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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Top Story: Academy Miffed About Oscar Tape Delay
ABC's decision to impose a five-second tape delay on the Feb. 29 Oscar telecast isn't sitting well with Frank Pierson, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Pierson wrote in a letter to the Academy's membership: "Even a very brief tape delay introduces a form of censorship into a broadcast--not direct governmental control, but it means that a network representative is in effect guessing at what a government might tolerate, which can be even worse." Although this is the first time a time delay has been imposed on the Oscar telecast, a spokeswoman for ABC told The Reporter the network has used tape delays for other live broadcasts in the past in order to better deal with potential technical problems--even before the Super Bowl halftime incident. Pierson, however, warned that even though the delay is aimed at stamping out individual words, the principal of the delay could mean wide-ranging consequences down the road. "How long," Pierson asks, "before not only words but ideas become subject to deletion?"
DJ Rick Dees Ends Morning Radio Show
Los Angeles-based disc jockey Rick Dees has ended his 22-year run as host of a popular syndicated morning radio program, The Associated Press reports. The 53-year-old Dees, who has been on the air since 1982, didn't elaborate on why he was leaving the show. "It has been decided that I will no longer be doing the daily morning radio show on KIIS-FM," he said on air during his last broadcast Tuesday. "To my morning team and the entire KIIS staff over the years, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude." Dees, however, will continue to host the Weekly Top 40 radio program, which is internationally syndicated through Premier Radio Networks Inc. KIIS-FM owner Clear Channel Communications had no statement but referred inquiries to Dees' statement. Being courted as a replacement for Dees is none other than American Idol host and DJ Ryan Seacrest, who is also set to replace radio icon Casey Kasem as host of the weekly pop countdown show American Top 40.
Reba Takes Break From Reba
Reba McEntire has made a couple of last-minute calls saying that she cannot return to work on the set of her WB sitcom Reba because of a "family emergency" in Oklahoma. But according to The Hollywood Reporter, rumors have surfaced that McEntire is unhappy with her current salary on the show, which ranks as the WB's strongest comedy. Sources, however, also told The Reporter that the country star is expected to return to work Wednesday and that her reps have made no formal overtures about renegotiating her contract. The WB, the show's producer, 20th Century Fox TV, and reps for McEntire declined comment Tuesday. This was McEntire's second break in four weeks.
Investors Sue Restaurant Chef Rocco
China Grill Management, the group that financed Rocco DiSpirito's Italian restaurant on 22nd street in New York for the NBC's reality series The Restaurant, sued the celebrity chef in Manhattan's state Supreme Court, accusing him of mismanaging the eatery, resulting in a loss of more than a half million dollars, the AP reports. The show, which ran last summer, followed Rocco and his staff through the opening and operation of the restaurant, but investors charges that the food's quality has been widely criticized and that the restaurant has failed to turn a profit. China Grill seeks unspecified money damages and wants a judgment that they alone own the restaurant. The Restaurant is expected to begin a second limited run this summer.
Black Eye for the Nerdy Guy?
If a quintet of queer guys can make a straight guy stylish, can a handful of black guys infuse some cool into a bunch of drips? Showtime is about to find out. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the network has ordered a pilot for Make Me Cool, the working title for a primetime reality series in which a cast of stylish blacks helps the uncool of all races overcome their obstacles. Robert Greenblatt, Showtime's entertainment president, said the premise made sense. "A lot of the coolest stuff emanates from the black culture. That culture seems to have the hold on stuff that is going to be cool tomorrow--they know it today." He added that the show would be edgier than Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. "I think the dialogue between different cultures and races will be more explicit and frank," he said. If the pilot is greenlighted, Cool could air by year's end.
FCC Wants Tougher Penalties for Broadcasters
On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell told the Senate Commerce Committee, which has received more than 200,000 complaints about Janet Jackson's Super Bowl halftime show, that there should be tougher penalties against broadcasters who violate indecency laws. "Action must be taken by the entire television and radio industry to heed the public's outcry and take affirmative steps to curb the race to the bottom," he said. Powell and four other FCC commissioners are expected to present their case today in front of the House telecommunications subcommittee. The House panel will also hear from National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Viacom Inc. President Mel Karmazin, the Associated Press reports.
