Her – Movie Review

When asked about my all-time favorite romance film, without hesitation I would respond with Michel Gondry’s unprecedented opus, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. For me, no film has blended so much artistry, intimacy, or even the life-affirming philosophical ideals as great as that one. Inventive in its meticulous craftsmanship thanks to the surreal direction of Gondry, the limitless imagination of Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay, and such genuine, realistic performances by the ensemble. It is films like “Eternal Sunshine” that made me fall in love with film in the first place – not only as a simple form of entertainment or escapism from the real world, but as an art that can enlighten the hearts and minds of audiences all thanks to the unparalleled beauty that visual storytelling can accomplish.

You may be wondering why I prefaced this review of Spike Jonze’s Her by mentioning my unflinching adoration of “Eternal Sunshine”. Well for me, Her is not only reminiscent of that film in terms of artistry, it is also the single best romance film I’ve seen since then.

Now I have a hunch that you may be wondering why I would say such high remarks. Simply put, there hasn’t been a film within the genres of romance or even sci-fi in years that delved within the essence of the human heart alongside the ideas to why we fall in love in the first place.

Set in Los Angeles during the not-too distant future, Theodore Twombly (played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix) is an introverted, yet loveable man who lives a lonely life having recently separated with his wife Catherine. His life soon turns upside-down when he purchases an artificially intelligent OS named Samantha (portrayed by an unseen Scarlett Johansson). What starts out as just simply an assistant to help organize emails and even play video games with, a relationship starts to brew.

From an outsider’s perspective, the film’s premise may come off as pretty obscure. But it is a credit to Jonze’s incredible direction and screenplay that not only analyzes the human spirit, but also serves as a social commentary on how outsiders may view other people’s relationships along with the ever-growing disconnected society that continuously spend their lives on technology. I mention the outsider’s perspective because what makes relationships so beautiful is that no matter what others may see differently, it is the intimate interaction between you and another individual that makes it so precious. And that’s what Jonze flawlessly accomplishes when we see Theodore and Samantha interact. Sure on the outside it may seem abnormal to some, but when you finally get to know both of these characters, that outsider’s perspective is thrown out the window once you realize that this relationship may possibly work despite Samantha not having a physical form.

And that’s why this film leaves you in such a whirlwind of emotions and philosophical questions to ponder over. We often rely on technology to help us with our needs – whether it is through assignments needed to be accomplished, information desired to be researched, and of course social interaction. And as we see with Theodore and Samantha’s relationship, it permeates within it all and is only amplified to 11 thanks to the sentient nature of Samantha. But really, even though Samantha may be “the perfect girlfriend” and may satisfy Theodore just as a complicated human relationship would, it is through their own experiences where the audiences come to realize that technology will continue to advance and unfortunately, humans are only capable of so much. And regardless of what may seem satisfying to Theodore in this situation, in the big scheme of things, his relationship with Samantha is strictly based on their vocal interaction. And it is through those conversations that we as an audience feel the realness of their togetherness. But unfortunately, language is limited and communication is more than letter and word combinations. And while communication is vital to a healthy relationship, there is still so much desired by the human heart that Samantha just cannot satisfy. Sure, they both attempt to reach those levels of their romance, but only to reach awkwardly unsettling results.

Her reminds us of what we are missing out on in our lives because of our fixation with technology. What should be used to explore more about what society can be capable of has been almost bombarded by satisfying ourselves whether it is through emotional or even physical desires – only to be reminded that it was all thanks to simulations that satisfy temporarily and only feel real, yet isn’t real.

When the credits started to roll, the tears wouldn’t stop flowing. I was in a state of overwhelming emotions that I haven’t felt ever since “Eternal Sunshine”. And it was all the more evident knowing that I stayed through the credits wanting to read all the names that have taken part of this awe-inspiring masterpiece that I will continue to remember for as long as I continue my passion for not only film, but life. I can go on and on about how much this film has resonated with me as a person, but seriously, just as I expressed above, language is limited. All I can do now is to implore you to go see this film. This is not only 2013’s best film, it is one of the best films of the decade and truly feels so perfect for the times we are living in right now. It’s a film that I can now put as a companion piece to my all-time favorite romance film. Thank you, Spike Jonze. Thank you.

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Her earns a 5/5.

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Monsters University – Review

Back in November 2001, the geniuses at Pixar Animation Studios brought us Monsters, Inc. Introducing us to Mike and Sulley, one of the studios’ famous dynamic duos. The film was not only a commercial success, but was hailed by critics and audiences alike thanks to the film’s lovable characters, laugh-out-loud humor, and genuine heart, and to this day Monsters, Inc. remains one of my favorite animated films. Now, Pixar invites us to Mike and Sulley’s college experience in this prequel, Monsters University, in which we first follow Mike, our mutated tennis ball-looking friend attends MU to pursue his dream of becoming a scarer, the most respected position in a monster’s possible career field. There, he meets Sulley for the first time, whom we realize is apart of a highly respected family in the scaring business. Mike has worked his entire life to become a scarer while Sulley never studied a page, feeling he doesn’t need to due to his family’s name. And once we witness these two first meet, we have our two heroes use their respective differences to overcome their rivalry and compete with their fraternity, Oozma Kampa, to win the Scare Games competition.

As much as I adored the original Monsters, Inc., I was not as excited for MU as much as I would have liked to, and for two reasons. First, Pixar has been on a string of 2 disappointing entries into their otherwise fantastic filmography. After the abysmal Cars 2, and the mediocre Brave, this studio has been sliding down due to its reputation of making some of the best animated films being made today. Also, the film’s trailers and TV spots, while not necessarily anything awful, weren’t really doing enough for me to get pumped other than seeing the characters from my childhood that I love. But going into the theater, I still had a glimmer of hope because even though Pixar’s last two films weren’t great, they were still the geniuses behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Up. Not only some of my favorite animated films, but even all-time favorite films in general. Pixar has shaped much of my childhood in terms of filmmaking and storytelling, so despite my reservations, I remained optimistic for MU. And I am more than happy to say that Pixar has taken a step right back on track. Monsters University is simply terrific.

As usual with this studio, the voice acting for the characters is top notch. Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprise their roles as Mike and Sulley respectively and gladly bring them back to life on the big screen. Their chemistry in the first film was brilliant, but now seeing the two characters when they weren’t best friends  but rather bitter rivals was truly interesting to see thanks to Crystal’s comedic mantra, and Goodman’s deep, lovable voice. The film’s voice ensemble is also comprised of Steve Buscemi, who reprises his role as the original film’s villain, Randall, Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble, as well as other actors like Joel Murray, Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, among others. Every single vocal performance in this film is of high quality, and done without the feeling of seeing the actors performing in the recording studio.

Unsurprisingly for a Pixar film, the animation in MU is stunning. The character designs for all the monsters onscreen are all visually creative, and the colors just bounce right off the screen, being a feast for the eyes. In just normal shots, there is always something in the background going on, giving the film a sense of ongoing excitement throughout, which is thanks to director, Dan Scanlon. Scanlon truly makes MU entertaining whether visually, or through his script also co-written by Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird. The majority of the jokes thrown out ranges from a chuckle up to a full-on laugh, not only through the film’s dialogue, but also due to the new memorable characters introduced. Whether it is Dean Hardscrabble, or the Oozma Kampa fraternity, the combination of their memorable character designs and lovable personalities make them a welcome addition to the world of Monstropolis. Monsters University also has the ultimate nostalgia-factor for those who grew up with the original and constantly rewinded their VHS tapes. The film’s subtle throwbacks such as the appearance of the Monsters, Inc. facility, or even a few surprise cameos from the other memorable characters from the original will leave fans in delight.

As for the film’s flaws, they’re not necessarily monstrous (sorry couldn’t resist), but they’re mainly nitpicks. First off, the film’s actual story structure is kind of safe, especially for a Pixar film. It’s the traditional rivals-becoming-friends story that we have seen countless times, and knowing the film is a prequel, it’s harbored with the audiences’ knowledge of where Mike and Sulley will end up at the end. But surprisingly enough, for a prequel, Monsters University retains a really good sense of investment, especially in the film’s third act, in which prior to its initiation, what feels like the film’s ending truly pulls the rug right from under the audience, leaving them curious to see what happens next, which results into an absolutely phenomenal tribute to classic horror movie tropes and cliches that shows Pixar at its creative heights not only through animation, but through storytelling. And I absolutely loved the way the film concluded, while being a satisfying ending while remaining realistic but encouraging within its overall message: even if you find yourself at the bottom and people may tell you that it is impossible for you to reach your aspirations, with enough persistence and determination, you’ll find yourself at the top.

