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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There were entrepreneurs in the Shark Tank halls. Would they find excellent deals under their Christmas trees or would Mr. Wonderful leave them a lump of coal? It was the Christmas episode, in case you hadn't figured it out yet.
The first entrepreneur in the tank was Shawn Genenbacher, who was pitching Lite-netics. He wanted $125,000 for 15%. These were magnetic light strands that were supposed to whittle time spent putting up Christmas lights down to next to nothing. He was selling them for both residential and commercial use and he'd been at it for four years, averaging about $100,000 per year. The Sharks picked up immediately that there were scaling problems. The lights were too expensive to make, too, since the fact they were magnetized drove the production costs up. His lights were also way more expensive than his competitors. He also didn't do the best job presenting, stammering answers on multiple occasions. One thing that he did have in his favor was that it was patened. No one could copy it. Sensing an opportunity, Kevin O'Leary made an offer for $125,000 for 50% of the company. Robert Herjavec, Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner got out fast, ensuring no protracted bidding process. Greiner also pointed out that the bulbs were too big, since most people were buying icicle lights. Daymond John got in the act and offered $125,00 for 40%. Genenbacher declined both their offers, and the Sharks declared that he would never make any headway in the market.
Next in the tank was Morri Chowaiki, pitching the Hannukah Tree Topper, an ornament for interfaith families. He wanted $50,000 for 15%. He'd made $150,000 ... in three seasons, which caused the Sharks to groan. Several of the Sharks deemed it non-proprietary and the sales too dismal. O'Leary and Greiner were out in quick succession. It even seemed like hell froze over, since Greiner agreed with O'Leary's assessment. She's usually too busy insulting him. John didn't like Chowaiki's jugement but offered $50,000 for $35K. Chowaiki was hemming and hawing, which made me flash back to that idiot that was selling the individual wine glasses who screwed up not once but twice on the show. After a dramatic pause, he held mistletoe over his head and accepted the deal with John.
It was about the Ruckpack , which had been on a previous Shark Tank. It was doing really well, it had secured a $4 million deal with Walgreens, all with help from Herjavec and O'Leary.
The third entrants in the tank were Rachel Bernstein, a former model, and Melissa Barone, an expert on hair extensions, of Cashmere Hair Girls of Beverly Hills. They wanted $45,000 for 15%. They were selling hair extensions for $399. It was high quality Indian (the country India, not Native American) hair and it came in seven strips that had clips that were easy to take on or off..They'd made $38,000 in sales in six months. Cuban was out first. O'Leary was next. John followed suit, but not before first having to calm Barone down, who was nearly hyperventilating. Greiner liked the idea of hair parties. Herjavec agreed, but didn't see it worth investing in and he was out. Greiner was then out. No deals. Bernstein had to console Barone outside the Tank.
The last people in the tank were Evan Mendelsohn and Nick Morton for Tipsy Elves. They were selling really, really ugly holiday-themed sweaters (it was mostly Christmas, but they also had Hannukah-themed items), ranging from Santa riding his sleigh upside down to gingerbread men running from a giant Santa hand reaching for them. Cuban had this look of disgust as soon as he saw them and O'Leary said what Cuban was thinking: "These are hideous." Undeterred, the two men wanted $100,000 for 5%. Surprisingly, they had made over $1 million in two years, mostly online. They wanted to move to retail, which most of the Sharks shot down as a bad idea, since it would require tremendous overhead, like warehouses the size of a couple of blocks. Cuban was out. O'Leary made an offer, $100,000 for a royalty of $2 per sweater until the money was paid back and then $1 in perpetuity - but no equity. Herjavec offered $100,000 for 10%. John thought about making an offer, but couldn't pull the trigger. They accepted Herjavec's offer.
Another .500 night for people making deals. Of course, these handshake deals all have to pass through due diligence, so there's no guarantee that further down the road, the deals didn't fall through. Still, it was a better night than some, though there didn't seem to be as much jockeying amongst the Sharks as there has been in previous episodes. My perception may have been colored by my shock at Greiner agreeing with O'Leary, though. There won't be a new episode until Jan. 10.
The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.
"Hannibal" bit off much more at the box office than anyone thought it could chew, opening to a record-setting $58 million.
The R-rated thriller presented by MGM and Universal in association with Dino De Laurentiis captured first place with a head-spinning estimated $58.0 million at 3,230 theaters ($17,800 per theater).
"It is far and away the biggest R-rated opening ever -- beating $42.3 million on 'Scary Movie' (which opened via Miramax's Dimension Films last July 7-9)," MGM worldwide distribution president Larry Gleason said Sunday morning.
