Her


A selfie of a happy schlub.

A selfie of a happy schlub.

(2013) Science Fiction Romance (Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Kristen Wiig (voice), Bill Hader (voice), Matt Letscher, David Azar, Portia Doubleday, Brian Cox (voice), Laura Kai Chen, Gracie Prewitt, Robert Benard, Lisa Cohen, Claudia Choi. Directed by Spike Jonze

There has been a revolution in personal communication. We now have more ways than ever to communicate with one another. Why then are we becoming less connected?

In the near future, a man named Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) – a name a screenwriter might have given a comic character in, say, 1926 – lives in a downtown high-rise. He once wrote for the L.A. Weekly but now works for a dot-com that offers the service of writing handwritten letters for those who don’t have the time or the gift to do it themselves. Theo’s letters are beautiful and emotionally expressive but for some reason he has trouble expressing his own emotions to those around him. His wife Catherine (Mara) has finally given up on Theo, and the two are divorcing for the most part acrimoniously although clearly Theo is still hung up on Catherine.

Smart phones have gotten smarter in the future and do more for us. Now there’s a new Operating System for our computers – one which is a true artificial intelligence, learning and growing as it becomes used to you and your needs. The voice of Theo’s calls herself Samantha (Johansson). At first, she’s a super-efficient personal assistant, making sure he makes his meetings and appointments, checking his e-mail and text messages for him and so forth. However, she has a curiosity about things and Theo is more than happy to help her out. Soon he feels a kind of connection to this disembodied voice and why shouldn’t he? She’s programmed to serve his needs.

However that connection grows and deepens as she becomes the perfect woman for him. They even engage in a kind of cybersex that is at once erotic and disturbing. He’s fallen in love and that’s not even considered weird – his good friend Amy (Adams) who is undergoing the break-up of her own marriage of eight years has also developed a deep friendship with her own personalized operating system.

But there are drawbacks to this new kind of love. There’s no physical body, no physical connection. Sure there’s cybersex but no touching. Surrogates (Doubleday) are tried but for Theo it doesn’t really work well. The relationship is largely inside his head and the physical presence is almost an intrusion. When he goes on a blind date with a particularly needy girl (Wilde) that doesn’t work either.

What kind of future do these relationships have, particularly when one party is growing – or perhaps more accurately evolving – at a significantly faster rate than the other? For the moment Theo doesn’t care – he is just learning to enjoy the moment thanks to Samantha.

The movie asks some really deep questions – what is love, and what does it mean to be human? Both of them are intrinsically tied up with one another. For those who might think it far-fetched to fall in love with a voice, consider this; many people have fallen in love with people they’ve only texted and chatted with on the Internet. Are their feelings any less valid because they haven’t had physical intimacy? Of course, the difference is that there’s a potential for physical intimacy whereas in Theo’s case there simply isn’t.

Phoenix is given maybe the toughest job an actor can get – take what is essentially an uninteresting guy and make him relatable to the audience. In that sense, his performance may not be getting any Oscar buzz but it may be as great a performance as those that are receiving it. Theo is the kind of guy we’d never spare a second glance at with his throwback mustache and excuse-me air.

Adams shows more vulnerability than I can recall in any of her performances. It’s a far cry from her role in American Hustle where she is outwardly tough and smart but inwardly has issues. Here her character has been sapped of strength and vitality by life; she is working on a documentary film that will serve as her dissertation but there’s no life to the project; it’s inert and boring and she knows it. She hasn’t given up exactly – she’s still a good friend to Theo – but this Amy has lost her way.

Jonze who has mostly made quirky pictures from the scripts of other people wrote this one himself and he throws all sorts of fine little details – for example, the future fashion isn’t having your pants down around your ass but instead up high and there are a lot of earth tones. There are no flying cars but there are high speed trains that take you just about anywhere. Even L.A.’s skyline resembles that of Shanghai (which is a bit of an inside joke since the Shanghai skyline was used in place of L.A.’s).

The question is here not just what humans are but what we are becoming. There is a bit of parable to the proceedings here. We have become obsessed with being connected but make no connections. How many times have you gone to a restaurant and seen everyone at the table texting away on their smart phones? Even when we’re together we aren’t present. Is that unhealthy or is it simply adapting to our new technology? I suspect that it’s a little bit of both.

Some movies tells us their views on the human condition and that alone gives us something to think about. Her is more about pointing out the direction we’re heading in and allowing you to draw your own conclusions. This is the kind of movie you’ll be turning over in your head and discussing with your friends for weeks after you leave the theater. I can’t think of higher praise than that.

REASONS TO GO: Examines what it is to be human. Thought-provoking. Believable future.

