Category Archives: cinema

The Spectacular Now

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Usually, I watch a film before I’m fed with even the slightest vestige of a pre-conception through media or people around me; However, James Ponsoldt’s “The Spectacular Now” was sold to me by quite a few, of whom some were vociferous in their raving of it’s apparently “genre-defying” qualities. I was initially skeptical. Very skeptical. I’ve had more than my fair share of coming-of-age dramas, comedies, dramedies, tragedies and so on in the past few years. They’ve ranged from trite, to half hearted, decent sometimes even verging on brilliant: There was the one with the girls who were very particular about their trousers, one with hot-headed curmudgeons of teens living in the middle of nowhere and indeed many more that i struggle to recollect the names of. Then , there is the all too familiar and over-crowded setting of the American high school; I catch myself silently sighing every time one of these comes out. The clawing cliches, the hypertrophic late 20s male lead (supposed to be 17), the spray tanned and ditzy female lead…well you get the idea; the whole thing is so done, dusted and rusted that one wonders why they even bother milking any more from these genres.

Considering all this, I wasn’t really jumping to watch the film in question when it came out. I didn’t even bother watching it online. I had become sort of a high school comedy/coming-of-age drama cynic. Nevertheless, constant haranguing on the part of my lady love and overwhelmingly good reviews by several established critics/websites, claiming that the film was pathbreaking and so unlike any other movie of it’s class, made me watch it.

The film was one that I liked. It is a very likeable film; very easy on the eyes, charming leads (who thankfully do look like they are in their late teens), a screenplay that doesn’t meaninglessly meander,some amazingly memorable moments and a strong emotional quotient. The film manages to do everything it sets out to,although to me,it was a minor disappointment. I am inclined to attribute this to the very thing I mentioned in the beginning: the expectations that I was ready-fed to have before watching it. In my opinion, there wasn’t much about the film that could be characterised as either pathbreaking or un-stereotypical of it’s genre. In fact it’s remarkable how diligently the film sticks to it’s genre’s template. The film could, in fact, be described as a thorough effort to check the boxes that constitute it’s kind, though what is remarkable is that the boxes have been checked with great aplomb and impeccable attention to detail: When Sutter feels embarrassed to make public his liaison with Aimee, it doesn’t feel forced or due to some inexplicable pecking-order-standing bullshit: you get it. You get why one would have to grow to like this girl. And she isn’t a feisty mean bitch who compensates for looks with a “killer-atti” either. She is shy, gluttonous for attention and lacking in self respect (just like you would expect a real-life socially awkward/romantically inexperienced teenager to be) .The mandatory “meeting-the-estranged-father” scene is so realistically scripted and so brilliantly acted out that the awkwardness almost permeates through .The scene best exemplifies the film’s triumphs.

The trajectory of the plot’s progression is and well structured and almost  every scene is the subsequent logical aftermath of the former. The background score is perfectly adequate albeit largely forgettable.

It’s a film that gets most things right, though the fact that countless films have tried and tried again to do the same,seems to negate it’s achievement just a bit, in my eyes.

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Her

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After watching both “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation”, I was left with a feeling of awe for Spike Jonze’s flair for the meta. He dabbles in such ingenious ideas and  that too with remarkable compactness and adherence to internal logic. The films rank high in my lists of brilliant original screenplays and cerebrally engaging cinema. “Her”, the director’s latest feature, perches itself comfortably alongside his previous works and in many departments, manages to outshine them. I have to mention, before delving any deeper, that “Her” , to me, is one of the best films of 2013.

The film is set in the future (year unmentioned). The treatment of this particular premise is the film’s first selling point. It paints a very understated and un-HG Wells-esque picture of life in the future. No flying cars, audaciously unnecessary props ,frippery CGI and all such gimmicks that have come to become Sci-fi staples. The film paints a wonderfully detailed picture of life in it’s time and setting  whilst also being healthily nondescript. This is no mere feat and warrants commending in plenty. It makes you very aware of the fact that it’s a different time with very subtle and understated touches: like the lead character (along with many others) preferring (futuristic) sweatpants with plaids rather than jeans or khakis even for work, Video games featuring more interactivity and taxis that give out all but silent purrs. Never do these become anything more than mere props/tools. It successfully manages to wedge itself between the territories of drama and (black,understated) comedy. You don’t feel like you are watching the work of an overgrown  kid playing around with CGI that his producers got him; It’s the work of an auteur through and through. It is a film that takes itself seriously, expects you to as well and has the credentials to warrant that and more.

Hollywood abounds in films that find their roots in extremely original and clever ideas but make a mess of the execution; Many a film has left me lingering with a feeling of “what-could-have-been”. This is not one of those. Indeed the crux of the film’s plot, which is that of a man falling in love with an AI was sold as such and upfront. What it does with this idea and how it probes into the many tangents that the subject matter offers is remarkable and , for me, what makes it a great film. This is a film that manages to strikes the right balance on a multitude of factors. It’s paced languidly and it invests ample time in developing it’s characters to warrant emotions on the viewer’s part but it seldom ceases to engage (both superficially and viscerally); It offers chuckles and smiles on tap and also a few laugh out loud moments.  It is also never quite completely dystopian or utopian (notwithstanding the fact that this film is likely to leave one incredibly melancholic). It just presents a society, much like any modern one, without imposing on the viewer a prism to view things through .

The visual finesse of the movie is par excellence. With it’s constantly ambling  movements, the camera makes it’s presence felt but never quite for it’s own sake. The mood that the film creates, owing in no small part to the background score and colour palette, is addictive and stays with you long after the credits roll.

The casting is spot-on. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a career best performance and Scarlett Johansson delivers an uncharacteristically well emoted performance (though only in voice). Rooney Mara stands out although she only appears in one scene and a few montage clips

Her is a bittersweet tale of love and urban angst which is easy on the eye and unabashedly piercing. A must watch.

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