Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Her" (2013) - Movie Review

“Her” begins as a revolutionary new concept and it steers itself towards the eventual loss and pain. It does that with not alone pleasant cinematography rather an enriching experience which acts as film’s soothing subconscious. Then turns it around and evolves itself as its brilliant Artificial Intelligence OS 1. The relationship between the sweet and lonely man Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) with his Operating System with Artificial Intelligence Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) is doomed from the moment it germinates or is the logical gloom in me brings that?

Spike Jonze’s film is pure creativity and swims through planes of foundational human emotions. Beyond the superficiality and the connected world, having to love and being loved never have undergone groundbreaking metamorphosis over centuries. The forms have been different but in its grassroots, it has existed like the fossil remains it has left. The psychoanalysis of it have though has developed exponentially. The attempt to understand the irrationality in an emotion has resulted only in an aura of confusion. How about that for contradiction and oxymoron? Such is that this thing called love that we are mesmerized, behave as an adorable juvenile and overwhelmed by that hair rising stints of emotions. The idea that someone finds us desirable, attractive and as a person with a personality but incomparable to those traits is that one is capable of being loved. Spike Jonze encapsulates that idea and makes it an experience without the physicality. It is a long distance relationship that has no future of ever encountering the reality. Will be still be content with that idea of love? Does it suffice to feel that idea alone without the touch, hug and more than that?

Theodore works as a write in an LA company. He writes personal letters to people who cannot express themselves, basically a personal Hallmark. The opening shot of the film is him dictating his computer that writes a letter for a woman wishing her husband 50 year anniversary. The film begins with an irony of how someone who has been with 50 years of time with love of her life still need a proper annunciator.

Theodore is going through divorce and has cornered into a ball of deep sorrow. His friends and building mates Amy (Amy Adams) and Charles (Matt Letscher) are trying to find a new beginning for him. As he walks around moping drenched and soaked in his sorrow, he sees the ad for OS 1 which reminds on the reality of the virtual world that is clouding the soul of this planet. It installs and comes as the sexiest voice of Scarlett Johansson. Calls herself Samantha and connects instantaneously with Theodore. While Theodore is blown away by this technology, he has also embedded as every others in the society with an earpiece and guided mechanical voice. A voice with emotional gravity still throws him off but quickly that sinks and the habitualness nature of the modern human takes over impulsively.

I could not erase the face of Scarlett Johansson when I was hearing Samantha. I wish Jonze had used someone whom we did not know to truly see this new AI conscious being. Yet he succeeds in making the personality Theodore begins to fall for with the ease that confuses ourselves in the way we feel about her. She is witty, funny, a spectacular listener and of course super intelligent to organize Theodore’s mailboxes and files. Samantha sees the world through Theodore and Theodore is excited to show someone this world that is so novel and exciting to that person. She understands the theory of this life beyond any human in this planet but to see it and absorb it as an evolving conscious being as a baby is truly overwhelming. With such a high intelligence, the data is easy to process but to process what she begins to feel is “Her”.

Spike Jonze’s film is a statement, a discussion, a profound self aware analysis of human mind but most of all truly digs in to the soul of the human being. Joaquin Phoenix carries this film appearing almost on every frame and makes Theodore not a regular stereotypical introvert. He is sweet, nice and emotionally vulnerable but never fears to explore that vulnerability. He goes with the flow despite the logical demise of this relationship. Every moment we begin to think where his character is going to go, he sometimes does and sometimes does not but definitely makes it organic than a manipulative device most films handle these characters.

The beautiful thing about “Her” is how like its characters, it stumbles, learns, goes through familiar routes and takes unknown paths with a balance. It shows to say that despite these animal instincts and spontaneous emotional outbursts that leads to loss and hurt, the thriving need to attain that state of mind of love both alone and with another human being makes the film a living being. It reaches out the screen with flesh and blood. It caresses and takes our hand and makes us to feel its heart pumping absolute emotions with colourful creative presentation.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Nebraska" (2013) - Movie Review

I remember the description of a black and white photograph by my brother. It spurred after he saw portrait picture taken by either his friend or someone he appreciated. Though I did not see it, my brother painted that with the amazement he got out of the effect it had on him. It was a picture of an old man. While the details of the description has vanished, the residue of it is that he was astonished by the fact of how clear the colour contrast brought out the stubble on that old man. That detail has been in my head forever. I could never forget that image as it quantifies something nostalgic and poetic. The five o’clock shade while is an appealing attractiveness on men, it has a hidden sadness that is out there in the open. I liked that and in “Nebraska”, director Alexander Payne with his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael brought it out through the lead actor Bruce Dern.

Payne’s penchant for chronicling the mind of a middle aged to old men continues in “Nebraska”. Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, a man at the end of his life is on a quest to claim his million dollar prize. You know those mails, the scam mail that provides a shady yet flamboyant certificate with your name imprinted on it. When I first received it back in the grad school days, I was taken aback for split second but immediately came to my senses. That half a second impulse for a young man’s mind is evident on the belief of an old man out of his times to trust that. But the times have changed and people have learned. Woody on the other hand is fixed on his mind to collect it.

His son David Grant (Will Forte) is sympathetic towards the old man. His brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) not so much as both of them had to live through the drunken life of Woody. Her mother is Kate Grant (June Squibb) has long past the point in their marriage to filter her thoughts. She cannot take Woody taking off of the house walk towards Lincoln, Nebraska from their town Billings, Montana. About 900 miles. Soon enough David humours the old man’s intention and begins to drive him. Dave needs a break from the breakup from his girlfriend. He is pondering the life he wants to set forth. He has lived with her for 2 years and she is questioning on the next step.

Woody does not make a good impression on us as he is meandering in his mind into nothing while sparsely communicating and of course stubborn enough to go on to claim his scam prize. Yet not stubborn enough to overrule his wife Kate when she pisses all over his family, or may be he thinks the same. The journey takes them back to his hometown Hawthone, Nebraska. Woody and his extended family are gathered around and the silence in the room is unbelievable. The best comedy is the worst silence at an awkward situation. Here the awkward situation is not about an obscene act or an uncomfortable family secret rather the collection of this bunch in a room unable to have a conversation. Rather they choose to not have one as they are content in their happy little world. The men who once were drunks and obnoxious have gone mellow despite though the drinking continues while the women know the dependency these clueless weathered men have on them. Given that, it is good to be silent.

David generally gives in on the old man’s venture as he sees as his life turning out to be. He has seen his father being a drunk enough to have a resolution to let go off alcohol. He wants a sense of what his father’s life meant to the man himself. He asks the psychoanalytic questions the generation after Woody have begun to ask and ask more of it that has turned from sense to confusion including yours truly. David begins to learn about his dad through other means. The people that took advantage of him and the one that truly seemed to have loved him. We learn how nice of a guy and how naive of a man he was and is. When the family gets together, it would in one form or other remind the viewers of their own. Woody does not hide his nature of the trip and people begin to believe the prize. Soon enough they are ready to dwindle him citing how they took care of him during his drunken days. The truth though defines Woody.

The melancholy is not alone in the yearning music of Mark Orton but in the vein of the film. Bruce Dern’s existence is the film. He wanders off most of the time and is in a blank state of mind from his face expression but he carries Woody in simple motions and stares. His illogic actions borders on senility and desperation but mainly for expression. But the scene stealer is June Squibb as his wife who comes to Hawthorne and goes to the cemetery for paying respect. The respect Grant’s dead family gets single handedly gives her the best scene in terms of dark humour and little bit of truth. In addition to that is the landscape of the nothingness in this state that never really had an invitation for the people of other state and country. Here it cuddles with these two characters standing and staring at that, a reflection every now and then on what has or will become of their lives. When I saw Hawthorne, it reminded of every other little town I have biked through including the mom and pop stores. Somehow the best infrastructure throughout US has decimated the originality in city planning. Now it exists only through the farms, old house and barns that are desolated.

“What will you do with the million dollars?” asks David and Woody wants a pick up truck and a compressor. We see the film through David who as his dad is a nice guy but is self aware of the vultures when he sees one. He reevaluates through his dad to find an analogy or a sign for his but he begins to understand the man selflessly. This is a film that is everything about nostalgia. It is also about the men who do not find words to express themselves and choose random unrelated distant actions that no one can understand or read. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are the last people to expect on a screen and have a chemistry. They do begin in that unknown note in the beginning. When the film begins to unfold, flow and drives to the end we realize that they have developed something great. The greatness of David as a son to show his love by simply letting Woody be the father. “Nebraska” is one of the year’s best films.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013) - Movie Review

What drives the Coen brothers to make a feature like “Inside Llewyn Davis” or any of their venture? They are uncompromising in their productions similar to the titular character of this film. Something really focussed and strong comes out of their films even if the viewer does not really enjoy it. There is a selfless appreciation for it and  then leave the theatre little bit confused of this conflicting reaction. If not anyone, at least this reviewer does most of the times.

