Friday, December 27, 2013



Written and Directed by Spike Jonze
Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Portia Doubleday.

Most movies think they know about how real relationships work and how real love should feel. Most of these movies get it so wrong, it becomes pathetic. It takes an offbeat love story like the futuristic "HER" to become the most perceptive, real, honest and most beautiful story of love and relationships I have seen. Spike Jonze has written one of the best love stories of our time, a movie that will be remembered 50 years from now as timeless and groundbreaking. I mean groundbreaking in a written sense, this being a hauntingly beautiful, hilarious and real screenplay, some of the best writing I have experienced in a movie in ages. It is astounding that not one movie in at least 20 years has been as poetic and real when dealing with love and relationships as Spike Jonze's wonderful screenplay is.

"HER" stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Trumbley, a man who works writing hallmark like cards for any occasion. He is very great at writing these internet cards but is seems that he knows nothing about expressing his own feelings. He is recently divorced and the only real contact he now has with love is writing these cards. He downloads an OS which is a Operating System, sort of like Suri but way more detailed and life like. The Operating System he downloads is a female OS named Samantha. Samantha is there to fulfill every need that Theodore has. She reads his emails for him, deletes emails that are a waste of his time and suggests things that Theodore can do to make his life more comfortable.

Then Samantha will actually become more than just a secretary on a computer or I phone screen. She will be curious about Theodore's past relationships, what it is like to be married and separated and what it feels like to love someone. This is all I want to tell you because I want you to experience this cold, it is a movie that will surprise you and make you think. It is not all serious, it has some great scenes dealing with futuristic video games and computers themselves that are hilarious and some brilliant, laugh out loud scenes like a middle of the night sex chat scene. The movie has a futuristic feel (the movie is set in the near future) to it and the movie is beautifully shot but it doesn't feel cold like a science fiction movie. The screenplay is too real, warm, haunting and beautiful for the movie to feel cold.

The movie actually is scary for how perceptive it is when pin pointing flawlessly how hard it is to express what we really feel when it comes to relationships. It also brilliantly captures how little, petty arguments can ruin relationships. How we become lost and disconnected from others because we are so wrapped up in computers and social media, because it is easier not to deal with people. This realism comes from a movie dealing with a human and his Operating System, that is how brilliant this screenplay by Spike Jonze is.

The movie would also not work without the amazing performances by it's two lead actors. Let's start with Scarlett Johansson, one of our finest actors. She is doing a voice for a computer Operating System, we can't see her, we can not see how she reacts to the human emotions stirred up by Theodore. Even though we can't see her, Johansson is that much more brilliant with her performance. It is such a brilliant performance that I could actually picture her facial reactions and feel her hurt and amazement just by how she uses her voice. If she doesn't get an Oscar nomination for, let alone win Best Actress at the Oscars, it will be a tragedy and a travesty of justice.

Joaquin Phoenix has given us so many great performances but his performance here as Theodore is easily his best work to date. It is a subtly powerful, aching, touching and truthful performance. We also have to consider the fact that Phoenix is not in the room with Johansson but he makes it feel like she is in the room. That is a difficult job for any actor and Phoenix is perfect, one of the best performances I have seen by an actor. Spike Jonze gets great work from his actors, has written one of the best love stories of our time with brilliant dialogue and shoots the movie with beautiful precision. The story is not only breathtaking and powerful, the movie looks beautiful without Jonze ever showing off. He has now become one of the best and most original writers and directors of our generation.

The power and poignancy of "HER" is undeniable for it has stayed with me hours after I have seen it. It has made me look at love and the state of my past relationships with open eyes. It is so powerful and real that I can see a lot of what happens in this story happening in the future when it comes to computers and the loss of social interaction. The movie is touching, painful, real, honest, extremely funny and heartbreaking. It washed all over me, immersing me in it's world, making me experience feelings almost no other movie has ever done. It has everything, it will make you think and what incredible conversations will come from people who see this. "Her" is a masterpiece in writing, filmmaking and in making us confront our feelings when dealing with matters of the heart.

P.S. I kept thinking a lot about Stanley Kubrick after seeing "HER". Kubrick would have loved this story but Kubrick would have dreamed about having a screenplay this amazing when he was alive. "HER" is the best movie of 2013!