"It's the third biggest three days of all time. It's behind the three days of 'Lost World: Jurassic Park,' but that was a four-day weekend. That was $72 million. The next one was 'Star Wars: Episode One' (which did $64.8 million via 20th Century Fox the weekend of May 21-23, 1999). That was a three-day weekend. So we came in number two as far as three day weekends are concerned. Spectacular."
"Hannibal" also went into the record books as the biggest non-summer opening ever and as MGM's biggest opening.
Gleason pointed out that "Hannibal" is also off and running very successfully abroad. "It opened in Italy and is doing the same (terrific) business there," he said. "It's going to do about seven billion lira, which is about 8% of the U.S. (business). It's just really amazing -- almost $4 million. So the first two places, the U.S. and Italy, are opening to these record breaking numbers."
Asked where "Hannibal" could wind up domestically having opened so well, Gleason replied, "Well over $200 million. I mean, it can't do worse than that. It looks like it could do half a billion dollars worldwide."
The film's success will impact on both MGM and Universal, which is distributing it abroad. "It's a co-production. We have domestic. They have international. And it all goes into a single pot, so we split all of the profits from both places. It's a big benefit to MGM because we have domestic. Look, Universal (which supervised the film during production) gave us something good to work with. They've taken our campaign (created by MGM worldwide marketing president Gerry Rich and his team) and they're using the campaign around the world. It's a great compliment to MGM that both the foreign distributors and UIP that's distributing in the rest of the (foreign territories) are using the same campaign."
The blockbuster opening for "Hannibal" kicks off a much more active year for MGM than the studio has seen in a long time. "We're going to have almost 20 films in 2001, which is the biggest since the early '80s as far as numbers," Gleason noted.
Insiders had anticipated a $35-40 million launch for "Hannibal" with $37.5 million being the most widely circulated projection around town. The most venturesome Hollywood handicappers were whispering that, maybe, it would hit $40-45 million. If anyone was thinking $55 million-plus, they kept the thought to themselves. Clearly, MGM's marketing efforts made it this weekend's must-see movie for audiences across the country.
"Hannibal" will wind up doing significantly more box office business than its 1991 predecessor film "The Silence of the Lambs." "Lambs" grossed $130.7 million in its domestic release via Orion Pictures and did about $142 million in international theaters.
"Silence" won Oscars for best picture, director (Jonathan Demme), actor (Anthony Hopkins), actress (Jodie Foster) and adapted screenplay (Ted Tally).
Not surprisingly, "Hannibal" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing last weekend. Its estimated $58 million in ticket sales represents about 47% of the weekend's estimated $122.4 million total for key films (those grossing $500,000 or more).
Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and Ridley Scott, "Hannibal" stars Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore. Its screenplay by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian is based on the novel by Thomas Harris.
Columbia and Intermedia Films' PG-13-rated romantic comedy "The Wedding Planner" fell one peg to second place in its third week with a still attractive estimated $7.8 million (-26%) at 2,726 theaters (-59 theaters; $2,861 per theater). Its cume is approximately $38.0 million.
"We had three of the top five," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning, pointing to Columbia's "Wedding" and "Saving Silverman" and Sony Pictures Classics' "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
"'Wedding Planner' had a great hold," Blake pointed out. "It just keeps getting better. I think we'll get a Valentine's Day boost and a holiday weekend boost. This is starting to look like (it will have a domestic theatrical gross of) $60 million rather than what was already a profitable $50 million."
Directed by Adam Shankman, "Planner" stars Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey.
Columbia's PG-13-rated comedy "Saving Silverman" from Village Roadshow Pictures in association with NPV Entertainment opened in third place to an okay estimated $7.4 million at 2,467 theaters ($3,000 per theater).
"'Saving Silverman' survived the onslaught (of 'Hannibal') pretty well," Sony's Blake said Sunday morning.
"It managed to do reasonably well in the face of such a huge opening. I think the long-term benefit for the picture is certainly there because hopefully we'll do close to the same next weekend with the holiday and it will certainly add up to another profitable picture for us. $22 million is what the picture cost, so I would certainly hope we'd have a chance to get to $30 million (in domestic theaters).
"We haven't necessarily made the headlines, but we've had a nice string of profitable pictures here with 'Wedding Planner,' 'Finding Forrester,' 'Snatch' and now 'Saving Silverman.' Hopefully, it'll keep going."
Directed by Dennis Dugan, "Silverman" stars Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn, Jack Black and Amanda Peet.
