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Entries in Amy Adams (4)

Tuesday
Dec242013

Her

When it comes to full length directorial efforts, Spike Jonze can do no wrong. With only three previous films under his belt over a career that has spanned over two decades, it might be easy for one to assume that he doesn’t have “it,” that elusive spirit and wherewithal to really go for it and do something different. But then you think back to those three movies, the meta films “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” and the wonderfully imaginative, inventive and heartfelt “Where the Wild Things Are.” Like that 2009 marvel, his latest, the futuristic sci-fi romance, “Her,” is another film of unrivaled excellence, one that taps into ideas and themes in the way only the mind of Mr. Jonze can. It is hands down the best American movie of 2013.

“Her” follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), an increasingly lonely man whose wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), has left him. Still clinging onto a relationship that has clearly ended, he refuses to sign their divorce papers. One day, in a desperate attempt to alleviate his loneliness, he decides to purchase an operating system that he can install and speak to, whom he calls Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). As the two speak, he begins to fall in love with her, despite the fact that she’s nothing more than a computerized voice. She begins to reciprocate those feelings and finds in her a desire to be alive, which is obviously something she’ll never be able to obtain.

That’s a sad thought, to want something so bad, but know that it will never happen. But it’s a beautiful sadness, one that is contemplative and poignant, especially because being alive is all Theo wants too. “Her” understands that being alive isn’t simply in existing, but in the interactions with other people in our lives and the love that grows from those relationships. If we don’t have someone to care about or that cares for us, are we really alive?

In a broader sense, the movie explores this idea through Theo’s occupation as a letter writer, someone who manufactures sentiments for those who can’t take the time to do it themselves. In this future, it’s as if people can’t even feel for themselves and need others to feel for them and in our fast moving, technical world, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for something like this to happen. In a sense, it already has. For example, how often do people actually call their loved ones these days? Most send texts. Our conversations have not only devolved into online communication. They’re also being limited to 140 characters thanks to the likes of Twitter, one of the most popular social media sites around. “Her” imagines a world where human interaction has reached a near non-existent point, where even when it does happen, it’s mainly small talk. One early shot when Theo is riding the subway, everyone within the frame is talking, but not to each other. They’re all talking to their devices plugged into their ears. It’s a striking and haunting image.

But within all this thematic exploration is a human story about love and its messy existence. Even this so-called “perfect love,” the one that is programmed to say and be everything Theo could ever want and need, proves to be fleeting. What happens is something of profound sadness, though it nevertheless ends on a hopeful note, Theo having finally recaptured his humanity, even if it took a program to help him do it.

Rounding out a nearly flawless movie is the wonderful (occasionally diegetic) score. One of the most marvelous scenes in the film comes when Theo is standing on the beach talking to Sam through his earpiece. She asks him what it’s like to actually be there, breathing in the fresh air and feeling the sand beneath his toes, so he plays a piece of music for her in an attempt to capture it. Although great on its own serving as support for the events portrayed onscreen, scenes like this give the score so much more meaning to a movie already chock full of ideas and ruminations.

“Her” is the perfect follow-up to “Where the Wild Things Are,” another movie that expressed the kind of sadness and loneliness that a person can feel at a certain point in their life. Of course, that movie had its detractors, so I imagine this one will as well, but those people will be missing the entire point of it: to remind us that to love and to be loved is to be alive. Through the heartbreaks and the crippling sadness that love sometimes brings, it remains the sole reason to be alive in the first place. Sappy though it sounds, “Her” approaches it in a way that can only be described as divine. Nobody should miss this movie.

Her receives 5/5

Friday
Jun142013

Man of Steel

In the world of superhero cinema, there’s no question Marvel dominates. With the success of movies like the “Iron Man” trilogy, “Thor,” and of course “The Avengers,” Marvel has taken the cinema world by storm, igniting a superhero revolution and wowing millions of people in the process. All of this has been happening while competitor DC Comics has struggled in the background for success. Aside from the Batman movies, DC hasn’t reinvigorated one of their heroes at the movies in a long time, despite a solid and underrated effort by Bryan Singer with 2006’s “Superman Returns.” This week’s “Man of Steel” is exactly what DC needs. While it is by no means perfect, it reinvigorates Superman with some much needed style and defies the expectations of what most people expect from him.

The movie begins on Krypton, the alien home world of a baby named Kal-El, who will eventually become Superman. The planet is dying, so Kal-El’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), sends him off to Earth to save his life, but not before stashing the planet’s codex with him. That codex has the information required to begin life anew for his people, so General Zod (Michael Shannon), a disgraced general that was banished from Krypton and ended up watching his world implode, decides to track it down, along with the now all grown up Kal-El. Now known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), he has been hiding his true identity to the world out of uncertainty about how the people would react.

Superman has its detractors for a number of reasons. Some of those people have valid criticisms while others miss the point of the character altogether. Superman exists as a Christ-like figure, one that is willing to put himself in danger to protect the people of the world, even the ones he doesn’t personally connect with. Just as the story of Jesus shows his selflessness, the personality of Superman is one that values others above anything else. To attack Superman is mostly frivolous given his lack of weaknesses (which is where the detractors’ issue of kryptonite being his only flaw comes into play), but it’s not attacking him that causes him pain. To really hurt him, you have to attack his humanity and put others in danger. This is why the character is so interesting. He’s not fighting back to try to bring lawfulness to a corrupt city like Batman and his motivation doesn’t stem from vengeance like Spider-man after he loses Uncle Ben. It comes from a simple desire to do good, to take his abilities and use them to help others, working as a savior to humanity.

Perhaps more than any other Superman movie, “Man of Steel” understands this. Although there is plenty of action, much of it occurs in the vicinity of the Metropolis population, all of them put in danger due to the actions of General Zod. When the army shows up to kill the aliens in one scene, their attempt quickly proves futile and Superman has to jump to action, despite the fact that the government doesn’t yet trust him and sees him as an enemy. Their perception of him doesn’t matter and although it would surely be easier to side with Zod, he instead fights for the greater good. Sometimes the Biblical allegory is a bit too on-the-nose, particularly when he floats outside of a crashing spaceship with his arms stretched out in the shape of a crucifix to save a falling Lois Lane (Amy Adams), but it makes it no less interesting.

“Man of Steel” clearly embraces the very idea of the character as this Christ-like figure, but the movie nevertheless goes in its own direction. Some may be surprised to hear that kryptonite is not featured in the movie at all. In fact, it’s not even mentioned and wouldn’t make sense to have given that General Zod is of the same origin as Superman. Although the movie creates a new narratively legitimate physical weakness for him, his real weakness in this movie is his doubt and uncertainty about a world of people he wants to save, but who fear him. In keeping with the Biblical allegory, he comes as a savior, but the people shun him. After saving a bus full of students from drowning in a lake as a child, it’s not gratitude he receives from the parents of the children, but rather suspicion. His parents, played by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, teach him to control his powers, explaining to him that one day his powers will come in handy and he will need to make a decision regarding how to use them.

Of course, his ultimate decision is obvious, but director Zack Snyder, the man behind the visually wondrous “Watchmen” and “300,” makes it feel fresh. The fights, though largely CGI, are a thrill to watch and the camerawork behind them is absolutely fantastic, including one tracking shot moving at what seems like supersonic speed as Superman catches up with Zod as they fly through the air in battle. Similar to the way he took a much beloved movie and made it new with 2004’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” he makes Superman once again appealing for a new generation of moviegoers.

If any flaws can be directed at the movie, it’s that the end of the final battle is a bit anti-climactic and there is a ton of expositional dialogue, perhaps more than any other movie in recent memory, but that dialogue is written so well and delivered so strongly that it’s more palatable than one might be accustomed to. “Man of Steel” is more of a character study than an action movie, which may not appeal to some. Tack on a slow beginning (despite the most glorious and beautiful destruction of Krypton ever put to screen) and a nearly two and a half hour runtime and divisiveness is to be expected. But in my eyes, “Man of Steel” is a sight to behold and it isn’t until you think about it later that its true wonder shines through.

Man of Steel receives 4.5/5

Friday
Sep212012

The Master

I was speaking with one of my critic colleagues after our screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, The Master. When I asked him what he thought of it, he responded, “I feel the same way about it as I did There Will Be Blood. I’m watching it and it’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, then it ends and I’m like, ‘What the hell was the point of that?’” His sentiments, more or less, echo mine. Anderson is no doubt a gifted filmmaker, but he has a strange way of setting up themes that he never fully explores. It’s his frustrating modus operandi and it’s never been more apparent than in The Master. It is most certainly a good film, but its failure to meet ending expectations set by its opening events prevents it from being one of the best of the year.

Heavily criticized by the Church of Scientology as an attack on their beliefs, The Master takes place post-WWII and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, a war veteran who is coasting aimlessly through this new peacetime, unsure of what the future holds for him. One night, during a drunken stupor, he stumbles onto a boat run by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and passes out. He wakes up in the middle of the ocean and begins to learn who Lancaster is, discovering that he’s the founder of a faith-based organization called “The Cause.” Despite Freddie’s violent outbursts, the two strike up a friendship and Freddie quickly becomes Lancaster’s right hand man.

Paul Thomas Anderson is masterful director. His movies are beautifully shot and he always gets the absolute best out of his performers. He even managed to turn Adam Sandler, who had been thought of as nothing more than a goof at the time, into an acting powerhouse in 2002’s blissful Punch-Drunk Love. He knows when he has something good going and often opts to shoot in one continuous take, letting his actors do what they’re supposed to and giving the film a gritty realism, one that is unparalleled by any other filmmaker working today. His eye for detail and accompanying techniques to capture them, which include what one could only call an anti-shot-reverse-shot, in that his camera stays on one actor rather than editing back and forth based on who’s talking, are masterful strokes from a brilliant filmmaker.

