Thursday, August 7, 2014

Her - Review

Strange looking back now that I thought Her looked like a disaster. That Joaquin Phoenix guy was fresh back from madness. The trailer was just odd. Why would anyone, ever, fall in love with a machine? Not even an android. Some little hipster iPhone of a thing. Nevertheless, I pride myself on watching all science-fiction movies so in I went.

The short story, here, is that Her is perfect in every single way. I mean that. Technically flawless. Masterfully told. I saw the film quite a while ago and was excited to review it until I actually sat down to do so. I found I didn’t want to break it down or talk about it. I just wanted to watch it again. I wanted everyone to just watch it. It speaks for itself better than I ever could.

The sole facet that bugged me at first was the wardrobe. I’d call it “hipster” but concede that’s a moving target. Beltless pants from the 70’s or 80’s. Pastel shirts. What it did in the end was make the future feel warm. Free to use Artificial Intelligence and not conjure images of 2001 or Blade Runner in the audience. Without a bloated special effects budget or LED lights glued to every surface, Her sold me on the idea this was a different Earth. My expectations for “normal” human behavior needed to be checked.

Which led right into a smooth introduction of the A.I., Samantha. I imagine, should one find themselves fortunate enough to have a conversation with Scarlett Johansson in bed, this is what she sounds like. Unguarded. She projects nothing. It is only compassion and sweetness. Objections or apprehensions to machine / human bonding are obliterated in scant words and a minute. It’s no longer “if” Theodore will fall in love with her but why is he’s still denying it. This is the first conversation. In which they exchange names. I was floored.

And I stayed right there for the entire movie. Captured? I went along with every movement, no matter how minor. Their relationship was real to me. It ebbed and flowed according to their desires and moods. I don’t see how anyone could turn in better performances. The whole cast. Far from being a silly concept, I thought this was the perfect scenario to explore so much of the modern relationship. Changes arise organically, without the need for external forces to force a choice on either party. There aren’t any tricks to the plot. Her is way too smart for that.

What’s most impressive is not that Her executed perfectly, but that it reached for something new. To be so confident in an off-kilter concept, to play itself out without concession to skeptics. Truly a beautiful project.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy - Review

Not even a comic book movie has any right to be as dumb as Guardians is. Had I watched the movie from Zoe Saldana’s lap I’d still complain about it. Yet, that doesn’t matter! The Marvel Fanatics have already, at 5pm Friday, made this some record breaking opening weekend. They don’t read reviews. The people who call this a Star Wars knock-off aren’t going to see it and aren’t reading reviews. For posterity?

Guardians is meant to expand the Marvel Universe. It seems all Marvel movies do anymore is expand. Setup a new “Phase” or character. Credit to those running the studio for seeing, correctly, it doesn’t matter what the plot is. Avengers featured ramping aliens coming through a portal and a nuke nearly going off over New York City. It was monstrously cliché. It was called the greatest superhero movie ever made.

The Guardians juggle a gem of cosmic power, at first for money then because it’s real strong. No, there isn’t anything more to explain than that. No, it’s not symbolic in any way. It’s purple. A big purple guy wants the purple gem so he sends this other, smaller but still pretty large, blue guy to retrieve it. The over anxious Marvel nerd, “talking” in a voice to fill the theater, can tell you why the blue guy is called Ronan the Accuser. Or what the hell a Kree is. But I will save you time and tell you it doesn’t matter.

Another keen insight on display here is that Villains Don’t Need To Have Any Character. Or development. They just need a big, monolithic, spaceship. Made of black stone. Thanos sits on a throne in a field of rocks! Subtle. Our Ronan kills someone within seconds of being introduced. That particular “subplot” is done and over right there. I understand these films are aimed to include children, but as a youngin’, I was quick to understand the dark figure in the dark room wearing dark makeup attended to by darkly robed minions, spouting some nonsense about “wrongs done” to no one, was meant to be the foil. The hammer is an apt choice for him.

The most starling moments of the film were when it ceased to represent any sort of fictional world. I didn’t see aliens, just people in full body paint. Dressed in some stupid costume. And everyone making a complete ass of themselves. Truthfully, I looked away during these moments of intense shame to spare the actor. It was embarrassing for me to be in the theater. To see a movie fall apart like that… Not even the worst of the worst summer blockbuster films have imploded like that. To be dumb not in the service of anything greater. But just to be dumb.

The action sequences were plain, sometimes seeming to be unrehearsed. It was odd, too, to see how little the environment was integrated into the pieces. Everything felt like it was shot in a green room. Just a big, empty, green room. There’s no weight to anything. No imagination given to any sequence. I wouldn’t be surprised if any particular shot was reskinned with X-Wings or whatever the hell else Disney wanted. I could see anyone doing everything the Guardians do.

I’m sure Guardians will be praised and remembered for its humor. This must have been the Funny Committee’s first foray into comedy. The approach is to bookend everything. Throw out a million quips or, if possible, have someone dance. A dumb slapstick moment (see any recent animated feature for examples) followed by a dry observational remark. Maybe two! I found having a ridiculous scene summarized immediately after it occurred with, max, five words, aggravating. The audience I saw it with ate everything up. Barely a flat joke. Chris Pratt did get me a few times despite the low ambition of each bit. If you find teenage boys hilarious, this movie will kill it for you.

I’m trying to understand the popular adjectives slapped on this travesty. “Weird”, “charming”, “unique”. If this is the first science-fiction movie you’ve ever seen, sure! Talking trees are going to blow your mind! Everything felt like a pulpy knock-off to me. It wanted to be B movie but conscious of the fact. It felt like a bastardization of a really great comic book. A 93% on Rotten Tomatoes? As a dumb summer action movie I’d rate Guardians Disappointing. As space-opera I’d call it Abysmal. This is pure Paint by Numbers, Studio drivel. Congratulations on your bajillion dollars.