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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7:50: I'm ready to start this. I've just finished some leftover Chinese food, and now I'm ready to tear some people apart. Good thing I'm not at my own apartment because my old neighbor Madeline would surely stop giving me lemon tarts every week after a full night of screaming for more shots of Christina Hendricks.
7:51: Ah, commercial. Back to Law and Order: SVU to watch Robin Williams reboot his One Hour Photo creep.
7:59: HERE WE GO! BRING ON THE LOSERS!
8:00: OHHHHH snap just show me Tina Fey and I'll play along. Kate Gosselin, not so much.
8:01: NICE. BETTY WHITE AND JON HAMM. I'm liking this more than the cold noodles I just ate. Oh look! Jane Lynch's wax figure.
8:05: I really like this and everything, but if Conan O'Brien isn't there, I almost don't even want to watch anymore.
8:06 It's funny, I know I'm supposed to be looking at Jimmy Fallon, but I just keep going back to the guy from Lost who was in the news recently about something who had to do with Weezer.
8:07: January Jones is sitting next to Jason OMG CONAN IS THERE!
8:09: Ah yes, a montage of a year in comedy. Set to Chris Brown. Too perfect.
8:11: Is this the first category? Betty White looks like some kind of gradient you use in a Microsoft paint application.
8:13: Eric Stonestreet's rockin that "what's in his tux pocket?" look. So is Seacrest, incidentally. Aw, parents.
8:15: Can I just say thank Prosecco that it's not Jon Cryer?
8:18: Sofia Vergara's supposed to run naked if Modern Family wins. If she does, I suspect you'll check out a little bit early from this and I'll get to go do something crazy, like put on my Thundercats t-shirt.
8:21: Modern Family won best writing. Cool. Why did we go from Best Supporting Actor to best writing?
8:23: Every time I update this I just realize how I have 2 more hours to do this. It's like waiting for a plane that keeps getting delayed, and you're not in a cool city like Manhattan, Kansas.
8:25: BADASS, JANE LYNCH! BADASS. Thank your wife, Jane.
8:27: Matthew Perry's coming on? Where has he been? What, they couldn't get the cow that stands outside Stew Leonard's?
8:31: Oh, I see Lauren Graham was available.
8:33: Ryan Murphy for Best Directing, yeah, I see that. I also see that tux.
8:37: Alright bitches, let's slab some lube on Steve Carell and give him something new to play with.
8:38: WELL SHIT! JIM PARSONS FOR BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY. I don't get this one. Is he even strong enough to be wearing that tie?
8:40: Do I have any designated pee breaks while I'm doing this? I forgot to ask my boss. Maybe this commercial for "You Again" is the best one I'll get.
8:44: I feel like Jimmy isn't even in this. Where's the tweeting? AAAAND Neil Patrick Harris brings the first funny joke of the night.
8:45: Nice! Edie Falco just schooled Tina Fey and Lea Michele. That's her fourth Emmy! She's tied with Tina now, I think! What's the point of Jimmy Fallon's guitar? Is there a theme? Was I drinking when they tried to make it obvious?
8:49: Ah yes, Top Chef for best reality program. I can really say I've never watched this show because nobody ever breaks up with anybody. Padma looks like she just had Angelina Jolie/Billy Bob Thorton limo sex with the baby-daddy we know but kind of don't -- the one who invented Dell or something.
8:52: Lots of commercials for Oprah's last season. I feel like this award show is already so bipolar the Oprah stuff is overkill.
8:59: I will be VERY SURPRISED if Connie Britton and/or Kyle Chandler win. But this cliché montage music...WAIT. THE END OF LOST IS A MASS SUICIDE?! That dog must've been pretty pissed if he'd been there since the plane crashed.
9:04: NICE. Aaron Paul for Breaking Bad. This guy looks so ADD, but cool.
9:05: Did he even thank his mother? I know he told her to stop crying, but that just shows you how ADD he really is.
9:10: Wow, I have nothing to contribute about Archie Panjabi's win for The Good Wife. So instead, here's some video of a shih tzu puppy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpjyCE-R4Y4 My boyfriend doesn't have Firefox, so I can't actually put the link in this post. But I promise you, it's worth the trouble of copying and then pasting into a new window. TRUST.
9:13: AWESOME. Bryan Cranston won his third Emmy. I seriously just started watching Breaking Bad yesterday, and to Michael C. Hall, whom I love: you deserve recognition too. Maybe go have a kid?
