Her Review – Sentient Sensuality


Director: Spike Jonze

Writer: Spike Jonze

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara


Release date: December 18th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes


 

4½/5 

Best part: The tender love story.

Worst part: The obvious symbolism.

Technology – the first world would crumble without it. It drives human endeavours, basic living practices, and overwhelming paranoia. With capitalism and globalisation driven by exponential technological achievements, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have become gods among men. I could proceed with this preachy commentary on technology’s societal and cultural impact for all eternity. In fact, this review is aided by my shiny new Apple Mac. However, occasionally, people need to stop, go outside, and inhale some much-needed fresh air. This theme, prevalent in a significant number of sci-fi flicks over the past 20 years, is grasped at, wrangled, and controlled in the latest sci-fi romantic-drama Her.

Joaquin Phoenix.

Her, throwing the audience into an alluring, soulful, and realistic love story, delivers an infectious and thrilling commentary on life itself. With its strong performances, kinetic direction, and punchy script, this ambitious drama speaks out against our infatuation with love, lust, technology, and anti-social behaviour. Influenced by enrapturing romantic-dramas like Lars and the Real GirlRuby Sparks, and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless mind, Her is an engaging movie fighting to survive this year’s Oscar race. With 12 Years a Slave and Gravity overshadowing this modest sci-fi effort, this drama deserves infinitely more credit. Lacking similar Oscar contenders’ obvious Oscar tropes and manipulative gut-punches, Her becomes a bizarre, sincere, and creative experiment. Revelatory romantic-dramas, including Her, kick-start by immersing us into their peculiar and recognisable universes. Here, we become alienated outsiders – restricted to witnessing these interesting and confronting events. Opening with a close-up of Theodore Twombly(Joaquin Phoenix)’s face, Her introduces to a relatable and beguiling lead character. As the opening scene expands, we discover he’s an employee at Beautiful Handwritten Letters.com. This particular publishing house relies on uniqueness and emotion. Writing heartening messages for paying customers, Theodore reaches into others’ subconsciousness’s to craft pitch-perfect love/Dear John/other-important-event letters. Forced to help complete strangers achieve happiness, Theodore retreats to his attractive apartment at shifts’ end. In addition, he’s divorcing childhood sweetheart and soulmate Catherine (Rooney Mara). Continually running into his neighbours, married couple Charles (Matt Letscher) and Amy (Amy Adams), Theodore pushes himself to interact with people outside his small social circle. With phone sex and blind dates turning into disastrous nightmares, he purchases a state-of-the-art operating system to improve his existence. The OS, built to emotionally connect with its users, converses with Theodore. Calling itself “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the OS organises his loose threads, cluttered livelihood, and internal quarrels. Forming a surreal bond with the system, Theodore realises that an exhilarating lifestyle is wholly valuable.

Amy Adams.

Deconstructing Hollywood romantic-drama conventions and mechanics throughout its significant run-time, Her is an important and enlightening sensory assault. Relaying important life lessons, the movie examines each viewer whilst providing guidance, empathy, and inspiration. Fortunately, director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) masterfully constructs several fascinating narrative and thematic structures. Analysing well-known principles, ethics, spiritual guides, and moral quandaries, Jonze continually creates impassioned and cinematically-compelling dramas. Jonze’s artistic endeavours place mirrors in front of his lead characters. In doing so, he necessarily establishes bewildering conflicts and revelations. With his characters facing doppelgängers, parallel universes, and epiphanies, Jonze provides spiritually-and-ethically-motivated concepts for each project. Part of the enthralling 1990/00s American indie-drama auteur movement, Jonze constructs Her with stylish decadence and deft touches. Like with his previous efforts, Her‘s quirks and kinks develop a relevant and thought-provoking examination of humanity, chaos, control, freedom, and regret. Relationships, as Her suggests, become gangrenous if left untreated. For sci-fi aficionados, the parallels to Phillip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov’s seminal works ring alarmingly true. Artificial intelligence, anthropology, human biology, and wisdom are Her‘s greatest endeavours. This romantic-drama, despite injecting lively comedic bursts at opportune moments, wallows in self-pity. With love guiding humanity’s existence, we see several promising and doomed-to-fail relationships here. Theodore’s story becomes a slice-of-life tale about redemption, heartache, and acceptance. Drastically improving upon his life’s work, the curmudgeonly Theodore becomes a shining light in the midst of his friends’ debilitating issues. This romantic-drama embraces such cognitive aspects as meet-cutes, honeymoon phases, jealousy, and argument-fuelled conflicts. Though inevitable, this sci-fi drama places us in Theodore’s shoes. Reflecting upon modern-relationship mechanics, the movie clutches onto its heartening subtext. Ruled by screens, headsets, and holograms, Her‘s universe becomes a recognisable and frightening vision. Theodore, looking beyond the camera, almost begs us to save Earth from this anti-social and misanthropic future. Appropriately drenched in sunlight and neon-lit vistas, Theodore’s emotional and moral transformations deliver tangibly effecting moments.

