Tag Archives: comedy-drama

NEBRASKA (2013): “stepping on unturned plugs”

Alexander Payne should be known for Nebraska as much as he is for colourful comedy The Descendants which, yes, thanks to one George Clooney, glowed in Hollywood’s gaze but smacked of first-world problems.

Now for a bittersweet elegy shot in black-and white starring Will Forte, chiming with the longing for a past that once was and can never be again. You starting to notice a pattern? I sure am.

Nebraska is funny and tender. Bruce Dern’s alcoholic Woody thinks he has won the lottery, humoured by son David (Forte, my favourite Saturday Night Live lone voice in recent memory). For Woody, the money would validate his life amounted to something. That’s as tragic an idea for the film to take up, and it does. But the journey there is an amusing walk, often stepping on upturned plugs and cracking of immediate regret. It’s the stab of Payne. It’s Payne’s pain.

Dern and June Squibb are terrific together, the former’s blandness highlighted by the more showy turn that Squibb gives (and just watch what she does in that graveyard).

It’s the heart of Nebraska I love most, though, one that’s soft and still pulls punches, just through the sensitive approach. That comes down to the nuance Forte provides, which is appreciated. He alone can carry the beauty of the black-and-white, and his face often speaks for the whimsy of sad and charming that Payne seems to be constantly striving for in his works.

Payne’s themes land, too: male disappointment, realisation, vanity. Clooney’s solemn pondering expression would have sucked a lot of what makes this film tick (partly because he’s so captivating sitting on the beachside shore). It’s Dern all the way here, and I’m glad his delicate touch won him best actor at Cannes for his part in this.

That’s absurdly glitzy a note to end on, the kind which took away from what supposedly made The Descendants special. I won’t feel too bad, though.

I’ll just stick to knowing Nebraska is great for all its unspectacular methods.

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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.

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?

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.

INHERENT VICE (2014): “emotionally involved with the boat”

I’d like to preface this ramble with a spoiler warning for Inherent Vice’s narrative, because I will probably talk about a lot of it. I’d also like to apologise for the content of this review. Brace yourselves, it’s gonna get high-fallutin’.

Inherent Vice, I’ve been told by a wise woman, is a maritime term. Eggs shatter, glass breaks and time marches on. Sometimes, things just happen and you have to roll with it. Sometimes, your ex girlfriend shows up completely changed and tells you of a plot to haul a real estate mogul off to a nut house. Sometimes, dentists die on trampolines. Weird shit can and will happen. Where I’m going with this is that Inherent Vice‘s narrative, hewn from the deepest nostalgia of Thomas Pynchon and thrown unto the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson, is dense. Dense, weird, touching, many more adjectives and labels. I’m trying to say it’s a thing of tragic beauty, wrapped in a frequently hilarious, mostly confusing package.

This package is created by the labyrinthine mystery at the core, a dense haze of sea mist and a further coating of marijuana smoke. A stoner’s detective paradise. This is then represented as a film which takes the core elements of classic noirs in an aesthetic viewpoint – central framing, deep contrasts between light and dark, shot reverse shot and extended takes. But it does not modernise these, leading to a film some may call ugly or boring to look at. I find it beautiful, with gentle colouring and sumptuous lighting in every scene complementing the actors and the tone. It’s an extremely visual film, with many smaller details shown in the decoration of a room over the deliberately meandering and confused dialogue. It’s a quiet miracle of cinematography to this reviewer.

Furthermore, I cannot fault the music in this film. Jonny Greenwood’s score is both classical in it’s emotional strings, and modern in it’s complex, layered arrangement. Music from artists is employed with PT Anderson’s usual precision, and I will be forever grateful for this film for introducing me to Can. Great band, leading to a great title smash.

I could write pages upon pages of nonsense about the history of the film, the death of free spirited America with the election of Nixon, the shadow of the Manson family on parties bigger than three. I could equal this talking about the performances – Katherine Waterston as Shasta and Joaquin Phoenix as Doc are both revelatory, especially as this reviewer has had no prior experience with Waterston.

Ultimately, I view Inherent Vice as one of those films you just don’t want to end. Such is the density of the narrative it paints a beautiful picture of it’s breezy setting and characters. Corny as hell, but it feels like going home every time I watch it. One of my personal favourite films.