This is a movie which has created much excitement recently. As a depiction of a digital near future world it is exceptional – everything from the clothes, the dreamy, creamy palette of orange, beige and white – through to even (my god!) the soft furnishings and the characters mode of speech is detailed, astounding and believable. It is a perfect world. On a personal note though, if high waisted brown trousers are part of the future, then I’m afraid count me out.
Quick plot summary before I forget: Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is going through the final stages of divorce and installs a new operating system on his computer. The new OS is artificially intelligent, voiced by Scarlett Johannsen and he falls in love with her/it. The ‘her’ or ‘it’ part of the story is of course the key factor here, as we ponder on the nature of love and it’s acceptability throughout the film. Spoiler alert – ultimately the relationship fails as Scarlett (who is now in love with 250 other people) and who has possibly developed into a new kind of nebulous life-form disappears off into the ether in order to find herself. So far, so LA.
So, let’s cut to the chase. I’ll be honest. The movie bored me stiff. Here’s why.
The world created by Spike Jonze is an absolute tour-de-force. It has a kind of “brave new world” vibe except without the sense of underlying malevolent power and control. It is a perfect world as mentioned before, however, the thing is though it’s all so insufferably polite, thoughtful and liberally intelligent. Everyone seems to be perpetually discussing relationships, emotions and feelings, so much so that society seems to be in one big group therapy session. I felt the characters or indeed the world had absorbed so much “Soma” (possibly piped in to the air supply) that there was a sweet smelling narcotic fog between me and the action. While the acting was fabulous, I felt disengaged in the way I feel when shopping for a duvet cover.
Personally I couldn’t give a stuff for Theodore. In fact, the only time I felt really engaged was when Theodore’s soon to be ex-wife showed up to sign the divorce papers. Here we had some true emotion on display, as she by turns ridiculed the relationship and used it as evidence for Theodore’s issues in their own marriage. Now I know this scene was very much a cipher for intolerance…But it was the only time when I felt I was actually watching other human beings being…human. It was a welcome blast of emotion in an otherwise airless and stifling film.
Maybe that’s the point of the movie – that we humans in the future world are so dehumanised by our digital world and insufferable niceness and understanding towards each other, that actually an OS is more human? Dunno – but I freely admit, that for me this type of deep meaning does not a movie make.
Going back to “Brave new world” again, I guess I longed for the introduction of a savage, someone or something that could break this crystalline structure of studied perfection.
There was so much good stuff here though – the design, the cinematography, the colour palette, the acting, the idea…But ultimately, I was completely disengaged and emotionally detached from the whole affair. Again, maybe that is the point?
This is a beautiful looking movie. Sombre in mood and palette with respect to colour, emotion and light. It mostly fulfils its artistic pretensions and depicts 1930’s America with a sweeping and tobacco/bourbon flavoured grandeur. And yes, it has Paul Newman blowing everyone else off the screen with a perfectly balanced depiction of pathos, power and ruthlessness.
So what have we got? Gangster retribution, Tom Hanks as a vaguely emotionless cipher looking for revenge and a rather obvious parallel to the godfather and Don Corleone not wanting ‘Michael’ to join the family business. The difference here though is that it is all shot through with a kind of distant poetical sensibility – it’s as though we are watching a slightly rose tinted view of the story, perhaps one that is turned on the page of a child’s book…Which, actually, is exactly where we are.
The set pieces are sublime. Paul Newman gunned down in the pouring rain and the flashes of light from a distant tommy gun are images that will remain forever retina burnt. The final scene, which is a kind of mobster version of the video of ‘imagine’ by John Lennon, is visually sparse, sumptuous and effecting at the same time.
This is a great film but I think the main/only problem with it, is Tom Hanks. Sure he plays the piece perfectly, but old Tom is one of those actors who unfortunately cannot transcend their own innate star power and character. Tom is a nice guy. Despite the dodgy moustache it’s still Tom. Watching him accept the killing of his wife and child as though it were simply a minor business debt that needed repaying, just feels a little out of sorts. Plus he does something funny with his top lip.
Anyway. Jude Law is suitably weird, compelling and creepy, Daniel Craig as the useless son of crime lord Paul Newman does the ‘sonny’ part extremely well, while the overall aesthetic is Edward Hopper-esque eye candy of the highest order. Conrad Hall, the director of photography, fills this, his last film, with brilliant yet subtle tonalities of light and shade – for that alone, it’s worth many a viewing.
Sam Mendes applies a British eye to the American gangster pantheon and pulls it off superbly, although as mentioned before there is a kind of emotional distance going on. I guess it’s a cerebral gangster movie – one that is pitched with a certain aloofness and detachment. I felt I should have wept buckets at the end, but instead I felt the feeling you get when opening an old set of drawers and finding sepia tinted photos of a long dead family, that when discovered emit a scent of lilac and camphor….
Actually then, job done. Great movie. Watch it.
