Her

The 4th Best picture nominee that we’ll be taking a look at is Spike Jonze’s Her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson, this sci-fi romance is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.

Her explores the life of depressed, recently divorced writer, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) who decides to buy the new ‘OS1’; an operating system with a conscious. Theodore slowly finds himself falling in love with Samantha (Johansson), his operating system. Samantha struggles with all these new emotions she has never experienced before, while also trying to come to terms with being nothing more than a computer. On the other hand, Theodore finds himself both joyful and doubtful with himself and his relationship with an OS.

9 out of 10

As I’ve displayed before, I have the tendency to get excited by movies based on the trailers alone, and Her is a prime example of this. And more often than not, I tend to be disappointed by the movie. Thank goodness Her was not one of these movies.

I’ll get the more literal aspects of the film out of the way first. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a tremendous performance as the conflicted Theodore Twombly, and could have easily earned a Best Actor nominee if the race wasn’t so stacked this year and if he hadn’t… Completely trashed the Academy Awards a year ago. Likewise, leading lady Scarlett Johansson was phenomenal in her voice only role as Samantha. Even though we can’t see her, we can feel and understand her struggle. It’s real. The screenwriting has been heralded and with good reason. The story is innovative and creative, and the dialogue is beautifully written, yet human.

joaquin

It’s really hard to describe the beauty of this film. The direction, specifically the artistic direction, is absolutely stunning and I’m honestly kind of disappointed that Spike Jonze didn’t get a Best Director nod for this. Visibly, the film is gorgeous. Yes, the brilliant color scheme filled with oranges, reds, and yellow did have a purpose. It contributed to the warm mood of the entire movie. When the colors changed and became darker and more drained, so did the tone. Jonze uses the colors for the purpose of setting a tone, which is extremely important in a film such as this one, as it relies on emotions, both characters’ and audience’s, in order to succeed.

That’s another thing this movie does so well with; evoking emotions. It’s such a deep film, and somehow something we can all connect to, whether you’re older and in love, or younger and ignorant. Being a teenage boy, I can proudly say my only love has been with my phone and my Playstation, but I still manage to connect with this film. In this new future that Jonze has wonderfully created, technology is so important. Theodore Twombly relies on Samantha to check his email, schedule meetings, and later on, forget about his loneliness. In today’s world, where people are so enamored with technology, it’s not hard to actually make a connection with this movie, even if you are a teenager like me.

Though I loved the movie, it still had it flaws. At around 90 minutes, I admittedly found myself a little bored at the 90 minute mark, and that’s because the movie doesn’t really have a concrete structure (meaning it doesn’t have a set introduction, climax, conclusion, etc). It’s more allegorical, as it’s one of those films meant to inspire and send a message rather than present a compelling story. This is not a movie that will appeal to everyone (even though I said everyone can connect to it), and it’s not unlikely that you could get bored by the movie. It does tend to repeat itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this movie pointless—it’s not—it’s just trying to get a different type of point across.

The relevance of this movie to you is based on how much you can individually connect to it. If you aren’t fond of the emotional, heart-gripping stuff, I’m not so sure this movie is for you. I would still recommend you check it out, because it is a fresh new perspective of love and the technologically oriented 21st century, told in a beautiful, eye opening fashion.
~Vig

7 out of 10

(NOTE: Some parts of this review may seem harsh but, at this point of the year, I’ll be grading it in comparison with its fellow nominees. AKA. The score is weighted.)

Last week, I joked at the end of the review about having not seen “the movie about that guy who falls in love with Siri”. Cruel as that description may sound, I’m also 100% sure that that exact sentiment went through your head when you first saw the trailer for this. Whether it remained there permanently or shifted over time is your own choice. You know that. I know that.

But, most shockingly, the Spike Jonze and his entire crew understood that. And he usually pinpoints the exact moments where it should be joked about perfectly. Thank God for self-awareness. I could easily see this film fading into oblivion at any random, pretentious film-fest.

Here, though, the self-awareness swiftly saves it from that but that doesn’t necessarily excuse some of the other shortcomings of the movie. Let’s start with the positive then ease into the negative (I love a good flatlining just as much as any amateur critic).

