Monthly Archives: January 2014

American Hustle

American Hustle is the sort of true story of the ABSCAM operation that went down in the late 1970s, as told from the perspectives of the con artists brought in by the FBI to aid in the sting. Rather than your typical dramatic biopic, we’re given more of a caricatured portrayal of a time and place, crafting an experience that is not only fun and flashy, but also touches on real-life drama without going too over-the-top. It’s actually pretty impressive.

It's all so mesmerizingly shiny.

It’s all so mesmerizingly shiny.

When dealing with a cast of this magnitude, it’s really hard to pinpoint which star shines the brightest, especially given the fact that the entire leading cast (sans Jeremy Renner) has been nominated for an Oscar. Many would argue Christian Bale chews the most scenery out of the bunch: Irving Rosenfeld comes off as a cartoonish, sweet-talking buffoon, but he’s actually portrayed with a great deal of depth and charisma. Personally, I feel as if everyone did a wonderful job…except that lady playing Bradley Cooper’s fiancé. She only had one line, and she delivered it as flatly as possible (I’d link a clip if I could). Did anyone else notice her? Regardless, I won’t let that ruin my good time.

Half the budget was justifiably spent on boob-tape.

Half of the budget was justifiably spent on boob tape.

At first I was a little concerned about the portrayal of the ladies in this film, considering the male focus as well as the power-struggle theme. At first they seem typically shallow and manipulative, and especially in Rosalyn’s (Jennifer Lawrence) case, stereotypically crazy. Then you have to remember, these are meant to be caricatures of actual people – these people are bold and flashy and act accordingly. However, with the every instance of garish insanity, there is heart behind the performance – as only Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence can deliver.

American Hustle is incredibly solid film. Any worry that these stars would outshine each other is quickly effaced while they play off of each other splendidly. On the whole it’s just a really good time – the costumes and sets are fantastic, and the soundtrack and score could not have been better. Would I call it “mind-blowing?” No, not particularly. But is it worth checking out? Absolutely.

Final Grade: A

Advertisements

Tim Burton

Her

The future is a strange, mysterious place, where letters are artificially hand-written and men wear high-waisted pants. In this version of tomorrow, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a introverted-sweetheart-writer-soon-to-be-divorcee with a penchant for video games and nighttime sexychats. After buying himself an AI-based OS who calls herself “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson), Theodore becomes fascinated with her love of discovery, and through her finds the means to enjoy life again. Sorry, but there are some spoilers.

Sad face

First I was all –

Originally I was thrown off by the OS-angle, only because I felt it’s been done so many times before. We as people are absolutely obsessed with technology, and this is not the first, last or only time this commentary has been made. In fact, there’s a whole genre of anime that is based on the concept of an other-worldly women changing the lives of their men, while simultaneously criticizing technological reliance.

Additionally, I found Samantha’s adaptive ability to be a little ridiculous – for instance, how does she understand humor so quickly? Or how does she experience the equivalent to a female orgasm? Not that she says that’s what was going on there, but how did she know to replicate that kind of sensation, audibly? (Great call blacking out the screen on that one – very immersive.) How does she “feel” exactly? Does she just pull from a massive database of reaction videos, or is the concept of feeling programmed? Why not make a movie on programming subjective behavior – I think that would be a more fascinating analysis.

Sorry about the digression. I need to stop myself from picking at these technical things – I realize that really these nuances don’t really matter in the context of the story (until it has to be an inevitable plot point or two), so I’ll get on to the heart of the matter – the complexity of human relationships and emotion, as well as the cruciality of communication.

But then I was all -

But then I was like –

Despite my gripes of technological fabrication, I really to have to commend Spike Jonze’s ability to blend the lines between artificiality and organicism. For instance, the opening piece of music blends from electric distortion to recognizable acoustics. More so, whenever we hear Samantha or any other OS speak to Theodore, there is no distinct separation between voices, which is to say that that the artificial voices are closer to viewers than the humans’ – it’s as if we are in Theodore’s mind with Samantha. Suddenly in a world where people are just perverse, characteristic shells, we get a glimpse that there still is a soul in there.

By allowing us a taste of such closeness, we are granted a look at the fact that people are flawed and are forever trying to figure themselves out. We turn away when we are most hurt, we desire connections but fear the intimacy of a conversation. Fortunately Theodore isn’t the only human in this film with these problems. With the help of a mediator, Theodore finds that he can be comfortable with another “being” again, and more importantly, with himself.

I know I didn't talk about them much, but Adams and Phoenix once again work  wonderfully together.

I know I didn’t talk about them much, but Adams and Phoenix once again work wonderfully together.

I think it’s fair to say that Her is one of those movies that I like more and more as I think about it. I’m still not sure where I stand when it came to the self-aware AI character, more so Theodore’s expectations of her. Is it weird that I found his possessiveness creepy? I mean, he does technically own her after all – did that conversation ever come up? Isn’t Samantha really just a hired therapist/personal assistant/sexbuddy? Sorry, sorry, I’m thinking too much about this again.

Technobabble aside, this film does a great job externalizing otherwise internal emotions… which Jonze unfortunately beats to death with his use of shapes and color schemes, but beautifully juxtaposed through Phoenix’s and Amy Adam’s performances. Though I harp on about the questionability of the technology in this film, I still find solace within the portrayal of the message that we’re all in this together. There may be ups or downs, but there’s always a forward.

Final Grade: B+

 

Netfix: Berberian Sound Studio

When I first saw this trailer for Berberian Sound Studio, I was completely enthralled. I waited and waited, then procrastinated a bit, and finally caught it on Netflix. I think it’s fair to say that I was not disappointed.

Built on the mythos of 1970s Italian giallo films and the visceral nature of sound, Berberian Sound Studio conveys a beautifully nightmarish atmosphere, blending the lines between fiction and reality by playing with elements such as entrapment and gradual disillusionment of time. The audience also never actually sees any footage from the film itself – much like Pontypool, it’s what you don’t see that frightens you.

In addition, we also witness a fantastic transformation of character, considering what we have to work with. I say this because we really don’t know much about Gilderoy (Toby Jones) to begin with, other than he’s meek, polite, lives with his mom, and is a fantastic sound engineer (or at least good enough to be brought in by an enthusiastic director). Suddenly he is brought in to a completely foreign environment, working on a genre he’s never approached before. Despite being disturbed by the content of the film, he finds solace in his work – until he’s forced to take part in the foley work. From this point on things get increasingly hostile, as well as bizarre. As foretold in the synopsis, fiction and reality intertwine, and Gilderoy is thrust into his own private hell – inevitably mutating from witness to perpetrator.

There will be produce.

There will be produce.

The meta nature of Berberian Sound Studio is something to admire. Perhaps it’s because I really enjoy films about filmmaking, but this one particularly struck my fancy when it came to audience immersion. We’re trapped with Gilderoy in his reality, or lack thereof – so are these people really as rude as they seem to be? Considering some of the actresses’ woes, yes, probably, but it leaves Gilderoy’s interactions up to interpretation for the most part.

With its seamless editing and intangibly stirring qualities, Berberian Sound Studio is a film you simply have to experience.

The Good
Finally, a movie about sound design and engineering that is entirely enthralling!

The Bad
I really wish the footage we do get to see didn’t look like it was shot hi-def with an added film-grain.

The Ugly
This is a film that speaks solely in subjective terms, therefore, we’re only dealing with pure human nastiness.