Another week sees another Best Picture nomination with Her. The movie I’d been looking forward to perhaps the most of them all directed by Spike Jonze whose flawless track record makes him one of my personal favourites. While his last movie, Where The Wild Things Are divided many opinions I thought it was beautiful film with a tone and mood that is completely unique to Jonze’s style. Her stars Joaquin Phoenix in a slightly futuristic version of our world where the technology has advanced to the point of almost artificial intelligence. Theodore (Phoenix) buys a new operating system OS-1, which simulates a personality and becomes a new love interest for the emotionally awkward Theo.
As with Where The Wild Things Are Jonze manages to create a mood throughout Her, with it’s drained yet bright colour pallet and unique vision of future fashion the film is just visually stunning. The look provides the perfect setting for a touching, emotional story that raises a number of serious questions about where society is headed. Her is beautifully written, Theodore works for a company in the movie called ‘BeautifullyHandwrittenLetters.com’ and with that comes a number of really sensitively letters he’s written for other people but they provide the perfect way in to this complex character and all through the film is used to give us sympathy for him rather than laugh at his plight. The love between Theodore and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) is so well written as well, Jonze manages to capture a real essence of what it is to be in love and at the same time cleverly works in the issues that arise with falling for a machine. When the relationship inevitably hits some problems Her finds a real warm heart and whereas it could have left you feeling depressed it leaves you feeling warm yet still wandering about where the world might be headed.
Her is one of the most beautiful films you will see this year and a worthy nominee for best picture. Jonze further makes his name as a unique auteur with a talent for screenwriting that hasn’t been showcased before. Performance-wise Phoenix is just perfect and Her won’t leave your head for days after viewing.
Oscar season has begun and it sees a flurry of incredibly exciting releases to come in the next few weeks. The first of which is David O. Russell’s American Hustle. Boasting one of the most impressive casts possible, (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner) American Hustle tells the story of a pair of successful con artists who are forced by the FBI to take part in a con on the right side of the law. With Russell finding the form of his life recently, his last two films The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook have both picked up Oscars and wide critical acclaim American Hustle was set to continue the trend having already been nominated in a number of BAFTA categories.
American Hustle is quite a different entity from Russell’s last two pictures but also bares a number of similarities, at it’s centre lies an odd and troublesome romance between Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld and Adams’ Sydney Prosser, a central theme which is a large part of The Fighter and the main plot of Silver Linings, here the love is performed to perfection yet again and more intrigue is thrown in with the Irving’s dejected and more than a little insane wife, Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn. As with his two previous films, as well, aside from the central relationship there is an ensemble cast who all pull in show-stopping performance and really compliment Russell’s vision. Here he cements his name as a director who can get the absolute best from his actors. The script here is also strong, while perhaps not holding get the same emotional power as some of his other work, American Hustle takes a slightly different tack and what it lacks in emotion it makes up for in a wholly satisfying heist conclusion. One of the films strongest aspects is the way in which every character is only looking out for themselves and at many points of the film every character is conning every character, there a few allegiances and no one can be trusted. Russell carefully places scenes of long hair dressing as he points at the way the characters all hide behind their wigs, leaving you wondering if you ever see the real person behind their impressive facades.
Overall American Hustle may not be quite as strong as The Fighter, but it certainly continues Russell’s run of incredible form. Bale’s performance is the standout for me but every actor pulls something spectacular out of the bag and this movie is a great start to what promises to be an incredibly enjoyable month or two at the cinema.
The season of summer blockbusters is well under way now and one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year was Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot. Produced by Syncopy, the Nolan company behind the Dark Knight trilogy it was planned that DC’s other big property would get the same treatment Batman did. But it was never going to be easy, Superman is a very different character and one that is much harder to get right since there are so many potential pitfalls. The biggest issue with him is he’s far too over-powered, it’s very hard to care for someone who’s so perfect. He’s also a lot less cool than Batman, he zips about the sky wisping women off their feet, saving the world, caring for his parents, being ridiculously handsome and wearing bright blue tights. On it’s release man of Steel has received one of the most mixed critical receptions in recent memory, leaving the question of whether Snyder did a good job very much up in the air.
