Movie Review: Her

This is a guest review by filmmaking colleague Robby Peters. At only 16 years old, he wrote the short film ’127′. You can view the trailer here.

He got a floppy diks

 

I walked into ‘Her’ with the description given to me as a ‘soft-cock’ film, a film that treads lightly on the idea of love but doesn’t fully understands it. A film scared of it’s own content. Regardless, a lot of people recommended it to me. So… I watched it.

Sitting in a desolated carpark, thinking… I gathered my thoughts …

I had just watched something that provoked every imaginable emotion within me. Heartbreak, hope, regret, sorrow, joy, melancholy and pain… it goes on.

So, here I am. Writing this and I’m lost for words. Spike Jonze, even though this is your first film I’ve seen, you are a fucking hero.

‘Her’ takes place in the future, a environment striking similar to now, except super high cotton pants are the ‘in’ thing and people are constant gawking at their phones. Pretty much the same as today. We follow Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who writes digitally handwritten letters to lovers for lovers. It’s all based around the idea of feigning authenticity that seems to plague people today. Even so, Theo loves his work because in a way, it helps him relive the romance from a recently sour (and still in progress) divorce. His wife, played by the amazing Rooney Mara, is shown is small fragmented cuts, enough to make us believe what he had was special and worth brooding over. In every plot, something needs to change the course of the story to get things going. So, Theo purchases ‘OS1′, a virtual consciousness that is designed to meet his every need. And it’s here, shit gets interesting.

What’s so evident from the get go in ‘Her’ is the very honest nature of the film. Someone once told me that honesty is all that art is. If this film isn’t honest, I don’t know what it is. Sure, it’s about a guy that falls in love with an A.I. But, if you watch it, I’m sure you’ll understand the contradiction about love. How it can be the best feeling, the complete unguardedness of it, and then it can strip you raw, leaving you naked.

Everything from the production design, the music, and the wardrobe helps evoke a very futureesque mood. One thing I loved, and is constantly overlooked, is that the setting serves the story, the story isn’t about the setting. Every single beautiful detail is thrown into the background where is belongs and it’s given far more power that way. If anything gets in the way of a story as beautiful as it is, it becomes a distraction and this is something ‘Her’ exceeds in greatly, it knows when to stray from the topic and get a giggle out of you.

Speaking of the music, The Arcade Fire delivers a touching, but very minimalist score tinged with some electronica. It works amazingly in hindsight, where the simple melodies lend themselves over to brutally honest, soulful performances.

The film gets into some interesting areas as to where we might be headed as a culture consumed by technology. People in the film are seen constantly roaming around, earpieces in, lost in their own worlds. It’s a setting that is very real today, people so connected in the world around us, but disconnected from our very own families. It raises some thought-provoking questions, no? How far are we from this? Is this us now? In a way, it transcends all the muddy questions of having to justify the settings that come with a Sci-Fi film and strips it down to the bones. “This is what we’re like now, this is what we might be like in a couple decades or even years. Let me tell a story about today set in what I think tomorrow will be like” – I could swear that was Spike’s thought process. Either way – everyone, even the filmmakers, is calling this film a love story. And it is. But, not in the very conventional sense. This film is all about loneliness. How it affects us and how, deep down, we all long to love and to be loved. It’s a very mature story about modern relationships.

Joaquin Phoenix is the most human I’ve seen him since ‘Walk The Line’, a film I hold very close. His performance has some very tough moments to sell but he handles them effortlessly when I bet it was anything but. I don’t wanna kill the one moment that had me in stitches where he’s lying in his bed, but you’ll know it when you see it.

Alright, enough wanking, what was wrong with it? One, the whole idea of a man falling in love with a computer feels like a foreign idea. And it is. This film doesn’t document a love story with an inanimate object, it’s a man escaping his own reality with a virtual consciousness, a operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. To me, that feels like a cheap fix. The topic isn’t as challenging as I thought it would be. But, in no way, did that hinder my experience. When you’re watching this movie, you never question the course of the story, which for me, is something marvellous. It’s a masterfully told and very original story.

It’s a beautiful and at times, heartbreaking exploration into loneliness and how technology can both connect and disconnect us.

Verdict: It’s worth a watch, motherfucker.

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Movie Review: To the Wonder

“Where’s the script?” “Oh crap, we left it back up there.”

