justin perich herHer – My personal favorite for the Best Picture Oscar, Spike Jonze’s Her tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely man living in a slightly futuristic Los Angeles who earns his living writing intimate, handwritten letters for other people. By now, those who haven’t seen the movie have already heard what happens next–Theodore falls in love with an artificially intelligent operating system (played pitch-perfectly by Scarlett Johansson). But the strength of the movie is that it succeeds not only in its novel premise, but in its uniquely satisfying execution. Her is a movie that never stops building on its own ideas. It makes you think not only about technology’s ever-growing role in society, but about human relationships in general. The romance is played perfectly straight, like any other movie about two individuals negotiating the delicate dance of falling in love. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s LA of the near future is brilliant in its simplicity, in its warm, glowing, colorful nostalgia for a past that never quite was (art direction, sets, and costumes by Austin Gorg, Gene Serdena, and Casey Storm, respectively). Lastly, supporting performances by Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, and Rooney Mara, as well as a dynamic score by Arcade Fire, make Her the leader of the pack in a year of terrific films. 5/5 stars.

The Wolf of Wall Street

justin perich wolfThe Wolf of Wall Street – Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest venture is earning a fair amount of praise and a fair amount of criticism. Based on the bestselling memoir by Jordan Belfort, the film tells the story of one corrupt stockbroker and potential sociopath’s rise to wealth and power, as well as his inevitable decline–though many would say he never fell quite as far as he deserved. Critics an audiences alike are charging the film with glorifying immoral behavior and endorsing Belfort specifically (the now motivational speaker made $1 million on movie rights), but for me this is besides the point. The real problem with Wolf is not that it glorifies bad behavior, but that it actually partakes in bad behavior, cinematically speaking. The movie attempts to match Mr. Belfort’s excessive, obnoxious, and hollow story by being excessive, obnoxious, and hollow in its writing and editing, making for an exceedingly dull story thinly veiled in the shocking spectacle of yachts, nude women, and copious drug mounds. It is impossible to care about any of these characters or their situation, and one walks out of the cinema feeling conned. Jonah Hill’s presence only serves to the muddle the tone–as soon as he’s on screen, the scenes devolve into awkward, reality-breaking adlib which comes off as overly smug, as though the film is laughing too hard at its own jokes. While it’s true that Wolf condemns the lifestyle it depicts, it doesn’t really do so until the very last shot, as Belfort confounds an audience at a sales seminar and they look on in hapless wonder. “Look at you, sitting there,” the movie is saying. “Something in you is charmed by behavior, and because of that you’re the problem.” The moment is heavy-handed and frankly unearned, as the film is not nearly so charming as it thinks it is. 3/5 stars.