DVD & Digital

DVD review: Arrival


The sci-fi genre is synonymous with alien invasions, and battles to save the human race from an almighty threat. Tackling this theme from a different angle with Arrival is critically acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, adapting Story of your Life, a short story written by Ted Chiang. The plot follows linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is approached by US military officer Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) when twelve extraterrestrial spacecrafts land on Earth sparking worldwide panic. Tasked with communicating with the alien life form alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she must translate their language in order to decipher how and more importantly why they are here.

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DVD & Digital

DVD review: Nocturnal Animals

Fashion icon Tom Ford enjoyed his first foray into filmmaking back in 2009 with A Single Man which was met with critical acclaim and awards glory. He’s back for his second feature with neo-noir thriller Nocturnal Animals, based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan. The plot centres around luxuriously successful LA art dealer Susan (Amy Adams) who, despite her extreme wealth, is unhappy with what and who she has become. When she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), she is led to reflect upon her life. Her ex’s bloody tale of violent revenge, which gives the movie its title, plays out as a film within a film, haunting her memories and dredging up her dark past.

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DVD & Digital

DVD review: Her


Set in the not so distant future, ‘Her’ blends science fiction with romantic-comedy and holds a mirror up to the possibilities of mobile technology. Screwball director Spike Jonze explores themes of love, friendship and artificial intelligence in utopian Los Angeles. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore Twombly, a thirty-something divorcee who makes a living penning love letters for those with an inability to express their feelings, despite lacking confidence with women face-to-face himself. Lonely and raw from his separation from soul mate Catherine (Rooney Mara), he invests in an advanced operating system, who calls herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) for companionship and to compartmentalise his working and social calendar. As the OS expands its capabilities, Theodore’s relationship with Samantha develops, asking questions of modern-day romance and its requirements, be it technical or otherwise.

Despite being full of ideas and imagination, I struggled to connect with the central character, and felt slightly patronised and preached upon by the heavy topics raised. The ‘looks or personality’ quandary comes into play in an unorthodox manner as although Samantha has no physical presence, essentially ‘living in a computer’ as she puts it, she does have a personality and later has the mood swings and emotions that come with the ups and downs of a relationship. Without giving too much away, there’s a section where Samantha does arrange for a body to take on her persona and this presents an oddly intriguing threesome dynamic. It reminded me a lot of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series which also predicted where technological enhancements would take us, but his effort was more effective and thought provoking due to its darker satirical approach.

I admired the ambition, and the film definitely looks the part, the idyllic location serving as a pleasant and interesting backdrop to Theodore’s story. However nice the aesthetics are, the problem lies in the unnatural conversations with Samantha which were cringe worthy at times, the attempts at humour, for me, missing the mark. This could be down to the fact that Johansson was brought into the project late on. Her voiceover was added in place of the unknown original which had been recorded in sync with Phoenix’s lines. In fairness, the recasting in some respects of Scarlett Johansson was a shrewd move. Because of her iconic good looks, her voice is easy to recognise and identify with, and this helps but I didn’t buy into the bond at all. It all still felt very naff and manufactured.

Joaquin Phoenix is no stranger to a complex lead role, so seemed an inspired choice to take on the introvert, Twombly. Unfortunately, he is outshone by his co-stars, even his computerised girlfriend. Rooney Mara is very impressive once again, in a similar role to her Social Network turn, but this time more assured. I could’ve done with seeing more of her character who represents the grounding reality in a world of dreamy ideals, though she steals the moments she appears in. The stand-out performance is Amy Adams as Theodore’s best friend, Amy. They relate through their desire to express themselves creatively, Theodore through his writing and Amy through documentary filmmaking. They are there for each other through their troubles, and the natural friendship plays out very fluidly.

‘Her’ has no shortage of invention but the outcome has mixed results. The slick cinematography works well with the subject matter, as does the soundtrack but it is let down by its feeble cracks at rom-com humour and sentiment. This creates an incoherent narrative and the film doesn’t appear to know quite what it wants to be, though it has no doubt of its own intelligence. If it had focussed on being an investigative sci-fi flick, I think there’s room for a more in-depth study and more challenging material for the experienced cast to tackle, thus giving itself the opportunity to fulfil its potential.