Harrelson To Make Second Eco-Awareness Trip
Woody Harrelson, whose spring 2001 trip down California's Pacific Coast Highway to raise awareness for ecological issues was recorded in Ron Mann's documentary Go Further, announced plans Tuesday for a second trip. "The first trip, we were sort of preaching to the choir, since the West Coast is pretty ecologically aware," Harrelson told The Hollywood Reporter. "The next one, we want to go to tougher territory--starting in Massachusetts and heading down to Florida." For his second eco-awareness trip, Harrelson, a longtime ecological activist, will hit the road in a bio-fueled bus once he completes work on the screwball comedy Jack Tucker, Trucker for Bad Santa director John Requa. Go Further, meanwhile, premiered Saturday at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The Simpsons: The Movie, at Last?
After years of speculation, could it finally be happening? According to Variety, The Simpson creators Matt Groening and James L Brooks are leading a team of writers in actively developing an animated big-screen feature based on the long-running Fox hit. "They've wanted to do this since season two. It's been 13 years of wanting to do
On Monday, the Director's Guild of America announced their nominees for best director for a TV movie: the honorees are Billy Crystal for 61*, Robert Allan Ackerman for Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, Jon Avnet for Uprising, Frank Pierson for Conspiracy and Mark Rydell for James Dean. The DGA Awards will be presented March 9.
Meg Ryan will soon begin filming Against the Ropes--a story based on Jackie Kallen, the first female boxing manager--with Omar Epps co-starring and Charles Dutton directing, Variety reports. Kallen led a total of four middleweights to championships.
Kevin Spacey's production company Trigger Street Prods. will see their first documentary, Uncle Frank, on the big screen soon. The Berlin Intl. Film Festival, which opens Wednesday, will present the film--along with several others--as a special screening, Variety reports. Uncle Frank takes a look at old people's homes in New York.
Catherine Zeta-Jones will soon be the new face of Elizabeth Arden and apparently both parties are happy about the contract, People reports. A spokesperson for Arden said the beautiful 32-year-old Welsh actress "is the epitome of personal style." Zeta-Jones gushed, "I am proud to be part of the company."
Looks like more than Patriot fans walked away happy from Sunday's Super Bowl. Neither advertisers nor Fox can complain about the 86.8 million TV viewer average, the Los Angeles Times reports. The toughest competition was NBC's halftime Playboy Playmate episode of Fear Factor, which only held a mere 11.4 million viewers captive. Approximately 83 million watched U2's half-time tribute to the Sept. 11 victims.
Michael Jordan and his wife Juanita Jordan have announced they will "attempt a reconciliation," Reuters reports. After 12 years of marriage, Juanita cited irreconcilable differences as reason for the couple's split, but has now withdrawn her divorce petition.
Just because he's no longer the acting President of the United States, Bill Clinton still has fun playing politics. Saturday, Clinton attended a birthday party for a former staffer where he hobnobbed with senators, and Sunday, he hosted a Super Bowl party for guests ranging from Chris Tucker to Alec Baldwin, PageSix.com reports. Just in time for a nightcap, Mr. Clinton picked up a 10:30 p.m. cocktail at the Waldorf to raise money for his William Jefferson Clinton Foundation.
HBO is moving up its movie version of The Laramie Project, starring Janeane Garofalo and Steve Buscemi, to March 9 from March 16 because the latter date happens to coincide with NBC's premiere of The Matthew Shepard Story, starring Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston, the LA Times reports. What's the big deal? The two movies recount the same incident--the 1998 murder of gay college student Sam Shepard--and the networks don't want to compete for viewers.
Tune in to MTV on Valentine's Day if your heart beats true blue--red, white and blue, that is. Secretary of State Colin Powell will sit down with youths across the globe to answer questions on politics and current events. Powell will take questions from people at MTV locations around the world, and the program will be translated into multiple languages.
The WB is getting ready for their fall line-up, complete with comedies and dramas aplenty. And though about the same number of pilot shows will be produced this year as last by the WB, the focus is very clearly on "family and teen appeal," Variety reports.
Pay-per-view (PPV) movies that have had a theatrical release seem to be the most popular items on PPV these days, as revenues for released movies jumped 54% to $1.354 billion, Variety reports. Live events, such as boxing and wrestling, have fallen on hard times, due to lack of headliners (boxing) and market consolidation (wrestling).