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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It’s hard to believe that after replacing music videos with inspirational gems like Jersey Shore and Teen Mom that MTV could make any good programming. However, Awkward has proven to not only be a witty, entertaining series, it also gives voice to a whole generation. There are children raised on the avid vocabulary of Dawson’s Creek, the sexual freedom of a world with condoms in schools, and they’ve never seen My So-Called Life.
Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards) is a smart but marginally unpopular high school student that loses her virginity to her teen dream Matty McKibben (Beau Mirchoff) and gets a mean mysterious letter all in one day. She has an accident and everyone thinks she tried to commit suicide. With her social life in the balance, she starts to make more outgoing decisions. Her allies include wacky wordsmith Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) and meek and geeky Ming Huang (Jessica Lu). She records all of her musings on her blog. As the show progresses she gets into a love triangle and evolves as an adult.
The teen comedy subverts expectations by accepting certain truths about teenagers today. Teenagers have sex so Jenna has sex. However, she makes thoughtful choices of partners and has safe sex thanks to lessons from her former teen parents, Lacey (Nikki Deloach) and Kevin (Mike Faiola). Jenna also deals with all the complexities of DTR-ing or defining the relationship in a digital age.
One of the greatest parts of the show is Sadie Saxton (Molly Tarlov). The character is monumental because Tarlov has a couple extra pounds. It’s amazing to see a girl with a real body playing the popular girl and having the freedom to act however and say whatever she wants.
The show is hilarious but it really does address what’s going on with kids today. Over-exposure via the Internet, suicide attempts, drinking, drugs, and bullying are all issues kids struggle with but Awkward deals with them with a sense of humor and levity.
Jenna Hamilton captures the Millennial generation. She is educated but makes poor choices. She’s insightful but also slightly self-absorbed and entitled. She represents the every girl…except she’s way more witty, expressive, and self-aware.
Morgan Freeman Blasts Off: Science Channel announced Thursday a new series chronicling the modern-day space race among private entrepreneurs partnering with actor-producer Morgan Freeman will debut next year. New Race for Space is a three-part series that will look at entrepreneurs seeking to embark on various ventures beyond Earth, from backyard dreamers to well-funded moguls like SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and sci-fi filmmaker James Cameron. "It’s been almost 45 years since we landed on the moon, since we were really excited about going out into space, and I’ve always thought it was a mistake not to continue that exploration," Freeman says. "I’m personally excited that we now have entrepreneurs who are interested in doing this." [EW]
American Idol Ratings Slip: The already not-so-stellar ratings of American Idol's Season 12 continued to slip this week. Wednesday night’s Top 7 performance show drew 11.5 million viewers and a 3.0 rating, down to an all-time Wednesday low. Ouch. [TVLine]
Westside Is Getting Awkward: Jessica Lu, who plays Ming on MTV's Awkward, just booked a guest-starring role on the ABC drama pilot Westside. The soap about the haves and the have-not's of Venice, Calif., focuses on two rival families and a forbidden and dangerous romance emerging between them as them as they battle for control of Venice. Lu will play Eva, Sophie's (Odette Annable) employee and confidant at her Venice boutique who urges her pursuit of Chris (Luke Bracey). She'll guest star in the pilot, and will potentially recur if the show gets picked up. [THR]
The Americans Redux: The last seven minutes of FX's The Americans ran over the show's allotted hour by seven minutes, which means many viewers didn't catch the pivotal ending of "Safe House." Fortunately, the network is making up for the blunder by making the episode available online for free until May 15. Relief! [TVLine]
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