“I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.” (Amy (Amy Adams), Her).

Rooney Mara.

As red as roses, Jonze’s style, however, occasionally veers into obviousness and sugar-coated tyranny. With colours, images, and messages flying across each frame, Her almost descends into sappy Oscar-bait territory. Thankfully, despite the first-two acts’ cynical outlook on relationships and humanity, Jonze’s intricate direction crafts a soulful, influential, and identifiable masterpiece. Shattering movie-making conventions and tiresome clichés, Jonze deliberates on the ever-frustrating film production process. Tackling this gargantuan challenge, without screenwriter Charlie Kaufman or director Michel Gondry’s assistance, his eclectic screenwriting and eye-catching direction reach full potential. Treading fine ground throughout, his direction echoes Lost in Translation‘s ghostly charm. The movie, like its main character, looks beyond the horizons for purpose and visual splendour. With Theodore’s apartment drenched in technological advancements and expensive decor, the direction reflects the characters’ dark and hollow psyches. The movie’s cold yet immersive veneer illuminates the narrative’s brutal conflicts. Despite admiring this universe’s Ikea-like clutter and enviable settings, Theodore’s cynical outlook delivers a degraded and distant aura. Jonze’s electrifying composition lends patently distinctive identities to specific scenes. Jumping between flashbacks and relevant story-threads, slight details separate light-hearted moments from dark, reflective sections. In addition, our characters push this courageous and insightful story into overdrive. Theodore, despite the silly exterior traits, is a realistic, charming, and likeable man. As an average Joe, this fearful and gracious figure becomes an unlikely avatar. His interactions and reactions highlight his zany and exhilarating personality. Phoenix delivers yet another mannered and appropriate turn as a broken and reckless individual. Johansson delivers a touching performance by overcoming obvious restrictions. Phoenix and Johansson’s chemistry speaks wonders for this fascinating premise. Adams and Mara showcase intensifying range and charisma in supporting roles. Meanwhile, Kristen Wiig, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, and Brian Cox are magnetic in breath-taking minor roles.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Her tells a familiar story in an intensifying, apprehensible, and complex manner. Unlocking Theodore’s heart with devastating screen-wipes, Jonze delivers an ambitious character study and subtle sci-fi drama simultaneously. Love, hatred, sex, and philosophy, like Theodore, must be tested before being declared useful and sufficient for all mankind. Her takes one step toward a more enlightening future.

Verdict: A heart-warming, empathetic, and detailed sci-fi drama.

Rush Review – Speed of Life


Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Peter Morgan 

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara


Release date: September 13th, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One, StudioCanal, Universum Film AG

Countries: UK, Germany, USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Hemsworth and Bruhl.

Worst part: The under-developed female characters.

To a certain extent, sport is instilled in everyone’s flesh and blood. In an instant, it can send people into dizzying highs or crushing lows. It can represent an entire country’s strengths and weaknesses, and can turn hard working men and women into enviable role models. A sport built on an excess of prestige and power is Formula 1 racing. This enrapturing event is captured seamlessly in Rush – a movie about taking names, becoming a champion, and rolling with the punches.

Chris Hemsworth.

