10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

★★★★

10 Cloverfield Lane PosterDirector: Dan Trachtenberg

Release Date: March 11th, 2016 (US); March 18th, 2016 (UK)

Genre: Drama; Horror; Mystery

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

There’s a great deal to admire about a film that chooses a path and sticks to it in spite of executive-level switcherooing. 10 Cloverfield Lane only discovered its Cloverfield bloodline midway through development, a potentially hazardous move that would have rendered many other outings spineless, but sweeping conviction shines through here. The path Dan Trachtenberg confidently guides his movie down is laden with rich slabs of character identity. So rich, in fact, that it’s probable you’ll forget about the Cloverfield connection after 15 minutes (I did) and instead enjoy a simple thriller with tantalising — and, crucially, natural — twists and turns, its three pro-cum-antagonists each carrying the weight of intrigue.

We have Howard (John Goodman), the overseer, aka the one who owns the bunker within which the film takes place and who calls the shots accordingly. Then there is the convert, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), already booked into Howard’s hotel by the time we arrive. And finally, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She’s the sceptic. You can tell because her red nail polish wears away with stress. Michelle doesn’t call ahead as much as awaken in Howard’s bunker having felt the brunt of a pummelling car accident, one that catches both her and us off guard, a proper assault on the solar plexus.

Escape hangs over proceedings. The film opens with Michelle, who has the appearance of someone desperately trying to escape something — a relationship, perhaps, and probably life in general (odd titbit: Bradley Cooper voices her pleading boyfriend, relegated to a phone call). Bear McCreary’s ominous score plays as Michelle frantically scrambles around her flat looking for road booze and as she departs, keys shunned on the table, that drone grows in intensity. It aids a tone that suggests trouble; via car radio, we hear of widespread power outages. Shortly thereafter, Trachtenberg unveils imagery that reflects an air of claustrophobia: the rusty chain clamping Michelle to the wall in Howard’s bunker, for instance, or the large iron door reinforcing her isolation.

Winstead plays the terrified, suspicious type so well, her eyes often wide and bulging. She is vulnerable, clearly, and yet full of defiant craft — there’s more than a touch of stellar horror heroine going on here. Goodman, meanwhile, juggles sanity and insanity with incredible credibility. He breathes heavily, panting almost, as if he’s about to explode in a fit of rage or is recuperating from a previous outburst. The less said about his character’s motives the better, though Goodman’s soon-to-be iconic introduction ought to be noted: the camera tentatively navigates around Howard’s hulking figure before unveiling his menacing face from a low angle, further feeding our anxieties.

Who is this man and what does he want? Those questions fuel the film’s allure as it cagily probes away at answers. Early on, Howard bemoans humanity’s lack of preparation, that we talk a good game from afar and then panic when true disaster hits. “Crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come.” The flood on this occasion is a nuclear attack, according to Howard (frequent power surges bolster his end-of-days argument). Turns out this is a man who has proactively prepared for disaster by building a sturdy bunker. Maybe he’s not the freak, but we are. His musings start to make sense.

On the flip side, “Surviving Doomsday” books line the shelves of his shelter and you begin to wonder if the whole scenario is a deluded madman’s ruse. There is a false home-sweet-home aesthetic, plants that are surely fake, and a fictional kitchen window. Trachtenberg and cinematographer Jeff Cutter concoct a terrifically creepy malaise through framing — more than once, Howard appears to creep up on Michelle and Emmett while the pair are mid-conversation. There is nowhere to hide. Feelings of paranoia and mistrust battle with hints of Stockholm syndrome. These themes recall an episode of Lost starring Henry Ian Cusick and Clancy Brown where the former struggles to unravel the latter’s bunker-based theories.

But deep-seated worry does not have a stranglehold on the piece. Penned by a trio of writers — Whiplash director Damien Chazelle apparently revamped much of Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken’s initial plot and character work — the screenplay includes moments of wry comedy that don’t try to detract from the disconcerting situation, but instead lighten the mood just enough to afford the film a more digestible front. Often it’s Gallagher Jr. who is tasked with making quips and he obliges with assured charm, as opposed to the purposefully awkward charm the actor evoked in The Newsroom. Even McCreary’s brooding score takes a break: “I Think We’re Alone Now” plays over a montage of momentary serenity. It’s splendid song-weaving.