I really cannot say anything else I didn’t like out of this film other than that I feel as if Randy Newman’s score was not as good as his previous score for the original film, and that about a third of the jokes missed the bullseye. But if those are the only criticisms that I have, then it truly proves that this movie is a blast at the movies. Monsters University is a more-than-welcome step back in the right direction for the creative geniuses at Pixar. Thanks to the terrific voice acting, pristine animation, entertaining humor, nostalgia factor, and nice, non spoon-fed message. Truly a breath of fresh air for animated films.

PS, the latest animated short attached before the film, entitled The Blue Umbrella, is absolutely beautiful. Its a true staple of how beautiful animation done right is as an artform, even if there is no dialogue.

Monsters University earns a 4.5/5 rating.

The Internship – Movie Review

The Internship is a comedy directed by Shawn Levy and reunites the Wedding Crashers duo Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. The comedic duo play two salesman Nick (Wilson) and Billy (Vaughn) who lose their careers due to the ever-growing digital age turning their jobs obsolete. Desperate to find a new opportunity, Billy finds an internship opportunity at Google, in which he brings Nick along for the hopes of winning an actual job at Google while competing with a multitude of younger, tech-geniuses. Leading to a fun, yet forgettable comedy with a few chuckles and lots and lots and lots of Google promotion.

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are both likable in their performances as well as their characters. You find yourself rooting for the two along with their team composed of Lyle (Josh Brener), a Google employee that scouts the team, Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael), a home-schooled mama’s boy, Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), the reluctant wise guy, and Neha (Tiya Sircar), the cute geeky girl. The whole team is very likable and it is definitely entertaining seeing these polar opposite characters assemble in the hopes to win the coveted job at Google.

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As seen in the trailers, Google is prominently shown throughout, leaving me to believe that this film is essentially a 2 hour advertisement for the search engine. Thankfully, Google isn’t used in here in that fashion instead being showcased as a backdrop for these characters and the story to be told through. The film also has a nice, light-hearted charm to it that is thanks to the actors, and is evident due to a good handful of chuckle-worthy moments and even a laugh-out-loud worthy moment. Also, there is a nice little cameo that had me in stitches once that actor appeared on screen.

However, while I did enjoy the film while watching it at the screening on Monday, looking at it in retrospect, it’s cliched. And boy, is it cliched. The characters while enjoyable are all archetypes from other films we’ve seen countless times before. The story is essentially the common underdog tale in which we follow an unlikely team with complete personality differences in which they have to use their own skills to make the better for themselves. Yeah, I loved it more when it was in The Avengers. The film’s tone is also very inconsistent, which surprises me because based off of the trailers, I expected this film to be a full-fledged comedy, but instead there were a few moments of drama in there, and while they were not necessarily bad, it just didn’t seem to mesh well with the comedic aspects of the film. The villain played by Max Minghella is the most stereotypical villain in the book of stereotypical villains, playing that guy in your class that always knows that he’s better than you and flaunts it to the point of pure annoyance. Ironically enough, Minghella was also in The Social Network, playing yet another character that is trying to gain power in the internet. The film also clocks in at about 2 hours, and while I wouldn’t say that I was really bored throughout the film, I could definitely feel the film’s running time and could have preferred the film to be at barely 100 minutes.

I will say that I’m not angry that I watched The Internship because I enjoyed my time watching it, especially due to the two likable leads and a few genuine chuckles/laughs here and there, but thankfully I saw the film at a free early screening because while I would enjoy the film as a matinee with a few friends, I would definitely rather see Star Trek Into Darkness for a second time instead or just wait for Man of Steel or This is the End because this film is the epitome of a meal at McDonalds, in which it satisfies you for what you got for a short time, but once finished even though you leave with a nice feel-good emotion, you do forget about it later on when looking in retrospect. If you wanna go out of your way seeing it, at most definitely a matinee, but I would probably be more satisfied catching it on TBS one night when I am flicking through channels trying to find something to watch.

