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Entries in Rooney Mara (2)

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
Apr302010

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Sleep. It’s something we all need. After a long, hard day, nothing is better than plopping down on a bed and heading to dreamland. But what if you couldn’t fall asleep? What if somebody was haunting your dreams with the ability to kill you? That’s the premise that the Nightmare on Elm Street series has frightened us with for over 25 years. Now the series is getting the reboot with a fresh batch of victims and a new face, with Jackie Earle Haley taking over the role of Freddy Krueger from fan favorite Robert Englund, and, well, it’s not very good.

This Nightmare on Elm Street follows Nancy (Rooney Mara in the Heather Langenkamp role from the original). She’s a high school student who works at a diner and one night finds herself staring at the corpse of a friend who has just inexplicably died in his sleep. It turns out that she and fellow classmates Quentin (Kyle Gallner), Kris (Katie Cassidy) and Jesse (Thomas Dekker) have all been having the same nightmares involving a burnt, scarred, hideous man with knives on his fingers. It seems real to them and soon they find out that it is. They start to drop one by one in their sleep and must quickly find out what is happening before they find themselves asleep for good.

At its inception in 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street was original and terrifying. Freddy Krueger wasn’t simply a psycho who you could outrun and escape from. He was in your head as you slept and if he cut you in there, you were cut in real life. It was a slasher done right. But as the years went on, and the movie studios pumped out more and more sequels, Freddy became a joke. The terror he once instilled in viewers vanished and was taken over by nutty one-liners that slowly diminished the character until he became irrelevant with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991. It wasn’t until Wes Craven, who helmed the original, returned in 1994 with New Nightmare that people began to once again see the intense fear Freddy could bring.

Craven took a character that had become so marketed that children were walking around with Freddy dolls and somehow made him scary again. He is the only person that has ever seen the true potential in the character (as he should be since he created him). This remake, as promising as the trailers made it out to be, only reinforces that statement.

This is not the Freddy I want to see. It tries to balance the scary Freddy with the jokester and it doesn’t work. It becomes an uneven mishmash of two parts that never fit solidly into place to begin with. Although I’m sure there were a few quips in the original, Freddy was more subdued. His rhetoric never became so jocular that you stopped taking him seriously. He remained frightening through the conclusion. Here, the film sets up a scene for fright and sometimes succeeds, but it’s usually followed by some stupid pun that effectively sucks all of the tension away.

It’s trying to be fun, but then again, Freddy isn’t fun. He’s a child molester and murderer. He’s not a character to root for. This isn’t Friday the 13th. You don’t want to see the monster win, but this film sure tries to make you think you do.

In fact, for the entire movie it almost forces you to. Unless you’re familiar with the mythology of the character (and if you aren’t, I suggest stopping reading now because spoilers follow), you won’t know that he was a sick human until the end. He is not taken to trial and let off on a technicality as in the original. Here he is simply burnt alive by the town’s adults over the speculation that he may have molested their kids. Nothing was ever proven and the film makes you think that he’s really just doing this for revenge. In a way, it's twisted justification.

But the film’s biggest flaw is its rapid pacing. At a brisk 95 minutes, A Nightmare on Elm Street flies to its end, but tries to force in as many nightmare scenes as possible, resulting in far too much screen time for the monster. A new approach to dreams in this remake comes in the form of “micro-naps,” a phase insomniacs get to when they haven’t had sleep where they start to dream when they’re awake (which believe it or not, is actually real). Because of this, the film jumps from the dream world to reality and back as quickly as you can take in breaths. It has little downtime and shows Freddy too much.

And as the best horror films have taught us, the scariest monsters are the ones that are hidden. When one is shown often, it becomes the star of the movie and distracts from the eeriness that the character is supposed to emit. When Freddy is first seen, it’s from behind and from the chest down. You see only his claw as he slides the blades together. This is in the opening scene of the movie and is a great way to introduce the character. It establishes his presence while still maintaining the mystery behind him. This is ruined about a minute later where he is fully shown and dispatches his first victim. His frightening allure was gone before the title card even appeared.

This is no fault of Jackie Earle Haley, mind you, who is quite good in his first outing as Freddy. If there was going to be anybody to take the beloved place of Robert Englund and do it well, it was going to be Haley. He takes the character and reinvigorates him. He plays him in a way that promises dread and is hampered only by the screenplay which doesn’t allow him to reach it.

The look of the film is also very good. The visuals, especially for a horror film, are stunning. The director, Samuel Bayer, most known for his music video work with bands such as Green Day, Metallica and the Smashing Pumpkins, makes this thing look good. He brings his unique visual style and lays it all on the table, delivering along with Haley that desired sense of dread that is, again, hampered by the lackluster screenplay.

The idea of not being able to fall asleep and having no escape if you do is still scary to this day. It taps into a state of being that everyone regardless of age, gender, race or class experiences. With this amazing premise and a terrifying villain, I find it kind of shocking how easily this film misses the mark. It does some things well, but most things not and fails to bring back the scary Freddy I’ve pined for since 1994. Lower those high hopes now kiddies, because A Nightmare on Elm Street is bound to disappoint.

A Nightmare on Elm Street receives 2/5