The title “10 Cloverfield Lane” may suggest otherwise but this is a character drama first and foremost, tinged with high-concept thrills that complement splashings of sci-fi and horror. The people on-screen share a complex dynamic, an alluring one built around secrecy and regret and revelation. You think you know where it’s all going and then Howard whips out a Pretty in Pink VHS (he seems like a VHS kinda guy). You get so drawn in by the chess game that any Cloverfield associations become somewhat irrelevant, which, I suppose, is a real credit to both the idea and its execution. For the first time in a long time, I left the screening wanting more. Wanting a sequel. Imagine that!

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Paramount Pictures

Trumbo (2016)

★★★

Trumbo PosterDirector: Jay Roach

Release Date: November 25th, 2015 (US); February 5th, 2016 (UK)

Genre: Biography; Drama

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren

Trumbo is about two things: the trials and tribulations of a successful screenwriter, and the cultural acceptance of an uncommon political discourse. We spend time examining both, but never truly get into the meaty centre of either. Said screenwriter is Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a creative caught up in a battle of black-and-white politics; it’s us versus them and US versus Russia. “The Blacklist was a time of evil,” he bemoans, and it probably was. Fighting against tonally light content, we don’t see that evil.

It is mid-20th century America and Hollywood has been torn in two, ambiguous grey areas nowhere to be seen (certainly not in this filmic incarnation). There are those with ties to Communism and ideals driven by wealth distribution, none more so than the aforementioned Trumbo. Then there are the others — studio heads, directors, actors — who bear defiant patriotism, unwavering in their hatred for the Communist agenda. The turbulent ripples become clear, crossing the personal-professional divide almost instantly: “[Trumbo is] among us. Sure as hell ain’t one of us,” says one director, and he ain’t referring to movie guilds.

Director Jay Roach employs newsreels that lambast Communism by throwing the words “radical” and “anti-democratic” around. Trumbo himself, though grouchier as the film wears on, is a beacon of idealism: the imaginative writer, accepting, and willing to give the benefit of the doubt to those on the other side of the fence. When he’s not doing that, Trumbo is storytelling — we see him awaken in a bathtub and pick up his pen as if he hadn’t stopped for a snooze break. He ponders thoughts before his typewriter, smoke clouding his headspace, evoking a sense of artistic megalomania. Cranston plays him well, naturally manoeuvring between cartoonish cheer and patchy introversion.

The movie moves with welcome momentum, but there is a lack of bite in each narrative stroke. That the rabble of screenwriters charged with Communist associations are, at worst, fairly wealthy white males ought to be more of an issue given the film’s discriminatory context, but that is only brushed over during a brief conversation between Trumbo and fellow writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) — the civil rights movement becomes a meagre agent of friction between father and daughter, forgotten after a heart-to-heart. In fairness, unfair haranguing by Supreme Court magistrates does show us how little progress we have made in terms of political jousting and partisan stubbornness.

You would think the criminalisation of the Hollywood Ten (as the writers are collectively known) would have a creative impact on the film industry, but we don’t really see any immediate consequences. Irrespective of politics, incarceration means a loss of talent and that loss is skimmed over even after Trumbo and co. are released from prison and subsequently blacklisted. The workaround is fairly obvious: sell one’s work under somebody else’s name. Trumbo does just that, penning and then passing on the critically acclaimed Roman Holiday (1953) to his untainted screenwriter pal Ian McLellan Hunter (a typically effective Alan Tudyk).

It’s when he decides to work with B movie studio exec Frank King (John Goodman) as a script curator that we see some sort of occupational impact — these films are shoddy, far from Trumbo’s intellectual norm. As King puts it, “Quality minimum; quantity maximum”. Goodman’s arrival ushers in a Coen touch, a bout of heightened satire and craziness, and probably the film’s best moments too (a baseball-bat-wielding Goodman is a sight to behold). This stuff is enjoyable, though you do get the sense the filmmakers are too caught up in moulding an accessible film to carve out something significant.

