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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We are at the dawn of America's political season. And like it or not, this country's politics manifests in the form of an uncompromising dichotomy between the right and the left. The republicans and the democrats. The conservatives and the liberals. The red and the blue. The elephants and the donkeys. And while most of those things are inherently boring and lame, that last one is funny to think about: elephants and donkeys. Fending off against one another in a heated political race. That's classic comedy.
And while some people might be more interested in taking a look at the "issues" each party seems so hell-bent on going on and on about, we'd prefer to devote focus to each party's mascot — thrusting the unassuming land mammals into an all-out battle — assigning some of the most celebrated representatives of each species to a slew of all-important issues in an effort to determine which is truly better suited for the White House. Or whatever equivalent of a White House might exist in a race between cinematic depictions of pachyderms and domesticated ungulates.
But enough horsing around. It would behoove us to saddle up for the most important political race of our time! Elephants Vs. Donkeys!
The Disney District: Dumbo Vs. Pinocchio
Representing the Elephants: Dumbo D. Eisenhower
Platform: "Together, we can make the economy fly!"
Representing the Donkeys: James K. Pinocchio
Platform: "I'm a man who nose how to get things done."
Sen. Pinocchio is a career politician; he knows how to spin a tale to convince anyone of anything. Gov. Dumbo, however, is an honest, hard-working man with humble beginnings. He's the man for the job.
The Thousand Acre Wood District: The Heffalump Vs. Eeyore
Representing the Elephants: Irving P. Heffalump
Platform: "I'm quick and slick and so sincere!"
Representing the Donkeys: Chester A. Eeyore
Platform: "It's not much of a policy, but I'm sort of attached to it."
Councilman Eeyore is your sure bet here; Irving Heffalump (and his running-mate J. Wellington Woozle) are all about flash, pizzazz, style over substance.
The CGD (Computer Generated District): Horton Vs. Donkey
Representing the Elephants: Horton Humphries
Platform: "An elephant's faithful: one hundred percent (with a two percent margin of error)."
Representing the Donkeys: Lyndonkey B. Johnson
Platform: "I'm making waffles... for America!"
This is the closest race so far — both candidates have exhibited integrity, ambition, and dedication. But when it comes down to it, Alderman Horton is the only one with the knowhow, determination, and good relationship with Whoville, to keep our country running smoothly.
The District of Sidekickery: Shep from George of the Jungle Vs. Baba Looey
Representing the Elephants: Jack "Shep" Shephard
Platform: "Speak softly, but carry a big milkbone."
Representing the Donkeys: Robert Louis II
Platform: "El Kabong!"
A clear winner, Deputy Louis has a background in law enforcement, favoring peace over force. Dr. Shepherd is more of the rough-'n'-ready, hotheaded type... no place for that in the Oval Office (nor is there actually physical room for him).
The Rare Disorders District: Elephant Man Vs. Julien Donkey-Boy
Representing the Elephants: John "Amerricka" Merrick
Platform: "I am not an animal! I am a president!"
Representing the Donkeys: Julien "The King" Donkeyson
Platform: "Who am I? ... Your next leader, that's who!"
A tough one, but Mayor John Merrick might inch out his counterpart by a few points. For one, he doesn't suffer from schizophrenia. Also, David Lynch is slightly less of a nut than Harmony Korine. Slightly.
The Simpson Districts: Stampy from The Simpsons Vs. Duffy, the Legendary Anzac Donkey Who Helped Soldier John Kirkpatrick Simpson Save a Bunch of People Back Around World War I
Representing the Elephants: Ulysses Stampson Grant
Platform: "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man... or the largest elephant."
Representing the Elephants: J. K. Duffingham
Platform: "I'm bringing the Anzac legend to life!"
Gen. Duffingham gets the win here for one simple, steady reason: he actually existed. Also, Stampy (much like some people) is just kind of a jerk.
The District of Miscellanium: The Giant Elephant from 300 Vs. Donkey Kong
Representing the Elephants: Spiro A. LeFant
Platform: "I'll stomp out rising taxes!"
Representing the Donkeys: Donald K. Kongsbury
Platform: "I've got a barrel of new ideas for this country."
Finally, Sen. Donkey Kong takes it. He's an American hero, defending the world against crocodiles, winning tirelessly in go-kart races, and associating diplomatically with both Maj. M. Mario and King Bowser of the Koopa Empire.
[Photo Credits: Disney, 20th Century Fox, Dreamworks, Hannah-Barbera, Paramount Pictures, Fine Line Features, Fox, AWM.gov, Warner Bros., Nintendo]
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"You can make her do anything you want… For men everywhere tell me you're not going to let that go to waste."
It's a chilling turn of phrase that Chris Messina's character Henry utters when he meets the woman that his brother Calvin wrote into being. Calvin played by Paul Dano is a frustrated writer but more than that a writer who published to great acclaim at a young age who has yet to do anything since. He begins writing a character named Ruby Sparks and as he falls in love with his creation he can't stop writing. It's exhilarating and addictive. Played by Dano's real-life girlfriend Zoe Kazan Ruby Sparks is a one-dimensional male fantasy a cutesy young woman on roller skates… until she appears in his kitchen one morning. Calvin quickly learns that even though he can control her with a few taps on his typewriter Ruby has an ever-changing will of her own.
Ruby Sparks is written by Kazan with the sort of bite that a trailer can't be tied up with a neat little bow. There is gorgeous California sunshine an airy house in a hip part of Los Angeles the trendy Figaro café where Calvin finds out that other people can see Ruby and a delightful interlude with Calvin's hippie mother and stepfather played by Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas. As gorgeous and gleeful and wide-eyed as Ruby is and as much as Calvin adores her the relationship develops and changes even as he succumbs to the temptation to rewrite her. Calvin an essentially insecure man unravels and becomes more and more of a controlling jerk until he's faced with the truth of how far he's willing to go to keep Ruby from leaving him. It becomes sad and frankly disturbing with an admirably raw performance by Kazan that lingers.
