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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And, they're off! Bachelor Pad is back, my friends, and in the two-hour season premiere Monday night we have already seen (by my count): 1 bout of tears, 1 case of spit-swapping, 3 skinny-dippers, and 1.5 Erica Rose temper tantrums. Yep, looks like the gang is all here. And I, for one, couldn't be more glad to see them.
Since the entire Bachelor/ette/Pad franchise is based completely on being revolutionary, groundbreaking, and truly important television, for Season 3 of Bachelor Pad the powers that be have decided to throw five innocent(ish) super fans into the deep end with the vicious alums. Who are these doomed kids? Let's meet em.
Paige: This bubbly brunette either looks a lot like Rose McGowan or I watched too much Charmed in my youth. But, irregardless, she's cute and really knows how to make a good first impression. "When I see everyone, I'm feeling like I'm going to pee my pants — which was happened before," she tells the camera. I don't know about you, but I love talking about my lack of bladder control on the first date.
Chris: Chris is a burly SWAT team member who likes to unwind after a long day of kicking ass with a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, a Snuggie, and five hours of The Bachelorette on his DVR. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about this guy makes me want to do the loser cough. Wish I could figure out what it could be…
Donna: Holy fame! Bikini-clad Donna ended up on this show by accident when she stumbled into the wrong room in search of the Jersey Shore open casting call. Enough said.
David: This professional fighter may look like he's been hit in the face a dozen too many times, but I'm positive he's got a heart of gold. Somewhere. He also has an interesting taste in women, as exemplified by his self-proclaimed crush on both Lindzi and Blakely. Orange women are a turn-on? I'm not sure what else those two have in common.
Brittany and Erica: Twins! These two blondes share one brain and one vote on the show, as is only fair. Erica is a virgin and Brittany is… not. This is like one pizza delivery man away from a bad pornographic videotape. Fun fact about Brittany and Erica: When seen without their makeup, these ladies look like the little girl from Andre (you know, the sea lion movie).
As the contestants filter into the house one-by-one, the air immediately begins to spark from all the built up dramatic energy. Reid has some unfinished business with Ed, Chris B. is ready to mingle now that his "healing time" post his whopping dumping by Emily Maynard is complete, and Erica Rose is, here. Let me tell ya, the beginnings of this meet and greet are more awkward than a first kiss with braces. Things go from bad to worse when Ryan, the guy no one remembers, says to the camera, "Everyone knew me on DeAnna's season as the 28-year-old virgin. Now I'm the 32-year-old virgin." Dude, don't lead with that. I promise you, it won't help you change your prospects.
As all the girls pretend to be nice to Blakely Fakely (while then trashing her behind her back like real friends do), Ed begins to drink like a fish. Then he strips down to his tighty whiteys and starts swimming like one. He can't even be reigned in to listen to Chris Harrison's explanation of the rules. Watching Ed dive into the hot tub brings a flurry of words to mind, including both "train wreck" and "awesome," which I now know are not mutually exclusive.
For those of you unfamiliar with how Bachelor Pad works, I pity you. But luckily, Chris Harrison is here to explain it. On Bachelor Pad, as in life, it is boys vs. girls. At the end of each week, the contestants will vote each other off Survivor style. The boys vote for the girl they want to see gone, and the girls vote for the boy they want to give the boot. Leading up to the big vote, everyone will pair off into boy/girl teams and each week they will all compete in the challenge. The winner of said challenge gets immunity and a fancypants date. Harrison then drops the bomb everyone's been waiting for: They have to pair off into their teams right. now. As in immediately. As in drunkenly. This is a brilliant bit of plotting by the powers that be at ABC, because who is going to be happy the next morning with a pairing they made drunkenly the night before? It's like how after staying out until last call on Halloween you wake up the next morning to find a Ninja Turtle in your bed.
The next morning, our beautiful bachelors and bachelorettes awaken fresh as daisies to the chirping of birds and the honking of angry drivers stuck in traffic on whichever Los Angeles freeway the Bachelor mansion borders (I'm from New York, I don't understand how traffic in L.A. works, but I hear it's pervasive). It's challenge day, so everyone dons their Spandex and bounds out to the yard.
Today's challenge is called "Falling for Love." It's full of cheesy puns ("You must find the strength in your heart") and is probably too complicated to explain without a visual aid of some sort, so you're just going to have to imagine it the very best that you can. The pairs sit inside giant heart-shaped cookie cutters and try to hold on while the hearts are lifted two feet off the ground and then tilted at increasingly steep angles. Contestants must try not to fall out of the heart while it is being tilted. The first team to do so gets one vote against them at the final rose ceremony. The winning team gets a date.
Erica Rose and Nick fall out first (which was totally Nick's fault, shut up Nick we don't even remember you anyway), while David, lover of orange women, and the twins win. I know, right? The twins? These two are the worst. Or, as Chris puts it, "immature and kind of ridiculous." Go home, twins!