What this means for the characters, and Trumbo especially, is a lack of piercing emotional rigour during moments of plight. Forced to strip off all of his clothes, Trumbo’s entry into jail is clearly demeaning and disheartening, however it should be tinged with so much more emotional verve. But up until that point there is no gravitas urging you to sympathetically invest in the scribe. Trumbo’s only emotional ties are those the film does not really have to earn: to his family, including daughter (Elle Fanning) and wife Cleo. Fanning shows spark and in spite of her fairly thankless role — wife and mother — Diane Lane manages to imbue Cleo with a dose of likeability.

Helen Mirren channels her inner Rita Skeeter as Hedda Hopper, the media’s harshest Communist critic. “Bad box office? No, bad politics,” she says, more concerned with political allegiance than money which, given her job relies on a thriving Hollywood, is quite something. John Wayne is arguably her biggest ally from within the industry, played here with brutish aplomb by David James Elliot. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, other big anti-Communist thinkers such as Joseph McCarthy are tiptoed around, Roach opting instead to focus on Hollywood figures.

On the aesthetic face, lots of high-waisted trousers and charcoal fedoras help to amplify the time period. Pathé-esque newscasts look real — some are, such as one depicting a John F. Kennedy film critique (two thumbs up) — while Roach’s use of newspaper prints to relay the national agenda is a nifty touch. These visual styles culminate in a retro flavour that generates more authenticity; it’s no Carol, but it’s good. Vowels are even offloaded with deeper verve. Cranston’s Trumbo sounds like someone who once resided in one of those old, grainy video recordings from many decades past.

Screenwriter John McNamara has a lot to juggle content-wise so perhaps the hit-and-miss nature of Trumbo shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) arrive without warning as the film reaches its scattergraph finale, name-checking Kubrick and negotiating screen credits. The film is essentially a trivial overview of a much more interesting period in US and Hollywood history than is given credit. But Trumbo is wholly watchable and Cranston commendably holds the screen, amounting to a piece worth its papery weight in entertainment.

Trumbo - Cranston & Mirren

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Bleecker Street

Inside Llewyn Davis (2014)

★★★★★

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Release Date: January 10th, 2014 (US); January 24th, 2014 (UK)

Genre: Drama; Music

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake

The bumbling Llewyn Davis sits opposite Bud Grossman, a music mogul the folk singer has literally gone lengths to meet. Grossman, perhaps out of good grace rather than expectation, whispers he wants to hear something from “Inside Llewyn Davis”. You can see the toil in Llewyn’s guitar strumming hands, the plight in his aching voice and the desperation in his knowing eyes. Knowing, because he’s seen failure before. Always. It’s a powerful moment in a bleakly rich tale about a music churner on the periphery of a scene ready to erupt. Although Llewyn is often the source of his own downfall and despite his tendency to be a bit of an asshole, you campaign dearly for him. Out of sympathy? Sure. But also because Oscar Isaac plays the bedraggled artist to an absolute tee. And if not that, then it’s the harmonious melodies and captivating words emanating from Llewyn’s mouth that seal your approval. The Coen’s are back, and Inside Llewyn Davis is a drowsy doozy.

It’s 1961. Layered with frost and shrouded in the icy breath of its residents, New York’s Greenwich Village is a hotbed for folk music. Llewyn Davis is part of the emerging scene; at least he aspires to be, but his newest album hasn’t sold and his partner-in-song recently committed suicide. Lower on luck than money — and he’s pretty damn tight on both — Llewyn plays intermittently at the Gaslight Cafe before scrounging a stranger’s couch for the night. When we first meet him, the folk singer laments lyrics that ring true alongside his sombre existence (“Hang me, oh hang me”). Soon after Llewyn finds himself beat up in a dank and saturated alleyway, a physical and painful embodiment of his musical struggles.

