Spike Jonze doesn't waste any time introducing us to the technology at the center of Her. "An operating system that can mimic human sentience?" a dangerously lonely Joaquin Phoenix wonders after catching glimpse of an ad in a transit station. "Don't mind if I do!" (He doesn't actually say that, don't worry.) But by the time we're meant to believe that such a world can seamlessly integrate characters like Scarlett Johansson's automated voice Samantha into the lives of living, breathing men and women like Phoenix's Theodore, we're already established residents of this arresting, icy, quivering world the filmmaker has built. We meet Theodore midway through his recitation of a "handwritten letter" he penned on behalf of a woman to her husband of many years. That's his job — tapping into his own unique sensititivies to play ghostwriter for people hoping to adorn their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, and children with personal notes of personal affection. Theodore is no independent contractor; he's part of a thriving company, and we almost get the feeling that the folks on the receiving end of these letters are in the know. Before we ever encounter Samantha, we're embedded in the central conceit of the movie: emotional surrogacy is an industry on the rise.
What makes Jonze's world so palatable is that, beneath its marvelously eerie aesthetic, this idea is barely science-fiction. Theodore, humbled and scarred by a recent divorce from lifelong love Catherine (Rooney Mara, who contrasts Johansson by giving a performance that, for a large sum of the movie, is all body and no voice), accesses the will to go on through interractions with video game characters and phone-sex hotlines. But the ante is upped with Samantha, the self-named operating system that Theodore purchases to stave off loneliness, deeming choice a far less contorting one than spending time with old pals like Amy (Amy Adams)... at first.
Samantha evolves rather quickly from an articulate Siri into a curious companion, who is fed and engaged by Theodore just as much as she feeds and engages him. Jonze paces his construction of what, exactly, Samantha is so carefully that we won't even catch the individual steps in her change — along with Theodore, we slowly grow more and more enamored and mystified by his computer/assistant/friend/lover before we can recognize that we're dealing with a different being altogether from the one we met at that inceptive self-aware "H-hello?" But Jonze lays tremendous groundwork to let us know this story is all for something: all the while, as the attractions build and the hearts beat faster for Samantha, we foster an unmistakable sense of doom. We can't help but dread the very same perils that instituted one infamous admission: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
But Jonze's sci-fi constructs are so cohesively intertwined with his love story that our dread doesn't exactly translate to an anticipation of HAL's hostile takeover. Her wedges us so tightly between Theodore and Samantha that our fears of the inevitable clash between man and machine apprehend a smaller, more intimate ruin. As Samantha's growth become more surprising and challenging to Theodore, to herself, and to us, the omens build for each.
And although all three parties know better, we cannot help but affix ourselves to the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha, and to the possibility that we're building toward something supreme. A good faction of this is due to the unbelievable performances of Phoenix — representing the cautious excitement that we all know so painfully well — and Johansson, who twists her disembodied voice so empathetically that we find ourselves, like Theodore, forgetting that we have yet to actually meet her. The one castigation that we can attach to the casting of Johansson is that such a recognizable face will, inevitably, work its way into our heads when we're listening to her performance. It almost feels like a cheat, although we can guarantee that a performance this good would render a figure just as vivid even if delivered by an unknown.
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In this way, Her is as effective a comment on the healthiest human relationships as it is on those that rope in third parties — be they of the living, automated, or greeting card variety. In fact, the movie has so many things to say that it occasionally steps on its own feet, opening up ideas so grand (and coloring them so brightly) that it sometimes has trouble capping them coherently. Admittedly, if Spike Jonze had an answer to some of the questions he's asking here, he'd probably be suspected of himself being a super-intelligent computer. But in telling the story of a man struggling to understand what it means to be in love, to an operating system or not, Jonze invites us to dissect all of the manic and trying and wonderful and terrifying and incomprehensible elements therein. Just like Samantha, Her doesn't always know what to do with all of its brilliance. But that might be part of why we're so crazy over the both of them.
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The Man with the Iron Fists the directorial debut of music artist RZA is clearly a love letter to all of the Wu Tang frontman's passions. An old school kung fu movie infused with hip hop beats and a comic book aesthetic Iron Fists rarely makes a lick of sense but it's a collage of imagination — and that earns it a few points. Like a cinematic version of the backyard games we all used to play RZA casts himself as a Chinese town's resident badass who teams up with a cowboy to take down an army of ninjas assassins. The freeform style allows him to run wild rarely providing actual thrills but resulting in an action movie overflowing with heart. Bloody bloody heart.