They place Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis in the winter of 1961 at New York. An aspiring folk singer, Llewyn is homeless and penniless. He has friends that have become sick of him and there are friends whom he can abuse and erupt one night and still go back for shelter the next day. Llewyn is at the junction in his life as he approaches the breaking point on waiting for that break. His musical partner has committed suicide and he denies to stand behind or join up with another singer. His solo album does not appear to go anywhere especially with his not so helpful record label producer. I am trying to explain it like a plot but there is not any. I believe if you are the person who enjoys folks music and have been in the New York in those times or fascinated by it, it might be such a pleasure to see this fictional struggling artist stepping up stairs, ringing up people, walking through a canal like corridors and evading cold in his cheap jacket. If you are not, then it becomes all of those sans the appreciation for the music it is based on.

The songs of course are essential for a film like this and as much as I was not able to involve and immerse in to the music, it adds the melodic mood. The mood that can be pictured in a dark empty room with just enough light to shine on the ragged poet reading sad verses. He is the performer and the audience. “Inside Llewyn Davis” while has other characters, most of them cannot stand the sight of Llewyn when he is not playing while others are moderately kind and downright indifferent. Llewyn in his artistic spirit and arrogance have run these people to that state though he has shed those and carries the ashes of the burned ego in him.

Apart from his money problems, he has personal issue when his friend Jim’s (Justin Timberlake) wife Jean (Carey Mulligan) says she is pregnant. She regrets sleeping with this man and thoroughly hates him. Llewyn takes it and walks along the side paths of this dreadful city that appears to have no mercy towards him. He has learned to take abuse and there is nothing worse apparently than walking distraught and hopeless. Yet he sings majestically with poetic soul.

While sympathy looms over this character, there is an underlying tone that he is also part of the reason for the situation. True talented people believe giving their entire life to that talent. They see the completeness of their life is through making a living out of it. That appears to be their accomplishment, at least that is how it begins. The reality though begs to differ in that opinion. I cannot relate to the fact that someone who not only is gifted and knows they are gifted have the desire to fulfill that gift by making a life out of it. But to achieve greatness you have to risk everything. As we are watching Llewyn Davis going through the tough life of his, his only peaceful and true moments are when he is singing and playing his guitar. Rest of the time, his struggle is marked up with some dubious characters. Two such are Roland Turner (John Goodman) and Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) who are taking him to Chicago in exchange for gas money. Llewyn is heading to meet the man who can let him play in one of his club that might be his last straw. The man out there (F. Murray Abraham) sees something in Llewyn and auditions him. He plays a song and you see the man staring at him moved certainly but gives him straight on what is the future.

And then there is the cat that was “thrown into it” for a plot as per the Coen brothers. It does become a parallel commentary as Llewyn accidentally lets it out from his professor friend Mitch Gorfein (Ethan Phillips) that becomes his assumed responsibility to take care of it. While personally not a cat lover myself, I would be as Davis would be running around to make sure it has its life taken care of and let it off as a responsibility at the first sight. Yet that is the only connection he begins to have with a living soul. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is the film that can be daringly made by directors like the Coen brothers and walk off satisfying their artistic spirit. Strangely Llewyn wants something like that but unlike Coen brothers do not get to be successful.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013) - Movie Review

The hedonism of “The Wolf of Wall Street” becomes overwhelming within ten minutes of the film. For me it did not feel like a cautionary tale nor was it the glorification of the lifestyle that was operated by Jordan Belfort. Jordan Belfort, who was a stockbroker in the late 80s who ran his own empire, minted money, spent it on things that can be only seen to be believed. He snorts cocaine, pops pills, drinks gallons of alcohol, engages in consistent sexual encounters and combines all of it together, puts them in jar, shakes it up and drinks it up for breakfast. Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the sex and drug marathon in close and explicit detail by this man when he looted, cheated, robbed the people’s money with no regrets and smoked it out in thin air for the pleasure that knew no bounds.