First off, it’s a beautiful film. Shot in a mix of Shanghai and Los Angeles, it occupies a unique backdrop while remaining self contained (Just like any other provoking movie should). It’s muted colors and use of shades often reinforce the feelings of emptiness and isolation. Yet, as the love story develops, it unloads a barrage of colorful shots while also managing to mix some natural settings beside its urban habitat.

We also get some great work between Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix here. Joaquin has to do plenty of scenes alone, in complete silence but actually says more than any lines written in could. Johansson faces a similar situation; she has to utilize only her voice for this and she still has a presence. Even in scenes where she isn’t involved, Siri (It’s actually Samantha but this my review darnit!) has a positive attitude that influences Joaquin’s character so much that it still weighs over every scene he’s in alone.

But, as great as those great things are, it still managed to offset me somehow. I didn’t leave this movie thinking “Wow! That HAS to win!” but I also didn’t quite leave it profoundly impacted either and part of that is that the movie opens up a can of worms that it really didn’t need to.

Her would’ve done an impeccable job if it had stuck to an analyzation of either modern relationships (Like 500 Days of Summer) or of how technology gives us a false comfort (Even in a somewhat dystopian fashion). I have no doubt it could do both and it tries to, but also piles on an existential layer that really seemed off to me. Hollow in that fill-in-the-blank, do-it-yourself great movie way.

Yes, Siri’s search for humanity felt somewhat misplaced to me. Joaquin’s character should have taken up way more time, development and exertion than that plot. Instead, we get a repetitive cycle of fights between him and Siri.

And because it spends so much time with those weaker more out of place scenes, I didn’t quite get the impact that I wanted in the final quarter or so and that confined the movie to being lukewarm rather than red hot. No matter how good a first lap can be, all it takes is a couple of seconds to lose the lead.

But should you not see it? No. It’s very worth seeing, it just might not be as great of an experience as its factors set it up for.

I really wish I could place my feelings about it more but I’m still developing over it, even now. Who knows? Maybe it may click and all make sense for me at a random moment. But, for now, its trailing a bit in the Best Picture race.
~Zach

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 90 
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

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American Hustle

We hope everyone enjoyed their New Year. So long to 2013, a fantastic year for movies. We will soon be releasing our favorite/least favorite movies of the year, but this week we take a look at Oscar contender American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner. It is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief violence.

American Hustle tells the story of two con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his partner, and lover, Sydney Prosser (Adams). Sydney poses as a British women, “Lady Edith Greensley” in order to attract investors, and to fuel their con. They are very successfully, despite the insecurity presented by Rosenfeld’s crazy wife Rosalyn (Lawrence), who Irving refuses to divorce due to the presence of their son.

Once the two are caught by the FBI, they are forced to work with federal agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) in order to catch corrupt politicians and mafia members, including prominent New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Renner). Between his romantic struggles with two women, disdain for DiMaso, and a budding fondness for Polito, Irving struggles to survive with these new challenges he must face.

6 out of 10

I was pretty hyped for American Hustle, and why shouldn’t I have been? Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence, and Renner all in a move directed by the fantastic David O. Russell. The trailer dazzled me as well. Then critics praised it. I was excited. But after seeing the movie, I honestly couldn’t tell whether I was impressed or not.

Let me start off by saying this: the acting is fantastic, the direction is fantastic, and the cinematography, fantastic. Each of the 4 lead actors could easily get nominated for an Oscar, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lawrence or Adams win. The chemistry between the group is really good, and each of them is able to display the growth and development this movie aimed for.

In addition, the direction and the cinematography are beautiful. Russell does a great job of telling the story in a way that the audience is able to create their own perspective and their own point of view on what’s going on, in addition to understanding Christian Bale’s character’s, the narrator, point of view. The cinematography is dazzling as well. It really allows you to get a glimpse of what the time period is like but also doesn’t focus on that too much, and is still able to help with the characters and their emotions.

That being said, there are plenty of plot things about this movie that really concerned me. Being completely honest, I did not like the first hour and a half of this movie even though the characters are so good. The plot made no sense, I was so confused and I did not know where the movie was going. It had no point. I did not know what this movie was going to be about, even though the main conflict had been introduced. I was unable to stay captivated. I almost dozed off in the middle of it, it really dragged. The beginning couldn’t get me into it, in the middle still couldn’t get me into it.

