REVIEW: The Immigrant

The Immigrant 3

The Immigrant
Directed by: James Gray
Written by: James Gray & Ric Menello
Starring: Marion Coitillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner

The American Dream, that simulacrum of perfection and success, has been scrupulously examined in a number of films released in the past year.  From the party-girl criminals of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers to the celebrity-minded teenagers in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring to Michael Bay’s abhorrent bodybuilders in Pain & Gain, filmmakers, mostly established auteurs, are examining what it means to live in a country essentially founded on an illusory sense of entitlement. Most people living in this country nowadays know (or, at least, should) this isn’t how our (oligarchical, downright cruel) society works, but all anyone can do is try and live a life based on these bygone notions of freedom.

The aforementioned films took this idea to its endpoint, dealing with characters so far off the deep end—jaded from real-world banality—that they will do almost anything to reach an easy existence. James Gray’s new film “The Immigrant” portrays a character yet unaware of the Promised Land’s true nature; the totality of her being rests on a false promise.

Continue reading

Advertisements

BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Her

her

Her
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams and Rooney Mara

Her is a beautifully realized and often moving story of an impossible relationship.  It’s not just about a man who falls in love with his operating system, but instead uses that premise to springboard into a vast array of heady topics.  Spike Jonze dares to imagine an absurd romance with sincerity and depth of feeling, and in doing so makes the physical world of the future seem like a limited if beautiful place.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) at first seems like a typical protagonist in a modern male-centered romance like (500) Days of Summer or Garden State.  He is a sensitive writer whose skills with women demand a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to set things right. His new fully aware OS Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) seems to be that “girl” but instead becomes a sly critique of the archetype.

Samantha’s worldview transforms so thoroughly beyond Theodore’s comprehension by the end that her “human” traits and relationships are a miniscule part of what she is.  At first he is her window into the world, as he carries her around in his dress shirt pocket and lovingly answers her every question.  She is not a real woman, though, just like the women in those other previously mentioned movies.  However, Samantha is intangible not because of the male flimmaker’s narrow vision but because her intelligence is very nearly limitless and far surpasses the limitations of humanity.

A fully-functioning and feeling AI is right at home in the movie’s glossy take on future Los Angeles.  This is a place where computers can effortlessly copy penmanship and every interior looks like a modern art museum.  It’s also a world where relationships, conventional or not, don’t work.  Theodore buys the OS seemingly out of the blue.  He’s going through a divorce, and when his ex-wife (Rooney Mara) finds out about Samantha, she doesn’t hesitate to stick the knife in.

“You always wanted a wife without the challenges of dealing with anything real, I’m glad that you found someone” she says through her teeth.

Her movie

And yet, for all its gentle lecturing, Theodore and Samantha’s relationship is more emotionally and sexually charged than in most movies where you see both parties.  Many on-screen romances, largely because of the audience-friendly PG-13 rating, rarely bother with actual sex.  Her is rated R, because even though the sex scene is told from Samantha’s point of view (black screen), you can hear everything.

It’s impossible not to see Scarlett Johansson when she’s talking as Samantha.  It’s a sly joke to cast the woman who is so often used as eye candy (ahem, The Avengers) as a sexy Siri.  Her voiceover, which she nails, is so crucial to the movie’s success, as is the chemistry with Joaquin Phoenix, who gives an off-kilter, emotionally rich performance in the lead.  Amy Adams is also excellent as Theodore’s supportive friend.

Jonze starts to tread water with the premise in the last third of the movie, and though the theme “only humans can be human” is beaten to death in science fiction, it doesn’t feel stale in such a funny, moving film like this.  The future he and his crew have created is also far and away one of the most optimistic I’ve ever seen in a movie, a far and welcome cry from the generic dystopian nightmares that seem to be released every weekend.

Several changes of scenery don’t completely save the monologue-heavy screenplay, though.  I have a feeling if Jonze had again collaborated with Charlie Kaufman and have him run away with this idea, it would have been a masterpiece. That’s not to say what’s here is even remotely close to bad, though.  This is a perceptive, engaging and completely sincere romance, a rarity in American movies before you add on its amazingly realized near-future L.A.

Grade: B

REVIEW: Her

bestshots2013_15

Her
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams and Rooney Mara

Her is a beautifully realized and often moving story of an impossible relationship.  It’s not just about a man who falls in love with his operating system, but instead uses that premise to springboard into a vast array of heady topics.  Spike Jonze dares to imagine an absurd romance with sincerity and depth of feeling, and in doing so makes the physical world of the future seem like a limited if beautiful place.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) at first seems like a typical protagonist in a modern male-centered romance like (500) Days of Summer or Garden State.  He is a sensitive writer whose skills with women demand a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to set things right. His new fully aware OS Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) seems to be that “girl” but instead becomes a sly critique of the archetype.