And it gets worse before it gets worse again. His friends, perhaps the only ones, are moderately successful and on the rise. John (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan) are a singing duo, often Llewyn’s haven both financially and in shelter. Only now Jean is pregnant and unsure of the father, effectively severing any amiable ties between herself and the unfortunate Llewyn. The Gorfien’s also boast a couch familiar to Llewyn. This very mundane-yet-collapsing existence is exceedingly prevalent for the Welsh-named man. It’s a Coen trademark, harking back to one of their recent outings, A Serious Man. Llewyn and Larry (the serious man) are dealt similar misfortunes in life — it wouldn’t come as a total surprise to discover the pair are related, they certainly share a kindred luckless spirit. Just like in A Serious Man, arguably even more so, you find yourself hampering alongside the lead fortune-insulator in an attempt to lighten the load.

Oscar Isaac is outstanding in the lead role. His portrayal of Llewyn Davis does not boast charisma, rather that trait flares from everyone else around him. Instead he is controlled, restrained, almost as if the next bout of bad news is a given at any moment. His inhibitions outside performing — Llewyn’s depth is less than the milk bowl he feeds his temporary cat with — are the reason for the folk singer’s lack of progression (“not a star”; “there’s no money there”). Isaac’s expertly lacking in grandiose performance is probably the reason he was wrongly snubbed by the Academy, when in reality this is certainly one of the best performances of the year.

It’s his lack of success that bolsters Llewyn’s admirability. Near the beginning of his torrid week, he mistakenly-yet-not-unexpectedly lets the Gorfien’s cat out. His subsequent adventures alongside the furry animal are telling, and often mirror Llewyn’s personal detriments. Suddenly, there arrives a point where you question Llewyn’s reasoning for still carrying the cat, but realise the answer is glaringly obvious: as it clambers on his chest in the underground, the cat represents Llewyn’s own conflicts. It’s his proverbial ‘chip on the shoulder’ if you like. Llewyn can’t seem to grasp the advancing folk culture, perhaps because his mind is cramped full of other problems which demand facilitating — he takes a fee rather than royalties on the comical song “Please Mr. Kennedy”, one that he detests but records at the mercy of instant cash. Often the cat escapes Llewyn’s person yet he always finds and reclaims it, indicating Llewyn’s unconscious inability to let go and develop his own self. The singer is hemmed in — not just by tight corridors — and seemingly the only means of escape is the sole entrance that takes him directly back to where he began.

In one of their heated debates, Llewyn labels Jean a “careerist” not realising the folk scene only offers success via the semi-corporate route she is traversing. “Please Mr. Kennedy” is an upbeat, topical space tune illustrating the rise of its vocalist, whereas Llewyn often finds his own passion in singing songs about death (“If I Had Wings”); songs that draw you in and sell your ears a piece of Llewyn’s heart, but songs that indiscriminately distance themselves from commercial flourishing. When Llewyn sings the film bursts into life, ironically a tantalising life that Llewyn himself can’t live, one he only provide. Another Coen collaboration with T-Bone Burnett sizzles up a wonderfully echoing and at times heart-wrenching soundtrack, one that hums alongside a smoky moodiness. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the benchmark, and Inside Llewyn Davis just about reaches it.

Oscar Isaac’s tremendous rendition aside, the film is bolstered by an array of eccentric, humorous and penchant performances. Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan exude a genuine chemistry, one that is sort of awkward in the wake of Llewyn, just as it should be. Coen stalwart John Goodman is back and funnier than ever (“You throw yourself off the Brooklyn Bridge!”) as a loudmouth, jazz musician who derides folk music. Military man by day folk artist by night, Stark Sands provides an early measure of off-beat hilarity at the beginning of Llewyn’s dourness, a comical thread that is never lost on the Coen’s and therefore one that often successfully prevails over the textured malaise.

From the second Llewyn Davis enters the viewer’s presence to the moment the viewer’s presence leaves the cinema, you find it exceedingly difficult to believe in his music success story. It’s not that you don’t want too, far from it. Rather, the Coen brothers have meticulously mechanised an early 1960s folk scene that blends the unfortunate with a frustration, an atmosphere Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn Davis gloomily basks in.