Hello & welcome to a new series of 808 film reviews. The reviews will cover new, old and classic films – indeed anything that has been watched in the 808 media cube or in the local drive-in. We’ll try and make them a little different to the plethora of reviews out there in the electronic ether – with a focus on the things that make the films beautiful (or not) whether via the cinematography, the story, acting or design. First up, it’s “Inside Llewyn Davis” written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen.
As I walked out of the theatre, blinking in the harsh winter sunshine, with a gut full of bad-for-me sweets and a stiff neck, I wasn’t actually sure whether I had enjoyed the film, or indeed whether it was a ‘film’ in the usual sense. In fact, it’s more like a cinematic version of a piece of creative, descriptive writing that is placed to served the plot in context as opposed to being the plot itself. That feeling stayed with me for the first half hour as I tried to explain the film to myself and understand just what it was that I had actually seen & what it was about. Interestingly, inside the theatre – which had a capacity of around 500, there were only around 15 other people watching the movie. There was silence as we all exited.
An hour later, I was still thinking about the film but now I felt an emotional tug to the sheer gorgeousness of the cinematography, the naturalness of the acting and a meandering story that is simply a week in the life of a struggling folk musician in the early sixties. Two months later, I’m now convinced it is one of the most intriguing films I’ve seen in many years. So, what is it about the film that has this effect?
Well, first of all it does look absolutely beautiful. The cinematography, the lighting and the sheer evocation of time and place is stunning. Whether it’s the freezing streets of NYC, the interior of the bars & cafe’s or depictions of dustbowl gas stations – every single frame of the film is a fabulous still shot in it’s own right. The music to be honest is difficult for me to comment on as it’s not a genre I would normally be drawn to, but it is perfect and presumably exceedingly authentic. T-Bone Burnett is the man.
OK, so it looks and sounds nice. Plot? Character? Llewyn Davis is not a particularly nice guy. He gets the partner of his friend pregnant, loses a cat, heckles other musicians and throws a bit of a strop when asked to perform at a dinner party. The plot doesn’t follow any kind of usual story arc, it’s more like a soap opera slice of a slightly mundane life. And it’s that for me, which makes it a compelling movie – as you, the viewer are completely immersed in some else’s existence – but this is a life where no-one is a hero, where nothing extraordinary happens (not withstanding John Goodman’s turn as a satanic old jazz-man) but one where we believe it & the realisation of the world completely. In a way it’s as though the Coen Brothers have created a time machine, found Lleywn and tagged him with an omnipresent web-cam that captures his every move and particle of his life.
What does this tell us though? It tells us that musicians are not necessarily hero’s and shouldn’t be treated as such – it tells us they can be angsty, egotistical and somewhat venal – but also, that there is something which drives them to get their music heard. Perhaps it’s the lure of dollars, perhaps it’s the need of any talented craftsmen to have their work recognised – perhaps it’s the sense they have been given what we would normally call a ‘gift’ but which they feel is more like a burden. Imagine having a talent for something that no-one else is interested in. That’s a head-mess right there. We like our movies to empower us, to allow us to feel enriched about the human condition – this isn’t one of them. What it is though, is one that holds up a fragment of a mirror to ourselves, that examines our own motivations and how we might seem to other people. In our own minds everything we do and how we act is perfectly explainable, we, ourselves can always justify it. This film is an example of being inside someone else’s head and seeing that our actions, moods and behaviours are actually rather inexplicable to anyone but ourselves. One of the key scenes is where Llewyn is asked to play a song by his middle-class academic hosts. He flies into a rage & insults his hosts, not wanting to perform. Initially it’s easy to think “what an arse”, but actually what are they asking him? Round a dinner table, he’s enjoying the conversation and food and is asked to sing a song he used to perform with his dead singing partner. A singing partner he still grieves for and who he also resents (unfairly) for stalling his career. Llewyn, despite his faults is not a man of shallow emotions, so of course he would get angry. Thing is though, we viewers want to see him sing a lovely song and not be witness to his grief and insecurity. Uncomfortable viewing? Absolutely.
There is a lot that could be written about the film. I feel that in one viewing I actually only saw about a tenth of what it had to offer. I want to see it again, to close my eyes and see the slush-covered streets of NYC or moonlit snow at the side of the freeway. I want to experience that time and place again, even if Lleywn Davis it not someone I would ever want to be a friend of. It’s an eminently believable, truthful and immersive film. And to copy the cyclical nature of the film itself, when I came out of the theatre blinking into the sunshine, I blinked not because of the light, but because I expected to be elsewhere and not Edinburgh in 2014.
Summary: A thoughtful & immersive movie. Fabulous production values, acting and sound design. Absence of the usual story arc, could be seen as a little dull. See it in winter, not in the summer. Needs the big screen. Absence of strong emotion provoking scenes or narrative, but rather it is gently elegiac – similar to a warm pint at the end of a maiden over, or to quote Roy Harper “when the last cricketer leaves the crease, well you never know whether he’s gone”. In essence – it embodies the queer beauty of not much particularly happening.