“An odyssey where the main character doesn’t go anywhere,” as Ethan Coen put it in the Q&A after the New York Film Festival press screening of the film, Inside Llewyn Davis begins at the Gaslight Café, a fictional Greenwich Village coffeehouse, in 1961. After watching the title character (a mesmerizing Oscar Isaac) perform a soulful interpretation of an old folk song and then get beaten up in an inky back alley, we circle back in time to follow him as he couch-surfs his way around New York, hitches rides to Chicago and back, and visits, you suspect, just about everyone he loves or needs something from: his enraged ex-lover, Jean (Carey Mulligan); his sister (Jeanine Serralles), whose patience is fraying fast; his impossible-to-please father (Stan Carp), who’s wasting away in a nursing home; his deceptively abusive, apparently avuncular agent, Mel (Jerry Grayson); and the kind, middle-aged couple (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett) whose comfortably bohemian-ish apartment is the closest thing Llewyn has to a home base.
Philippe Petit (#1–10 of 5)
There wasn’t much to say about the initial poster for The Cabin in the Woods that wasn’t as plain as day in the image itself: “Oh, look at that. The house is twisted like a Rubik’s Cube. There must be puzzles afoot.” Nevertheless, the design proved to be one not easily forgotten, and highly amenable to, say, 3-D cardboard stand-ups for cineplex lobbies. Now, Lionsgate has wisely taken ownership of the image, as evidenced by the new one-sheet, recently revealed. Thanks to passerby double-takes and a swelling sea of buzz, that house is an emblem that can even work as a hollow shape, and while it may not be as iconic as The Blair Witch Project’s stickman, the powers that be are seeing to it that it’s on its way.
A heavy hitter on the festival circuit and overseas, The Cabin in the Woods has been met with a mess of early critical praise, which, given the cryptic plot details and banal TV spots, is thus far the most intriguing thing about it. The fire is then stoked with the new poster’s central detail—a jam-packed collection of more than 20 quoted raves. History has certainly shown that madness lies the way of trusting pithy blurbs stamped on film paraphernalia, but it’s exciting to see such enthusiasm emerge about a scary movie. Though largely drawn from London outlets, the quotes aren’t simply those of horror and genre gurus, who often give passes to titles that fail to grab a broader audience. The response suggests a widespread appeal, and it underscores an apparent mix of fright and comedy reminiscent of, as noted, The Evil Dead and Scream.
With Project Nim, James Marsh has created a documentary that feels more like a biopic—and one that avoids the genre’s usual pitfalls. He follows the life of a chimp named Nim, who was brought up to live with a human family to see whether chimps could communicate as people do. However, Nim soon showed an aggressive side; in one instance, he ripped open a woman’s face. He’s shuffled from family to institution, including a spell at a lab that tests hepatitis vaccines. As in his previous documentaries, Marsh uses fictional recreations to fill in the gaps in the available footage. The results tell a lot about both animal and human nature.
What are the differences between domesticated animals like dogs and Nim? [Note: I asked this question because a dog was roaming around the office where I interviewed Marsh.]
A dog has been bred for thousand years to live with us. Domestic animals are very different from wild animals. That’s a small footnote to Project Nim, but I found that out when I was making the film.
“I wish I’d known you were going to interview him—I’d love to learn if he’s still in touch with my friend Barbara Remington who had the albino skunk.” This was my original downtown bohemian pal Rose’s reaction when she found out I’d just spent twenty minutes at the offices of Magnolia Pictures doing a beat-the-clock interview with Philippe Petit, the only person to ever dance across a high-wire between the Twin Towers, and filmmaker James Marsh, who profiled the legendary Frenchman and his “artistic crime of the century” in his appropriately uplifting documentary Man On Wire. Though we discussed everything from spirituality to positive con artistry to A Clockwork Orange, the subject of living in Chelsea with an albino skunk never came up. (Sorry, Rose.) Here’s what did…
When Philippe Petit—the lively Frenchman who executed the “artistic crime of the century” in the summer of 1974 by sneaking up to the top of the World Trade Center and, for nearly an hour, performing a high-wire act without safety net or harness—was taken into custody and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, reporters immediately shoved microphones in his face. “Why?” they wanted to know. “Why did he do it?”
“Why? That is so American to ask why,” Petit answers in James Marsh’s poignant documentary Man On Wire, inspired by his autobiographical account To Reach The Clouds, and which takes its name from the words listed on the police record under ’detail of complaint.’ “Here I do something magnificent and beautiful and people ask why,” he continues, gesturing his frustration. “There is no why!”