At the end of a tediously long journey that eventually renders itself pointless, Llewyn’s questioning of a beat poet’s escapades is met with a staunch, “Long story”. In a way it’s fitting because that long story, encased in uncertainty, hapless luck, and banality, is Llewyn’s life in a nutshell.

Trouble with the Curve (2012)

★★★★

Director: Robert Lorenz

Release Date: September 21st, 2012 (US); November 30th, 2012 (UK)

Genre: Drama; Sport

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake

Whereas Bennett Miller’s Moneyball laid out the intricacies of baseball and created an engrossing film about the sport for people who don’t know the sport, Trouble with the Curve sees baseball solely as a starting point; as the spark that will go on to ignite a splendid tale of relationships, trust and stubbornness. The cast is excellent and each bring something different to the field, but it’s simplicity that allows Trouble with the Curve to thrive. The low-key approach is very laissez-faire, almost as if the film isn’t striving to make that home-run. Only, it just about gets there anyway.

Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is an elderly scout who has plied his trade at the Atlanta Braves for decades. He has devoted his life to baseball and Gus’ ageing mind is always wandering in search for the next bat. Eyes failing him (a scout’s nightmare) and given one final chance to unearth a diamond, Gus finds himself on the road with his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) whose success in law suggests more than just strength and independence, as it instead covers up the cracks dealt in a life without her father.

Not an awful lot happens in Trouble with the Curve, but it’s exactly that deficiency in over-doing things that gives the film its mellow charm and warmth. Having its toes dipped in the sports genre, a danger certainly exists where the attraction of glorifying situations and entering an all-too-familiar schmaltz territory is never far off, but director Robert Lorenz ensures sappiness is kept to an absolute minimum, meaning that when it does rear its mushy head, you are obliged to forgive. In a film about overcoming obstacles, it’s definitely more fitting to have some puddles of slush rather than sheets of uncompromising ice.

At the heart of the film are two performances, both of which provide the elevation needed for Trouble with the Curve to stand out from the pack. Clint Eastwood is gravelly, rustic, abrasive, croaky and a whole manner of other blemishes associated with an elderly man who has seen his best years, and who probably wont see much more of the sport he loves and lives. Gus Lobel’s colleagues are often seen exclaiming, “He may be ready for pasture,” “Game’s changed,” and “New blood”, and although he doesn’t hear these put-downs in the open, Eastwood’s defiant yet deep-down defeated demeanour tells you all you need to know about his character’s own perception of a bleak future.

Along, then, comes the simply delightful Amy Adams, who bursts with soul as she injects life into both Eastwood and the film. Although a cagey lawyer-type in the beginning, her relationship with Eastwood develops into an absorbing one: sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but always worth its weight in screen time. Gus and Mickey are far too stubborn to admit defeat (in their eyes, at least) and the film plays with this idea of withholding from loved ones until it might be too late. Mickey is always coiled up in work; her aspirations of getting a promotion in an industry she only entered to please her father are shallow, as he is never there to see her thrive anyway (“Everything’s okay as long we don’t talk”). Gus is distant, embroiled in baseball and relentlessly stutters when attempting to unveil feelings and sentiment towards his daughter. Justin Timberlake portrays former player Johnny Flanagan, someone who was apprehensive in the past about discussing the arm injury that prematurely ended his playing career. Timberlake deserves recognition for his charismatic contribution too, and together the three actors develop brilliant chemistry which ultimately drives the film and sharpens its principals.

In its lack of narrative extravagance, Trouble with the Curve does run the risk of inducing monotony, however the aforementioned engaging characters should be enough to guide you through until the end. Although not as funny as other road-trip films (which it essentially is) there are undoubtedly moments of comedy, a handful of which tread the black humour realm. This is Eastwood’s first non-self-directed acting expedition since a Casper cameo in 1995, and one or two playful sniggers towards age and losing touch with reality are on show — the whole ‘loss of sight’ element might even be a nod towards Eastwood’s real life front-of-camera career wind down.

