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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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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If there's a cinematic alchemy award to be given this year director Bill Condon deserves to take it home after magically turning the tedious Twilight franchise into entertainment gold. 2011's Part 1 was a horror camp romp that turned the supernatural love triangle — the naval gazing trio of Bella Edward and Jacob — on its head. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 continues the madcap exploration of a world populated by vampires and werewolves mining even more comedy thrills and genuine character moments out of conceit than ever before. The film occasionally sidesteps back into Edward and Bella's meandering romance (an evident hurdle of author Stephenie Meyer's source material) but the duller moments are overshadowed by the movie's nimble pace and playful attitude. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will elicit laughs aplenty — but thankfully they're all on purpose.
Part 2 picks up immediately following the events of the first film Bella (Kristen Stewart) having been turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her life after the torturous delivery of her half-human half-vampire child Renesmee. She awakes to discover super senses heightened agility increased strength… and a thirst for blood. One dead cougar later Bella and the gang are able to focus on the real troubles ahead: Renesmee is rapidly growing (think Jack) and vampiric overlords The Volturi perceive her a threat to vampiric secrecy. Knowing the Volturi will travel to Forks WA to kill the young girl (a 10-year-old just a month after being born) The Cullens amass an army of bloodsucking friends to end the oppression once and for all.
Packed with an absurd amount of backstory and mythology-twisting plot points (some vampires can shoot lightning now?) Condon and series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg mine revel in the beefed up ensemble of Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and thanks to a wildly funny cast it never feels like pointless deviation. Along with the usual suspects Lee Pace adds swagger to the series as a grungy alt-rock vampire Noel Fisher appears as a hilarious over-the-top battle-ready Russian coven member and Michael Sheen returns has Volturi head honcho Aro and steels the show. Flamboyant diabolical and a steady stream of maniacal laughter Sheen owns Condon's high camp vision for Twilight and he lights up the screen. There are a few throw away nations of vampires — the oddly stereotypical Egyptian and Amazonians sects are there mostly there to off-set the extreme whiteness — but the actors involved bring liveliness to a franchise known for being soulless. Even Stewart Pattinson and Taylor Lautner give personal bests in this installment — a scene between Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) is genuinely heartfelt while Jacob's overprotective hero schtick finally lands.
Whereas Breaking Dawn - Part 1 stuck mostly to the personal story relying on the intimate moments as Bella and Edward took the big plunge into marriage and sex Part 2 paints with broader strokes and Condon has a ball. Delving into the history of the vampires and the vampire world outside Forks is Pandora's Box for the director. One scene where we learn why kids scare the heck of the Volturi captures a scope of medieval epics — along with the bloodshed. Twilight might be known for its sexual moments but Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will go down for its abundance of decapitations. The big set piece in the finale is something to behold both in the craftsmanship of the spectacle and in its bizarre nature.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had the audience hooting hollering and even gasping as it twisted and turned to the final moments. There's little doubt that even the biggest naysayer of the franchise would do the same. No irony here: the conclusion of Twilight is a blast.
Over the summer, beloved Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts went public about her struggles with Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a blood and bone marrow disease. Fans were subsequently told that Roberts would be taking leave from her spot on the ABC morning program, and that she would be undergoing treatment and a bone marrow transplant for her condition. Roberts underwent the surgery on Thursday; ABC News reports that the operation was completed in only five minutes. Robins' sister Sally Ann provided the donor cells with which the GMA host was injected.
Following the procedure, Robins is reported to have made the following statement: "I will now wait and anxiously watch and see what happens ... In the next seven to 10 days my counts will continue to go up and we’ll be on to phase three, which will be get out of here. Get out of here. Go home. It’s a journey."
Dr. Gail Roboz, Robins' oncologist from New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, appeared on Good Morning America Friday morning to share some encouraging words about Roberts' recovery. "This morning she sounds energized and she wants to be out of bed, and the end [an] email was, 'I want to go home' with an exclamation point," Roboz said. Roboz also expressed her amazement with the incredibly quick procedure: "Nobody can believe it ... People have in their mind all kinds of images of what can happen in a transplant, but it’s still an incredibly powerful moment."
Roboz went into detail about the procedure and where Robins' treatment will take her from hereon out. "Inside of that syringe are millions and millions of stem cells that are now circulating around and trying to find their home and start growing, which is what we’re going to be looking for over the next couple of weeks," she said. “We have to roll with the punches over the next few days because, don’t forget, her systems are down and Sally-Ann’s aren’t up yet so we’re in that in between zone of watching very carefully. We are wanting every day to be a good day but we are ready for some bumps in the road."