9:22: If Dexter only gets an award for Best Director, I will never watch another Emmys again.
9:23: If Jimmy Fallon's going to do this, he might as well go back to SNL. Seriously. JIMMY! HAVE YOU HIDDEN YOUR BALLS IN SOME STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE? Oh, I take it back. Boys II Men. Very nice.
9:27: AVON AVON AVON.
9:30: AVON AND WHISKIES.
9:31: These Twitter updates Jimmy Fallon keeps giving almost make me want to quit Twitter. Wow, Kyra Sedgwick for The Closer! Nobody saw that coming. Not even Paul the Octopus! WAIT SHE JUST PASSED HER EMMY OFF TO TINA FEY! Kyra, you got some bitch in you!
9:34: Do you think she's going to make Kevin Bacon do the Footloose dance tonight in celebration? It's such a waste if she doesn't. He even pimped it out for an episode of Will and Grace!
9:35: VARIETY! CONAN'S CATEGORY! WHAT SHALL I DO IF HE WINS? OH GOD, PLEASE LET HIM WIN. I WILL SIT DOWN IN SOMEONE'S BEDBUG-RIDDEN APARTMENT IF HE WINS.
9:37: Oh, nevermind. Writing for a variety special. Go back to watching some shih tzu puppies.
9:40: Did this asshole just thank Jay Leno?
9:43: How do you guys think Conan is passing the time while he's there? Do you think he's playing Tetris or something? He hasn't been tweeting.
9:46: Ricky Gervais should just do a vampire show already. Now that he's so skinny, your eyes immediately go to his Edward teeth.
9:47: Ah yes, Ricky Gervais does a Mel Gibson joke. "Not worse than the Jews!" he says! Stellar. Not even worse than when you walk into Pets on Lex because you're hungry and you find every puppy that's there in a dead puppy sleep.
9:51 OH SNAP IT'S HERE. I HOPE COCO SAVED HIS TETRIS GAME. THAT SHIT'S A BITCH TO START OVER.
9:53: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO'WEFHIAOWR723057208YFJNASDMVNMCXZV.NASDKLJF;EW857429---DWRU I;FDSHAF;ASHG;AGY8EWAOPTY9WPQT5729357Q2PIUE'WJFEIJIAKOFJLAKS;HFLAHREOIWRYOIWEYRDKVNSKLNVLFASKHFOAIWEYRO3YO3ITHASHGDSAKLFNLKSDFOIHOWA;IEHR;WOIH;OAEIHTO;AHW;OIASHGO;ADYG
9:53: JON STEWART. AND HE'S NOT EVEN THERE TO ACCEPT IT. I CAN'T BELIEVE I HAVE AN HOUR LEFT OF THIS.
9:57: I can't even enjoy a commercial for Nate Berkus' new show now.
10:00: And now I have to watch George Clooney accept something he'll probably lose on a plane when he's going to stay at his villa in Italy? Please.
10:01: Betty White even stood up to honor George. It just got like a vomitorium all up in here.
10:04: Does anybody watch these "mini-series" or "movies" things?
10:10: That commercial for Jimmy Smits playing a lawyer for Outlaw did less for me than Kim Kardashian's Twitter background.
10:17: GAMECHANGER! JEWEL! PLEASE TELL ME SHE'S GOING TO MISUSE THE WORD 'CASUALTY' AGAIN!
10:26: I think it just hit me that John Slattery didn't win for Mad Men.
10:30: Claire Danes for the win for Temple Grandin. She didn't thank her husband. Downgrade. Now I'm going to go back to googling whether or not Roy Disney was an anti semite.
10:35: Alexander Skaarsgard is officially Jack Skellington. If you don't know who that is, you don't get me and you never will.
10:38: Very nice, Al Pacino for You Don't Know Jack.
10:45: Laurence Fishburne! How's it going brother?! No Montana tonight? That's okay, she's probably studying algorithms.
10:51: Mad Men's third Emmy! I'd like to make a joke about how Fred Armisen deserves and Emmy for having been married to Scientologist Elisabeth Moss for 10 months, but I already took a crack at Jewel and I've gotten lazy after doing this for 2 hours and 53 minutes.
10:57: Who's this goat (thanks EB) and what did he do with Ted Danson! AAAND UPSET! MODERN FAMILY FOR BEST COMEDY SERIES!