They did manage to salvage the ending. I remember audibly gasping at what happened in the end – and I was laughing too, that’s something else about this movie that was really good. It featured really well written comedic moments that weren’t excessive. Anyhow, the ending finally provided the movie with the point. It wasn’t about the hustle, it wasn’t about the love triangle, it wasn’t about the plot. It was about the characters. Those characters had developed so much, and the emotions were so relevant, especially in Christian Bale’s character. By the end, I felt sympathy for Bale’s character. *Spoilers ahead* Even though he won the girl and he won the scam, he lost a friend and that’s what mattered to him. Those emotions were so prevalent, so raw, and it really helped punctuate the ending this movie. Did he win, or did he lose?

Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

This is where I get confused. I liked a lot of aspects of the film… But i was bored for almost the entirety of the film. And this isn’t like Lincoln where I can expect to be bored. I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the movie because of it’s (very) poor story, something that was prevalent for a majority of the movie. The movie ended up being about the characters’ growth, which isn’t a problem in the slightest. Regardless, this still doesn’t take away from the disappointment of the plot, especially seeing how that was a focal point, whereas other movies clearly prioritize characters, and the plot isn’t as important. A 7 may seem kinda low after all the good things I said, but with all the hype, I was kind of let down. The mundane plot was just too much for me.

I guess I was the one hustled in the end.
~Vig

9 out of 10

If you think that the genre of criminal dramas must inherently involve dark situations, downward spirals, and seriously sociopathic characters then I highly suggest you check out American Hustle.

For Hustle is indisputable evidence that realism and emotional interaction with the audience do not necessarily warrant a barrage of dramatic moments and dark, dark, dark issues. Hustle tackles an array of the usual commentaries on greed and criminal power while some how being wildly funny, taking every advantage of its very talented cast (Of which Bradley Cooper stood out to me).

Adams (left), Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence (right)

Adams (left), Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence (right)

We’ll start with Cooper, in fact. Its universally agreeable that Bradley Cooper has grown immensely as an actor. Within three years, he effortlessly made the leap from passable films like Yes Man (You remember that? Good. Neither do I.) to remarkable showcases like Silver Linings Playbook. If his range was at all in question, then get ready for delivery after delivery to give an answer. Here, we see him play Richie, an FBI agent plagued with an insatiable desire to get himself in the headlines. Cooper, without spoiling too much, breathlessly bounces between a somewhat likable man to an utter (Entertaining to say the least) psycho. He blurs the lines between FBI agents and the people they chase all the while.

In fact, empathy for every character plays a huge part in what makes this movie the masterwork it is. Christian Bale, Jeremey Renner, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams all evoke feelings that their character is trapped. The criminals may use humor (It’s their strongest tool after all!) as a coping mechanism but they’re ultimately stuck in the complex situations they’ve managed to drag themselves into. That’s not to contradict what I mentioned in the beginning of this review, as the film still manages to believably and appropriately

Yet what really ties the film together, even as it plods through some of its muddier scenes, is the beautifully done scenery and the somewhat kinetic directing. Scenery choice is one of the most underrated parts of filmmaking and boy does this film exemplify why it definitely shouldn’t be put on the back burner. The color palette and set pieces really wrap the viewer into the decade and give a sense of excess mixed with the unsettling anxiety a lot of the characters feel in their own tense situations.

Then there’s the camera movement. If you were to count, I don’t believe the camera will hold on any shot longer than three seconds without tightening, widening or switching perspectives all together. Usually, this wouldn’t give any leeway to absorb the scenery (Especially in a rich film like this) but it keeps the film moving even if there’s a sense that it is table setting for the plot or seemingly taking a break from its complex story. Even if does move fast, it does certainly give enough time for the average audience member to observe just not a terribly long amount.

Now, shall we address the impending Hollywood showdowns? American Hustle, in my view may sweep plenty of award shows with enough momentum but there is a certain bias against comedy and drawn-out plot payoffs as people are generally more impressed with something that can get them in suspense faster, even if it does feel somewhat cheap (We’ll delve into that if another movie that uses this comes up).

Overall, this is absolutely worth it. It can’t really be placed into one genre so just see it and attempt the impossible challenge of categorizing it yourself. It’ll most likely land in the “memorable” category no matter what.

By the way, was that Louis C.K.?
~Zach

IMDB: 7.3
Metacritic: 90
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%