been a long time really since Jay-Z has been a hip hop genius but I had had a bit of hope for this album after the unique sound found on his collaborative Watch the Throne album with Kanye but Magna Carta… really fails to deliver. In this busy year for hip hop the record will be lost well below the quality of what else is on offer.