Built on top of piles of money and will-power, Formula 1 is one of sporting history’s greatest accomplishments. This popular sport, as Rush is concerned, attracts people thanks to thrills, chills, and spills. Documenting the search for glory and recognition, Rush presents a brutally honest yet beguiling analysis of this dangerous competitive sport. This pulsating and emotionally powerful sports drama chronicles two drivers pushing themselves to breaking point. Money and power hungry playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) lives for the many highs of his debaucherous lifestyle. Sleeping around first and winning Formula 3 races later, his immense talents are a match for the punishing Formula 1 circuit. His leap from Hesketh racing to Mclaren sets him up for success. Meanwhile, irritable and socially inept Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), after turning down his father’s offer to become an accountant, takes it upon himself to reach his near untouchable goals. His intensity and overblown persona push him from low-level team BRM into Formula 1 powerhouse Ferrari’s line of sight. With both drivers reaching the prestigious event by 1975, their troubling Formula 3 rivalry spills over into their first Formula 1 season. From then on, the opposing forces stare each other down whilst speeding along tracks across the world. Off the track, Hunt’s enviable yet questionable antics hurl him into several regrettable decisions, including a rushed marriage to supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). Meanwhile, Lauda’s relationship with the ever understandable Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) will force Lauda into deciding where his priorities lie.

Daniel Bruhl.

Whether Steve McQueen is lighting up the track in Le Mans or Lightning McQueen is zipping through an animated universe in Pixar’s Cars, car races/chases are welcome on the big screen. Tapping into modern sporting culture thanks to Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull Racing quarrels, Rush illustrates that sportsmanship is just as important as landing a spot on the podium. Unlike today’s Formula 1 competition, the 70s era relied entirely on sleaze, slickness, style, technological advancements, and greed. It was an era in which Cigarette sponsorship and chauvinistic personalities were far more important than teamwork and determination. Its cultural impact rang true with people escaping their lives to watch celebrity sportsmen glide around a track at breakneck speeds of up to 300km/h. Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) potently relays these seminal themes. Known for jumping between genres and extraordinary stories, Howard’s directorial style achieves a sensory and psychological stranglehold over multiple demographics. From crime-thrillers (RansomThe Da Vinci Code),to Westerns (The Missing), and family-friendly adventure flicks (The Grinch), Howard’s film-making dexterity, attention to detail, and persistence continually shine through. Like with Cinderella Man, Howard is unafraid to present the realistic and fantastical elements of this inspirational story. He is brave enough to utilise advantageous sports movie tropes and an efficient docudrama structure. Like his other biopics, Rush highlights the lead characters’ historical importance by presenting a memorable and valuable part of their lives. Despite having not been interested in Formula 1 racing before, I was instantly swept up in Rush‘s subtleties and frenetic narrative. Thankfully, the energetic pacing establishes the thrills and visceral nature of Hunt and Lauda’s bitter rivalry.

The thrill of the race!

The greatest sports movies leave the most alienating aspects of each sport on the sidelines. They swing for the fences to highlight the symbolic intricacies and emotional moments. Like Moneyball and Warrior, Rush focuses on the intense physical, mental, and spiritual training these athletes undertake. The movie’s tension-inducing spectacle, of cars circling round tracks and livelihoods spiralling out of control, delivers a rush in itself. Before it reaches the checkered flag, the movie depicts a sensitive yet dense examination of manliness, egotism, and humility. The lead characters embark upon parallel journeys that strengthen the narrative. Throughout the snarky battle of brains, braun, wits and raw talent, Howard leaves no stone unturned. This invigorating drama lives by the phrase uttered pensively by Lauda: ”A wise man learns more from his enemies than a fool from his friends”. It captures the soaring highs and crushing lows of these characters’ existences. Pushing themselves tirelessly to achieve perfection, their breaking points are expressed in startlingly different ways – Hunt’s through pleasure and Lauda’s through searing pain. Like with Frost/Nixon, Howard crafts a metaphorical boxing match, on and off the track, between two understated professionals. Howard creates a detailed timeline of applaudable life achievements, from the gleeful Formula 3 race to the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix, and gently hits the breaks during the tender moments. It’s a tale of sportsmen driven by obsession, manipulation, oneupsmanship, and envy. These men would rather complain to the authorities about petty insults and slight miscalculations than accept defeat. Despite this, these unlikable yet lauded figures transition into empathetic individuals. With explosive arguments spiced up by punchy, profound dialogue, Peter Morgan’s impeccable screenplay is whistled through commendable accents and mannerisms.

