HER (2013): “an upgrade to your computer worth a damn”

So this is a film which made me cry like a goddamn child. Dude brings up video games on the first date, I mean shit. Is this me? Am I watching my love life on screen right now? No of course not, Jonze’s sensitive modern man actually goes on dates. Anyway. This film is one of those rare confluences for me, happened with Inherent Vice, happened with Synecdoche, New York and I’m sure it’ll happen again.

Her tackles the themes of love, loss, loneliness and the happiness and sadness you get from “the one”. It has a cool Tumblr-esque hipster chic in the wardrobe, and an even cooler ultra-modern plausible futurism in the production (serious props to the fusion of Shanghai and LA here). It has Joaquin Fucking Phoenix, the best living actor for my money (check out The Master if you disagree, then fight me). It has a soundtrack by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett. It’s written (for the first time he did an original script) and directed by Spike Jonze.

Murphy’s Law shoulda kicked in with a vengeance here, but it all comes together in a perfect snowball of tear jerking beauty. Theodore Twombly is one of the most sympathetic, lifelike characters I’ve seen in a romance film, with his relationship with Samantha being one of the most human I’ve ever experienced. It’s just one of the most touching love stories on screen. And it’s a man and an OS. Christ.

Hoyte Van Hoytema, who y’all may know from Spectre or Interstellar these days, continues to be one of the greatest cinematographers in the business, with production design and blocking which allows his central framing shot design and vibrant colour palettes to truly shine, and really sell the isolation of Theodore and the glam of future LA, it’s genuinely gorgeous and I am baffled this aspect went unrewarded. Unless it went against Gravity, in which case… nah, still better shot.

So if I was to be told in 2013 a film about a man who falls in love with his computer would become one of my all-time favourites, I’d have laughed heartily. But, well, here we are.

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ANOMALISA (2015): “Kafka in the chore”

TOM SCUDAMORE

Kaufman is a stellar storyteller, there’s no doubt about it. Anomalisa is far from anything he has dared explore in his previous works, and it’s all for the fact that there’s only three voices in this feature-length animation which, uniquely, toys between adult narratives with childish visual display.

There’s misreadings and a weird distortion of time and space throughout this film. Cocktails and chitchat are irrelevant once Michael, voiced by David Thewlis, meets his love and can only hear her voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh). ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ is one fun song to throw into a drama that is ultimately melancholic and filled with human observation. But Anomalisa isn’t trying to exert itself as strange. It’s unfortunately communicated as strange, but the bizarre can only fascinate once you know this is a film responding to hotel rooms, mental health, loneliness and the epidemic of identity crises.

Like Kaufman’s screenplays for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, Anomalisa is the illusion of entrapping a character in a tiny box and letting them feel love that is far beyond the boundaries of said tiny box. There’s artistic yearning for greatness in everything that Kaufman does. He achieved it with a lil’ film called Synecdoche, New York – and he achieves it again here.

Who else is doing such extraordinary stuff, I ask?

JOHN MULCAHEY

Anomalous and Lisa. That red streaked woman who captures a depressed writer’s heart becomes less of a special prospect when shown against Kaufman’s larger category of works – she has notes of a classic archetype in his works of the not so manic pixie dream girl, apparent in everything bar Synecdoche, New York. Yet, the revelation of the formula does nothing to impact the charm and brilliance of Anomalisa.

Form, specifically, is where it shines. The main character is ground down by the daily routine, stuck in a plateau of the average and meaningless. Kafka is brought to the daily routine through many same faced people, all voiced by one man, which truly does make us understand, if not exactly empathise with, Michael’s behaviour. This is highlighted especially by the pacing, glacial and contemplative, it does drag but with an acute intention. Kaufman wants us to understand just how Michael feels, and does so with a success which may work, or may really drive a viewer away. Perhaps this is intentional, or perhaps it is simply a by-product of the doubling in run time from the original 40 minute goal.