Samantha’s worldview transforms so thoroughly beyond Theodore’s comprehension by the end that her “human” traits and relationships are a miniscule part of what she is.  At first he is her window into the world, as he carries her around in his dress shirt pocket and lovingly answers her every question.  She is not a real woman, though, just like the women in those other previously mentioned movies.  However, Samantha is intangible not because of the male flimmaker’s narrow vision but because her intelligence is very nearly limitless and far surpasses the limitations of humanity.

A fully-functioning and feeling AI is right at home in the movie’s glossy take on future Los Angeles.  This is a place where computers can effortlessly copy penmanship and every interior looks like a modern art museum.  It’s also a world where relationships, conventional or not, don’t work.  Theodore buys the OS seemingly out of the blue.  He’s going through a divorce, and when his ex-wife (Rooney Mara) finds out about Samantha, she doesn’t hesitate to stick the knife in.

“You always wanted a wife without the challenges of dealing with anything real, I’m glad that you found someone” she says through her teeth.

Her-Movie-siri-operating-system-ftr-1024x640

And yet, for all its gentle lecturing, Theodore and Samantha’s relationship is more emotionally and sexually charged than in most movies where you see both parties.  Many on-screen romances, largely because of the audience-friendly PG-13 rating, rarely bother with actual sex.  Her is rated R, because even though the sex scene is told from Samantha’s point of view (black screen), you can hear everything.

It’s impossible not to see Scarlett Johansson when she’s talking as Samantha.  It’s a sly joke to cast the woman who is so often used as eye candy (ahem, The Avengers) as a sexy Siri.  Her voiceover, which she nails, is so crucial to the movie’s success, as is the chemistry with Joaquin Phoenix, who gives an off-kilter, emotionally rich performance in the lead.  Amy Adams is also excellent as Theodore’s supportive friend.

Jonze starts to tread water with the premise in the last third of the movie, and though the theme “only humans can be human” is beaten to death in science fiction, it doesn’t feel stale in such a funny, moving film like this.  The future he and his crew have created is also far and away one of the most optimistic I’ve ever seen in a movie, a far and welcome cry from the generic dystopian nightmares that seem to be released every weekend.

Several changes of scenery don’t completely save the monologue-heavy screenplay, though.  I have a feeling if Jonze had again collaborated with Charlie Kaufman and have him run away with this idea, it would have been a masterpiece. That’s not to say what’s here is even remotely close to bad, though.  This is a perceptive, engaging and completely sincere romance, a rarity in American movies before you add on its amazingly realized near-future L.A.

Grade: B

Our Favorite Performances of 2012

072712-the-master

1. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)- There must be something about Paul Thomas Anderson that gets such raw, elemental performances for his movies.  Phoenix, after his faux crazy odyssey, gives The Master such ferocious, filthy life that he managed to beat all the other fantastic roles this year, including the great Daniel Day-Lewis (who also gave Anderson an immortal performance in There Will Be Blood).

Day-Lewis_Lincoln_trailer.png.CROP.rectangle3-large

2. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)- Though Lincoln is an ensemble drama, it is built from the ground up around a character that needed to be reigned in and humanized.  Day-Lewis is not larger than life as our 16th president because that would’ve added layers of cheese to a movie that was already scored by John Williams.  His take on Lincoln often appears exhausted, both physically and emotionally, as he should be while overseeing the Civil War while trying to push through the 13th amendment to ban slavery and contend with family drama.

Emmanuelle+Riva+Amour

3.  Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)- The slow, ruthless decline of Anne during Michael Haneke’s Amour is essential to the movie’s success.  From her first, silent stroke at the breakfast table to her crippled, mangled body by the end, this is a performance that required great emotional honesty without overdoing it.  She gives one of the most wrenching depictions of hopeless, helpless illness ever.

Continue reading

REVIEW: The Master

The Master
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson (screenplay)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Laura Dern

The latest film from mythic American auteur Paul Thomas Anderson is an ambitious, beautiful mess.  With 2007’s There Will Be Blood, he announced himself as one of the greatest working directors, altering and unhinging the film community much in the same way that that movie’s protagonist alters and unhinges himself and the landscape.

The Master is both a historical continuation and thematic sibling to that film, which concluded in 1927.  Anderson skips over The Great Depression and World War II, and picks up at the dawn of the 1950s, in a glamorous age of excess and social repression.  Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a disturbed Naval veteran, does not belong to this era.  He is too overtly sexualized and too much of an alcoholic to fit in with the tidy, polished department store where he works briefly as a portrait photographer at the beginning of the movie.

Continue reading