Thursday, December 26, 2013



Written by Terrence Winter based on the book by Jordan Belfort
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Christina Miliotti, Joanna Lumley.

The excess of Wall Street and it's sleazy stockbrokers are depicted in Martin Scorsese's "Wolf of Wall Street" with a fascinating and fast filmmaking style. I say this because if I had to spend time in real life with these jerks I would run out of the room screaming. Maybe I am generalizing too much here because I shouldn't compare stockbrokers in general to Jordan Belfort, I hated him though. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is full of boorish and hateful men and I found a few of the characters dull but Jordan Belfort is fascinating due to Scorsese's direction and Leonardo DiCaprio's bravura performance, maybe my favorite of his.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" tells the real life story of corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort who preyed and made money off of people illegally. The half solid and half rambling screenplay by Terrence Winter is based on Jordan Belfort's book. This is a three hour movie about the rise and fall of Jordan and credit Scorsese for turning a could have been sluggish movie into a very fast three hours. Jordan's mentor at 22, when he started out, is Mark Hanna and Hanna is played by Matthew McConaughey who again has stunned me. Mark is my favorite character in the movie and he doesn't stay long and I missed him for the rest of the movie. Though again Scorsese keeps up the fascinating filmmaking throughout the rest of the three hours even without Mark Hanna.

Jordan starts up his own company out of a strip mall with a group of nerdy losers. I found these characters dull and there are too many scenes that include them that I would have cut out. One of the nerds is Donnie Azoff, played by Jonah Hill, and Azoff starts out as a boorish nerd who turns into a richer, more powerful, boorish nerd. Jordan and Azoff will make most of their money illegally at the expense of weaker minded clients. A federal agent, Agent Patrick Denham, catches on to the two and there will then start a game of cat and mouse between Denham and Jordan. Add to the mix Jordan's second wife, a bombshell blonde, named Naomi who will fall under Jordan's spell.

Now I wasn't that interested in most of the supporting characters but I was fascinated by Jordan and his relationship with his wife. I was fascinated by the story of all the dirty dealings and the movie did grow on me and most of that credit goes to the wonderful Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has not lost his masterful touch, directing fast, energetic scenes that roll by in a glorious cannonball of momentum. This movie is three hours but it flew by for me and what could have become a bore stays on course thanks to Scorsese's never ending energy and control of the camera. I also thought that Leonardo DiCaprio has never been this fascinating in a movie and he has done a lot of fascinating stuff! DiCaprio is a force here and he turns what could have been a boorish dullard into something higher. I have never seen DiCaprio this much on fire, this could be my favorite performance of his.

I might not be that interested in all of the characters but the supporting acting is all wonderful. McConaughey is brilliant, fun and forceful in such a small part. Margot Robbie is sexy, beautiful and hot, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley plus a hilarious Rob Reiner are all genius. Jonah Hill is also very funny and full of energy here but his character can become really annoying. Hill is great but Winter's screenplay makes Hill yell a lot so his performance suffers just a smidge. The editing here for a three hour movie is amazingly cut just right by the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker and the movie is beautifully shot. In other director's hands this would become dull fast what with a lot of boorish characters populating the movie. Only Scorsese can turn a movie with risky plot material into gold.

Martin Scorsese has made some masterpieces and I mean a lot of them. Of course I will have my list of Scorsese's masterpieces, his fascinating failures and his middle tier movies. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is on my middle tier Scorsese level along with movies like "Casino" and "New York, New York". Those were wonderfully made Scorsese movies but they have weaker stories so "Wolf" becomes not as memorable as the best of Scorsese just like "Casino". Though Scorsese can make the most despicable characters like Jordan become somewhat likeable and make us want to follow them. Scorsese and DiCaprio do some amazing things here, Scorsese with his filmmaking greatness and energy and DiCaprio with his energy and charm.

There is a scene in the middle of this movie that is hilarious and jaw dropping. It involves some slapstick and some shockingly weird visuals. Only artists as amazing and skilled as Scorsese and DiCaprio can take a weird sequence and turn it into a comic masterpiece. Scenes and performances like this are as good a reason as anything to go see this on the big screen. A few amazing scenes, a few amazing characters and bravura performances by DiCaprio and McConaughey are worth the price of admission alone.

Friday, December 20, 2013



Written by Eric Singer and David O'Russell
Directed by David O'Russell
Actors: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Alessandro Nivola, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, Elizabeth Rohm, Said Taghmaoui.