 

The Good

  • Lubezski’s cinematography
  • Olga Kurylenko’s performance

The Bad

  • Ben Affleck
  • And everything else, pretty much

If there was one director I would pay big money to see at a discussion panel, it would be Terrence Malick. The man has made some of the most impressionable films of all time, and I would love to ask what draws him — a true artist, no objection – to the film medium. However, it would be easier to bring Andrei Tarkovsky or Ingmar Bergman back from the dead than it would be to get Mr. Malick to attend any sort of media event, so all hope is futile.

That’s not to say I’m in perpetual adulation of the ground he walks on. After his last turn with The Tree of Life, I remained rather cautious to To the Wonder, which looked to be in the same vein. But while the Tree of Life’s excuse was that it was nothing short of the story of the entire universe, To the Wonder looked markedly smaller in scope. It’s the story of Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko falling in and out of love. For almost two hours.

I was not impressed.

I am somewhat selling the concept short, because the movie places heavy emphasis on internal monologues about love. But what boring and idle chatter it is. Shakespeare wrote more in 14 lines than Malick could with two hours of dialogue and pictures, and that’s saying something (save the fact that I am comparing Terrence Malick to Wiliam Shakespeare, which I do so boldly).

Maybe it remains a winner on a purely aesthetic level? Again, what worked for The Tree of Life and The New World does not work for this at all. Malick’s last two films contemplated on the metaphysical nature of our earthly existence; it’s why Emmanuel Lubezki’s marvelously natural back-lit cinematography felt important; why the textures in The New World were brought to the fore; why the menial activities in The Tree of Life were expounded upon for what seemed like forever. But now, since we are dealing with a story of spiritual commitment to one another, there is less need to see grown-up people wrapping themselves in netted drapes like three year old toddlers. There is no desire for staccato jump-cuts which remove us from what we’re watching. I feel most people on the production realized it was a bit iffy too: the only actress who shone in this movie was Ms. Kurylenko, despite acting like a ditz in a very un-Parisian manner. Rachel McAdams looked like she accidentally stumbled on set. Ben Affleck just looked like a dolt the whole time.

Javier Bardem, who plays a Catholic priest, means to hint at what Malick’s true message here. Like the Tree of Life (but also like all his other movies), this is another poetically Catholic story. I roll my eyes reading the reviews that comment this is about “love, passion, and faith”. No, it’s not. It’s about love, passion, and faith in Christ, which is why Bardem’s character is probably the most well realized, but feels so out-of-touch with the rest of the movie. Alas Terry, you’re a film too late. The Tree of Life was meant to be the film to which Jesus is overtly alluded, not the one about a sappy, cringe-inducing romance. Incidentally, The Tree of Life was a better love story.

It’s not always pleasing to criticize your heroes, but I was once told that only the most ardent and sensible people have the ability to do so. So it’s with great sadness, Terrence Malick, that I call this a pretentious, muddled, misfire.

Yours truly.

Verdict: Je pleure :’(

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Breaking Bad Season 1: As Fine As Walt’s Blue Ice

It’s a certain type of cook-out.

The Good

  • Walter White
  • Jesse Pinkman
  • Evocative cinematography

The Bad

  • Rather amoral
  • Those two sisters
  • Probably created a new generation of meth addicts

Ok, this is some good shit. As you might know, I generally don’t listen to the critical appraisals of the internet when it comes to television. Much has been said about some “Golden Age” of television, but such an appraisal is comparable to a Golden Age of Teenage Pop Music. Once in awhile – actually, come to think of it, only once – people praise what is actual good TV. And this is it.

It’s a story ripped out of an adult-rated comic book which was never made: Walter White receives news that he has got lung cancer, and he’s got a short while to live. With a mediocre job, pregnant wife, and disabled son, leaving his family with little but suffering is not an option. So he does what all good middle-class chemistry teachers do when they need quick cash: he starts making crystal meth. The best crystal meth, actually. And he makes it with such ease he can’t not just walk away from it. A pretty arresting premise, then.

Despite the inconceivability of a cancer victim resorting to criminal production of one of the most lucrative and law-enforced drugs in the world, the drama plays out in a rather naturalist ethos. “What if a guy did resort to cooking meth. How could it possibly affect him and those around him?” is the question that drives the story, and it works really well. Much of Breaking Bad goes to places television hasn’t gone before, and the cadence in narrative pace is refreshing, if sometimes slightly mistaken. For example, the first several episodes are dedicated to the actions and repercussions of Walt and Jesse’s first drug deal, which would have only taken one, maybe two episodes to resolve. Somewhere in the middle, things go wandering about: meandering dialogue, unwanted smarminess, unfocussed plot direction, etc, and thus my attention deficit mind had better things to do for minutes at a time.