The manic script for Iron Fists written by RZA and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever Hostel) interlocks a handful of colorful characters with varying degrees of success: The Blacksmith (RZA) a freed slave who hopes to earn enough bucks to whisk his love prostitute Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) away from the Pink Blossom brothel; Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) the brothel's owner (and local mobster); Silver Lion (Byron Mann) a murderous gangster out to overtake the city with the help of his magical metallic underling Brass Body (Dave Bautista); Zen Yi a.k.a. The X-Blade (Rick Yune) whose father was killed at the hands of Silver Lion and now seeks revenge; and Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) a mysterious British gunslinger taking residence at the Pink Blossom who may have ulterior motives. Iron Fists bounces between the plot threads without much worry — you never really know who is doing what or why. But if characters say what they're thinking with conviction then beat the daylights out of their opponent it's supposed to suffice. More often than not it does.
What Iron Fists lacks in coherency it makes up for in absurdity. RZA pumps up the volume on every element of the film from costumes that shoot daggers to flamboyant overacting evildoers to Jack Knife taking the goriest route to defeat an enemy (in this case using a knife gun to rip up a heavyset man's insides). Taking a page from mentor Quentin Tarantino's book anything can happen in this Eastern martial soap opera and everything does happen. It's money shot after money shot the rapid pace reminiscent of channel surfing — likely the way most kung fu fans stumbled upon the type of films that inspire Iron Fists back in the '70s and '80s.
Not every moment pops — unlike Liu and Crowe RZA doesn't exactly light up the screen when given the freedom to go crazy. Blacksmith is a muted mumbling character who doesn't throw himself into a fight the way a kung fu movie demands from its lead. Behind the camera the fight scenes are choreographed similarly to how the movie is structured: randomly with the occasional inspired moment. But the inventiveness of the mechanics keeps Iron Fists working. A scene with two twins using contortion to throw and kick and punch their way through hoards of bad guys is a joy. Seeing Crowe (obviously not an expert in martial arts) lay down a few moves is pure fun too.
The Man with the Iron Fists isn't as expertly crafted as Tarantino's Kill Bill but it has more mind-boggling oddities. RZA unleashes his passion into the film so even when the story or action isn't working something else on screen is.
John Woo's most recent film, the historical epic Red Cliff, went largely unseen here in the states despite it's grand scale of adventure, but the veteran filmmaker is taking all the necessary steps to ensure that his upcoming Flying Tigers will have global appeal. The Hollywood Reporter has learned that Woo is interested in casting Liam Neeson as the star of the WWII aerial combat pic, an ambitious $90 million production which will is planned to be a major IMAX release.
The film would focus on U.S. Army Air Corp Lt. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault - the contentious American officer whose volunteer Flying Tigers squadron trained the first generation of Chinese fighter pilots taking on Japan in WWII. The Flying Tigers flew successful missions around the city of Kunming in Yunnan province against the raiding Japanese and flew supplies to both Nationalist and Communist Chinese forces. Playing opposite whoever is cast as Chennault will be a young Chinese actor in the role of a pilot in training. Woo mentioned the likes of actor Liu Ye, who last appeared in a lead role in Lu Chuan's Nanjing Massacre picture City of Life and Death. Clearly, the American audience will be more interested in whoever will be playing Chennault, so the casting process is key to ensuring the film's success.
“It’s got to be a star but it’s hard to find the right one, because at that time Chennault was almost 50 years old. Ideally, I’ve been thinking of Liam Neeson as the title actor,” Woo said. CAA confirmed it represents Neeson but declined to comment on Flying Tigers. Woo is writing the script with Chris Chow and will co-produce with his longtime partner Terrence Chang of Lion Rock Productions.
Woo has long been one of my favorite foreign filmmakers and it's about time he had a fitting return to mainstream Hollywood cinema. His influence on the action genre is immeasurable - take a look at the works of Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott and Brett Ratner (just to name a few), then go back and look at The Killer and Hard Boiled to see how profoundly he has effected these artists. I was left in awe by the imagery of Red Cliff and was saddened that it wasn't embraced by the public, but I realize that it was based on a story that most, if not all Americans are unfamiliar with. The equally expansive Flying Tigers focuses on a story that is well known to both Chinese and Americans, and that can only help in drumming up interest in the project. With the production gearing up for a spring start and a late 2011 release, Woo may finally begin the next chapter in his cinematic success story.
