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 I was in eight grade, one of my best friends threw me a surprise birthday party. She accidentally forwarded the mass e-mail invitation to me. Needless to say, come party time, I was unsurprised. But not half as unsurprised as I am at the news of another Transformers movie in the works.
I know. That was quite possibly the most roundabout, unwarranted, horrendous introduction to a story on all of the known Internet. The worst part is, it's not entirely true. But that comes with the territories. The Internet, eighth grade, friendship: they're all fertile grounds for lies and deception. I'd now like to segue from the word 'deception' to the formal name 'Decepticon,' and to reiterate that there is, according to Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner, a fourth Transformers film being planned.
Hopefully it's planned a little better than my eighth grade surprise party, which may or may not have actually happened (it's hard to tell now). One thing's for sure: neither event will have involved the presence of Shia LaBeouf. The Transformers series star stated previously, right around the time Dark of the Moon blastsploded into theaters, that were a fourth film to develop, he would not be on board. His reasons? The will to grow, experience new types of filmmaking, and to create different characters and stories. A pretty noble rationale. Far more noble than that behind his absence at my eighth grade surprise party, if you ask me.
But the former Sam Witwicky won't be the only one expected to Shia-way from the inevitable Trans4mers. Michael Bay has been suggested to relinquish his directorial chair unto another filmmaker looking to get on board with the wildly successful franchise. Shia mentioned around the same time he made his own statement of eventual absence that Bay would likely not be interested in a fourth movie. Bay currently has his sights on Pain and Gain, a crime film on a much smaller scale than that to which Bay is accustomed.
So, new star, new director...we may be saddled up for another Transformers movie, but it's shaping up to be one unlike its three predecessors. Maybe a new director will offer an entirely new perspective on the interplanetary war between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Perhaps new audiences—if there are indeed ones untapped by the first three movies—will be drawn to a different vantage point. Or, perhaps we'll be in for Transformers: Jumping of the Shark...a ruination of the incredibly popular series. Nobody knows this for sure. The movie itself was something we could all hang our hats on...but what we're in for with this movie? Well, that'll be much more surprising.
Much like my eighth grade birthday. Which I imagine you're beginning to suspect I spent alone.
Oscar-nominee and bad-ass extraordinaire Liam Neeson just joined the cast of Battleship. You know, that movie based on a board game? Yeah. That Battleship. Eeesh.
In the Peter Berg-directed film, Neeson will play Admiral Shane, a Naval officer near the center of a grand-scale science fiction story about a fleet of ships that defend Earth from alien invaders.
Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch and True Blood vampire Alexander Skarsgård, along with Rihanna and Brooklyn Decker, are all appearing in the Universal Pictures production. The movie is produced by Scott Stuber, Sarah Aubrey, and Berg, along with Hasbro's Brian Goldner and Bennett Schneir, and Duncan Henderson. Filming started today in Hawaii, which is quickly becoming a go-to destination for any film that requires a beach, water, boats and scantily clad women.
Though I've no doubt in my mind that Neeson won't steal the show (unless Skarsgard's abs do), we can't help but wonder why a veteran of productions as acclaimed and wide-ranging as Schindler's List, Kinsey and Taken would join a guaranteed-to-be-awful film like this. Seriously. Aliens from space engaging in naval war? Blech. Nothing about Battleship sounds appealing. Maybe Neeson just wanted to make a quick buck....or needed a vacation, since Kitsch and Skarsgard will likely be doing all of the heavy lifting anyway.
G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA stars CHANNING TATUM and SIENNA MILLER helped to kick off a day of trading on Tuesday (04Aug09) when they rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The actors were accompanied by co-star Rachel Nichols, director Stephen Sommers and producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Brian Goldner as they swapped Hollywood glamour for the hustle and bustle of Wall Street to promote the new action movie.