There is some really clever writing here. The discord between what characters think, say, and do is phenomenal stuff, which goes to show how much the writers and directors know their characters. I suppose the whole story revolves around psychological cat-and-mouse; of hidden intentions and nasty deceptions.

Speaking of characters, the two leads are fantastic. Bryan Cranston as Walter White is inspired, but honestly, I’m giving it all to Aaron Paul’s portrayal of Jesse Pinkman. He is without a doubt the most compelling character thus far. Other characters are interesting to luke warm: I like the machismo of DEA Agent Hank, though I’m not a fan of the two sisters who play the wives of Hank and Walter. Walter Jr. is pretty cool, and I hope they play around with him in interesting ways over the course of the series. Everyone else is a little one-dimensional, but it’s perfectly fine as it keeps things moving along.

There are more than a few commentaries on the supposed moral questions embedded in the series. Hah. No really, Breaking Bad is completely unrealistic in premise, tone, and intention. Whatever moral or immoral acts committed are solely for the purposes of entertainment, not reflection, as it’s near impossible to derive morality from carefully engineered pulp narrative. It’s like watching Italian giallo and trying to explain the director’s philosophical intentions for exposing female breasts. He just wanted to film them because he’s a pervert, and he knows you’ll watch it too. Really though, what were you going to get out of Breaking Bad? “It’s bad to cook crystal meth, and if you do it will affect your family.” Yo that’s some really deep stuff there. “No no, señor, you’re putting words in our mouths!” I hear you say. “The real moral question is, is it really evil to do things when there are a lot of factors that could potentially force us to commit what society deems as evil acts?”

..

… dear reader, until you are a chemistry teacher with terminal lung cancer, an unexpectedly pregnant wife, a disabled son, a DEA Agent as a brother-in-law and a meth-cooking ex-student with whom you’ve incomprehensibly kept in touch with, then we can talk about how Breaking Bad can relate to you. Apart from that, read the Nicomachean Ethics.

Anyway, Breaking Bad has had a damn good start, and I cannot remember the last time I have eagerly awaited watching the very next episode after the end of the previous one. It did not entirely blow my socks off like the first season of The Wire. Then again, The Wire is a revelation. Breaking Bad is a television show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up agreeing that it’s one of the best.

Verdict: Hooked.

Game of Thrones Season 1: Sex, Blood, Bore.

Because screens from the actual series don’t deserve to be shown on my blog.

The Good

  • Nada

The Bad

  • Everything

Really?

Really?

You know, despite my condescending tone on this blog, you people can mostly watch what you like. But Game of Thrones? Really?

The first time I viewed the pilot, I was genuinely afraid. The opening scenes of the series actually looked good. I feared I had to prematurely end my satirical streak; my crusade against television was lost. Then something happened, something unexpected. “Gee,” the show seemed to say to itself, “I’m actually doing pretty well in these first few minutes. Too well, in fact. Oh well,  I better throw the next ten hours down the well to compensate for my brief lapse in judgement,” and he gives himself a light smack on the wrist.

I cannot for the life of me understand why people enjoy watching this show. Actually, I can, but I don’t understand how other people don’t understand why they’re watching the show. If there was any evidence that television is at some golden age and is much better than feature film development at this point in time, this is not it. In fact, this is far and away from any proofs that television might even touch the quality film has continued to offer since its conception.

So what happens in the series anyway? Somewhere in the wilderness, an ancient evil awakens and brings back people from the dead all scary-like.

The end.

That’s about as much of the story as there is. Oh yes, and there is some mild political intrigue to pad out the abysmal series. And incest! Oh my, there’s incest! Heavens, this is revolutionary entertainment, this is. Nowhere in the world have we seen this stuff except for the dirty fringes of the internet during the early 00′s, where basement dwellers spent many a night furiously typing away scary fan-fiction that made Harry, Ron, and Ginny seem a lot more experienced  than J.K Rowling dared dream of. Now this rubbish is multi-million dollar entertainment. And people like it. They like it so much that my Facebook feed is lit up with “GoT Season 3 Premiere RIGHT NOW #excited #HBO #violentporno”. Even people I once admired for their taste in arts and culture have jumped head first into this stinking pile.

Look, if you want uninhibited interpersonal intrigue, watch Days of Our Lives. If you want graphic violence, go to Documenting Reality*. If want to watch graphic sex, sign up to Brazzers**. But do not convince yourself you’re watching anything more than either of those if you consider yourself a fan of Game of Thrones. It’s debasing titillation.

