| Dir: Tom Ford
“Our world is a lot less painful than the real world.”
Fashion designer Tom Ford transitioned into movies with 2009’s visually striking and emotionally resonant A Single Man. It looked, spoke and felt like what many would expect a Tom Ford creation to be. Yet his much anticipated follow up shifts into a much darker area – a tense meta noir-thriller that surely takes inspirations from the likes of David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn. As ambitiously stylish as you would expect but with an aesthetic doesn’t overshadow the substance; it merely colours the rich emotional complexity. It’s an intelligent, elegant and gorgeous piece that establishes Ford as a diversely skilled artist in two sectors.
What a consuming, arresting and intoxicating experience this becomes. The novelistic narrative stream is certainly the more immediately engaging and thrilling, with Ford fluently tying its entertainment value around deeper melodramatic wrappings. But this unevenness is minor when the fictional revenge erupts just as devastatingly as its present day reality revenge does.Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings (both Jake Gyllenhaal) both prove to not be weak men in parallel worlds. There’s also a nice moment where Hastings’ regret at his choices reflects Susan’s (Amy Adams) own.
The performances themselves are certainly major – Adams, Gyllenhaal, Fisher, Linney, Shannon (very unsurprisingly) and Taylor-Johnson (very surprisingly) play their individual notes with such quality. The often times unflattering close ups expose some brilliant work from Adams in particular, while Shannon is as effective as ever. Any film that casts Isla Fisher as a surrogate or ersatz for Amy Adams (in the films strongest sequence) deserves appreciation – that it did so and didn’t even make me notice the difference until the credits deserves adoration.
| Dir: Spike Jonze
What a breathtakingly special piece of cinema that Spike Jonze has given to us in Her. It’s at once daring and elegantly simple in both premise and execution, whose elements all come together stupendously. I found myself powerfully connecting to the characters in this world. I wanted to belong in it and with them well past the 126 minutes I was permitted. Forever in rhythm with them, I felt their highs and their lows with smiles, chuckles and almost tears. I could’ve sat in that cinema for hours afterwards, pondering what Jonze just added to my life with this beautiful and hugely affecting film on relationships and romance.
Man falls in love with Siri. Like Lars and the Real Girl this easy joke is never made into a mockery. Man doesn’t just fall in love with Siri – all inhabitants want to fall in love with Siri, or whatever OS has been programmed to best fit their personality. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and their relationship evolves with captivating authenticity. The acting, clever writing and intimate cinematography present a naturalistic portrayal that’s a joy to watch unfold. Their challenges are no less valid than that of Theodore’s best friend Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband Charles (Matt Letscher), or the one’s any of us may sadly be going through. Phoenix is a revelation as the always accessible protagonist, but praise must not be neglected for the extraordinary vocal performance from Scarlett Johansson. I could feel every pulsation of her heart and, like Phoenix, experienced her completely through just her voice. She’s the most alive thing in the picture.
Jonze blends this “modern romance” with a poignant message on the despair linked to the uncertainty of ourselves in solitude. Everyone in this world is distant from each other. They’re fixated in their gaze at a palm sized screen when walking down the street, monotonously communicating instructions to their computer OS’ instead of communicating with their fellow humans. There’s a duality to this isolation – it can lead to a warm connection that becomes the consumed infatuation we know as love, but it’s ultimately a poorly nourishing distraction. That Samantha ends up needing 8,316 friends (and loving 641 of them) illustrates our innate problem at feeling content in our loneliness.
The films optimistic and satisfying conclusion moves from Theodore’s bedroom, with its window-wall architecture that he hides behind ironically open to the world, as we see Theodore and Amy connecting on the rooftop overlooking a vast city of possibilities for connection. This society – which is brilliantly depicted in its costume and set design, giving off a perfect vibe of a believable not too distant future – has a communal lesson to learn from this experience. One that Jonze wants us to take heed from as well in our possible technological addictions.
| Dir: David O. Russell
While immediate comparisons come to mind of the brilliant crime thrillers from Martin Scorsese and Brian de Palma – especially Carlito’s Way – the pervasive playfulness within American Hustle undercuts O. Russell’s clear emulative intentions and discourages caring about any of the characters, rendering them void of truth in a fairly truthful story. By the end you’re not necessarily pleased at any plot outcome; rather you’ll more so be impressed with the clever final act and the stellar performances from the entire cast.
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a smart con man who knows his limits – safe in the confines of a rotating clothesline in one of his many dry cleaners with business partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Opportunistic FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) busts them when Prosser gets too comfortable on one con and with increasing ambition and arrogance, he attempts to use Rosenfeld and Prosser’s conning skills to help arrest a loyally principled mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), various members of congress and desperately wanted gangsters in return for their immunity. Differing ambitions between the characters and their passion for achieving them fuels much of the drama and plot development, which makes for entertaining viewing as the levels of power and reluctancy change throughout.
It’s a well-conceived film from O. Russell that falters in its pacing and unclear character relationships; scenes, narrative plot points and character relationships move too frenetically and remain unexplored. This is most notable with DiMaso’s one dimensional character whose attraction to Prosser feels false from the beginning. Why does he neglect his fiancé, why does he still live with his mother, how is he so seemingly low on the FBI ladder yet allowed to run a humongous operation? This lack of clarification leads to thin characters where Rosenfeld’s trophy wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) is the only one you’d be encouraged to root for, even though she is sadly rendered insignificant to the story despite offers appreciative narrative morality to the actions in this world.
Although containing deep insights into the disguises we adopt to mask our inadequacies, many hilarious moments – largely from deserving Golden Globe winner Lawrence – and a sublime costume department, this fun but forgettable ride ultimately underwhelms.