“A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends.” (Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), Rush).

Olivia Wilde.

Rush‘s pulpy visual style, thanks to Howard’s succinct direction and Anthony Dodd Mantle’s kinetic cinematography, punches it into overdrive. Their attention to detail and engaging visual styles capture the era’s bold aesthetic. Mantle’s monumental camerawork tingles the senses and lends this obscure story a bubbly personality. Howard gleefully toys with historical events. Eye-catching montages emphasise the distinct intricacies of the characters’ lives and ostentatious Formula 1 season. Rush gleefully displays every bright, enthralling facet of this valuable and chauvinistic era. Archival footage is spliced seamlessly into certain sequences to emphasise the story’s importance. Howard relentlessly splatters the screen with a vibrant and eye-catching re-creation of the sexy 70s. The immaculate costumes, set designs, practical effects and CGI vistas fuel the movie’s verisimilitude. If that wasn’t enough, Howard’s auteur touch even makes sure the wacky hairstyles, bloated egos/personas, and roaring crowds all put in 110%. The ladies may turn out for Hemsworth’s staggering physique (on display throughout), but everyone will enjoy the kinetic and meticulous race sequences. These tension-inducing set-pieces move blindingly fast and illustrate why 25 drivers risk their lives to compete each year. Mantle puts the pedal to the metal in these sequences, emphasising each joyous and disastrous moment with immersive tracking shots and first-person photography. Crashes and tailspins cap off each race with flawless technical precision, depicting the competition’s baffling cruelty. This is edge-of-your seat entertainment, hitting the audience with car crash-like force. Flashy title cards, freeze frames, and Hans Zimmer’s thundering score rev-up each race and illuminate Rush‘s sweeping scope. The movie accurately presents the cars, pit crew gear and tracks from this memorable era. Shots showcasing oil hurriedly pouring into engines, flames bursting out of exhausts, and intense rumbles continually build to captivating climaxes.

Man and machine!

Despite it’s glorious positives, Rush pulls some awkward skids along the way. Howard’s heavy handed messages are needlessly explained. Philosophical moments, clunky speeches, and metaphors dent this otherwise enjoyable experience. As with most docudramas, the celebrity characters attract large audiences. Formula 1 nuts, in particular, will be pleased to see Hunt and Lauda being treated with respect. Rush‘s objective insight focuses on the well-known wheelings and dealings of Formula 1. Lauda is a fascinating and frustrating character. Ordering a pit crew to stay over night to fix his car, Lauda is a man who, for better or worse, always has his mind on the job. Believing that Formula 1 is, by far, the greatest thing on Earth, this socially awkward character embraces his persistence and rat-like persona. Insults fly left and right when he meticulously inspects other drivers’, managers’ and mechanics’ efforts. Bruhl delivers a captivating and intense performance as, arguably, Formula 1’s greatest machine. His romantic sub-plot develops this multi-dimensional character. On the other hand, Hunt is a god-like enigma and confused, childish celebrity who continually pushes himself to the limit. A spoiled brat fascinated by life’s most pleasurable facets, victory, money, women, drugs, and alcohol may push him to the edge. Hemsworth delivers a dynamic and touching performance as this alluring yet tragic figure, capturing Hunt’s sense of humour and boyish charm. Rush‘s most powerful moments involve conflicts between opposing individuals e.g. Hunt’s violent run-in with an obnoxious journalist. Unfortunately, the sub-plot between Hunt and Miller lacks lasting impact and is only touched upon in three potent scenes.

Faster than a Ferrari, smoother than an Aston Martin, and grander than a Rolls-Royce, Rush is a modern action-drama without the excess, bloat or predictability. With its immaculate attention to detail, kinetic visuals, and powerhouse performances, the movie ultimately suggests that nothing is more exhilarating than the speed of life.

Verdict: A tense, thought-provoking, and emotionally resonant sports-drama.