Near the end of the Tang Dynasty in 10th century China things are not well between the Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) and his Empress (Gong Li). She serves more as an arm piece to him and begins to suspect that he is poisoning her to keep her subservient. The Emperor brings his son Prince Jai (Jay Chou) to the palace and Jai is concerned for the Empress's health. She also seems to have some sort of hold on her stepson Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye) who just wants to run away with the palace doctor's daughter Chan (Li Man). With all the scheming and ulterior motives going back and forth it all hits the fan when the Emperor's convoy is attacked by assassins. From here secrets come to light through death and battle as the assassins force both sides' hands. The family relations and dynasty lore may be too complicated to understand in one viewing but that is often the case with these kinds of historical epics especially in a foreign language. Still the elements are beautiful to watch and once it becomes a war movie the threat of boredom is lifted. Curse of the Golden Flower offers traditional epic performances. Gong Li’s Empress may be bitter in servitude angry in conspiracy or pained with tragedy but it's all big dramatics. Few can do it better than Gong. The lavish emotional material is her forte and this is another tragic epic in which she can shine. Chow Yun-Fat does his stoic thing. What makes him the ultimate badass action hero also suits him well as a plotting monarch. Some range of issues face his character but he greets them with a strong even-keeled temper only breaking down in pivotal moments. The assassins serve as a singular character too. They move so gracefully as a single unit you don't even need to see who's under the masks to get the personality of this unstoppable killing machine. Other characters just serve as pawns in the plot. There's the whiny sissy son and lovelorn kids all convincing as they serve their purposes in Gong and Chow's chess game. Curse of the Golden Flower seems to be a culmination of all of director Zhang Yimou's work. It includes period drama with epic tragic themes and even more newfangled martial arts action since his last effort Hero. He also uses color schemes to reflect emotion. Superficial gold barely masks the palace corruption and forest greens welcome in the change brought by the assassins. Golden Flower does seems a tad melodramatic. But the Chinese language is based on subtle sound differences and going over the top may be the only way to convey it. It certainly works for a political intrigue family drama. The best parts of the film are the assassin attacks big but full of nuance. The dark figures flow gracefully through the scenes seeming to defy gravity but not in a Crouching Tiger sort of way. Their acrobatic antics are based on some level of physics at least as the film establishes the group. It's never just clanking swords there's always some careful tactics to enjoy. Combining so many aspects masterfully Curse of the Golden Flower could be Zhang's masterwork.
Two prominent American directors, Clint Eastwood and Gus Van Sant, will compete for the top prize at this year's prestigious Cannes Film Festival, it was announced Wednesday.
Eastwood's suspense thriller Mystic River, which stars Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins, is one of the top contenders for the coveted Palme d'Or, given to the best feature film winner. The film, scheduled for release stateside Oct. 3, 2003, revolves around three childhood friends who are reunited 25 years later when they become linked to a murder investigation.
Good Will Hunting director Van Sant will present Elephant, a film focusing on high school violence.
Also in competition is British director Peter Greenaway's period drama, The Tulse Luper Suitcase, starring J.J. Field and Kathy Bates. The epic tale follows 92 characters, 92 events, and 92 suitcases from the year 1928 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This is the director's third Palme d'Or nomination.
Danish director Lars von Trier, who won the Palme d'Or two years ago for the musical Dancer in the Dark, will show his new thriller Dogville. The film stars Nicole Kidman as a woman on the run who takes refuge in a small town inhabited by an anguished apple grower, his wife and their seven children.
French director Patrice Chereau, actress Meg Ryan and director Steven Soderbergh are in this year's jury.
Celebs expected at this year's festival include Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Lauren Bacall, Laurence Fishburne, Keanu Reeves, Monica Bellucci, Toni Collette and James Caan.
The 56th Cannes Film Festival opens May 14 in Paris with Penelope Cruz's new comedy Fanfan la Tulipe, a remake of the 1952 French film starring Gina Lollobrigida.
The French festival also showcases international films out of competition. Warner Bros.' highly anticipated sci-fi sequel The Matrix: Reloaded premieres worldwide May 15 on the festival's second day.
The festival closes on May 25.
Here is the complete list of films in competition:
Les Invasions Barbares, Denys Arcand, Canada
Il Cuore Altrove, Pupi Avati, Italy
Carandiru, Hector Babenco, Brazil
Uzak, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey
Mystic River, Clint Eastwood, United States
The Brown Bunny, Vincent Gallo, United States
The Moab Story/The Tulse Luper Suitcases--Part I, Peter Greenaway, Britain
Shara, Naomi Kawase, Japan
Akarui Mirai, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan
A Cinq Heures de l'Apres-Midi, Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran
Ce Jour-La, Raoul Ruiz, Switzerland
Father and Son, Alexandre Sokorov, Russia
Dogville, Lars von Trier, Denmark
Elephant, Gus Van Sant, United States
Purple Butterfly, Lu Ye, China
Les Cotelettes, Bertrand Blier, France
La Petite Lili, Claude Miller, France
Swimming Pool, Francois Ozon, France
Les Egares, Andre Techine, France
Tiresia, Bertand Bonello, France
Out of competition:
Le Temps Du Loup, Michael Haneke, France
Vai E Vem, Joao Cesar Monteiro, Portugal
Mansion by the Lake, Lester James Peries, Sri Lanka
The Matrix: Reloaded, Andy and Larry Wachowski, United States
Les Triplettes de Belleville, Sylvain Chomet, France
Qui A Tué Bambi?, Gilles Marchand, France