Yet, coming off the back of Synecdoche, New York (the example of post-modernist cinema), Anomalisa is disappointing. Kaufman cast his weird gaze inwards and tackled a lot of himself and his own works within that film, whereas Anomalisa seems to revel in them, once again referring to the “formula” employed. It’s still worth a watch, with fantastic dialogue and characterisation as per, but I can’t help but view it as a regression. Still, a piece of writing this thoughtful remains as anomalous as the love interest.

I’d like to apologise for this review, it clearly isn’t my finest piece of writing that I’ve thrown up on this blog, but hey. Kinda fitting, right?

A Spectacularly Brief Essay on Filmmaking

JOHN MULCAHEY

So recently, I was able to make probably the first slightly professional short film I’ve ever made. We had a successful kickstarter and raised a little budget of about £200, and we’re now in the process of editing the whole she-bang together. Sooner of later my colleague will have a little review on this very blog of it.

My role was to write the fucker. I had to deliver a five page script based on the idea of people struggling to think of an idea for a film. To do that, I got to get very, very angry and satirical. I shat on Tarantino (something which gave me great joy), European Art Cinema, Romance films and 80s action films. The script is balanced between “pitches” and arguments written in “angrish”. I’d like to say it was a fantastically smooth process, but it never is. It sure as hell was an enjoyable one though, and I’m quite excited to see the final piece when it’s cobbled together.

Hope to share it with all 12 of you when I get the all clear, if not… well, shit.

Peace!

 

SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927): “before sunset”

Well, honestly, for a film student I haven’t exactly seen many films recently. I’ve come to find that the ones I actively want to watch disappear from cinemas near me before I even get the chance. That means you, The Witch. But, I do occasionally attend my lectures, and that brings me to FW Murnau’s Sunrise.

Post Nosferatu but pre… well, lets not delve into that. Released in 1927, Sunrise is a simplistic, corny and melodramatic love story with a shade of “that’s not okay.” But you know what, it excels perfectly in humanism and emotional honesty, something which appears to be increasingly lacking in more recent love stories. Maybe it’s the expressionism talking, but the relationship between The Man and The Wife (yes those are their actual credits, played expertly and expressively by George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor) is perhaps one of the most endearing ones I’ve seen. Every moment they are together as The Man desperately tries to patch up their relationship is pitch perfect, and often extremely tender.

After a misguided attempt to murder her, The Man chases her and takes her on the whirlwind romance so often dreamed of in film, but scarcely ever represented so beautifully. Yes, it is initially creepy. But, honesty who cares! The way the two interact is heart-warming and truly believable, with the chemistry between the two leads being constantly magnetising. Without saying a word, the pair go through something special and truly hook you in, making you believe in this relationship and utterly rooting for it to work. I was definitely swept up in the moment as the narrative took it’s final dark turns, and I was there with the man as he frantically searched for his lost love in the darkness of the sea.

The title too, is brilliant. Sunrise follows a temporal flair so rarely employed in today’s cinema, allowing the time of day to reflect the mood, with a beautiful sunrise accompanying the tender moments and a suffocating darkness punctuated with a sinister full moon, the worst. This is even shown in the basic narrative – they have a grand night on the town to rekindle the lost love, with the city perfectly contrasted in it’s lustrous glow as the night is in full swing. It’s just wonderful, truly.

I’d say the film is a shining example of German expressionism, using the environments and some incredible filmic techniques to demonstrate the emotion of the narrative, far beyond other films in this style. It really reflects the strength of the movement’s artistic capabilities as it draws you in and refuses to let you go. Definitely a song of two humans.

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004): “eternal sunshine of the spotless film”

Dear Mr Kaufman,

I wonder how many people tell you how much your films mean to them. You always go for those big, universal questions, and wrap them around a narrative very easy to relate to… it’s like you just understand how to tap into that big collective unconscious we all have as a society, and tell us something big about love or life, or how to move on and come to terms with anything, really. I’m a gigantic fan of Synecdoche, New York. It fucking moves me, every time, but I’ve written about it before.