There have been notable enough films and the real life debacle of Wall Street that has explained us the nature of this crooked business. This Wall Street world is run by people mainly spitting testosterone as they speak and that includes women as well. The crimes that goes unpunished and the day to day working class and middle class people suffering in their hands has become a trend. There are no blood in the hands directly on these suited and well dressed money mongers. They simply are smarter than the people they deceive to steal the money and make it their own. This has been done stylishly in “The Wall Street” and with flair and reality in the less known but highly effective “Boiler Room”. “The Wolf of Wall Street” does not go for moral lesson. It knows people are educated by it and goes on into the life that created out of it.

Jordan Belfort as the young man with ambition and drive wants to be a millionaire. That is the initial goal and that is mentioned once or twice earlier in the movie. After that there are no goals or ambitions. With the proper words of wisdom by Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) his first boss in the Wall Street, he shoots for the stars while taking drugs, masturbating and having sex. His second man is Donny played by Jonah Hill is weird enough for his own good to question how Belfort drives a Jaguar and lives in the same building as him. As Jordan explains his last month’s earning of 72K, the choice seems obvious for Donny. “Everybody wants to be rich” says Jordan when he hires his friend and who does not like money? How much and how one manages defines them but that is the driving idea for his sleazy success.

The movie becomes the comedy it intends to be. And to be entertained by it, the victims are not shown. I believe even the film subconsciously or consciously portrays the attitude of the stockbroker who robs in the day through the telephone. For them, the other end of the line is a challenge to make the poor person a chump. It becomes a power game and the satisfaction of deceiving them makes them something better. Written by Terence Winter who has adapted it from the book of same name by Jordan Belfort, it is a display of depravity, debauchery and revelries our simple minds cannot even fathom.

Jordan comes as a god to the employees of his firm. He motivates them with pure passion and spits through every word as he wants them to know the energy spent on saying those marks the importance of it. The brunette middle class wife (Cristin Milioti) he came along to New York has been replaced by blonde bomb shell Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie). If there is one better thing Jordan Belfort can do other than selling penny stocks and making money then that would be spending money. Now, one would not characterize them as the right thing to spend money but he spends it like there will be no tomorrow and there is no limit.

Leonardo DiCaprio surrenders to this character. He appears to have loaned his body, mind, spirit and soul to go into this universe of sex, drugs and other things that would be banned in Earth and remaining planets. As the film begins to show the rise of his empire, DiCaprio is DiCaprio and the show has been played many times before. When the life he begins to lead become limitless in resource and constraints, that is the point he transforms to this person who has absolute no inhibitions whatsoever. He commits  to the film and this role beyond belief. Along with Jonah Hill who is becoming a terrific supporting actor, the scene where he is drugged beyond the depth of the blackhole and has to get home which is a mile away in his Ferrari is the part that would be talked about for several decades to come.

What does Martin Scorsese intended out of this film? While there are scenarios that are in the shoulders of a director to be responsible in guiding his audience the just way, there are directors who treat their audience as adults to see the film outside of the screen. The film acts as an entertainer and it entertains for sure. The victims of the scam Jordan ran might not be entertained as the initial sequences wherein he sells the penny stock using the script he has taught his newly hired talent humiliates the victim. The film’s last act which is where the law comes to collect its due is even ridiculed on the extent of the punishment not fitting on the extensiveness of the crime. This is the modern day “Scarface” without guns. There is no tragedy and there is no part in the film where Scorsese makes you feel sympathetic towards this man. He merely observes and depicts what we as people are capable when given the resources are endless and how the society and the world aids it for any price.

As much as I admired, enjoyed and appreciated the film, there is a void in it. Maybe I was expecting more explanation on the reasons behind Belfort’s motivation to this pleasure and chaos. There are numerous characters in this film that are not mentioned in this review which carry so much credit for the job. There are crucial key scenes which is a true pleasure to watch on the screenplay and the spell of the actors are upon us. One such is Kyle Chandler’s Agent Patrick Denham being invited into the yacht of Jordan. The scene is laid out in fashion that we are wondering whether Agent Patrick will be bought or not by Jordan. Then there is the tension of whether Jordan is going to act stupid and give in unnecessary information to implicate. In between is the comedy that is buttered tastefully. In this amalgamation comes Martin Scorsese’s able hand to guide this film that shows the abysmal world of morality and human capability in pushing the envelope on encompassing themselves in the seas of pleasure without guilt and remorse. 