The Internship earns 3/5 stars.

Iron Man 3 – Movie Review

It is hard to believe that before 2008, Iron Man was one of Marvel’s lesser-known characters. He was loved by comic-book fans, but to mainstream audiences, they did not know what to think. I remember the first time I ever heard of Iron Man. I was talking to my cousin one day about superhero movies, and I asked him which superhero he would like to see on the big screen, to which he replied Iron Man. Then it all added up when I went to San Diego back in Summer of 2007, where I saw banner advertisements for the new movie at Comic-Con. Come May 2nd, 2008, I go and watch the movie. Once the film finished with Tony Stark’s closing lines, “The truth is… I am Iron Man,” I simply stood up from my seat and applauded. Iron Man soon became one of my favorite superheroes not only because of his awesome suit of armor, but because of the amazing charisma of Tony Stark himself.

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Just like everyone else in the world, I absolutely loved Joss Whedon’s blockbuster masterpiece, The Avengers. I loved the action, the adventure and the laughs, but most of all I loved the characters. The film is in my opinion this generation’s equivalent to Star Wars in which it will be looked upon by fans in the coming years as a classic in terms of popcorn entertainment. So naturally, my expectations for Iron Man 3 were high, but I still accepted the inevitable fact that it won’t surpass the near-perfection of The Avengers. Also, since this marked the beginning of Phase 2 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film had my curiosity because I wanted to see how Stark was dealing with himself after falling out of that wormhole. Needless to say, Phase 2 is not only off to a rocking inauguration, but the Summer Movie Season is as well.

As expected, the performances by the cast are simply spot-on. I do not even need to speak about Downey Jr. because it is a given that he is fantastic. Whenever he is on screen, you can tell that he is not acting, but rather he is Iron Man, and I must say that here, he gives his best performance of the character because not only does he still embody the “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” element, but he also adds that level of emotion that adds plenty of depth to his character, which is all credit to Downey’s performance. Gwenyth Paltrow and Don Cheadle also have expanded roles in the film that give more layers to their characters that make them more interesting, but it’s the two newcomers Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley that are truly noteworthy performances, particularly Kingsley as the Mandarin, whom is shown throughout the film and without going into spoiler territory, the Mandarin proves to be a frightening villain every time he is seen on screen.

Shane Black takes over Jon Favreau’s directing duties and he definitely interjects a great energy to the film. His direction evokes much light-heartedness while also balancing it with the many serious moments throughout. His script also co-written by Drew Pearce is entertaining to the brim, filled with great humor and wit throughout.

But what most audiences came for here is the action sequences. As great  Iron Man was, the film’s action climax was subpar to the rest of the film. The same applies to the lackluster Iron Man 2. Here in Iron Man 3 the action is not only the best of the three films, but also is on par with the sequences seen in The Avengers. They were well shot, exciting, and are sure to leave audiences on edge throughout. Particularly the scene as shown in the Super Bowl TV Spot where we see the people falling from the airplane which gave a great sense of vertigo in the theatre. Also, the film’s climactic close is a rousing sequence that truly keeps the audience’s investment with the characters.

Iron Man 3 is not without its flaws though. Some minor characters lack depth, and the film has numerous plotholes within the story, but those flaws did not seem to bother me as much. However, there is this one element to the film that has proven to be controversial to both critics and audiences alike. Of course, this being a spoiler-free review, I would like to keep away from what that specific element was, rather I tell you about what I thought of it myself. This particular moment in the film definitely proved to be bizarre and pulls the rug right under you. I found it to be a very inventive aspect of the movie, and I respect that the filmmakers had the balls to take some liberties to the Iron Man comics, even though many fans may be enraged with what they did.

Despite of the minor flaws, they do not detract from the film for me personally, and it should not detract from you going to see the film, because you are already going to watch it anyway. With its terrific acting, super-cool direction, and phenomenal action, Iron Man 3 starts off the Summer with a bang. Now I am definitely more intrigued about this Fall’s Thor: The Dark World.

Iron Man 3 earns a very strong 4.5/5 stars.