Monday, January 27, 2014

Her

Movie Name: Her
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Kai Chen, Brian Cox
Genre: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
Director Spike Jonze is back after his adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are", from 2009. "Her" is his first original screenplay, which takes place in the near future and focuses on the story of Theodore Twombly, a gifted and sensitive writer. Theodore is going through a breakup/divorce, and is having difficulties coping with his loneliness and relating to others. Theodore decides to buy a new operating system for his computer, one that learns and adapts to reality (an artificial intelligence one). This OS, aptly named Samantha, starts learning more about Theodore, and slowly an amorous relationship builds between these two seemingly different personas.
"Her" is a delicate and nuanced film that touches on many of the topics that are relevant to today's lives and relationships. The film ponders the way technology impacts our lives and how we as individuals relate to each other, in terms of communication and in terms of emotions. Theodore, the main focus of the story, is an every day man, sensitive and caring, going through the process of dissolving a relationship, and much to his sadness, realizes that technology may be a good partner, until he realizes that the emotional resonance simply isn't there. For all that technology potentiates, human contact and emotional warmth and presence, are still eminently humane. The film is beautifully shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema, and has a phenomenal cast, starting with the stupendous Joaquin Phoenix, the always great Amy Adams, and featuring a striking performance from Scarlett Johansson, as the voice of Samantha. This is a beautifully rendered film, one that is prescient of times to come, that is simultaneously tender, caring and humorous. Worth watching!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Music with an Impact - 2013

2013 saw the release of some truly stunning albums from a diversified array of artists. It also allowed for newcomers to come forth and share their interesting musical universes with a bigger audience. Overall, 2013 was a fantastic year for music. Below are my favorite albums released in 2013.

Bonobo - The North Borders
Moderat - II
Washed Out - Paracosm
Cut Copy - Free Your Mind
Baths - Obsidian
Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Jon Hopkins - Immunity
Lapalux - Nostalchic
Ochre - National Ignition

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

Movie Name: The Wolf of Wall Street
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Milioti, Shea Whigham, Christine Ebersole, P.J. Byrne, Ethan Suplee, Henry Zebrowski, Jake Hoffman, Stephanie Kurtzuba
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Biography
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
Following the beautiful "Hugo", Martin Scorsese is back, with a dark comedy detailing the greedy and moral corruption of stockbrokers on Wall Street in the late 1980s. The film follows the true story of Jordan Belfort, a young ambitious stockbroker who at 22 is launched into the high finance world in Wall Street. After the collapse of the market, Jordan loses his job, and decides to start his own firm, with some less than reputable tactics he gained knowledge of. Alongside him is his friend Donnie Azoff, and they both soon start expanding their operations and the number of people working for them. In parallel with the business growth, the lavish parties, drug usage and general insanity keeps escalating, until the FBI starts investigating their practices.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" is one of the more visceral and funny comedies that is part of Martin Scorsese's body of work. The film does not try to endorse the corruption of morals nor the criminal behaviors on display - it functions more like a snapshot of a certain time in a specific segment of society. In a way, this film is a portrait of the 80s in the vein of Tom Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities", but in a more excessive way, for all the extreme behaviors that it displays. The egocentric, hedonistic behaviors of the characters, mixed with this sense of urgency and simultaneously of being unpunished, creates in this microcosms of relationships, a distorted sense of reality. The film succeeds in creating a bubble of luxury and corruption, that slowly destroys everything it touches. The acting is uniformly fantastic, but the show belongs to Leonardo DiCaprio, who is sensational in every single frame. The cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto is beautiful, as is the eclectic soundtrack. A fantastic film worth watching!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

47 Ronin

Movie Name: 47 Ronin
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Carl Rinsch
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Carl Rinsch's debut feature, "47 Ronin" comes a year after it's original date of release and surrounded by news of additional reshoots and editorial control struggles between the studio and the director. The film follows the story of Kai, a young boy who is found by a Master Samurai in Japan. Kai is of a mixed race and is believed to possess supernatural powers, so he's raised as an outcast (except for the daughter of his Master who loves him). When his Master is killed through treachery of a rival lord, Kai now an adult, is sold to slavery, whereas all the Samurai from that clan are declared Ronin (samurais without a master). It's up to these men to avenge the honor of their Master and restore the peaceful life their village had.
"47 Ronin" is a well known (and true story) in Japan, and has in fact been tackled before by other directors. Carl Rinsch, who made his name with commercials (for Nexus for instance), works with a script that combines the more authentic attempt at capturing the samurai traditions and code of honor, with the more fantastical elements of the supernatural. This hybrid take on the story aims to create a more entertaining and palatable experience for audiences who are not familiar with certain cultural references. However the main issue with the film, ends up being the script itself, which fails to create much depth for any of the characters, including the central love couple of Kai and Mika. The actors try their best to bring these cliches to life, but there's only so much they can effectively create from such limited material. Visually the film is stunning, with fantastic work from production designer Jan Roelfs (who worked on Sally Potter's "Orlando" for instance), the beautiful cinematography from John Mathieson (who has worked extensively with Ridley Scott) and impressive visual effects. The film has nonetheless a fair entertaining momentum to it, despite the flaws.