January 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

We live in a very interesting time when it comes to social interactions and relationships. With the advent of social networking through this Technological Age, it seems as though we can be impersonal and personal at the same time without it being a dichotomy or contradiction. In Spike Jonze’s “Her”, we are taken through a very personal journey for the characters that is as real for them as it can be for the viewers watching. It doesn’t try to stand alone as a statement of what technology is doing to us as people, however, nor does it make some kind of general social statement about humanity devolving in any kind of way.

It tells the story of a seemingly lonely guy named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who may seem detached but is able to successfully write love letters for clients at one of the most curious companies ever. It may be arbitrary but it certainly serves as a good purpose for the theme of the film. In some cases he’s known his clients so long he can actually come up with thoughts of theirs that they may not have even told him to put down in writing. He’s lauded for his efforts by a co-worker, Paul (Chris Pratt), and he seems to be happy with the job. But he has an emptiness in his life that we learn comes from the impending divorce from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), whom he’s known since childhood. Fragments of their relationship are spliced throughout the film, giving us a glimpse into their happiness, and demise. We’re not exactly sure what broke down between them, but it becomes more apparent as we get to know Theodore more. He is immersed in technology. He’s one of those guys who will always have the latest tech gadget–but instead of being introverted about technology, he seems to use it for social reasons. He logs into a one-night stand hotline to have phone sex with strangers (sort of like Chat Roulette) and has a rather amusing if over the top encounter with a random girl (voiced by Kristin Wiig). He is turned onto a new kind of AI operating system that grows in intellect the more you use it, and Theodore decides to invest in one, choosing a female voice that names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).

Her relationship with Theodore starts off more like Siri for iPhone but quickly develops into a more familiar one, and then a romantic one. Theodore is instantly hooked, but has some distractions…such as a first date with a girl his friend has set him up with (played a little too convincingly by Olivia Wilde). His friend Amy (Amy Adams) is in a relationship herself, married to a somewhat inauspicious guy, Charles (Matt Letscher) who is never afraid to criticize her even when she’s showing a film she made to Theodore. The date starts off well but goes awry and Theodore confides in Samantha, drawing them closer together.

This is where the film really becomes absorbing. Once they fully accept being in a relationship together, all of the parallels of what a relationship is are explored. He calls her his “girlfriend”, even to his soon to be ex-wife, who mocks his relationship and tells him he can only have a meaningful relationship with “his laptop”.

But things aren’t so rosy for Theodore and Samantha. There are jealousies, accusations, things that happen in a normal relationship, that begin to challenge their situation. It’s all very natural–but it’s all very synthetic at the same time. In a way, Theodore is Samantha, programmed to be a way that cannot change. But can he accept himself being alone, and not being lonely?

This sort of plot is not exactly wholly original. We’ve seen stories of Artificial Intelligence being used as characters in relationships. Spielberg’s “AI” and Andrew Niccol’s “S1m0ne” come to mind. But I like that Spike Jonze makes this a very intimate, personal story. One that you become so wrapped up in because you start to put yourself in Theodore’s place. And Johansson’s performance is so instantly appealing, you start to fall for her as well. Every jolt of something unpleasant between them is felt, and when you feel something is slipping away, you get that same feeling you would if you were going through the same thing with your significant other.

Even though it sounds a bit heavy, it’s emotional impact is embraceable, rather than something that weighs it down. It gives the film so much more depth by exploring the ups and downs of a serious relationship. In a way, it’s more powerful than some films about two actual human beings in a relationship. Never seeing Samantha allows our imaginations to conjure up what she’d look like, what her expressions were, and I didn’t necessarily actually picture Johansson a lot of times. There are some laugh out loud moments, too, such as when Theodore is stuck at a certain point in a video game he’s playing. The character he interacts with (voiced by Jonze) is very funny, if a bit obnoxious and rude.

The film is very satisfying, and I think it could pass as a date movie. Not a first date movie, though. That may be a little much…and a bit too revealing. It’s like going to a palm reading for couples on your first date. You want to have a little mystery.

But even watching alone, it can be greatly appreciated. The performances are very strong, and credible, and the journey is one that’s very sweet and endearing throughout. Try not to hit on any computers on your next visit to Fry’s, though. May be a little awkward.

My rating: :D

Where The Wild Things Are

October 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

This has to be one of the most well known children’s books of all time. Anyone who is anyone remembers this book being read to them by teachers, or their parents, when they were growing up. Alongside our various “Ramona” and “Berenstain Bears” books, was an old library copy of “Where the Wild Things Are”. I remember very little about the book, except the monsters.

The film, directed by Spike Jonze (”Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Being John Malkovich”), explores the book’s very thin idea about imagination, and creates a real world surrounding an imaginary one reminding me a bit of “The Neverending Story”. In fact, the beginnings of both movies were similar. A young boy with a big imagination is an outcast among his peers and comes from a broken family. In “The Neverending Story”, the character Bastian skips school and falls into the world of the book he’s reading. In “Where the Wild Things Are”, Max loses himself in a far-off island inhabited by big (and somewhat scary) monsters who are facing a crisis.

The film has an uneven feel to it at first because we’re not exactly sure what to like about Max. He’s obnoxious and likes to run around and scream a lot. But what exactly is his problem? Is it the fact that no one listens to him? Is it that he has no friends? We’re not even really sure if he does or not. But I guess we’re supposed to feel sorry for him. I’ll admit that I didn’t really, at first. When he first reaches the island with the monsters, they’re having problems with a monster named Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini); and, like Max, they’re not really sure what his problem is, either. But he’s throwing a temper tantrum, and Max joins in. Carol takes to Max, thinking maybe they understand each other–and Max convinces the monsters that he is a king. Carol makes him their king, and like in the book, they have a “wild rumpus”.

At this point in the film, I was really lost on what this was about. It seemed to have no direction. Because the screenplay didn’t flesh out Max’s character enough, we’re only left with a bunch of howling creatures and a howling boy set against a howling soundtrack.

But once the plot unfolds with bringing a conflict in, it does take shape and in the end, redeems itself. A character, KW, has two owl friends named Bob and Terry that for some reason Carol doesn’t like. What you don’t find out is why–but I believe that may be the point. Carol is just being selfish and while he wants everything to be the way it was–with everyone together–he refuses to change himself or be more open minded. In Max’s real life situation, he is exactly like Carol. He’s broken away from his family because he doesn’t want to adapt or accept change.

At least, that’s what I got out of it. The film’s major flaw is the directionlessness of the first two acts. It has moments of fun and laughter; but because it seems to have no purpose, sometimes it feels empty and hard to follow. And for a supposedly imaginative movie about the exploration of imagination, it seemed fairly unimaginative in its execution.  I could see not only the children in the audience squirming, but the parents were just as clueless and impatient. The film finishes strong, however; and James Gandolfini’s fine performance as Carol saves the movie. His intensity and sadness provide depth that allows you to feel something for him. And him being the window character for Max, we feel something for him as well.

Overall, the film is a good one–but I’m not sure what kids will take away from it. If they’re not incredibly petrified by the monsters, they might be confused by what is going on during the movie and wondering why the monsters are depressed. But if they get the fact that the movie is about selfishness and why it’s important to open your mind and change with the situation, then the film has done its job.

I just think it could have been done a bit better.

My rating: :smile: