Posts Tagged ‘Spike Jonze’

1) IDA (DIR. PAWEL PAWLIKOWSKI, POLAND)

Ida, the Polish nun at the heart of Pawlikoski’s WW2 drama, perfectly encapsulates the lightness and darkness of the film, her beetlebug black eyes framed by a saintly, doll-like complexion. Beautifully played by Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida is told she is a Jewish survivor of the holocaust and must meet her aunt before taking her vows. Shot in austere monochrome, the film is a road movie/coming of age tale, with Ida forced to come to terms with her past and decide on her own future. While a black and white holocaust drama might seem heavy going, Pawlikoski has a lightness of touch which elevates it to something greater than simply a sob story.

2) BOYHOOD (DIR. RICHARD LINKLATER, USA)

rsz_boyhood_momentos_de_una_vida_-__ellar_coltrane_mason_finalLinklater’s much heralded drama follows one boy actor from childhood to adolescence, taking in all the growing pains that come with it. While the film often strays into schmaltz and cliche, it is hard not to be affected by the film and project as a whole. Lead actor Ellar Coltrane may have seemed gawky and awkward as the years passed by, but perhaps that is as accurate a reflection of teenager you can get? Estranged parents Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke provide the acting chops and the pathos of adult instability.

3) STRANGER BY THE LAKE (DIR. ALAIN GUIRAUDIE, FRANCE)

StrangerByTheLake_5_Christophe_Paou_Pi.JPGNo-one does voyeurism quite like the French. By a remote lake in rural France Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) cruises the beach for men in order to sate his desires. His attention is piqued by the athletic Michel (Christophe Paou) and soon his lust for him begins to override his moral compass. How dangerous could Michel really be? Guiraudie’s film is a brooding beast, high on intrigue and psychologically complex. It also has a great sense of place; I can’t think of another film that demonstrates the tranquil joy of lake swimming so much.

4) NYMPHOMANIAC PARTS 1 AND 2 (DIR. LARS VON TRIER, DENMARK)

rsz_1rsz_hero_nymphomaniacvol2-2014-1It is a little sad that Von Trier garners more headlines for his antics than his actual films; Nymphomaniac is another interesting addition to his ouevre. Part of his Depression trilogy this epic double header follows Joe, a young girl hurtling through life with a hard-on, unable to satisfy her desire for human flesh. Ably played by Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Joe’s travails are often bleak and brutal- this is Von Trier in a self destructive mood. The film gains power in its sheer scale and rawness of emotion.

5) WINTER SLEEP (DIR. NURI BILGE CEYLAN, TURKEY)

rsz_1rsz_p02ckcsmIf Once upon a time in Anatolia was the brooding, silent brother in the family, then Winter Sleep is the talkative, narcissistic sibling. Aydin runs a remote hotel in rural Anatolia with his sloth-like sister and bored younger wife, all the while indulging his intellectual delusions with vanity book projects. Ceylan’s latest film is occasionally too verbose and meandering in its 3 hour length, yet it often finds its way to a point of real epiphany. The characters are so complex and fluid that you find yourself dividing your loyalty between each of them from moment to moment.

6) LEVIATHAN (DIR. ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV, RUSSIA)

rsz_leviathanBased on a true American news story but with great parallels with contemporary Russian society, Leviathan is the tale of a local fisherman forced to give up his land for a pittance when the greedy local mayor comes calling. Zvyagintsev arrived with one of the greatest debuts of the 21st century in The Return, but his latest film sees the director opting for a more literal, moralistic form of storytelling. The characters and themes are set out in a blunt fashion but the sheer conviction of the actors and the anger of the director shines through.

7) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (DIR. JIM JARMUSCH, USA)

This is a peculiar one. While watching the film, and just after, I was left with mixed feelings about Jarmusch’s latest offering. His re-imagining of the vampire genre had a typically thin story, a penchant for sixth form level philosophy and a somewhat nerdy obsession with guitars and literary figures. There were probably a lot more ‘powerful’ and prescient films being made this year, but this one has stuck. The moody streets of Detroit and the gothic twang of Josef Van Wissem’s score has left a lingering atmosphere, while the central relationship between the evergreen vampires played by  Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston is oddly moving.