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DVD & Digital

DVD review: American Hustle


Award hungry director David O. Russell is back with a bang with well timed comedy-drama ‘American Hustle’, boasting an all-star cast and a stunning soundtrack. The plot is loosely based upon the ABSCAM operation that took place in the late 1970s…so loosely in fact that the opening title card reads ‘Some of this actually happened’, but the ins and outs of this take a backseat behind bold performances, loud characters and even louder haircuts. Christian Bale stars as cunning con-artist Irving Rosenfeld alongside his partner in crime Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). When a wrong turn leads them into trouble, they are forced to work alongside FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper), joining forces to pull off an elaborate swindle involving casinos, politicians and a fake sheikh. It mixes sharp dialogue, devilish humour and inspired production values to create a flamboyant cocktail of style, served with an ever twisting narrative. This could be the most fun you’ll have watching a film all year.
  The influences behind the look and feel of the film are unquestionable, and some have been critical of the heavy usage of Scorseseisms such as slow-mo, voiceover and pop culture flavourings. There is also a strong heady whiff of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, set around the same time, and also featuring powerful feisty female parts – Adams’ Prosser is a dead ringer for Julianne Moore’s Amber Waves. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the similarities as it helps captures the era effectively and to be honest, if you’re going to borrow aspects of filmmaking skills, you can’t go far wrong looking at the works of Marty and PTA. Everyone needs inspiration for a project, and Russell rejuvenates snippets of what has been done previously to produce a fresh take on the scene. Aside from the appearance, which is incredibly key to the success of this picture, Russell brings us deeply interesting characters albeit derived from real life figures of that time. They interact naturally between one another and he leaves us, the audience, not quite knowing who is going to double cross who, which provides masterful entertainment. Portraying them are the names from the top drawer of Hollywood talent, and Russell always manages to stir up big performances from his leads – this time is no different.
  He has taken the stars from his recent hits and combined them to form a very impressive poster cast list. Bale and Adams both appeared in his boxing flick The Fighter whereas Cooper and woman-of-the-moment Jennifer Lawrence starred alongside each other in romantic smash Silver Linings Playbook. I can only assume Mark Wahlberg, who has also collaborated with Russell previously and took a large part in the aforementioned Boogie Nights, was thought of for the part of corrupt mayor Carmine Polito but perhaps the shooting schedule didn’t suit? He already has sequels to Ted and Transformers in production. That being said, Jeremy Renner is very good alternative, adding his own flair to the flashy family man.
  Christian Bale is as good as I’ve ever seen him as the physically failing Rosenfeld. In his trademark method approach, he has put on a bulging beer gut for the part and he is fascinating to watch as he takes time in front of the mirror to adjust his hairpiece. Equally vain but a far cry from his preening pristine Pat Bateman. His character is given a developed back-story and he is a joy to behold as he fights with his morals whilst keeping up a cool exterior and as well as bouncing off those around him brilliantly. He and Cooper share a highly watchable on screen rivalry and for a change Bradley Cooper dodges the straight role and is at times hilarious, particularly during moments with his boss Stoddard Thorsen, played by acclaimed comedian Louis C.K.
 The men in the male dominant cast, including supporting actors such as Boardwalk Empire hard men Shea Whigham and Jack Huston, are all great but the female leads are equally good, if not more immense. Amy Adams in effect plays a double part expertly as her smart trickster uses British alter ego to disguise her efforts, posing as Lady Edith Greensley – her accent is convincing to the point that it would be easy to get lured into her entirely fake persona forgetting it is. Clashing with Irving Rosenfeld’s love interest is his live wire missus Rosalyn, depicted by the in demand J-Law who surprisingly takes the ‘and…’ part of the credits behind the others yet she is scene stealing at every turn furthering her growing reputation after last years’ win at the Academy Awards. She gives off a sexy screen presence like never before, presents Amy Adams with some late competition in the side boob count contest, and performs a memorable rendition of Live & Let Die in her marigolds. This fantastic scene intercuts with the results of her recklessness, a slip of the tongue leaving her hubby in grave danger with the mafia led by the notorious Meyer Lansky.
  ‘American Hustle’ is a sophisticated epic which wears its influences proudly on its chic velvet sleeves, and is arguably the director’s best work to date. It finds a sweetly judged balance between the gloriously outlandish aesthetics and the complex scam at the centre of the script, representing a whacky adaptation of partly true events with an exciting final act. Bale is outstanding and a stand out amongst one of the best casts I’ve seen in a while with no weak link in sight, and David O. Russell continues his run of form.


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