It is all about the people involved, and thankfully the people involved are excellent company — there are even fun roles for Matthew Lillard and John Goodman, who has been pried from the Coen Brothers’ grip in order to film this. Purity is pivotal throughout Trouble with the Curve; heck, maybe a riskier, more diverse plot would’ve offered surprise and ingenuity. That’s wishful thinking though and, to be honest, probably a disservice to the brilliant effort on show from those involved.

Anyway, it is breakfast time… where’s my pizza?

Flight (2012)

★★★★

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Release Date: November 2nd, 2012 (US); February 1st, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Drama; Thriller

Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood

It does not take long for Robert Zemeckis’ Flight to race into full throttle and deliver the intense plane crash scene from which much of the buzz surrounding the film has emanated. However, the film quickly switches gears and ends up spending most of its time delving into a more subtly intense story about a man’s plight against addiction — a ruthless concoction of lies, alcohol and drugs succinctly summed up by the lead character’s quip, “Don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking”. It becomes a dramatic character study rather than an event-driven thriller, and with each extra lie that Denzel Washington’s Whip tells, or additional drink he swigs, you just want to give him a shake and remind the heroic pilot that he can be a decent human being.

Whip Whitaker is a seemingly disenfranchised airline pilot who spends his evenings with co-workers (more specifically, air hostesses) in hotel rooms partaking in substantial alcohol consumption and drug use — and that is only on pre-flight nights. He awakens from his extravagantly unprofessional routine one morning both sleep-deprived and lumbersome, before heading out to captain a flight to Atlanta. After successfully, and somewhat surprisingly, manoeuvring his plane through a bout of rough turbulence, an alcohol-influenced Whip is forced to execute an emergency landing in a field. A plane crash is a once-in-a-thousand-lifetimes event that, for the vast majority of us, is something only experienced through the likes of news reports or documentaries. Zemeckis and cinematographer Don Burgess do a nail-bitingly horrifying job of emulating the chaos, destruction and terror of such an event, far eclipsing the director’s tumultuous Cast Away aviation incident. Washington’s poise is both unsettling and admirable as a captain who is just as dependent on booze and drugs as his passengers are on his flying skills.

Whip awakens in hospital a hero to the public but quietly uncertain and continuously seeking reassurance over his role in the crash. “My [condition] had nothing to do with the plane falling apart,” is often closely followed by, “Nobody could’ve landed that plane like I did”. The film does not shy away from making clear that the doomed aircraft was a result of mechanical failure, but a combination of Whip’s pre-flight misdemeanours and post-crash internal conflict raises doubt. Is there the possibility that Whip’s demons lead to the accident? Zemeckis’ direction plays a role in casting this ambiguity over proceedings, however Washington’s depiction of a man unravelling creates doubt not where there should be none, but where there is none.

The Academy Award winner has the stench of alcohol protruding from him throughout the film and stands out, in particular, in two scenes of mental jousting. The first, soon after cleansing himself and his life of all toxic substances by way of sink or toilet, sees a fidgety Whip down his first drink in the knowledge that he is facing potential criminal prosecution. The second comes towards the end of the film where Whip is surrounded by people, but more alone than ever as he juggles morals in his head. It is testament to Denzel Washington’s acting abilities that he ensures Whip commands sympathy in spite of all of his negative traits. Perhaps this is partially down to those traits tearing away at nobody but Whip himself — “What life?” is how highly he regards his existence. It is eerily fitting that said traits, which without aid are leading to the downfall of the man himself, are also responsible for saving the lives of many others.

Flight is not without faults. The film does an excellent job of creating the Kelly Reilly character, Nicole, who sets off in the same place as Whip but ends up moving in the opposite direction. Reilly is convincing as a manipulable heroin addict trying to turn her life around, and she shares an intriguing if not entirely believable relationship with Whip (although this lack of believability is probably the point). However her character fails to really go anywhere. There is also a very noticeable comedy element which rears its jokey head every so often, and every so often it fails to fit in with dark nature of events. Or at least is should fail. Bizarrely, the humour provides some welcome light relief, with John Goodman often the vehicle of funny. Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood succeed in their semi-conflicting roles (both are there to help Whip, but only one shows affection towards him). James Badge Dale also makes a scene-stealing cameo as a dying man in the hospital and delivers film’s best one-liner after receiving a carton of cigarettes from Whip.

