Tag Archives: Amy Adams

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Her

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

HER

  1. Her, a near future depiction of a world where the OS on our computing devices is far from artificial and much more intelligent (the incredible episode, “Be Right Back,” from the UK’s transcendent anthology television series, Black Mirror, goes one step further), is at once a haunting and depressing reality and at the same time a stunningly provocative and beautiful commentary on the increasingly blurred lines of our connectivity.  The technology may be a few steps ahead of today (Siri is still getting her feet wet as a reliable assistant), but the emotional understanding could not be more current.
  2. The “Him” in Her is played with a delicate accessibility that has been vacant in the more recent career of the always great Joaquin Phoenix.  The result is immediate buy-in.  This allows his relationship with “Her” to come alive in reality and not in fantasy (Can you imagine Phoenix’s character from The Master or that weird, bearded rapper he played in real life interacting honestly with an OS?  Nope.).  “Her” is performed by Scarlett Johannson in what may be the most memorable vocal acting performance since Robin Williams’ genie in Aladdin.  Ms. Johannson’s seductive tones and “I just woke up on a weekend morning” rasp create an immediate allure.  Her chemistry with Phoenix is undeniable.  They are as genuine and honest as both characters believe the relationship to be.  Subsequently, the audience does not for a moment question the veracity of their feelings and openly accepts the possibility of this technological advance.  (One additional note: Samantha Morton originally portrayed Samantha.  She was on set, in the room, responding live and Joaquin was responding to her.  When Spike Jonze’s team went to record the dialogue in the studio, it just wasn’t working, so Johannson was brought on as replacement.  To know that Johannson’s performance was responding to only footage and tape of Joaquin’s performance is even more impressive.)
  3. Well played, production team of Her.  The production design and costumes of Her create a near future of mustaches, high wasted pants, and retro colors that make sense and speak to realistic fashion trends.  The technology design has a simplicity and artfulness that is rooted in the already established movements in the field.  The musical score adds a lush color to the already transformative visual mosaic.  Its melancholic beauty is tone affirming,
  4. Her, by a wide margin, features my favorite Amy Adams performance of the year (Take that Man of Steel and American Hustle).
  5. Her is a film set in the future that has both currency today and will have continued resonance as it ages.  Although very much a byproduct of a soon to be now, its timeless relationship truths are as universal as its title.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Holiday Season Edition

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

It’s been a while.  ’Tis the season to be busier than usual and this holiday season proved to be a formidable foe to free time.  Consequently, this post will feature not one, but three movies that I have seen in recent days and weeks.  Let us hope that the beginning of 2014 affords more time…

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

  1. I trudged out of the movie theater into the bristly cold, New England night after the three hour runtime of The Wolf of Wall Street believing the following things to be true: I was exhausted, I needed a shower to clean myself from the unrelenting visual debauchery of the cocaine hooker-ville that was this latest Martin Scorsese picture, and I DID NOT like the movie I had just watched.

  2. I also believed the following things to be true: I had just witnessed the best acting performance of 2013, the best acting performance of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career, Martin Scorsese’s best film since Goodfellas (I am looking at you, The Departed), and a masterpiece (despite the length and the redundancy of misbehavior) of a movie.

  3. Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely phenomenal in The Wolf of Wall Street.  His performance as the morally incompetent, but toxically charismatic wolf, Jordan Belfort, is physically and emotionally fearless, breathtaking scene after scene after scene, and as naked (literally and metaphorically) as I have ever seen Leo.   Here, he is the movie star he was always destined to be – free from any inhibition and constraint to cruise control (and frequently out of) his way through an unyielding barrage of the baddest behavior.  His scene work and chemistry with fellow actors is the best of his career and rivals his work with Kate Winslet, his professional star-crossed lover.  Although content-wise, I would not recommend The Wolf of Wall Street to many in or out of my circle, for anyone who enjoys the movies, you must see this pinnacle performance of Leo’s career.

  4. Although appreciating and respecting his body of work and fully believing he is the on the Mount Rushmore of American filmmakers, I have never been on Team Scorsese (I play for Team Spielberg and more recently, for Team Nolan).  What makes Martin Scorsese prolific has never aligned with what I most love about cinema.  Notwithstanding, The Wolf of Wall Street is a great Martin Scorsese movie and it is hard to believe he could possibly ever have had as much fun making a movie before.  Scorsese creates a vast playground for his actors to take unheard of risks, push every possible button of squeamish discomfort and unchecked mayhem, and to challenge each other to go there.  Every actor in the movie is on some level of awesome and career best (The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal was my biggest surprise performance and could not have strayed further from the dopey anguish of Shane).  Jonah Hill (brilliantly cast) gives Leonardo DiCaprio his best and most consistent scene partner (their several near death flirtations in the movie are the clear frontrunners for best scenes), but I may have been even more impressed with Scorsese’s work with the relatively green, Margot Robbie.  She matches the brilliant DiCaprio during each of their marital trysts slap for punch (as excruciating to watch as it was) in a way that speaks to the free creative expression on-set environment that Scorsese must have crafted.

  5. The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie, unlikeable, oftentimes unwatchable, and certainly interpretable as not an indictment, but rather a glorified celebration of the filthy excess and monetary tomfoolery of the protagonist’s world, that provides an exhilarating, exhausting, awesome cinematic ride.  It is not out of contention as potential motion picture in the foreseeable future as either a tentpole of DiCaprio and Scorsese’s outstanding careers or sooner, if critical momentum leads to some Academy Award success.

American Hustle

AMERICAN HUSTLE

  1. American Hustle, portrayed as a cacophony of the 1970s (in music, fashion, culture, and sleaziness) in its trailers, does not disappoint in its period pizazz, but rather in its totally messy storytelling and filmmaking.  Much of its direction and focus feels arbitrary.  It is a movie about too many things so that the ultimate result is that is about nothing at all.

  2. As one could expect from a David O. “character is my focus” Russell film, many of the performances in American Hustle are strong.  Bradley Cooper has a tremendous amount of fun and seems to have been given free reign over his dialogue.  Christian Bale is in method mode, forty pounds heavier, and doing some skillful physical acting.  Although Jennifer Lawrence, America’s muse for over a year now, is woefully miscast and far too young for the part, she manages to sparkle and shine through many of her scenes.  Amy Adams manages to salvage much of the confusion surrounding her character with some expected professional work.

  3. These strong, scene-chewing performers and characters could have all carried their own movies, but put together in American Hustle, they amount to very little.  The parts are far greater than the some in this case.

  4. If meant to be a crime caper, American Hustle lacks the requisite scintillating plot twists.  As a picture about governmental corruption, it puts its foot in the water for too brief a second to matter.  As a movie about a combustible love triangle among relatable characters, it is just too confusing.

  5. American Hustle is a movie that, despite its on paper goods, fails to connect, to entertain, and to inspire any passion.  Without a full understanding of what it aims to do and be, the audience are the ones who are left feeling hustled.

Saving Mr. Banks

SAVING MR. BANKS

  1. Saving Mr. Banks does not focus on the making of Mary Poppins, but rather on the courtship of Disney, in the form of Walt (played with American Dream warmth by Tom Hanks) and his writing team, to P.L. Travers and all of the curmudgeonry that comes with her in a belabored attempt to acquire the rights to her book.  As Mrs. (do not call her Pam!) Travers roadblocks each intersection of the direction that Team Disney wants to take, we are more exposed to how her childhood in the Australian Outback may inform her decisions in the present than to why it matters to her now.  The flashback connections do not always yield logical results (seriously though, why not the color red?), and we are left with the impression that Mrs. Travers is just being difficult.

  2. If you are going to see Saving Mr. Banks, it will be worth it to set up a Mary Poppins refresher viewing first.  Much of the whimsy, effective writing, and referential fun of Saving Mr. Banks is in comparison and with a heightened understanding of the motion picture, Mary Poppins.

  3. Although there is a some reasonable chatter contesting just how historically accurate this telling of the Mary Poppins rights acquisition is, the vision of early 1960s Disney studios, Disney hotel welcome packages, Disney rehearsal room door decals, and Disneyland Main Street USA autograph seekers are all a series of the most delightful period movie ornamentation that I have seen in some time (and an appreciated pace change from the bombastic sites and sounds from the seedier scenes of the movies discussed earlier).  For a studio where “movie magic” seems to be one of the ultimate goals, mission accomplished.

  4. Just to clarify: Saving Mr. Banks, a story about the writer of the book that became the movie Mary Poppins (one of the most successful motion pictures ever made by Walt Disney Pictures) and her dealings with Walt Disney, was made by Walt Disney Pictures.  As mentioned, access to certain forms of visual authenticity may be appreciatively enhanced, whereas the objectivity in regards to the less favorable side of all things Disney (including the portrayal of Walt himself) is harder to value.

  5. Saving Mr. Banks is a delicate, delectable, and most pleasant movie that aspires to create a tale of great emotional power (the flashback trope is a constant visitor) out of something far simpler.  When centered on P.L. Travers battles with Walt Disney and the Sherman musical tandem over details and content, there is certain “inside the actor’s studio” intrigue (especially since I had seen Mary Poppins just hours before).  There is additional interest in Travers’ childhood flashback world, but when an attempt is made to fully understand her present obstinance out of her past memories, we are left without knowing really what to say.  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, indeed.

 

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Man of Steel

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

MAN OF STEEL

1) Man of Steel, the bombastic latest cinema incarnation of the iconic comic book legend, is a fiery hot mess of a movie that explodes at every turn with uncontrollable destruction of unspecific metropoli (meant to be Metropolis), characters that are not even attempted to be developed, and a world that has not earned the audience’s right to be saved.  Like most pictures that have Christopher Nolan’s name attached to them (here he gets story and producer credits), Man of Steel is an ambitious work that does strive for a certain kind of greatness, but it focuses too much on the wrong parts of the tale (see: everything to do with General Zod) and not enough on the parts that genuinely captivate (see: Clark’s childhood travails with the perfectly cast Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent).  Like most pictures that are directed by Zack Snyder, action sequences sure looks grey, grand, and ruinous, but he struggles to give us viable reasons to care and compelling people to care about.  The character of Superman has always been a challenge to depict.  As an alien creature to Earth with uncanny super powers, there is an inherent challenge in the character construction with audience empathy and connection.  This is why Batman has always been that much more interesting because we, with some financial wherewithal and proper training, could envision a scenario where we could wear the cape and cowl ourselves.  This is also why Superman stories (most notably in the long-running WB and CW tween soap Smallville) focus on Clark Kent and his growing pains assimilating to a world in which he is unlike any other.  Batman and Clark Kent are relatable.  Man of Steel flirts and dabbles with the Clark side of the equation (to much admitted success), but spends too much time mounting intergalactic warfare that amounts to very little substance.

2) It would be one thing to have given Clark Kent a more developed foundation, but Man of Steel, as any Superman telling must, spends too little time with his human surroundings.  Snyder relies on our past understanding of the Superman world to fill in a plethora of character gaps.  We only know that we are supposed to care about Perry White (Laurence Fishbourne picking up a paycheck now that his weekly CSI salary is off the books) because we have before, but there is so little energy given to his development that by the time he is the face of a city on the path of destruction, he doesn’t really matter to us.  When one of his Daily Planet minions, Jenny (an intern perhaps, I don’t know and I don’t care), finds herself caught amidst a pile of rubble (of which there quite a few), are we supposed to care when crafty character actor (and a high point of House of Cards) Michael Kelly pulls her out?  Do we really care when Detective Stabler (you left SVU for this?) comes around on Superman’s positive intentions or Toby Ziegler makes noteworthy scientific observations?  I think Snyder thinks we will, but again, thirty-seconds of screen time caring for a character does not make.  Lois Lane (played delightfully by Amy Adams – more on this in no. 4), strangely in the center of all alien (and very non-human) interplay and given a substantial amount of screen time, seems to make decisions without consequence, logic. or any degree of realistic motivation.  She throws herself into every dangerous fray because we are told she is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, but we do not understand why nor do we get to access any part of her deeper inner self.  To her credit, Adams plays her like there is more there, but I guess we will have to wait for the inevitable sequel.  Finally, as this bullet touches on the people of Man of Steel, why aren’t there more people in this movie?  Earth seems inhabited by maybe a couple of hundred (or as many extras that showed up).  Metropolis sure has buildings to destroy, but it seems largely vacant from any human life.  Unless you are an insurance company raking in property damage residuals, the stakes for Earth never seem that high because Earth appears to be a planet made up of a small town in the middle of Kansas, a fishing village in the Pacific northwest, and a ghost town of a Metropolis that has a thriving newsroom.

3) General Zod, played grumpily by Michael Shannon with a bad, late 90s boy band trim, is a terrible villain.  When he is spitting out speeches about saving Krypton and furthering his race of his people or creating havoc in product-placed American institutions like Sears and IHOP, I am not sure if he is supposed to be funny or whether it is a good time to take a bathroom break.  Either Michael Shannon is woefully miscast or General Zod lacks any charisma as a character.  I would argue both.

4) Unfortunately, Man of Steel has some promising raw material that is never brought to fruition.  Casting Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, Clark’s Earth parents, is expert casting 101.  Costner is right at home as a dad on a midwestern farm (“If you build it, he will come!”) and is a perfect counterpart for the ageless and wonderful Lane.  Their too few scenes together with younger versions of Clark are electric (as presented in this beautiful, misleading trailer from last summer) and would have been a better focus for this movie.  Henry Cavill, especially when moonlighting as a fisherman/barkeep, is a captivating force on screen and could have been that much more effective had he been given more Clark time and less “punch out with Zod” time.  His chemistry with Amy Adams (a performer who holds her own against many different types of leading men – see: The Master or The Fighter) has great potential, but sadly much of their more intimate time together is only alluded to.  We gather that they have shared something important (upon a mutual visit to a Kansas cemetery), but Snyder decides not to show us the actual conversation (oops).  I would have loved to have watched a different movie with more Cavill and Adams getting to know one another and more Clark growing up with Costner and Lane as parents.  This would have been a Man of Steel that had some wings to fly on.

5) Man of Steel is movie of unrealized ambition and direction that unfortunately plows a path of story, character, and audience enjoyment destruction.  It strives to be as iconic as its lead character, but plays the wrong notes too loudly and the right notes too softly and not frequently enough (I am not talking about the expected professional score from Nolan go-to Hans Zimmer).  It could have been built on some wonderful raw material (the Cavill-Adams-Costner-Lane foursome could not be a better place to start), but the Kryptonian/General Zod infrastructure falls apart as easily as the CGI buildings Zod knocks down.