So, Eternal Sunshine. You wrote this magical film, with such a depressing tone and one of this deep longing for the perfect moment, with the perfect person, and the fragility of love and memory. You make Jim Carrey’s best character. You make one of the most scarily predictive pieces of science fiction of recent times, especially with the recent announcement that we can now replace and edit memories. I wonder if it happens just like in your film, with Mark Ruffallo getting stoned and fucking around inside your head to find that specific memory, allowing it to dissolve and go away.

I’m going to keep this brief, but I think this film is perfect, or as close as cinema can come to it, and that’s basically because of your beautifully constructed and executed narrative. Your characters are compelling, flawed and thoroughly human, with their interactions so nuanced and raw it becomes difficult to not root for them, even in spite of their issues and general misanthropy. I even remember the morning after watching this film, I lent the copy to my friend and they watched it in the kitchen, and I wondered in at the ending. Everything clicked a second time, and the film got an entirely new meaning to me.

So little films can capture that excitement of “clicking” like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and for that reason I adore it. I had this feeling with Synecdoche, New York as well, where everything just slotted into place in a devastating and brilliant moment of clarity. You gave me a film which has infinite value and an extremely special place in my heart and mind, so all I can offer you this: my sincere and extreme thanks.

Yours,
A writer with a renewed sense of purpose.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011): “pure witchcraft”

Probably going to be starting all of my reviews with a personal detail… “I study film!” It’s going to get boring, but fuck it. My dad adores John le Carré’s fiction, and he’s passed that love onto me by making me watch a variety of adaptations as a kid. I think the only one I haven’t seen is probably BBC’s A Perfect Spy adaptation, but I’ll fix that soon. Speaking of the cold war works here, mind. I haven’t seen any of his works beyond that era. Maybe I will. So, it was with understandably baited breath that me and my Dad awaited Tomas Alfredson’s ensemble adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — primarily so we could see how well Gary Oldman would stack up as George Smiley versus Alec Guiness.

I want to say that my Dad is always going to be wrong, and that Oldman’s interpretation of the character is superior to Guiness’ classic turn, due to the edge of sexuality he brings to the role. While the original version keeps this very ambiguous, this is very in keeping with the version of TTSS that Alfredson, O’Connor and Straughan have created, one which shows the latent homosexual undertones that permeate throughout the world of espionage, ones which would naturally happen with men who spend a great deal of time with each other, theoretically anyway. It’s an extremely interesting angle to take the narrative, and one which is brought to the foreground by Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, who actually gives a good performance, a genuine rarity for him. Back to Oldman, who delivers a performance of such clarity and subtlety he makes this fat, ugly man live on the fringes of both the frame and the narrative, despite being at its core. George Smiley is not a charismatic man, but he is influential, and Oldman’s touch is felt throughout the film, even down to a subtle readjustment of his spectacles or gloves. He shows what he is thinking purely through his actions, rarely verbalising them unless he needs to. That, is a masterful piece of characterisation.

But, that lack of exposition from the main character we’ve come to know and loathe has created the criticism that the film is impossible to follow. Bullshit! Everything a viewer needs to know about the narrative is on the screen, it just needs a touch of thought to pull it all together. There are no missing pieces to the puzzle, and the film trusts you to make sense of the confusion and deceit of Smiley’s world alongside him. Along with the frankly ridiculous production design which creates a truly cohesive and rich Cold War London, the mise en scene of the film allows viewers to see every subtle detail of the plot, but never stresses the importance of most strands, creating the most immersive puzzle film I have personally seen. Perhaps being familiar with the narrative essentially gave me a cheat sheet, but I would definitely argue that a fresh pair of eyes could decipher the mystery on a first viewing alongside Smiley without this familiarity, providing they are willing to set aside two hours and engage with the film.

Engagement in the narrative could also be problematic. This is a film which unfolds when it wants to, and is always tacit in doing so, thus I have seen criticism of the film being too slow and ponderous. I can totally appreciate this, but as a shameless fanboy of le Carré and Cold War espionage, I am used to this manner of pacing. It is deliberate yes, but it is constantly burning and plotting away, and I am certain if it hooks you, it will not let go for the remainder of the film, and perhaps long after you watch it. This is thanks in part to the expert construction of the script by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, and the delicate, precise direction displayed by Tomas Alfredson (the magnificent bastard who saved the cinematic vampire with Let The Right One In), but I would say it ultimately comes down to the music and performances, all of which are just below the calibre of Gary Oldman, who was robbed of an Oscar.