Ultimately, Flight sets out to tell the story of a man struggling through addiction while encased in special circumstances, and it does this very well. Denzel Washington’s engrossing performance at times teeters on the incredible, and just like the Coke can that follows Whip around his hotel room reminding him of what he cannot have, Washington’s prominence on screen provides another reminder of just how great a performer he is. Not that anybody needed reminding.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Out January 24th, 2014)

The Coen brothers’ next offering, Inside Llewyn Davis, sees Oscar Isaac orienteering through the New York folk music scene in the frosty winter of 1961, faced with numerous obstacles preventing him from becoming the musician he aspires to be. Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and Coen brothers’ favourite John Goodman are also involved in the drama led by the somewhat unfamiliar Isaac, who has fleeted around various projects in minor roles over the last few years (such as Robin Hood, Drive and The Bourne Legacy) and who has yet to find himself in that stand-out role which would propel his career to the next level.

Perhaps this is the role.

Carey Mulligan has been fairly busy over the last few years, also having appeared in Drive (albeit in a more prominent role than Isaac), having conjured up a critically acclaimed performance in Shame during the same year, and having recently starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s take on The Great Gatsby. I would rather not give too much away (even though the trailer does to an extent), but Mulligan is set to portray a character unlike her those we normally see from her. The ever-so-popular Justin Timberlake has just released his third studio album and appears to be combining his musical tendencies with his acting ability in this music-driven drama. Although we do not know too much about his character in Inside Llewyn Davis, Timberlake has more than proven to be a charismatic screen presence in the past, and therefore should fit in aptly in this instance. John Goodman always has something enjoyable to offer in each film he is a part of, be it as the enigmatic “Big Dan” in O Brother, Where Art Though? or more recently, as Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers in Argo, and this time around appears to be no different.

“Hi, I’m here to audition for the lead role in Argo.”

Inside Llewyn Davis, scheduled for a nationwide release in the United States on December 20th, before an agonising months wait for us in the United Kingdom, was screened at the 66th annual Cannes Film Festival in France back in May, where it received mostly positive reviews from critics. The film is being heralded as one in a similar vein to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, staunchly comedic (true to the Coen legacy), yet respectful to the era it faithfully depicts, and melancholic by way of its musical demeanour. In fact, the soundtrack to the film is one influenced by the same man who worked on O Brother’s soundtrack, T-Bone Burnett, suggesting a similar tone to the one provided in the Coens’ 2000 comedy starring George Clooney. Mumford & Sons frontman (and Carey Mulligan’s husband) Marcus Mumford is even set to chip in with a number of songs. Music has always played a significant role in Coen films, therefore I have high expectations for the music set to be provided by Inside Llewyn Davis — it is a film galvanised by music, at the end of the day.

The Cannes Film Festival has been one which has produced many highs for the Coen brothers over the last twenty years, with eight Palme d’Or nominations attached to their films, one of which was a win (Barton Fink in 1991). Even though Inside Llewyn Davis did not win this year, that is not to say it is a step down for the Coens, but rather that the festival went for something different (a lot different, in actual fact — look up Blue Is the Warmest Colour). Inside Llewyn Davis is even being tipped as one to look out for when the awards season comes back around early next year, although this is hardly surprising considering the brother’s films tend to be in the mix as soon as they are released.

I have been looking forward to this one since it was announced months ago, even raving about it on Twitter a few times. Being a big fan of Joel and Ethan, it is always intriguing to follow the progress of their upcoming films, and all of the indications point towards Inside Llewyn Davis being another winner from the pair: set to offer up a rich, mesmeric, humorous tale surrounding a week in one man’s journey towards gaining recognition in the New York music scene.

Below is the most recent trailer for Inside Llewyn Davis. It is fairly lengthy at over two and a half minutes long, and it gives a little more away than I have done here — much like most film trailers these days (Fast & Furious 6 literally gave away the whole film in its trailer) — but it by no means spoils anything. If you want to know a little more and see the characters in action, have a watch.