I sometimes wonder if I’m just getting out of touch, or if I’m getting prematurely senile, or whether I really need to rein in my mental illness, because this nonsense should never have become a hit. Then I watch the French television series, Engrenages, in English, “Spiral”. It is a good, sensible show, very much like The Wire. And I breathe a sigh of relief.

No, I’m not insane. The rest of you are.

Verdict: The worst television I have ever seen.

* Do not watch people getting hurt/maimed/killed in real life. It is not good for you.
** Do not watch pornography. It is not good for you, and Brazzers is overrated anyway.

Supernatural Season 1: Hot Guys Save Hot Girls from Hot Demons

“All them teenage girls? Sorry, I’m more celibate than a Catholic priest.”

The Good

  • Pretty girls

The Bad

  • Pretty Boys
  • Racist Ghost Truck

What do you do if you’re an aspiring screen writer, make a film called Boogeyman, and sit back idly as you watch your credibility free fall off a cliff? Why, you start writing stuff for television, of course.

Supernatural was recommended to me by the two most important people in my life: my sister and some random guy on the internet. And you know what? I kinda like the show.  It’s about two supernaturally good looking guys killing supernaturally evil things. With guns. Oh yes. In this show, ghosts, goblins, witches, and bitches are fended off with conventional firearms  loaded with super salt. I’m totally betting it’s that Himalayan stuff.

I usually use the word ‘pulp’ in a derogatory way, but this is pulp storytelling done well. It reminds me quite a bit of one of my favourite films genres, giallo, where the story involves a lot of people dying, while the amateur detectives have to figure out who’s behind all the murders by stumbling through the private lives of others in order to solve the mystery, save the day, and deliver the audiences’ money’s worth. And there’s no shortage of cute girls anywhere!

Each episode is dedicated to the two brothers travelling to some random American town (in a Chevy Impala, no less) and dealing with the Monster of the Week. Creator Eric Kripke is essentially given free license to rip off every monster ever devised and channel it into the Supernatural universe,  from a skulking scarecrow to the ever conspicuous shtriga, but there are also a few stinkers. First up is the racist ghost truck. That particular episode centres around a southern white guy who had a thing against black people, and manifests himself as his long gone truck to knock off all the black people in his town. So really, which idiot thought that episode was a great idea? Then there’s another episode where the villains are decidedly unsupernatural, but just as sinister: a family of backwards hicks. Lord knows what kind of fascination Hollywood has with stereotyping southern folk. Also, depending on your mileage, you won’t like the vampire episode. I didn’t. Then again, anything less than Count Orlock or Dracula himself is poor vampirism to me.

While you can easily watch each episode in isolation, the threads are tied together by some overarching plot concerning revenge on a demon that keeps harassing the family. Sounds good on paper, until you realize we’re dealing with a television production. The two leading men can’t act their way out of a paper bag, and every single episode has them bickering about the past, their father, and the importance of their mission (because apparently, simply shooting monsters with guns loaded with Himalayan salt isn’t good enough). I’m not even sure if they spend more time steely-eyed than they do teary-eyed. From a completely scientific, totally unsexist guestimation, that kinda stuff rocks the lady viewers’ socks. There’s nothing like a pretty boy breaking down after blowing the brains out of a malevolent cannibalistic zombie:

And he’s supposed to be the badass one.

All in all, the show is pleasingly unpretentious, and you won’t be killing brain cells if you’ve got under an hour to burn. But remember, it’s from the dude that wrote the bomb that was Boogeyman. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Verdict: It knows it’s television.

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Battlestar Galactica Season 2: Make Love, Not War. To Cylons. Literally.

I didn’t mention in the last post the disturbing use of terminal cancer. Last season, “Madame President” was diagnosed with breast cancer, because hey, she’s turning into a weird religious lunatic and the audience needs to sympathize with her. Every time she drops the cancer card, all the characters shut up and do as she says. It reminds me of one time when a work colleague mentioned that during a full house session at the cinema, one lady pushed into the front of the line and asked for a ticket. “I have breast cancer, I’m going to die in a few months, and I’d like to see this movie and have a glass of wine please.” What the frak. So yeah, breast cancer. It sucks. Pity the President. Until episode 13 when she is cured of her cancer, that is.

Onto this week’s blog:

The only relevant picture I could find not related to sex. Still phallic, but.

The Good

  • Some cool subplots, such as the hand built fighter ship.

