on the front lines of cultural chaos since 1984.
Inside llewyn Davis
In the Coen Brothers' rapturous new movie, the velvet-voiced Oscar Isaac beautifully inhabits Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk musician in Greenwich Village in 1961. He is always scrambling for gigs, crashing on couches, fighting with his ex-girlfriend (a ragingly good Carey Mulligan) and racing around the streets looking for a lost cat. After a hilariously bizarre car ride to Chicago with a sullen driver (Garrett Hedlund) and a know-it-all junkie music legend (John Goodman) he's finally ready to walk away from his dream -- just as Bob Dylan arrives on the scene. It's a funky, furiously funny portrait of a loveable loser.

Set in Los Angeles, in the not-so-distant future, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a lonely man still smarting from a marital bust-up, who works for a company where he writes personal letters for other people. When he gets a new artificial-intelligence operating system, he becomes smitten with its computerized voice (Scarlett Johansson). This may sound overly whimsical but the film's writer/director is Spike Jonze and his take on the techno-crazed culture is filled with wit and surrealism. But it's Phoenix's sweet, soulful, heartbreaking performance that anchors the film and makes it so deeply affecting.

August: Osage County
The film version of the caustic, darkly comic play by Tracy Letts about three daughters (Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis) who return to their Oklahoma home after a family tragedy, stars Meryl Streep as Violet, their bewigged, pill-popping, monster of a mother. The play was sardonic, but director John Wells goes for straight melodrama, with Streep injecting sympathy into venomously cruel jibes at her children. Fortunately Roberts, Nicholson and Lewis, along with Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney and Ewan McGregor, are so criminally good that this corrosive family drama is absolutely riveting.

Oscar Isaac Photo by Alison Rosa ©2012 Long Strange Trip LLC