Sony Pictures Classics continued the very successful widening of its critically-acclaimed, PG-13-rated action adventure "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." "Tiger" rose one peg to fourth place in its 10th week with a still hot estimated $5.12 million (-25%) at 1,204 theaters (+41 theaters; $4,252 per theater). Its cume is approximately $60.1 million.
"Tiger," which won Golden Globes for best director (Ang Lee, who also received a DGA nomination) and best foreign language film, is considered a major contender for Oscar nominations when they are announced Tuesday morning (Feb. 13).
Directed by Ang Lee, "Dragon" stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.
"We just surpassed one milestone," Sony Pictures Classics vice president, sales Tom Prassis said Sunday morning. "We broke the box office record for a foreign language film (beating Miramax's record of $57.6 million for 'Life Is Beautiful'). Now we're open for good things on Tuesday and we'll shoot for some more records."
Asked where "Tiger" could go in domestic theaters if it does as well Tuesday as some Hollywood handicappers think it will, Prassis replied, "I'd hate to speculate (but) the sky is the limit."
20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated drama "Cast Away" slid two rungs to fifth place in its eighth week with a still lively estimated $5.04 million (-33%) at 2,354 theaters (-292 theaters; $2,139 per theater). Its cume is approximately $209.7 million. "Tuesday (with its Oscar nominations) will be very important," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "Without (anything happening for the picture on) Tuesday, it looks like $225 million, and with (some major nominations on) Tuesday -- can't tell!"
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Cast Away" stars Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.
Paramount's PG-13-rated teen appeal drama "Save the Last Dance" from MTV Films dropped two slots to s xth place in its fifth week with a slower estimated $4.8 million (-33%) at 2,506 theaters (-64 theaters; $1,914 per theater). Its cume is approximately $74.5 million.
Directed by Thomas Carter, "Dance" stars Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas.
USA Films' R-rated Oscar contender drama "Traffic" fell one peg to seventh place in its seventh week with a still-promising estimated $4.43 million (-30%) at 1,740 theaters (+160 theaters; $2,545 per theater). Its cume is approximately $71.0 million.
"Traffic," which won Golden Globes for best screenplay (Stephen Gaghan) and best supporting actor (Benicio Del Toro), is considered a likely contender in the Oscar race. Its director, Steven Soderbergh, is a Directors Guild nominee for both "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich."
"We'll know better Tuesday, but we still have our sights set on the $90-100 million range with the right nominations," USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning.
"I'm going to try to add more prints this week, too. We added some prints this past week. I've got more theaters ready to go this week, and I think once we get the nominations under our belts, more exhibitors will come forth. I'd like to add as many (theaters) as I can."
Noting the importance of the upcoming Oscar nominations even in this weekend's ticket sales, Foley said, "Look at the top ten drops and then the drops below the top ten, and you'll see that the ones that are in play for the Academy are dropping in the 30%s for the weekend. Last year it was (only) in the 20%s and in the teens (but) 'Hannibal' cut into the market considerably. The others are (down) in the 40%s and more. So there is a bit of interest in the Academy stuff going on, and this week we should whittle down these drops even further."
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's R-rated horror film "Valentine" plunged sixth notches to eighth place in its second week with a calm estimated $3.82 million (-62%) at 2,310 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,654 per theater). Its cume is approximately $15.8 million.
Directed by Jamie Blanks, "Valentine" stars Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton and Katherine Heigl.
Miramax's PG-13-rated romantic comedy drama "Chocolat," a contender for Oscar nominations, rose one notch in its ninth week with an encouraging estimated $3.1 million (-15%) at 1,148 theaters (-25 theaters; $2,700 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.6 million.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
Rounding out the Top Ten this week was Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13-rated dark comedy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" up one rung in its eighth week with an okay estimated $3.0 million (-18%) at 835 theaters (+26 theaters; $3,593 per theater). Its cume is approximately $20.8 million.
Directed by Joel Coen and written by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson and John Goodman.
OTHER OPENINGS There were no other significant openings this weekend.
SNEAK PREVIEWS There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, this weekend saw no significant activity.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the three days -- took in approximately $122.44 million, up about 43.88% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $85.1 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 26.36% from the previous weekend this year when key films grossed $96.9 million.
Last year, Dimension Films' second week of "Scream 3" was first with $16.32 million at 3,467 theaters ($4,707 per theater); and 20th Century Fox's opening week of "The Beach" was second with $15.28 million at 2,547 theaters ($5,998 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $31.6 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $65.8 million.