Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Thoughts About Her

Image result for her movie images

Spike Jonze's film won an Academy award for Best Original Screenplay, and while any work by the visionary Jonze is worthwhile and garners attention due to his huge back catalogue of music videos and film, this attempt at a romantic film for the digital age is at times both affirming and frustrating.

In a near-future but too familiar to be science fiction, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a writer of lonely hearts letters for family members unable to connect with their loved ones, so they ask him to write letters to sons at college, wives on the anniversary of their wedding days from tongued tied spouses.

Theodore is going through a protracted divorce from Katherine (Rooney Mara) and is becoming somewhat insular and anti-social, so he purchases an operating system that will allow him to engage again with the outside world. He chooses a female voice, she calls herself Samantha and they slowly start a relationship together culminating in a sexual one, Samantha is voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

Image result for her movie images

The film is at pains to point out that the relationship between the human being and artificial intelligence is genuine and acceptable in this near future. Theodore's neighbour and friend Amy (Amy Adams) also has a relationship with her operating system and mentions others doing likewise.

Theodore has an ear piece where he can talk to Samantha, and this cuts him off from the rest of the world. He talks only to her, and although he is perceptive and observant of those around him, he does not interact face to face with them. His one attempt at a date with another female ends abruptly when she fears he will not call her back as it is only a one-night stand, something Theodore admits to.

The quest for love and companionship has fallen on deaf ears because people are too interested in their devices carrying all the information and knowledge they require, why interact with people who may well bore you - people are both alienated yet involved.

Jonze's screenplay is a nicely meditative piece on how relationships disintegrate over time due to the demands individuals place on each other in the hope for the ideal mate, and it is surprising that this viewer found the fleeting flashbacks of the maturation and eventual end of Theodore and Katherine's relationship at times more interesting that the story of this lonely individual; it may well have made for a more interesting film.

Image result for her movie images

Jonze is helped though by some beautiful cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema that makes this futuristic Los Angeles look like the most beautiful city in the world especially the final shot overlooking the cityscape with all the lights on. When it is quiet and no phones or devices are being used.

While Jonze's oeuvre can correctly be identifiable as offbeat, you hoped this film would be more conventional in its attempts at tackling romance yet Jonze's kookiness remains. This is a shame as Phoenix is exceptional as Theodore appearing in practically every shot holding our attention and gains our sympathy when he could easily have slipped into a caricature of an unloveable creep.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Black Mamba slides away

Image result for kobe bryant images
33,583 points before tonight his 1,281st NBA game

And so it comes to this. Wednesday 13th April 2016. A day I am sure not many of us thought would occur, and one the man this essay concerns would have wanted to avoid at all costs.
Kobe Bean Bryant is finally retiring from the NBA after 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, five NBA championships, two Olympic Gold medals and 18 All Star appearances.

It is always sad to see a veteran have to ride off into the sunset one more time and when that veteran has had such an illustrious career as Bryant, you do get time to reflect of his career peaks and influence.

When Bryant did announce his retirement shortly after the start of 2015/16 season it came as little surprise. Three years ago Bryant suffered a torn Achilles' tendon, and since the. His play has been limited by season ending injuries to his knee and shoulder. 

Bryant is an all-time Laker, the highest points scorer for the franchise, 4th highest in NBA history and a one team man which is becoming rarer and rarer. Bryant is one of the most tenacious and competitive individuals who could seemingly score at will; yet as Father Time caught up with him that tenacity has waned as has his figures.

Image result for kobe bryant images
Bryant won 5 NBA championships

A combination of injuries and playing on a lesser Lakers side (this season's side is statistically the worst in franchise history) has seen him become a playoff fixture to a forgotten thought. The mark of a legend is sometimes being able to write your own script, your own perfect ending as say Peyton Manning was able to with his Super Bowl victory.

You got the sense from Bryant that he wanted his talent to grace the playoffs one more time, and yet a mixture of poor off court decision making coupled with the burden to match Michael Jordan's six rings became paramount in the twilight of his career.

Bryant could have done more himself by taking a pay cut which would have allowed the Lakers to entice a viable free agent like Chris Paul instead Bryant took the maximum contract (two year extension worth $48.5 million) thereby hamstringing the team to his want of a better and greater legacy. Yet you look at his contemporaries like Dirk Nowitzki who reshuffled his contract in Dallas to exist in the West or even Tom Brady in the NFL a man who always takes a pay cut to help his team in the off season.

Image result for bryant and shaq images
Did Kobe play well with others?
Bryant is for this writer a top 10 all time talent based on his capacity to win and his frequency of scoring, but it is probably his unwillingness to play well with others, you need only see the unseemly fall out of his relationship with Shaquille O'Neal for evidence followed by his shutting out of Dwight Howard in a misguided super-team endeavour. 

Even the recent debacle on the Lakers between Nick Young and D'Angelo Russell needed an elder statesman to shepherd them through the mess, yet Bryant has remained mute when his words may have spoken volumes. Bryant always wanted to take the shot and will always be remembered as a scorer than a distributor or team player, for a man who was the first great player of this millennium and has five rings.

Image result for kobe bryant images
Bryant plays his last game 13th April v Utah Jazz
Bryant maybe the Black Mamba but in recent years the player has lost his bite. A career more memorable for sustainability than credibility.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Ran - Akira Kurosawa - 30th Anniversary Re-release

Celebrating its 30th anniversary of release, Akira Kurosawa's final cinematic masterpiece RAN is being re-released on the big screen and enjoying a DVD and Blu-ray release in a new 4K restoration.

Based on William Shakespeare's King Lear, Ran is considered one of the greatest war films of all time. Fittingly the 4K release coincides with the 400th anniversary celebrations of William Shakespeare.

In the final years of Kurosawa's beautiful creative mind, he saw fit to create a colourful landscape within the Japanese hills as a small family dispute with far reaching scope takes over the country.

Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai – Yojimbo, Kagemusha) an ageing warlord who, after spending his life consolidating his empire, decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom amongst his three sons, Taro (Akira Terao - Letter from the Mountain, Dreams), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu – The Man in White, Red Shadow: Akakage) and Saburo (Daisuke RyĆ» - Tono monogatari, Gojo reisenki: Gojoe). When Hidetora’s youngest son Saburo voices concerns about the wisdom of his father’s plan, claiming that treachery within the family will be inevitable, Hidetora mistakes these comments for a threat and banishes him. This allows Taro and Jiro to take the reigns of power unopposed, leading to a brutal and bloody struggle to win absolute power.

Image result for ran akira kurosawa images

The richness of the colour palette is on display from the first meeting of Hidetora as he decrees over his sons his wish to pass on his kingdom to Taro - while the warlord oversees all in his glorious white robe his three sons sit in the primary colours of blue, yellow and red. Saburo sits in red which is the
colour of red and anger, and his banishment prompts the kind of bloody that 16th century civil war is
renowned for.

Kurosawa was always known for becoming the first Eastern director to have his work transported and transplanted to the West and most especially the American Hollywood system in particular the western genre where his work was impressed upon John Ford and Howard Hawks. Famously, his film The Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven in 1960.

Image result for ran akira kurosawa images

Yet perhaps the influence of Western Hollywood cinema came back to Kurosawa, in particular the huge epic sweep of films like David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and Richard Attenborough's Gandhi.

Majestic in its scope and a finale to a tremendously creative career which proved that film language can be universal in garnering an international appreciation of his work, Ran stands a fitting monument to Akira Kurosawa's career.

Studiocanal/Independent Cinema Office (ICO) re-issue the film on a 4K restoration in UK cinemas on April 1st, with a Blu-ray/DVD release on May 2nd with a wealth of bonus features available