While Ruby Sparks serves as an interesting commentary on wish fulfillment in fiction writing its juicy subtext is far more important. Under the surface the film delves into how we're culpable for the way we see our lovers and how we want to change them or make them something they're not. Eventually Calvin has to decide whether or not he wants to continue editing Ruby to fit his specifications; he has to face that that means about him as a person and as a man. It's Pygmalion with a feminist twist. We see plenty of dumb romantic comedies about women tricking men into changing but it seems like there's an endless parade of indie films written by men about loveably girly women whose only reason for being is to act as a catalyst for the man's emotional growth. While this is absolutely true in some ways for Ruby and Calvin there's a meat to the script and Kazan's performance that makes "Ruby" rise to the top. There are plenty of words (or that overused phrase) we can use to describe Ruby but in the end Calvin wrote those traits into her and these are details that Ruby shucks off as she grows. Similarly as women grow up we learn we can (and have to) stop performing tricks to become the person our significant other wants or sees in us.
Without revealing too much the end of Ruby Sparks could be read a number of ways. On one hand it is a bit of a misstep that undermines the general thrust of the story but it could also be seen as simply a happier more hopeful ending. Romantics will find it satisfying but those hoping for Ruby's full emancipation might find it lacking.
This is the first film for directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris since 2006's Little Miss Sunshine and although they have much in common — including Dano — Ruby is a darker unrulier movie. The idea of movie-goers being led in to see Ruby because of Faris and Dayton's names or because of the trailer is delightful because they're going to get a little bit of a different experience than they're prepared for.
[Full disclosure: I interviewed Zoe Kazan for a profile in the August/September issue of BUST magazine.]
The Hangover hunk first starred as the disfigured Merrick at the Actors Studio Drama School as part of his senior thesis and now he's stepping back into the role for a limited stage run at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts this summer (12).
The play, which was first staged in 1977, tells the real-life story of Merrick, who's shocking appearance and medical diagnosis fascinated the world and led to him becoming a societal fixture in London during the Victorian era.
Cooper's turn will run from 25 July (12) to 5 August (12), according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Elephant Man was previously adapted for the big screen by David Lynch in 1980. John Hurt took over the title role.
Former Beatle George Harrison, currently undergoing radical cancer treatment at the Staten Island University Hospital in New York for lung and brain cancer, has recorded a new song for release this month. The song "Horse to the Water" was recorded with bandleader Jools Holland and is credited to "RIP Ltd. 2001," obviously short for "rest in peace." Holland commented to Reuters that the publishing credit "reveals George's dark sense of humor."
Veteran stuntman Bobby Bass, who worked on many hit movies, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Thelma & Louise and popular TV shows including The A Team and Star Trek, died Wednesday of Parkinson's disease. Bass was 65. Bass also trained such Hollywood stars as John Wayne, Burt Reynolds and Sylvester Stallone.
Veteran ABC newscaster Sam Donaldson hosted a town hall meeting discussing the war in Afghanistan and the struggling economy, which was broadcast live to a national radio audience Saturday. "Town meetings are nothing new," said Donaldson. "It's not like we're breaking huge new ground, but for us it's something new." His guests included Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico.
Billy Crudup, star of Almost Famous and Jesus's Son, will headline the Broadway revival of The Elephant Man early next year. Crudup will play the severely deformed John Merrick, who lived in Britain in the 1800s. John Hurt was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in the 1980 David Lynch film.
Tickets to the Victoria's Secret show Tuesday in New York are rumored to be valued at $25,000, the New York Post reported. In attendance will be supermodels Heidi Klum, Karolina Kurkova, Bridget Hall and Anouck Lepere. The proceeds will go to the children of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger will perform at a small party Nov. 15 at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles to kick off the release of his new solo album Goddess in the Doorway, in advance of the Nov. 20 release date. Virgin Records is distributing the album. Jagger's spokeswoman stressed it would not be a full-blown concert, but Jagger will perform his new single "God Gave Me Everything," which he co-wrote with Lenny Kravitz.
Annette Bening, Warren Beatty SANTA MONICA, Calif., April 26, 2000 - Ella Corinne. According to the Washington Post, that's the moniker Warren Beatty and Annette Bening have settled on for their newborn daughter, born earlier this month. The couple was tight-lipped about the child -- their fourth -- declining to give details as to where, when or how.
They did not (natch) divulge their baby-name pick. And they have not (natch) confirmed that Ella is it.
It sounds nice, though. At least the Travoltas think so. John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston named their new babe, born April 4, Ella, too.
GOODBYE, "DOLLY": The Broadway producer who empirically "presented" such Great White Way musicals such as "Hello, Dolly!," "42nd Street," "Oliver!" and dozens of others died Tuesday in London. David Merrick was 88.
BUDDY, BUDDY: Actor Walter Matthau, 79, and his frequent director Billy Wilder, 93, are laid up in the same undisclosed hospital suffering from "quite different maladies," Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd reports today. The office of Wilder's agent said it had no information on the legend. No comment yet from the Matthau camp.
BAD DAY FOR TUBA PLAYERS: This just in from Orlando, Fla. - Walt Disney World has decided to disband its marching band after a nearly 30-year run. Eighteen brass enthusiasts were canned Tuesday.
HE WINS AGAIN: In London, a judge has ruled that Oscar-winning "Sussudio" artist Phil Collins is due more than $390,000 in overpaid royalties to two musicians from the R&B group Earth, Wind and Fire. The dispute dated back to a 1990 Collins tour that the two rockers played on.