Deeper Into Movies: Inside Llewyn Davis + Looking: The Movie + Star Trek Beyond

A rare turn of events for this weekend meant a chance to sit down and burn through a couple of films: one, an instant classic recently released by Criterion Collection (and recently obtained by me as part of Barnes & Noble's annual 50% off sale); the other, the movie-length farewell to an HBO series that failed to catch fire after two seasons; and yet another, which was the latest installment in the Star Trek reboot series. 

I hadn't seen Llewyn Davis since it was released in 2013, but like so many Coen Brothers movies, the images of the film have been burned deep within my mind since. As great as they are at writing dialogue, they have become true masters (with the help of their well-chosen set and costume designers, and their keen choices of cinematographer) at conceiving and executing visual scenarios that you simply can't forget. That's why even middling fare like Hail, Caesar! and The Ladykillers are still so fun to look at. 

I was struck once more by Oscar Isaac's fully-realized performance in the lead role and those little jagged bits of humor they toss into almost every film (Llewyn's attempt to stash a box of remaindered albums under a table only to find a similar box featuring his friend's own forgotten LPs; the man driving to New Jersey who somehow doesn't wake up when Llewyn slams the brakes on, etc.). But I walked away from it feeling like it was a spiritual sequel to O Brother Where Art Thou?, one that follows a similar odyssey by its lead but has far more emotional depth to it. That likely goes without saying as the 2000 film was a pure comedy. And it's probably because I relate more to Llewyn than I ever would to Ulysses McGill or anyone in O Brother.  

I'm still not entirely sure how to feel about the Looking film. It exists in this strange universe, post-Supreme Court decision to legalize LGBTQ marriage, pre-Orlando. The characters in this film are more concerned about whether they should go through with the wedding rather than worries of a madman showing up at a Pride parade with a bag full of explosives. It feels like an anomaly in that way. 

There was some small hope in my heart, too, that the extended running time would allow them to slow down their storytelling and really dig deep into the lives of these characters, an issue that really hobbled the series in its half-hour format. Sadly, as they were hurrying to wrap everything up, it felt as mismanaged as usual. Dom was pretty much shoved to the outskirts of the story, even after we found out about the success of his "chicken window" and his desire to avoid relationships for a while. Agustin, too, got only a small chunk of the story even though his wedding was the central point of this whole weekend adventure by the boys. 

As it was with the series, the movie was really all about Patrick and his wrestling with his snap decision to leave San Francisco for Denver and the men he left behind in his wake. It was there that the film carried its emotional weight the best. Patrick's attempt to "close the chapter" with Kevin was brilliantly staged, with both men forced to maintain their poise while holding an intense conversation in a public space. And the moment with Dom and Patrick sharing a very stoned kiss that devolves into laughter was as honest as anything in this series. The lived-in feeling of their friendship and their feeling that maybe they could work out together made perfect sense. The rest of Looking: The Movie didn't follow suit, unfortunately. It beautiful to watch but sadly uneven and stilted throughout. I still hold the series and everyone involved in such high regard, but really wish they could have done more with the elements they had. 

Star Trek Beyond is, well, a Star Trek movie. At least the Star Trek that we've come to understand and appreciate since these characters returned to theaters in 2009. The crew of the Enterprise have to save humanity from an evil force. Many conflicts within the crew and with the bad guys go down. The good guys survive and move forward to film #4. 

I still enjoyed the heck out of this even if I could walk away feeling like it was oddly edited at times and left major characters like Uhura and Sulu twisting in the wind for the most part. The folks we did get to follow throughout did a great job, and the new characters they introduced—particularly the lithe and fierce Jayla and Krall, the fearsome enemy that gave Idris Elba a chance to act under piles of prosthetics and makeup. 

If there was a message of tolerance in the film, it got buried beneath the CGI, the explosions, and the little self-aware moments that are starting to become a pall on most sci-fi/fantasy films. The nonsense with the Beastie Boys song was much too much. But try as Gene Roddenberry might have when creating this series, Star Trek Beyond doesn't need to change the world in the way it intends to. Just letting us escape from the ills of our planet for a couple of hours is more than enough.