That reason right there is enough to see The Master. It’s practically guaranteed to be nominated for multiple Oscars in the upcoming awards season (including Joaquin Phoenix, who should be a shoo-in win), but mainly due to its technical expertise. Where it flounders is in its telling of its story. I hesitate to say Anderson isn’t a good storyteller because he definitely is—this film is captivating from its first frame of frothy ocean water to its last—but it never finds meaning, or at least not the one he sets up. Early in the movie, the mystery behind this so-called religion is the film’s driving force. The themes he sets up about science vs. religion are fascinating. At times, it’s an indictment of unfounded religious thinking, exploring the idea that people will believe any religious ideology if their mind has been shaped—some may say manipulated—into believing. This is a movie that knows full well that the idea of God is planted in the mind. It’s not an inherent trait. Regardless of whether you’re religious or not, this is an important issue worth looking into given how much religion shapes so many world events.

But then the movie switches gears. It becomes less about religion and more about the relationship between Freddie and Lancaster, the latter refusing to shun the former, wanting only to help him through his meandering life. This story is no less interesting, mind you, and you’ll be so engrossed in what’s happening that it won’t be until late in the movie that you’ll realize the focus has changed. Nevertheless, this sudden shift from sharp religious commentary to broad character study is more than a little disappointing. That’s not to say that every movie needs to have some intellectual point to make on any given topic—most movies get by just fine without one—but setting one up and then suddenly dropping it comes off as unfocused. If this shift was indeed the intent, one can’t help but wonder why the none-too-subtle comparisons to the founding of Scientology, down to names, dates and locations were made to begin with.

In the end, The Master fails to fulfill its promise, though it would be unfair to say its intellectualism evaporates; it just moves it onto something else. Despite a lingering feeling of disappointment once the credits roll, there’s so much good here, so much talent on display, that it would be a crime to call it anything other than a great film. It stands right alongside the rest of this year’s other great films, though, really, that should be taken as both a compliment and a criticism. With the right focus, it could have stood above them.

The Master receives 4/5

Wednesday
Nov232011

The Muppets

In the mid-50’s, the late Jim Henson introduced the world to the Muppets and for over 50 years, they’ve entertained generations of children and the young at heart. Although it debuted before my time, reruns of The Muppet Show dominated my childhood. I loved the catchy tunes, celebrity appearances and silly puppetry that show spotlighted. Memories from watching it have stuck with me over the past 25 years and I’m grateful for them. In a way, they’ve kept me forever young and even today, those episodes are just as entertaining as ever. For those not yet old enough to have memories of the Muppets, the newest movie, succinctly titled The Muppets, is a great and lively introduction, but for people like me, this is a wondrous treat. It brings back everything that was great about the Muppets and is guaranteed to leave all but the most hardened moviegoers with a smile.

The Muppets follows two brothers, Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (a puppet played by Peter Linz). Gary is in a relationship with Mary (Amy Adams) and they are on their way to Los Angeles for their 10 year anniversary. With Mary’s approval, Gary brings Walter along so they can tour the old Muppets studio. When they get there, they find out that the studio is about to be sold to Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), an oil tycoon who is going to tear it down and drill the ground it rests on. To save it, $10 million must be raised, so Walter, along with Gary and Mary, head off to reteam the old Muppet gang, beginning with the one and only Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire).

Thanks to movies like Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (the less said about both, the better), the public’s interest in the Muppets began to wane, and with good reason. They hadn’t done much in recent years and what they did do wasn’t particularly memorable. So what I’m about to say may surprise you: you miss them. You might not know it yet, but you do and this movie will prove it. But it doesn’t prove it simply by being a good movie. It does it with an emotional narrative wrapped around the revival of The Muppet Show that asks whether the Muppets are still relevant and if the public still cares about them. (They are and we do.) Watching The Muppets brings back a wave of nostalgia while simultaneously keeping you in the moment and it will set your imagination wild, a feat matched in recent years only by last year’s Toy Story 3.

As with most Muppet adventures, part of the fun of The Muppets is spotting all the cameos. Some are obvious, like Emily Blunt reprising her role from The Devil Wears Prada, and others will only be noticeable to a select few, like a certain rock star who plays the part of Animal in a Muppets cover band (humorously named The Moopets). But the real pleasure comes from the witty writing, which is filled with self-referential humor that acknowledges it’s a musical movie, and the song and dance numbers themselves. The songs are fun, catchy, occasionally sad and the choreography is excellent. By the time the film gets around to singing one of the Muppets’ most cherished and recognizable songs, tears of joy will be streaming down your face.

All in all, this is a delight and any faults are minor at most. Due to the fact that many of the original puppeteers did not participate in this movie, some of the voices sound a bit off and the love story between Mary and Gary is dispensable. The real heart comes in the form of Gary’s relationship with his brother Walter and Walter’s love for the Muppets, which ultimately leads to him finding himself. The tacked on relationship seems forceful and there only for the purpose of having a pretty leading lady, though to be fair, Amy Adams is radiant in the role; the most lovable she has been since winning everybody over in 2007’s Enchanted.

In a way, The Muppets almost feels like a send off for our old friends. It does what any final installment would and brings the story full circle, taking the characters back to their roots and having them relive their magic one last time. Though I’m sure not intended, if this is the last time we see those rascally puppets on the big screen, they can be proud they went out with style. But if we’re lucky, this will be only the first in a string of many more fantastical adventures.

The Muppets receives 4.5/5