But alas, the twins are safe for this week and they set off on a perfect date with David to the boardwalk. David drops a lot of names about the amazing dates he saw on past seasons (OMG! Emily rode a carousel!), the twins suggest everyone goes skinny dipping, and I start to yawn. Because, really, no one cares about you three. At all. We switch back to the action at the mansion in the nick of time.
Back at the mansion, what do we find but more hair-raisingly electric drama. Jamie pulls Chris aside for a little Seven Minutes in Heaven, and Blakely doesn't like that one bit. Oh no she doesn't not one enemy little bit. Blakely yells at Jamie for not being a nice girl and then cries to herself because she really thought that people would like her now that she waxes people for a living instead of serving them cocktails.
And all of a sudden, it's time for the deliberation. That's right, voting time, folks. Let the scheming begin!
Michael Stagliano, who won the game last season and is just all around everyone's favorite guy, is narrating every thought that goes through my head. "Oh my God, I love this game so much," he says. "This game is fascinating. I feel like some people aren't even playing it. They don't even know that they're on a game show." The clueless person he's talking to is super fan David. All the spinning from the rides at the boardwalk must've liquidated his brain, because he decides to spill his entire strategy to not just anyone, but everyone. Including Erica Rose, the very person he wants to vote off this week. Stupid, stupid, man. Michael, please explain what's happening here for me, you have such a way with words. "The game is lying! Avoid conversations, and if you do talk to them, you lie to them." Thanks, Stags.
After much planning and scooping and scoping and scapegoating, everyone makes their final vote. Due to an ill-advised Veterans Vs. Fans dichotomy that David Demi-Brain set up, it is just about 500% certain that SWAT *loser cough* Chris is going home. For the girls, it's going to be a toss-up between Erica Rose and sweet, pants-wetting Paige. The decision hinges on the decisions made by Kalon (who hates Erica) and SWAT (who hates Demi-Brain, who hates Erica).
One by one the names are called at the Elimination Rose Ceremony.
Which means SWAT and Paige (despite Reid's twelfth hour campaign) are dunzo. It's a shame, really; I thought Paige was cute. And lord knows my pun-obsessed self loved that Reid and Paige were teammates — get it, like, read a page? Reid himself pointed that one out, an act for which I will love him always.
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[Photo Credit: ABC]
More: 'Bachelor Pad': Are Lindzi and Kalon Partners in Crime and in Bed? Predicting The Next 'Bachelor': How ABC Makes Its Decision 'Bachelorette' Finale: Emily Maynard and Jef Holm Are Engaged
Get ready for another summer filled with inane drama! The new Season 3 cast of ABC's ultimate guilty pleasure Bachelor Pad was announced earlier this morning and there's a slew of familiar faces. (Though, sadly, Bentley Williams is not one of them.)
Last season's winner Michael Stagliano will return for another go at the title and will be competing against current Bachelorette villain Kalon McMahon, who Emily Maynard sent packing on Monday's show, after he referred to her 6-year-old daughter Ricki as "baggage." What a delightful housemate he'll be!
Other contestants for this new season also includes Lindzi Cox and Jamie Otis, who were both on Ben Flajnik's season of The Bachelor. Please, Jamie, no more awkward kissing lessons, we beg you.
If that wasn't enough incentive to watch, in a brand new twist, five "super fans" were also selected from an open casting call held earlier this year and will move into the mansion for a shot at the $250,000 grand prize. Oh yeah, and that whole finding your soul mate thing.
Check out the full cast list below: Kalon McMahon (Bachelorette, Season 8, Emily Maynard) Michael Stagliano (Bachelorette, Season 5, Jillian Harris) Ed Swiderski (Bachelorette, Season 5, Jillian Harris) Reid Rosenthal (Bachelorette, Season 5, Jillian Harris) Ryan Hoag (Bachelorette Season 4, DeAnna Pappas) Nick Peterson (Bachelorette Season 7, Ashley Hebert) Tony Pieper (Bachelorette Season 8, Emily Maynard) Chris Bain (Super Fan) David Mallet (Super Fan) Lindzi Cox (Bachelor, Season 16, Ben Flajnik) Blakely Jones (Bachelor, Season 16, Ben Flajnik) Sarah Newlon (Bachelor, Season 11, Brad Womack) Jamie Otis (Bachelor, Season 16, Ben Flajnik) Erica Rose (Bachelor, Season 9, Prince Lorenzo Borghese) Jaclyn Swartz (Bachelor, Season 16, Ben Flajnik) Rachel Trueheart (Bachelor, Season 16, Ben Flajnik) Brittany and Erica Taltos (Twin Super Fans) Paige Vigil (Super Fan) Donna Zitelli (Super Fan) The final cast member will be announced at a later date as he is currently still a contestant on The Bachelorette. Who could it be? Bachelor Pad's two-hour Season 3 premiere will air Monday, July 23 on ABC at 8 PM ET. [Photo credit: ABC] Bachelor Pad Season 3 More: The Bachelorette Recap: Get The F**k Out! Meet The Bachelorette Suitors: Who's In It To Win It?