10:59: AAAAAAAAAND I'm spent. Remember to tip your lobotomist and visit Hollywood.com for the latest and greatest on awards you'll never win.
Teaming up Tina Fey and Steve Carell stars of 30 Rock and The Office is a tantalizing prospect for fans of NBC’s back-to-back Thursday night sitcoms. But their big-screen collaboration the action comedy Date Night yields surprisingly little of the comic synergy one would expect from such a potent one-two punch.
In fact it probably never could have — at least not with director Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther Night at the Museum) overseeing the action. Soon after Fey and Carell emerge on-screen playing a suburban married couple whose relationship has devolved into a dull domestic routine the mistake of their pairing becomes evident. Seeing them together serves only to heighten our recall of their TV work and we can’t help but pine for them as Liz Lemon and Michael Scott. But in Date Night they are stubbornly moored to their portrayals of Phil and Claire Foster two entirely normal people who get along perfectly well but who’ve grown a little bored with their daily lives.
Normal of course isn’t ever very funny (if it were Mormons would rule the stand-up circuit). As such the humor in Date Night is supposed to emanate from the extraordinary circumstances with which the Fosters are faced (a case of mistaken identity makes them the target of corrupt cops and the centerpiece of a criminal conspiracy) the desperate lengths they go to get out of trouble and the interesting personalities they meet along the way. None of which unfortunately director Levy or screenwriter Josh Klausner are equipped to provide. As a result two very funny actors are left to twist in the wind for nearly 90 minutes.
What the film cries out for most is a quality supporting player a Dwight Schrute or a Tracy Jordan to enliven the action and give stars Fey and Carell something — anything — to play against but no one in Date Night proves up to the task. Not the mirthless one-dimensional goons tailing the Fosters. Not the mobster played by Ray Liotta who looks more tired of his novelty Goodfellas shtick than we are. And most certainly not Mark Wahlberg whose comic routine in Date Night involves his face playing straight man to his pectorals.
The action is briefly energized by James Franco and Mila Kunis appearing together in a hilarious surprise cameo (oops!) as a feuding miscreant couple. Their comic spark instantly eclipses that of Fey and Carell yielding more laughs in a two-minute span than the two stars are able to conjure throughout the entirety of the film. Unfortunately for us they leave Date Night almost as quickly as they arrive taking their spark with them.
More than 10 000 people are smuggled into the United States for sexual exploitation per the nonprofit organization Free the Slaves. Inspired by a New York Times Magazine article Trade focuses on the attempts of traffickers to smuggle a group of women and children across the U.S.-Mexican border. Director Marco Kreuzpaintner wastes no time introducing us to the two victims he intends to follow from their kidnapping in Mexico to their auctioning off in the United States. Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) is snatched from the street as she rides the bicycle she just received from her brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos) for her 13th birthday. Single mother Veronica (Alicja Bachleda) arrives in Mexico City from Poland believing she’s there to meet with the people she’s paid to arrange her with safe and legal passage to the United States. Only she’s been duped by the traffickers. Adriana Veronica and a handful of other abductees then begin their terrifying journey to the United States under the watchful eye of trafficker Manuelo (Marco Perez). On their trail is Jorge who feels responsible for Adriana’s kidnapping. He risks life and limb to follow the abductees across the border. Once on U.S. soil Jorge crosses paths with Ray (Kevin Kline) a Texas cop who’s trying to break up the trafficking ring for personal reasons. Ray reluctantly pairs up with Jorge to track down Adriana before she and Veronica are sold off to the highest bidder via the Internet. More gentleman than action hero Kevin Kline’s not the obvious choice to portray a police officer hailing from the Lone Star State. Ray’s the kind of law-enforcement bloodhound Tommy Lee Jones can play in his sleep. Heck Kline only halfheartedly attempts a Texas drawl and even then he drops it minutes after his late entrance. This could be overlooked if Kline lent Ray some intensity. For someone on a crusade Kline strolls through Trade without a care in the world. As Trade reaches its inevitable showdown between the traffickers and their pursuers Ray’s faced with a life-or-death choice that would compromise all he stands for. Kline though looks about as conflicted as someone trying to decide what he wants for lunch. Luckily Kline’s presence doesn’t negate the fine work done by Ramos Gaitan and Bachleda. Ramos perfectly captures the guilt of a troubled young man—one embarking on a life