Sometimes a movie comes along that has such energy, freshness, enthusiasm, joyful and thrilling filmmaking that gets you pumped up! "Pulp Fiction", "GoodFellas" and "Boogie Nights" are three of those type movies and three of my favorites, classics. Now you can add "American Hustle" to that glorious, perfect list! I was never bored, had a wide grin on my face the whole time, laughed my butt off and just sat back and watched the best acting I have seen from an ensemble cast in years! Add to my pleasure the fact that this story is set in the 70's, my favorite period of time in history. Yes, I said that, I love films from the 70's and I always say that if I was in a movie and was stuck in time I would pick the 70's to be stuck in, before technology robbed us.

"American Hustle" starts with the hilarious opening title, one that made everyone laugh out loud at the screening I went to, "Some of This Actually Happened". I knew after seeing that title that this would be one hilarious thrill ride! Actually in the late 70's the FBI recruited a con man and woman to work with them on a covert operation called "Abscam". This is really based on a true story and the story gets so nutty you know writers Eric Singer and David O'Russell had to embellish some of it but you never know about stuff that happened in the 70's. FBI agent Richie Dimaso, Bradley Cooper, recruited this couple, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, to help him catch corrupt politicians. Add to the mix the wife of Irving, Rosalyn, played wonderfully by the amazing Jennifer Lawrence.

Richie, to the frustration of his boss Stoddard Thorsen, played wonderfully by comedian Louis C.K., creates a fake Arab Sheik to catch some crooked congressman. The con couple are quite a pair and when the Mob, Irving's loopy wife and the crazy Dimaso come together in this "Abscam" debacle it's a glorious mess! That's all I will tell you because I want you to be on the edge of your seat following this fascinating story and movie. I had such a fun time during this movie, I couldn't remember the last time I had this much fun! David O'Russell has made a thrilling, flawlessly recreated, shot, costumed and spellbinding movie! He also includes the best use of 70's songs in a 70's set movie since "Boogie Nights" because he doesn't use songs that others have used ad nauseum in other movies set in the 70's.

David O'Russell has become my favorite writer and director right now because he obviously loves movies. Starting in 1999 with my favorite war movie "Three Kings", he has made thrilling, fresh, hugely entertaining movies and he gets amazing performances from his perfectly cast actors. Last year "Silver Linings Playbook" was my best movie of the year and it had Russell's unique stamp on it, it's like I never saw that kind of movie before. Now he might earn my pick as best movie of this year because I have seen a lot of 70's set movies and this is not like any other I have seen. The movie is a delicious, black comedy that gets more outrageous as it moves along but it never loses control and never goes over the top. It's just this side of blowing a gasket but Russell steers it to delightful perfection.

Russell also has perfected a smart, crazy, hilarious, fascinating screenplay with Eric Singer. He also hits a home run for the umpteenth time with casting a great ensemble of some of the best acting of this or any other year. It starts at the top with the ladies, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, and man are they incredible! Amy Adams is sexy, fierce and funny as Sydney and Adams plays this con woman with such control and beautiful grace. My favorite performance of the movie belongs to Jennifer Lawrence and yes folks she is the real deal. What a hilarious, crazy, energetic and scene stealing performance and she isn't stealing scenes from chumps here. Now following her amazing performance last year in "Silver Linings Playbook" she has created two performances two years in a row of pure perfection, better than any actress ever has and I actually smiled and cried with joy everytime she was on screen.

The men are equally great and like Lawrence, Christian Bale has maybe cemented himself as the best actor of his generation. The movie opens with a gut busting opening scene as Irving is trying to fix the ugliest, messiest comb overs in history. Bale acts this scene about as perfect as any actor has acted out a particular scene. His performance here is fascinating and detailed and his chemistry with Adams is flawless. Also if you thought Bradley Cooper gave the best performance of his career with "Silver Linings Playbook" last year think again. He bounces off the wall wonderfully here as an FBI agent that tries so hard on this "Abscam" operation that he actually might ruin the whole thing.

These are four of the best performances you will ever see and it is lead by the dynamic performance of Jennifer Lawrence. You also have a great cast of wonderful actors that also contribute great supporting work. It starts with my favorite comedian Louis C.K. who plays Richie's FBI boss. The scenes between him and Cooper made me laugh longer and harder than I have in any comedy this year. You have character actors giving some of their best work here and you also have rising stars in the making. Jack Huston and Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire), Elizabeth Rohm, Colleen Camp, Alessandro Nivola, Jeremy Renner, Micheal Pena and Said Taghmaoui are all excellent!

"American Hustle" is a glorious masterpiece that is flawless in every facet of it's filmmaking. It has an infectious charm, energy and craziness that most movies would dream of having. It made me laugh throughout the entire movie, it has one of the best performances you will ever see by an actress. It is a fascinating slice of history that I sure didn't know about. I had so much fun learning about and absorbing this story. David O'Russell is building a fascinating career here and he is constantly thrilling us with the freshness of his movies. He again gets wonderful performances by a beautiful cast of great actors giving it their best. Movies like this don't come along that much, most movies go through the same old lazy, formulaic motions. "American Hustle" is one of the best times I have ever had at a movie and it will definitely become a classic!



Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Actors: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F Murray Abraham, Max Casella, Justin Timberlake.

Sometimes Joel and Ethan Coen can make a movie that becomes a mainstream hit, sometimes a bomb that becomes a cult classic and then there are their personal stories that they direct. That is why I love them as filmmakers because you never know what you will get, what an eclectic, glorious team they are! "Inside Llewyn Davis" is more of a personal, character study and valentine to folk music and the journey of a self indulgent artist. You can call it an art film but no one tells a story better than these guys. It is not a huggable movie but it is perfectly executed, amusing and a very well acted movie.

Oscar Isaac, in a breakthrough, bravura performance plays Llewyn Davis, a folk singer who is very self obsessed. He is not a joy to spend time with but by the end I felt sorry for him, call it the artist in me sympathizing with another artist who is going nowhere. Llewyn is not a star and he is struggling to sell his record after his partner killed himself. Llewyn Davis is estranged from his girlfriend who is pregnant, played by Carey Mulligan, he doesn't have a winter coat and he travels, sleeping on many friend's couches, having no home himself. He then will try to sell his album and try to play a few shows at a famous joint in Chicago. His is a depressing life traveling from small venue to old dives playing his music to little applause and clinking glasses.

Alleviating the depressing journey is Llewyn's encounter with a cat that escapes his friend's apartment and winds up traveling with Llewyn on subway cars to different gigs and to his girlfriend's apartment. The scenes with this cat are funny, charming and touching because this maybe the only creature that connects with Llewyn, maybe not, the cat does try to run away a few times. The story follows Llewyn as he plays his music, pisses off his friends and gets rejection after rejection. He gets bullied by a traveling partner, John Goodman, and we kind of know what will happen when Llewyn gets to Chicago.

Llewyn is not a happy person, he is lost and he rubs a lot of people the wrong way but after the first hour I started to like him. I felt the rejection that an artist who is not mainstream can get on the road and then I started to feel empathy for Llewyn. This is a character study and some movie goers will feel bummed out but I found the movie entertaining and fascinating and that can be credited to the Coens, Oscar Isaac and the rest of the great cast. The Coen brothers are masters at sucking us in and this maybe one of their most perfectly made movies and it is really funny.

The movie has wonderful music and great folk songs lovingly created and produced by T Bone Burnett, who did the same thing with the songs for the Coen brother's hit "O' Brother Where Art Thou?" Oscar Isaac sings them beautifully and the rest of the songs are authentic. I am a big fan of "The Kingston Trio" and there is a great performance by a group that perfectly reminded me of them. The movie is edited perfectly, I never felt there was an unneeded scene. That editing is by the Coens who go under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. The movie is also shot beautifully by Bruno Delbonnel and I had to also check if that was a pseudonym for the Coens. The directing and storytelling are also perfect and there is not one bad camera shot.

Yes Llewyn is hard to like but you don't have to like a lead character to enjoy a story like this and a movie that is so well made. I never understood why some critics hate movies just because the lead character is a louse or jerk. I can identify with Llewyn so other movie goers will too, not everyone will hate him. The Coen brothers keep getting better and you can always expect something fascinating from them even if the movie isn't as great as some of their classics. "Inside Llewyn Davis" has some great storytelling, it looks beautiful, the performances by everyone shine and inside Llewyn you will find a strong will to survive through adversity.