ABC News reports that Robins' colleagues Sam Champion and Diane Sawyer were among those in the operation room with the anchor during the procedure.
[Photo Credit: Wenn]
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S7:E5 Of course the biggest mystery this year is how The Office was going to deal with the absence of Steve Carell. Our one lone clue was that Timothy Olyphant would be appearing in the last two episodes of the season as a rival salesman. Lo and behold, Olyphant shows up in “The Sting” and we get our first introduction to the character.
And man, was it funny.
First, our cold open and honestly, not one of my favorite ones. It makes sense that Oscar would be really into cycling and that Michael wouldn’t know how to ride a bike, but it just felt weak. There were some highlights, though. Oscar admitting that cycling makes him want to get up in the morning was pretty funny. But Michael not knowing (or possibly not admitting) to knowing what training wheels are? Not so sure I can buy it. But it is good to see Jim able to teach Michael. He’s going to be such a good dad.
We started off with Jim and Dwight heading out to a joint sales call. These two should go out into the world together more. Their back and forth hasn’t wilted over the years and it still feels fresh. They’re heading off to woo another potential client and much to their dismay, right when they arrive they notice Timothy Olyphant as Danny Cordray, a super rival salesman. And its not his company, it's actually Danny. He himself poses such a threat that it causes both Jim and Dwight to jump back in horror.
They try to play it cool (with Dwight’s imitating casual conversation piece “So, anyway, she says ‘That is the biggest penis I’ve ever seen,’ and I said ‘I know! That’s why I brought you to the penis museum, where tickets are a thousand dollars!’” which was just amazing) but the competition gets the best of them and they call in their best back up plan. They’re ace in the hole. Their secret weapon:
But even the dream trio of Michael, Dwight, and Jim couldn’t convince their client otherwise. Danny was just too good. Convinced there has to be a secret to his success, they set up the an elaborate plan to spy on him. Of course, Dwight already had all of this set up for his building owner’s office. They lure Danny in with a promise of a new client and wait patiently to watch the enemy work.
The only problem though is they had to use someone else to be their “client.” Jim, Dwight, and Michael were out, Danny knew them. Jim couldn’t ask Pam because apparently they dated about 4 years ago. Jim might still be a little hung about it which led to Pam’s hilarious reminder “You do know I have a kid with you, right?” So they settled with their next best choice: Meredith.
But alas, poor Meredith could not resist Danny’s charm. She fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Actually, if she were a fish, she would have basically swam into the boat, gutted herself, and cooked herself in front of Danny. Screw the company, Meredith had someone else to screw. The trio try to salvage the situation by bringing in a replacement by shoving Oscar in there, but Meredith showed some unusual quick wit and deemed him a janitor (even though Oscar was wearing a tie). So they went to their back-up-back-up plan by throwing Ryan in there. Meredith plays her cards again and deems him another janitor.
With the jig up, Michael calls it off and Danny is obviously upset. Michael does the only thing he can think of to salvage the situation: he sells Dunder Mifflin to Danny and convinces himself to join their team. Michael does redeem his rather unusual ability to sell things when he was able to convince Danny to join Dunder Mifflin.
And then we get to the introductions. Most of the office is appreciative of the new addition. I believe Kelly summed it up fairly well when she said, “Fuck me.” Don’t we all, Kelly. Don’t we all. Even better than that was when they started comparing him to Josh Duhamel. Personally, I have been known to confuse the two actors, lord knows it probably happens to them all the time in real life, so I appreciated the sort of meta joke there. The sales team isn’t too thrilled about the addition, they would rather things “stay the same” rather than move forward like Danny.
The B story as far as plot was a little weak. Andy gets jealous of a fellow Cornell graduate who landed a singing gig for a jingle. He vows to come up something better and pays Daryl to jam with him and Kevin. They start and really hit it off. There was a super sweet moment when Daryl waves off Andy’s offer to pay him for an additional half hour because he was enjoying it and Andy’s look was adorable. So the plot was weak but it did lead to a lot of Andy and Daryl singing, which is always amazing. The only other show that could rival The Office in terms of music ability is Community with Donald Glover’s raps, but watching Andy and Daryl jam is always a joy.
This was a shot in the arm for The Office. Plenty of funny moments all around and a definite return to form for the show.