"American Hustle" (2013) - Movie Review

The opening scene of “American Hustle” goes for the jugular to stun the viewers to say something blunt despite the stupidity of the character’s desperate attempt to hide his loss of hair. That is to not entirely judge the characters impulsively. Well, they are what they appear to be but there is an iota of goodness in some of them. The man in the opening scene is Christian Bale as Irving Rosefield, a con artist trying the worst attempt to hide his baldness. From there it goes to Bradley Cooper’s FBI Agent Richie DiMaso, another desperate man with a bad hairdo. In between them is the dazzling Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser. If you think that this David O. Russell’s venture draws its circle of a story from purely these three as its center, then the performance surprises will keep you entertained more than you could expect.

On the surface and to certain inches below “American Hustle” is a con film but the niche of it is the balance of actors in their performances. The star power in each scene dismantles into the souls of these characters. There is never a second you begin to ponder the gravity each actors carry that are butting heads. The sense of the story encapsulates the viewers and the essence of the performances are sunk in as the belief of each of the actors in their roles with unadulterated confidence. It makes the movie not alone a fun ride but to appreciate the art of acting.

The late 70s and early 80s backdrop is not a prop rather a statement. The flashy fashion sense is over the top to put it mildly. It is almost a kind warning to the people who arrive at Irving and Sydney’s loan scam. If you are desperate to trust these people, then you cannot be more doomed than the 5000$ that will be lost with the hopes of getting a loan. Irving who is playing way beyond his league starting from being the lover of the stunning Sydney who poses as the UK high class lady with thorough connections, becomes the only best intentioned person. Christian Bale of course has made it his MO to lose and gain pounds for his role but out here he gains pounds but precisely putting a paunch. Then tops it off by donning a hairdo that makes Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men” turn back. Bale is the person whom we can see as enjoying the roles he takes upon. There is a clear evidence when he takes up a part. Even the saddest of his characters have the tinge of the Bale’s happiness emanating in subtle senses. Here the moments Irving is at peace are short lived and the empathy we begin to create for this character tells the conviction of Bale’s performance.

Yet, the film is robbed beyond Christian Bale’s hardworks along with Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Reven by the young Jennifer Lawrence. She is the gorgeous but wonderfully annoying Rosalyn. She is married to Irving though the love has long gone and the manipulation is sky high through her son. The son Irving graciously adopted and loves. Irving wants to leave her but cares deeply for the kid. Lawrence’s involvement in the film comes later as Irving begins to befriend the Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Rennder) of New Jersey and his wife Dolly (Elisabeth Hohm). Lawrence’s Rosalyn shows off as the beauty who is stupid but as she begins to play her emotions through actions, the deviousness gnaws through the brain of the viewers on this vicious woman. And while that is happening, you begin to laugh on this carefully balanced act of innocence and wickedness. Her Rosalyn can get away with anything and Lawrence just scares the heck out of everyone and then makes us laugh out loud simultaneously.

Amy Adams has been stepping up several cornerstone roles right from her early days unique performance in the indie flick “Junebug”. Her Sydney is as complicated as Rosalyn but her drive is by having a place for her identity. Irving provides that and she falls for him. She is thoroughly disgruntled by the fact that the man would never leave Rosalyn and the kid for her. She becomes to play against him when they get entrapped by Agent Richie DiMaso. Sydney and Richie have a thing which is a thing that is confusing as hell to call it as a thing. Bradley Cooper has been like Tom Cruise for me which is that the man tries hard, real hard but he needs less effort than Cruise to bring out his differentiation in his roles. He was enjoyable and convincing in David O. Russell’s “The Silver Linings Playbook” and here he makes the clueless but driven DiMaso both to be made fun of and have a soft corner. We laugh at him, enjoy his celebration and sympathetic on his cluelessness in finding love.

Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K were the surprise performances for this reviewer. While Renner has proven his capability in “The Hurt Locker”, he has only followed it up with action based roles. Here as the Italian origin Mayor of New Jersey, he digs in and stays in the man. When his character says he cares for his people, we believe him as a man of his words than a politician. Louis C.K is the favourite comedian of yours truly and when I saw him as the boss of Richie DiMaso, I thought it would be a small role but it develops into something seriously funny in non-Louis way and then adds a layer to their dynamics despite how bad it is.

In all this is director David O. Russell who co-wrote this with Eric Warren Singer handling the power house of actors. Without giving away much, there is a scene with Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and a cameo appearance in one room and I was thinking how easily I forgot the stars behind them and looked out for the tense moment it created. Therein lies the skill of the director who composed this feature with the heaviest ensemble cast and make us not realize a moment of their star presence. “American Hustle” in its entirety is not a con film rather a performance film and it shines through every minute of it.