I have to say that in retrospect he really did not. As Man of Steel begins we spend the first fifteen minutes or so with his parents as they try defend his home planet of Krypton from Michael Shannon’s General Zod. The opening battle is alright but it leaves you waiting for at least half an hour before any kind of ‘Superman’ antics begin to happen, we spend a lot of time up on Krypton and even more time watching young Clark not retaliate against bullies. It gets pretty frustrating and annoying having to spend so long on his origin story which literally everyone in the world already knows, but then that is the problem with a reboot. A few years ago they were all the rage, this is the first origin we’ve had to deal with in a while so we’ll let it go. But then things don’t get much better. As Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is introduced we flit back and forth through different events in Clark Kent’s life and it’s often not clear what period of time we’re in, not to mention the fact that we see the exact same situation of young Clark getting pushed around and having to try really hard not to hit back. We got the message the first time, he’s perfect, he won’t snap back. There’s not a single scene in the whole movie that isn’t completely over-dramatic. I think Henry Cavill’s eyes must have constantly had some kind of dew producing contraption hidden behind them so he never stops looking like he’s about to cry, in fact every character looks like they’re about to cry all the time. When we finally get through the under-written, hammy plot we are treated to some great action. Michael Shannon is probably the strongest performer of the film although in the end General Zod’s defeat is completely underwhelming. Zod and Superman being flung around Metropolis provide us with the film’s best moment but even that eventually drags on, I thought it had ended about three times before it actually, finally did and by the end of it all it feels like you’ve just been seeing the same thing over and over. Zod throws Superman, he skids along the concrete. Superman throws Zod he collapses a building and repeat.
I did find myself enjoying it for a short while during the final fight but overall this is Snyder all over, looks nice but is completely lacking in anything else. If a different director helms the sequel perhaps Superman may have more life in him but, in my opinion, Snyder is not the man for the job. Chances are if the second ones good Man of Steel will be easily looked over.
The Master is P.T. Anderson’s sixth feature and his latest since 2007’s Oscar winning There Will Be Blood. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master tells the story of a stowaway who ends up on a ship with a group who all follow The Master’s (Hoffman) Cause, said to be based on scientology. Phoenix plays Freddie Quell who immediately hits things off with The Master, real name Lancaster Dodd, and is used as a test subject for some of Dodd’s new experimental processes designed to help members of The Cause to improve their understanding. As the film goes on it becomes clear that the members of The Cause have been trying to help Quell get over his strange psychological issues, which is quite clearly caused by sexual repression. Anderson creates a wonderful comparison between two kinds of insanity while examining the ideas of belief, cult and psychology.
The acting by the entire cast is second to none. Phoenix’s lead performance is flawless as he becomes this slightly strange bloke from the 50’s who is clearly completely lost within himself and in search of some identity and some love. Hoffman is similarly mesmerising as the charismatic Master who spends half his time being incredibly friendly and happy and the other half losing his shit whenever anyone tackles his belief system. No answers are ever given as to why what he’s saying is true. Amy Adams is also excellent as Dodd’s wife who actually seems to be a bit of a driving force behind The Cause’s cult like membership system opting to cut anyone out who does something she doesn’t like.
The narrative of the film at times feels non-existent and that’s because it mostly is. This film is not about plot this film is about it’s characters. And that makes it all the better. It is a study of human character and is left open to the viewers interpretation. Much like There Will Be Blood it is slow moving but it is paced in such a way for a reason; to make you think. And make you think The Master certainly will, I was lying in bed last night for ages thinking of what different things meant. One thing that I can be sure of, though, is that this is a great film further adding to Anderson’s sublime filmography this must be another shout for an Oscar.