8) THE PAST (DIR. ASGHAR FARHADI, FRANCE/IRAN)

Film still from The Past by Asghar FarhadiFarhadi’s twisty family drama follows a family’s disintegration in Paris. Ahmad, the estranged father figure, travels to France to meet his ex-partner Marie and sign their divorce papers. However, he quickly becomes embroiled in family tensions as her new partner Samir is causing friction with her offspring. The film is a treasure chest of lies and misunderstandings, Farhadi creating a meaty drama out of miscommunication. While the film may become too tricksy and melodramatic at points, the quality of the acting and the dialogue makes it a very satisfying watch.

9) FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (DIR. JOHN MALOOF & CHARLIE SISKEL, USA)

rsz_211-628x425This excellent documentary unearthed the fascinating story of Vivien Maier, a New York nanny with a secret life as a master photographer. In the 60’s and 70’s, Maier would go out onto the streets of New York and take fantastic photos of everyday life; children, old pensioners, the rich, the homeless. Remarkably her talents were unknown to her well-to-do employers, and she lived a life of relative anonymity. This sparky film documents the discovery of her photographs to her eventual reappraisal, all the while demonstrating what a singular and complex individual Maier was.

10) HER (DIR. SPIKE JONZE, USA)

rsz_1rsz_her-screen-shotProbably one of the greatest films to reflect the ever blurring lines between online and real life, Jonze crafts an unusual and heartfelt work out of a challenging concept. Theodore (Joaquin Pheonix) is a lonely urbanite from the future who falls in love with his OS computer (seductively voiced by Scarlett Johannson), a completely intuitive, human-like system. The film has a woozy, wistful glow to it and Pheonix is excellent as the repressed lead. Jonze deserves all the plaudits, however, for concocting such a prescient, emotional film out of a far fetched conceit.

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Imagine you were engaged in a conversation with a human being of a bygone era, perhaps the 40’s or 50’s. The conversation inevitably turns to technological advances and they ask you what new wonders have the human race created in the years between. “Well, there’s Twitter, Facebook, iphones, 4Chan, Wikipedia….” Their eyes start to glaze over, bewitched and frightened by these alien words full of possibilities. “But”, you pause, leaning in, ” this all stems from the internet, of course.”

“The internet?”, they whisper. “That’s right, the internet”, you reply.

This is loosely the subject of Spike Jonze’s latest film Her. A woozy, sci-fi romance, it tells the story of Theodore, a lonely 30-something living in a near future LA. Struggling to deal with a recent divorce, he spends his waking hours at work dictating love letters to clients for a corporate company, then retiring home to play computer games or chat to babes online. His world is a Steve Jobs wet dream, an aesthetically perfect, technology driven existence. His office is decorated in giant slabs of gaudy colour, while the LA landscape is a curvaceous, neon-lit utopia.

Theodore is desperately seeking some kind of affection but is unable to find it in the ‘real’ world, despite the encouragement of his coupled up friends Amy and Charles. He finds solace in a new OS (Operating System), a computer generated being (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that is supposed to take charge of his life and takes on an almost human level of understanding. Theodore gradually responds to the warmth and care that ‘Samantha’, his particular OS supplies, and finds himself falling in love. The questions begins to arise for Theodore and the audience; is this love real? Does it matter or not if it isn’t?

Joaquin Phoenix is heartbreaking as the melancholic Theodore. Often swayed to heavier, angst ridden roles, here Phoenix is given space to demonstrate a lighter, more comedic touch. There is an inherent vulnerability to his performances, from the restless vagrant in The Master to the insecure emperor in Gladiator.  Wearing a 70’s style moustache and snazzy slacks, it would be easy to dismiss him as stereotypical nerd. Yet there is something very relatable, particularly in today’s screen led world, in his struggle to find meaning and connection.

Her has a very ambient feel to it, much akin to his former partner Sofia Coppola’s films. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s gauzy, soft cinematography perfectly captures the sleepy, hypnagogic vistas of this future world, while Arcade Fire rein in their bombast for a more muted, contemplative electronic score. If there was to be a small critique in this, it is perhaps that Jonze relies on the ambience of the scenes to carry him through rather than the story, yet these are rare occasions. 

Although Jonze has stepped away from his regular collaborator Charlie Kaufman, you can still feel a strong influence from the writer in Her. On the surface it is quite a gimmicky idea for a film, yet there is an underlying rawness of emotion that ties in to Kaufman’s work. Her works on two levels, which both intertwine; on the one hand, it is an incisive exploration of the emergence of technology and the potentially troubling effect it has on our lives. On the other hand, Her is an earnest, bittersweet portrait of loneliness and isolation, a man unwilling to let go of the past and trying to find love in all the wrong places.

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