But Oscars don’t mean shit, we all know that. The music in this film demonstrates that; I can listen to the soundtrack for years on end and it accompanies a lot of my work at university. It is a fantastic accompaniment to what is displayed on screen, perfectly underscoring the action and magnificently bringing together the fog of the Circus and MI6, and illustrating aspects of the characters from an auditory perspective. The key track on the soundtrack that illustrates this to me is titled “Witchcraft”, in reference to Alleline and his cohorts secret plan, it is a track composed of a bass note and a rolling Spanish guitar scale. It is simultaneously sinister and intriguing, perfectly illustrating the concept of espionage and Witchcraft. And it’s now stuck in my head, god dammit.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as a film outshines the BBC adaptation, and clocks in at a fraction of the length. While the TV series unfolds beautifully, and is fucking magnificent, the film is a perfect shot of intrigue, complexity and smoky spying that sometimes we all need a bit of. Essentially, the TV show versus the film is like a bottle of finely aged red wine and a glass of the finest whiskey in your cupboard. You really can’t go wrong, but I’m more of a whiskey man.

THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957): “funny games”

Studying film at university, we’re introduced to the concept of a film “canon”, essentially a big list of films that everyone with an interest in films should watch and clamour over, and I can’t say I’m a big fan of the concept. For one, it feels intrinsically limiting to the formation of a film nerd’s taste — everyone has seen Citizen Kane, why are you different? So, I guess I’m kind of taking a reactionary stand point versus that module, but once in a while something comes up. For me, Bergman’s The Seventh Seal is that thing that came up.

It’s fucking hilarious! For a film associated with the po-faced, pretentious, impenetrable art cinema of Europe, it definitely holds its own as a genuine piece of entertainment, mostly centred on the antics of Death himself. He’s a loveable douchebag, in essence. Constantly sharing a wry smile with his eventual victims, even the occasional joke blacker than his clothing — my favourite scene is composed of him sawing down a tree an actor is hiding in — and generally being a charismatic so and so. It’s refreshing to see a depiction of Death as a practical joker, rather than a grim, dark murdering loser, and the impact on modern comedies is easy to see, from Monty Python right through to the slacker Death seen in Family Guy. I suppose that is something I can say for the film canon, people clearly pay attention to and absorb it.

Furthermore, the artistry of the film is plain to see — the cinematography is fantastic, with a rich black and white contrast throughout and gorgeous vistas. The improvised shot of Death dancing with his victims across a hill with the clouds swirling is a sight to behold for sure, and it is just one of many “wow” shots that are dotted throughout the film. This extends to entire scenes as well, following the black comedy of some scenes is an extremely intense scene revolving around a procession of flagellants (people who torture themselves to appease God during the black plague) which gave me serious chills while watching it. The bassy tones of the chanting combined with the imagery of these people at their wits end horribly harming themselves was a scene of intense power, one which was amplified by the lighter touch of the wider film. That shows the touch of a crew who know what the fuck they are doing, and are able of balancing such bleakness with the inherent comedy of Death playing chess.

So, ultimately, it is a film worthy of being placed in a canon, probably “the” canon. It’s at the very least in my canon, being a person with a raging interest in historical films. That’s another thing the film totally nails — it all feels very medieval and accurate to the period. Hard to describe why, but it seems to capture the desperation of the people, and the willingness to wholesale buy into faith in times when the vast majority of the population is dying. That creates one of the most interesting dichotomies in a film that I have seen in a while; a man holding a total crisis of faith at the face of Death himself, in a land gripped in a death rattle of prayer and disease. The Seventh Seal holds a lot to say on the nature of human faith, and I’d imagine would be of great interest to theists and atheists and agnostics of all walks.

Personally, I’m a pretentious bastard so I was down for a Swedish art film, but I got blacker than black comedy instead. Win win.