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: Danny Glover Targeted for Anti-War Views
Actor Danny Glover is the latest Hollywood celeb to feel the wrath of national pride. A public interest group has threatened a boycott against MCI to force telecommunications giant to dump Glover as its pitchman because of the actor's views on American foreign policy. Glover, a staunch anti-war activist, recently signed a two-paragraph statement from 160 artists and intellectuals that appeared in the Cuban government newspaper Granma on May 1. According to The Associated Press, the address said there is "a strong campaign of destabilization" against Cuba that could be used as "a pretext for an invasion" much like that launched against Iraq. Judicial Watch called for the MCI boycott a week later, accusing Glover of supporting Castro's crackdowns on dissidents. Free speech experts say that although this latest round of attacks does not rise to the level of McCarthyism or celebrity blacklisting, it could lead to that if left unchecked, the AP reports.
Miramax Ups Antes in Bigger-Budgeted Pics
Miramax Films, which backed Martin Scorsese's $100 million epic Gangs of New York, is planning a significant increase in the production of tentpole releases and is looking for studio partners on a number of its bigger-budgeted titles. According to Variety, the company is expected to produce up to three tentpoles a year with an additional two or three a year from its sister company Dimension for its slate of 25 pics a year. Some Miramax projects currently looking for studio partners include The Green Hornet, the tale of the iconic crimefighter, and the Bartimaeus, children's fantasy trilogy that was picked up in a $3 million publishing and film rights deal.
Devdas Sweeps Bollywood Awards
Devdas, a big-budget adaptation of a popular 1917 Indian novel, won seven awards Saturday at the fourth annual India International Film Awards, including best picture and best director for Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Devdas stars Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai, who play lovers whose plans to marry are derailed by their parents, took the best acting categories, while Kiron Kher won best supporting actress. The film also won nine technical awards, the AP reports. The only major award not to go to Devdas was best supporting actor, which went to Mohan Lal for his role in Company. The awards, which were held in South Africa, are the only Indian movie ceremony held abroad. India's film industry, also known as Bollywood, produces nearly 800 movies a year.
Arnie's Yacht Party Praised
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is busy publicizing his latest flick, Terminator 3, at the Cannes Film Festival, took home a "Four Martini" award--The Hollywood Reporter's tongue-in-cheek award for the best party. "The night saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in top shape, making the rounds with cigar in hand and giving guests their minute with the man himself," the trade paper said of Schwarzenegger's promotion yacht party on the French Riviera. The Hong Kong Film Night at the posh Carlton Hotel followed with Three Martinis, while the Chinese fare was good "but the Japanese food was not up to scratch," the Reporter proclaimed.
Adam Rich Pleads No Contest
Adam Rich, who played the young Nicholas Bradford on the 1970s TV series Eight Is Enough, pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence and being under the influence of a controlled substance and was placed on three years probation, the AP reports. Rich, 34, was also ordered to take part in a 60-day treatment program and pay about $1,200 in fines. The actor entered a drug rehabilitation program in 1992 after pleading no contest to felony burglary and drug charges for allegedly stealing a drug-filled syringe from a hospital and breaking into a pharmacy.
Damages Awarded to Zeta-Jones, Douglas in July
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas will begin the phase two of their court battle in July against Hello! magazine, which printed unauthorized photos of their wedding, the AP reports. The couple, who wed in an elaborate ceremony at New York's Plaza Hotel in November 2000, had a $1.62 million deal for exclusive pictures with rival magazine OK!. The July hearing is expected to last up to a week, and will determine the level of damages to be awarded to the couple and rival magazine OK! publisher, Northern & Shell PLC. A court ruled in April that Hello! breached their commercial confidence by printing pictures of the wedding, but the judge's ruling did not extend to a breach of their right to privacy, which he said was not protected under British law.
The Bachelor Chooses Jen
Andrew Firestone, heir to the Firestone tire and wine fortune, chose Jen on Sunday's two-hour season finale of ABC's The Bachelor. "Jen, I love you. I think that we fit perfectly together and I look forward to a life of adventure, happiness and family," Firestone said. He got down on one knee, placed the Harry Winston diamond engagement ring on her finger, and proposed. The 26-year-old account manager from Chicago answered yes, but will they be able to buck the odds? All of previous stars of The Bachelor have remained single. The two will make their first public appearance together as a couple on The Bachelor: After the Final Rose, Wednesday night on ABC.
Role Call: Universal Adds to Van Helsing Cast
Spanish actress Elena Anaya, who starred in Talk to Her and Sex and Lucia, has been cast in Universal's gothic actioner Van Helsing for director Stephen Sommer. The pic, set in the late 19th century, revolves around Bram Stoker's fabled monster hunter Van Helsing, who is summoned to a distant eastern European land to vanquish evil in the form of Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man. The pic, scheduled for release May 7, 2004, stars Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale.