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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Warning: This post contains minor spoilers from Iron Man 3.
Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, blah, blah, blah, who cares, right?
We get it, Iron Man 3, you've got an impressive starring lineup. You've got blockbuster heroes, Oscar-winning thespians, and critical powerhouses alike. But what about your second... er, third tier of bit players? The Marvel threequel might be front-loaded with glory, but the real fun comes from the handful of its supporting characters. More than a few of these one-scene wonders — these mighty set-fillers and exposition deliverers — will conjure a passionate, "Hey, it's that guy!" from eagle-eyed audience members. You'll instantly recognize a couple of noteworthy faces from film and television past making up Iron Man 3's backdrop. Here are a few faces bound to incite some fan boy glee during Tony Stark's latest turn...
Hey, it's Rosenfield from Twin Peaks!The stakes are high in Iron Man 3 — in fact, they go all the way to D.C.. But you might recognize the Marvel movie's Vice President Rodriguez from our country's other Washington: early in the actor's career, he immortalized the caustic and impatient, however expertly competent FBI forensic analyst Albert Rosenfield.
Hey, it's Max from Happy Endings!The ABC sitcom's slovenly, selfish breakout character Max Blum would be as out of place as possible in a superhero movie... but this doesn't seem to have stopped actor Adam Pally from landing a part as tech professional Gary, a Tony Stark aficionado whose gushing nearly gets in the way of a rescue mission. Not a huge leap from Max by any means, and a funny one to boot, but at least this incarnation of Pally seems to have earned steady job.
Hey, it's Bill Maher, and Joan Rivers, Thomas Roberts, and Pat Kiernan!By now, you should be accustomed to the whole media reel trope in superhero movies like Iron Man 3. This time around, we get a few jabs about Stark and the villainous The Mandarin from pundits and talk show hosts like Maher, Rivers, Roberts, and a few more. And if you're a New York local, there's an extra bonus: Pat Kiernan of NY1!
Hey, it's that lady from Winter's Bone!Or, if this is more your tastes, Martha from True Blood (or Patty from My Name Is earl, for that matter). The omnipresent actress Dale Dickey shows up in the latest Marvel endeavor as an important plot point in Tony Stark's investigation of The Mandarin's nefarious ploy...
Hey, it's Charlotte from Lost!This one is only for those vehemently opposed to blinking. Lost fans will recall, in the series' weakest chapter, English actress Rebecca Mader portray cultural anthropologist (with a penchant for time jump-induced nosebleeds) Charlotte Lewis. Although she might have overstayed her welcome on the island drama, Mader only has a split second of screen time in Iron Man 3, appearing as a brutal baddie hoping to take down Don Cheadle.
Hey, it's Stan Lee... obviously.Yeah, he's got a cameo in this one, too... we won't give it away, but it's a scene that'll inspire a smirk for sure.
Let us know if you spot anyone we missed!
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