of crime—whose ill-gotten gains has cost him dearly. If Ramos offers a study in redemption Bachleda goes to great pains to show the ease with which someone with so much grit and determination can bend and break under the most extreme of circumstances. Gaitan doesn’t endure as much abuse but she’s still one tough cookie. Perez refuses to allow Manuelo to be a mere profit-minded monster—he provides Manuelo with a conscience or what passes for one in his business. Trade is a tale of two countries. While in Mexico director Marco Kreuzpaintner examines the sex-slave trade in an incisive and uncompromising manner. He sheds light on how these trafficking rings acquire their slaves and smuggle them across the border. He puts us on edge the moment Adriana and Veronica fall in their captors’ hands. We’re never sure as to what will happen to them. We know they need to be kept alive. But in what condition? Many of the abductees are drugged beaten and raped. The violence isn’t exploitative—Kreuzpaintner just needs to show the cruelty inflicted upon these victims of the modern-day slave trade. And it only makes us fear more for Adrian and Veronica’s safety. Once Trade reaches the United States Kreuzpaintner and screenwriter Jose Rivera start pulling their punches. Yes there are some moments that make you sick to your stomach. But the moment Kline arrives on the scene Trade gets weak at the knees. There are too many coincidences for Trade’s own good. The sudden death of one character is forced and absurd. And Kreuzpaintner doesn’t know how to extricate Kline from the untenable situation he’s placed in during Trade’s climax. This all leads up to a pat ending one that even the Lifetime TV crowd would find unbelievably spineless.
We meet the two very unlikely sisters while each are having sex. Rose Feller (Toni Collette) is a successful lawyer who is sleeping with her boss and thinking of ways it can improve her career. Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) is a party girl and at her 10-year high school reunion--after trying to have a fling in a bathroom stall--she ends up puking instead. Inevitably Maggie gets kicked out of her dad and stepmother's house and winds up on the doorstep of her sister. The Feller girls were close once when they were young girls especially after their mentally unstable mother died. But now their grown-up personalities clash rather dramatically. And when Maggie seriously crosses the line by seducing Rose's new boyfriend the straw is broken. Forced out Maggie stumbles upon some birthday cards from a long-lost grandmother and decides to go hit her up for cash. Turns out Grandma Ella (Shirley MacLaine) lives in a senior citizen's community in Florida that gets its humor from Golden Girls re-runs. Maggie may ingratiate herself within this new environment but isn't any more redeemed by reconnecting with Ella. She still acts like a petulant child. But rather than throwing her out Ella along with the gang of old folk forces Maggie to take some responsibility.
Collette (The Sixth Sense) is fantastic as the frumpy pudgy Philadelphia lawyer who gives up everything so she can walk dogs and lead a simpler life. But she's done this many times before--and honestly is so much better than Muriel's Wedding. Diaz (my personal favorite Charlie's Angel) doesn't need to stretch too far to play a conniving ditz with a heart. This is her There's Something About Mary role albeit a tad more screwed-up with a sister and lost grandma. So that leaves MacLaine as the saving grace for any worthwhile acting in this movie. Despite the obvious shuffleboard clichés--and the occasional leers at Diaz by the old guys around the pool--when the old folk are around the film gets lively and tolerable believe it or not. MacLaine leads the way with the quips and barbs but in a more subtle way than we are used to from this usually eccentric actress. The supporting cast of cranky cronies have some great moments especially veteran actor Norman Lloyd as the blind professor who teaches Maggie a thing or two about manners trust and family.
If this were Nora Ephron directing that would have been one thing but coming from Curtis Hanson the Oscar-winner who gave us L.A. Confidential it just doesn't mesh. Hanson can do quirky (Wonder Boys) he can do adventure (The River Wild) he can do hard-hittin' rap stories (8 Mile) and he can even do scary (Hand That Rocks the Cradle) but why in the world would he attempt a saccharine-soaked female family story that threatens to be a Crimes of the Heart tear-jerker? Screenwriter Susannah Grant who adapted In Her Shoes from Jennifer Weiner's popular bestseller of the same name also wrote Erin Brockovich and 28 Days. She understands strong female characters but there's still a major layer of sugar coating that Hanson can't scrape off. He doesn't tone anything down from Grant's script--not the overly cute dogs nor the embarrassing bridal shower nor the expected moments of guilt-tripping between the ladies. Instead he plods through the paint-by-number script and wraps it all up nicely into a crowd-pleasing film that is ultimately forgettable.