Oscar Isaac may be the luckiest actor in Hollywood right now — and he knows it. After breakout roles in Robin Hood and Drive, he’s double-stepped it up the escalator of success and now finds himself headlining Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest film by a couple of his heroes, the Coen brothers. Of course, it also helps that Isaac is precociously talented. Not only can the Juilliard graduate turn from flamboyant royal villain to dimwitted ex-con on a dime, he’s also an accomplished musician, which happens to be how he got the gig. Isaac plays the titular hero, a kind-of-but-not-really riff on Dave Van Ronk who stumbles Job-like through the Greenwich Village folk revival of the ’60s, desperately clinging to his artistic pride, his ambitions, and a cat, all while looking for the next place to sleep. It’s surprisingly soulful, ruthlessly wry, and a worthy addition to the Coens' playlist.
In fact, Inside Llewyn Davis has many remarkable features — despite losing none of the usual edge, it might be one of the Coens' gentlest films yet — but paramount among them are the long, intimate takes of Isaac playing soulful folk songs. In contrast to the usual chopped-up manner of recording a musical performance for a film, Isaac actually sang his songs in toto over long takes; and unlike Russell Crowe in his much-maligned turn in Les MisÚrables, Isaac can hold his own against Justin Timberlake. No, seriously, check it out: It’s a handy skill to have as he’s sent into the fray of Oscar campaigns. Given that the Coens long ago switched from being perpetual outsiders to perennial Oscar favorites, it feels like Isaac’s got a shot at a (well-deserved) nomination. I talked to him as he embarked on his publicity rounds.
Last night Kanye West sat down with Jimmy Kimmel for a fence-mending interview, although "interview" is probably the wrong word. In an interview it's customary for both parties to talk, whereas Wednesday's show quickly became a Kan-o-logue; Kanye wore fringed moccasins, but figuratively speaking he had his black Timbs all on Kimmel's couch from the beginning. I'm pretty sure the only words Kimmel uttered during the second Kanye segment were "And we're back."
West and Kimmel were ostensibly resolving a disagreement that started back in September, when Kimmel aired a video in which a petulant, milkshake-sipping child reenacts some of the more quotable moments of a lengthy, impassioned talk West had with the BBC's Zane Lowe. After the sketch aired, Kanye took to Twitter, accusing Kimmel of (a) trivializing "THE FIRST PIECE OF HONEST MEDIA IN YEARS," and (b) looking like beloved children's entertainer SpongeBob SquarePants.
Generally speaking, when one celebrity is apparently using Meme Generator to insult another celebrity, that's a clue you're not witnessing cultural discourse at its most high-flown level. But the Kanye-Kimmel beef was about something real. When Kanye expresses honest frustration in an interview and the online gossip-matrix categorizes said interview as a "crazy rant," that's a value judgment. The Lowe interview that started all this is not the last words of Dutch Schultz; whether or not you agree with Kanye's assertions, nothing he's saying is particularly hard to understand. "I do think that somewhere in you, you want people to understand where you're coming from, is that true?" Kimmel asked West, as if there's anyone in the world who aims to be misunderstood.
You know how we’re all supposed to be sophisticated enough not to confuse an actor with his or her role? Yes, they may have a type they’ve mastered, but in real life, they’re totally different. But some actors, you just can’t buy it. I’m pretty sure Jack Nicholson really does flash that fiendish grin at pretty ladies — I mean, ask Jennifer Lawrence. And Harrison Ford, you just know he’s that grumpy. Which is why, when given the chance to sit with Sam Rockwell for an interview, I was kind of — no, definitely — intimidated.
Here’s the thing: I like Sam Rockwell. But when I look at his filmography, from Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to Matchstick Men to Seven Psychopaths, I can’t help but imagine an overly friendly fire starter with little swirly-things where his irises should be. I mean, he even brings a touch of his specially bottled crazy to a coming-of-age comedy like The Way Way Back. But I was wrong. Rockwell was laid-back and laconic, popping pistachios while his dog nuzzled my hands. At worst, he looked like he’d stepped out of a modern-day Five Easy Pieces. Overall we had a very fun conversation about his latest film, A Single Shot (a dramatic change of pace); the art of mastering accents, and why Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur is drastically underrated.
As a stand-up, Anthony Jeselnik has carved out his own space with punchy one-liners that play verbal ping-pong with topics most others wouldn’t touch: disease, rape, cancer, death, baby death. Nothing was off-limits. The idea was, “Fine. If no one else will talk about them, I will.” Now, with his own show on Comedy Central, that sheer abuse of the envelope has moved to late night. Last night, I sat down with Jeselnik right after the taping of The Jeselnik Offensive’s second episode to talk about his early stand-up career, what he took from his time as a writer on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and choosing between comedy and the bullshit that often comes with it.
So I want to start with your stand-up. I remember seeing you do Comedy Central Presents, but when was that?
I want to say I did it in 2009. I remember being on Fallon, and I remember it airing around the end of Fallon, which was in 2010. So late summer 2009, I recorded it.
Over a decade and a half after creating an iconic television character on My So-Called Life, Claire Danes has done it again on Homeland. Just hours before we spoke, her performance, as the manic obsessive CIA analyst Carrie Mathison, was nominated for a Golden Globe. In advance of Sunday’s season finale, Danes spoke about bipolarity, the unreality of nunchakus, and how, when you think about it, actors really aren’t all that different from spies.
Arriving in theaters in New York and Los Angeles today is Senna, the award-winning, Grantland-approved documentary from director Asif Kapadia about the life and tragic end of Brazilian Formula One champion Ayrton Senna. Impressively cobbled together from a mountain of archival video, Senna (being distributed by ESPN Films, among others) forgoes the standard talking-head interviews and voice-over narration and lets the charismatic racing icon tell his own story, in news clips, home movies, and in-car footage. We spoke with Kapadia about the film.