The Bad

  • Weird cylon bump-n-grind theme
  • Deus-ex machina galore
  • Confused morality
  • Loses the plot halfway through

Okay this thing about having sex with cylons has gotten out of control. Everyone’s doing it. It’s trending, as one might say in cyberspace. I think I know what they’re gunning for, but when you set up the antagonist as uncompromisingly evil, and you don’t systematically deconstruct that notion over the course of the series, it doesn’t work. You don’t end up with a moral grey, you end up with moral beige. Beige is that colour nobody likes. It’s muddy, uninspiring, and only serves to remind us how brilliant other colours are.

If you can’t find a cylon to bonk, fly back to your home planet light years away and bonk a rebel like Starbuck did, or bonk the communications officer you walk past to work everyday like young Captain Adama did, or aim big and get freaky with the President, like Big Adama did. Six degrees ’til soap opera, anyone?

One thing that really infuriated me was the cylon pregnancy subplot. Okay, so Korean cylon Sharon is impregnated by her lover Helo on Caprica, and they both travel back to the Galactica where nobody likes them. And if you’ve watched Season 1, you’d know that another copy of Sharon was dating Chief Tyrol at the same time as the other two. Cue really stupid, pathetic love triangle. Anyway, in one of the episodes, a stowaway onboard the Galactica stowed-herself-away because she wanted an abortion, which is a big fat no no on her colony’s ship (hooray for that colony!). Admiral Adama persuades President Roslin to outlaw abortion due to humanity’s dwindling numbers across the entire fleet, much to the President’s disdain. She says she’s all for woman’s rights and all, but agrees it has to be done (oh, quelle horreur!). But in her last stand for all that’s fair and just, she allows the young girl’s abortion to go ahead before the law goes into effect.

Meanwhile, Sharon and Helo have been talking about how awesome their human-hybrid baby is going to be. They can play mummy and daddy and live happily ever after. Wait a minute, ain’t that thing in your tummy just a clump of cells (and electrical sockets? and 4GB RAM?)?  You see, the writers of BSG casually dropped that Token Stowaway had an abortion, and it’s okay because it’s not actually a child and people watching this show know that. But throughout the season we’ve been hearing of this wonderful thing inside Sharon’s tummy. Not this potential child, but an actual child. And after Sharon gives birth, and after they secretly steal the baby from her by claiming it died, and  after she screams bloody murder, does Roslin give the baby up for adoption to be raised by someone else.

So let me get this straight. 100% human baby in the womb = not a human being. 50% cylon machine in the womb = child with the right to life. They killed Johnny, but they saved WALL-E.

Somebody rescue the writers. They’re stranded on top of Mt. Stupid.

Verdict: Facepalm.

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Battlestar Galactica Season 1: My First Religion vs. Science.

“I want to be relevant.”

The Good:

  • Edward James Olmos. Utter badass.

The Bad:

  • Gaius Baltar is annoying.
  • President Roslyn is annoying.
  • The social commentary is annoying.
  • It’s a TV show.

So you want your television series to be taken seriously. You want people to see your work and go “wow, that was some thought-provoking stuff. I’ve come out a little wiser from engaging with it.” Well, for one, don’t pull a Battlestar Galactica. You don’t take morality, mortality, politics, and religion, and spin them into topics du jour, to be discussed in 40 minutes and forgotten by the next episode. Par example: oh no! are the opening two episodes of straight cylon threats making you look small-minded and superficial? Let’s make an episode where a prisoner fights for democracy and makes all the good guys look stupid! Then let’s forget about all that an episode later because convenient plot device killed all the good fighter pilots in order to give Starbuck convenient character development!

It’s like a frakkin’ variety show, and it all comes crashing down by episode 9, when the story arc is completely weighted down by Commander Adama’s scientific rationality against President Roslin’s kumbaya spirituality: one reckons the fleet should stay practical, whilst the other listens to the advice of a Magical Negro and develops a messiah complex. And how do they articulate their divided opinions? By accusing each other of being cylons. It’s about as subtle as pigs flying. Maybe science fiction television should stick to pew pew lasers and pointy-eared prosthetics.

Digital cinematography is all the rage in this show (apparently Sony F900s), with its zoom lenses and handheld aesthetic. But that really ugly multi-cam long lens editing that television does so “well” rears its ugly head as well. Back when this was first broadcast, BSG probably looked the money. Since then, handheld shaky cam is everydamnwhere. Not only that, digital cameras have improved exponentially since the early 2000′s, making the image resolve look only slightly more appealing than today’s modestly budgeted cameras used for amateur Youtube videos. As such, BSG loses A LOT of its initial appeal. Here’s a tip for future television shows wanting to jump on the shaky camwagon: don’t. You might think you’re hip, but so did the advocates of the disco, once.

Verdict: Pfffff.

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