The great intrigue of 13 Sins (2014) begins when Elliot (Mark Webber), a recently fired salesman, receives an odd phone call from a stranger who then invites Elliot to compete in a reality game show and win a great deal of prize money, which Elliot could really use. Elliot has a lot of debt. He’s getting married. His fiance is pregnant. He cares for his disabled young brother. And his aging father is moving in with them.
Once Elliot agrees to play the game, 13 Sins quickly becomes a tale of social Darwinism, about how far one person will go to provide for their family (and then some). In doing so, the film is also an observation about how a very small percentage of the world puppeteers the rest.
The films of Jim Jarmusch are not about plot. They are about attitude, character, and mood. For instance, his most recent film, Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), opens with an evocative, spinning shot of stars that slows and match dissolves to an overhead shot of a spinning vinyl record, which plays a slow, industrial cover of Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love,” about the feeling of falling in love: “My head is spinnin’ around and around / as I go deep into the funnel of love. / It’s such a crazy, crazy feelin’. / I get weak in the knees. / My poor old head is a-reelin’ / as I go deep into the funnel of love.”
The film match cuts to an overhead shot of a woman reclined at the foot of a bed. She stares upward and blankly into the camera, which rotates and lowers down (as though draining through a funnel). With another match cut, we meet a man, posed similarly, on a couch and holding a lute. They are Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston). They have been “around and around” the Earth as it has spun and twirled “around and around” for centuries. But be not mistaken: they are not the Adam and Eve. No, they are vampires. They are lovers, too, who have been married at least three times. Their love is fresh, though, like the feeling sung by Wanda Jackson.
It’s been seven years since “The Bitch is Back,” the final episode of Veronica Mars, aired on May 22, 2007. The CW abruptly cancelled the show due to poor ratings after only three seasons. In doing so, they ended one of the best shows of the 2000s: an atmospheric, captivating, intelligent critical darling about classism, feminism, and the trials of being a teen.
On March 13, 2013, show creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell launched a high-profile Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million in 30 days for a feature-length Veronica Mars movie. Backers from around the world met the goal in less than 10 hours. By the end of the campaign, 91,585 supporters raised a record-breaking $5.7 million, or enough for a 23-day shoot. The result, Veronica Mars (2014), was obviously made for fans of the show. The uninitiated—possibly the majority of viewers—will likely be left behind.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), the latest masterpiece from the Coen Brothers, opens inside the now famous Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village in 1961, upon the arrival of Bob Dylan, then an unknown folk singer, and on the verge of the folk boom that partly defines the 1960s.
In the cafe, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) commands the stage with a simple, traditional folk song, “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” about a poor man wishing to be hanged, which turns out to be a rather revealing song.
Llewyn is self-destructive and something of a masochist. He is a reincarnation of Odysseus (a staple in the Coen canon). Both men are conceited, hypocritical, philandering, paradoxical, and treacherous. They sabotage their own successes. For instance, in the film, Jean (Carey Mulligan), angered by Llewyn’s philandering, tells him, “Everything you touch turns to shit! Like King Midas’s idiot brother… You don’t want to get anywhere, and that’s why the same shit is going to keep happening to you, because you want it to… and also because you’re an asshole!”
Like The Odyssey, which the Coens previously adapted into O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2001), Inside Llewyn Davis is a chronicle of one man’s self-defeating failure to control himself. It’s a period piece, but it’s also a character study the delves deep inside Llewyn Davis.