Tag Archives: Amy Adams

Imagination + Love = Her

Her

by Hope Madden

Is Spike Jonze the most imaginative American filmmaker working today?

Yes. Need proof?

This is the guy who turned the beloved, 10-sentence children’s book Where the Wild Things Are into the most heartbreaking and wondrous film of 2009. The guy who could make the act of adapting existing work into the most original film of 2002 (Adaptation).

Hell, it’s the man who made his directorial debut telling the tale of a filing clerk who sells tickets into John Malkovich’s head. And the quality of his output has only improved, taking on a depth and beauty since he began writing his projects as well.

With Her, the first film Jonze has written entirely on his own, he’s crafted the year’s most poignant love story.

It sounds like the lead-in to a joke: A man falls in love with his computer operating system. Who, besides Jonze, could take a premise like and turn it into a masterful image of our times?

Joaquin Phoenix plays the lonely and emotionally bruised Theodore, in the not-too-distant-future Los Angeles. Still reeling from a break up, Theodore shies away from traditional intimacy, but finds himself attracted to the newest update in operating systems: the OS that evolves to meet every need.

Credit Jonze for sidestepping every imaginable cliché – and there are plenty – and instead exploring society’s current trajectory with surprising tenderness, perhaps even optimism. Yes, he notes the superficiality of relationships in the technological age, and the tendency toward isolation. But it’s not like he believes the machines are going to rise up and enslave us.

Not that he exactly rules that out.

What he does instead is almost magical. He introduces us to the very picture of humanity in Samantha, the operating system. Scarlett Johansson voices the character, and enough cannot be said of her performance. It’s easy to undervalue voice talent, but Johansson shows what can be done with nothing else to rely on – no facial expressions, no setting, no gestures. Her performance is an absolute wonder.

Likewise, Phoenix is magnificent, falling in love on screen with no physical being to perform against. His work is vulnerable and touching enough to take your breath.

A sparkling supporting group, including Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, a very funny Chris Pratt, fills out the cast, each making the utmost of the environment Jonze has created.

The film looks and feels amazing, with every detail of set design and script enhancing and deepening the impact of the love story. It’s a beautiful, imaginative, relevant image of love in the modern world.

Verdict-4-5-Stars

 

 

Do the Hustle!

American  Hustle

by Hope Madden

David O. Russell can direct the shit out of a movie, can’t he? He startled his way into our consciousness in ’94 with the unbelievable Spanking the Monkey, followed by a smattering of well-crafted, unmarketable, endlessly watchable films. Then he took a few years off and came back wearing his shootin’ boots.

The Fighter in 2010, followed by Silver Linings Playbook in 2012 racked up a grand total of 3 Oscars and another 13 nominations. That’s the way to shake off the artistic rust.

For his latest, American Hustle, Russell wisely cherry-picks castmates (a couple of Oscar winners among them) from his last two efforts to populate the world of 1978 and Abscam – the FBI sting that took down some corrupt public officials. And, as the screen announces just before the first disco-tastic image, “Some of this actually happened.”

One desperately ambitious FBI agent (an unhinged and glorious Bradley Cooper) pinches two con artists (Christian Bale, Amy Adams – both outstanding) and insists they help him finger other white collar criminals. But his dizzying hunger for significance pushes their con to untenable extremes, and soon these low-flying hustlers are eyeball deep in politicians, Feds and the mafia.

Russell orchestrates con upon con, braiding loyalty with opportunism with showmanship, and providing his dream cast with everything they need to erupt onscreen.

Joining the stellar performers mentioned are the always reliable Jeremy Renner and the reliably brilliant Jennifer Lawrence. As an unpredictable spitfire, Lawrence is right at home. She excels, and Russell teases the absolute most out of her every moment of screen time (it makes no sense now but trust me, you’ll never call a microwave oven by its correct name again).

Louis CK – in his second strong cinematic turn this year (alongside Blue Jasmine) – is a great onscreen curmudgeon, and he offers such a perfect foil for Cooper’s combustible lead that their scenes together are a scream.

Honestly, with the electricity on screen whenever Lawrence or Cooper appear, it’s almost possible to overlook Bale and Adams, but what a mistake that would be! Bale crawls into this character, as he does every character, and convinces us of the sleazy but good-hearted schlub inside this grifter.

Likewise, Adams – a performer so expressive with just a look – keeps you on your toes. It’s her flawless work as Edith (or is that Sydney?) that keeps all the cons spinning at once, and you never know exactly where her loyalties lie. In fact, you’re pretty sure she isn’t certain. Unless she’s just playing you.

While Russell’s fondness for Goodfellas colors the entire running time, there’s no question that his creation finds its own way and becomes something unique and fantastic. The writing is exceptional, the performances volcanic, and the result is the sharpest and most explosively funny movie in Oscar contention.

 

Verdict-4-5-Stars