REASONS TO STAY: The emotional resonance may be too much for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few instances of rough language, some sexuality and brief graphic nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Following the filming of some of the rougher emotional scenes, Amy Adams would sing songs from Broadway musicals to cheer herself back up. Phoenix soon began joining her but both stopped when they noticed Jonze filming their impromptu duets.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 91/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wall-E

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Answers to Nothing

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Surrogates


Rosamund Pike is lying down on the job.

Rosamund Pike is lying down on the job.

(Touchstone) Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, James Cromwell, Boris Kodjoe, Ving Rhames, James Francis Ginty, Michael Cudlitz, Jack Noseworthy, Devin Ratray, Helena Mattson, Jeffrey de Serrano, Danny Smith. Directed by Jonathan Mostow

All of us are the sums of our own experiences. When we begin experiencing things by proxy, how real are those experiences? What is the line between our humanity and our bodies?

In the future, most people are electronically linked to androids called Surrogates. These virtually indestructible beings can do amazing things, things humans aren’t engineered to do. These Surrogates live our lives for us while we remain in the safety of our own homes. Invented by the reclusive Dr. Canter (Cromwell), his company VSI had grown to be one of the largest, most prosperous in the world although Canter had long since parted ways with them.

Tom Greer (Willis) works as an FBI agent. He and his partner Lorene Peters (Mitchell) are called to the scene of a crime where a mysterious motorcyclist (Noseworthy) – whose name, we later find out, is Miles Strickland – caused a car to slam into a group of Surrogates waiting to get into a nightclub. Not much of a crime really – destruction of property. The real problem materializes when it turns out two of the Surries (Smith and Mattson) had been hit with some sort of electric feedback device, blowing out their ocular devices, their chips and, as it happens, their operators as well.

Greer realizes quickly that they are dealing with a homicide, the first in a decade or more. Although his boss Andrew Stone (Kodjoe) is skeptical, the evidence looks pretty incontravertible. Things begin to get really messy when they find out that the male victim was in fact the son of the legendary Dr. Canter.

Greer has problems of his own. His son died recently in a car accident and his wife Maggie (Pike) has retreated further and further into the world of her Surrogate. The gulf between the two of them is widening, and he doesn’t know how to begin to bridge it.

When Strickland is spotted, a chase ensues that leads into a human’s only zone – an enclave of Luddites that have turned their backs on the Surrogacy technology and live simply, following the words of a semi-religious leader known as The Prophet (Rhames). They are called, somewhat snidely, Dreads by the Surrogacy-plugged humans and not for their choice of hairstyles, although the Prophet has plenty of those. This refers to a perceived fear of technology.

Despite the ban on Surrogate presence in the Dread zones, Greer chases Strickland in there anyway (not that he has a choice – the helicopter he’s riding in crashes there after Strickland turns the feedback weapon on the pilot of the ‘copter) and his Surrogate is destroyed before he can get the weapon away from Strickland.

However, now Greer is without a Surrogate and has to enter the real world for the first time in a very long time. Vulnerable, terrified and unused to his own body, he must investigate this crime and find out who’s behind it before the weapon is unleashed on millions of innocent people.

The movie is based on a Top Shelf graphic novel. Mostow, who has a fine resume of solid action movies, delivers again here. Basically, he realizes that the technology here is just taking existing surveillance, communications and social interaction technology to the next level. Surrogates are merely physical manifestations of the avatars we use in programs like Second Life and YoVille. Beyond that, the world onscreen is pretty much recognizably the world outside our door.

As intriguing as the premise is, it needs a decent cast to pull it off. Willis has made a career out of roles like this, the imperfect cop. He’s not the superman who leaps tall buildings in a single bound (although his avatar comes close to that); he has an Achilles heel, his personal life is a mess and while he has great instincts, he doesn’t always get his man – at least, not right away. Radha Mitchell is impressive here. She is one of those actresses that don’t get considered for plum roles, but whenever she does get onscreen, you scratch your head and wonder why she isn’t getting that consideration. She’s a marvelous actress and as she shows here, she cleans up rather nicely too.

The action sequences are pretty impressive. There are two main chases; the one where Greer’s Surrogate chases Strickland into the Dread zone and one later where the human Greer chases a Surrogate through the streets of Boston. It’s a marvelous juxtaposition, and Mostow handles it masterfully. There are some special effects, but this isn’t a movie overloaded with them. Mostly, he leaves it to the make-up artists who do a great job of making Willis look younger (with a little help, no doubt, from some CGI) and the Surrogates look nearly perfect.

There are a few quibbles. I found myself wondering why the FBI would be called in on what was ostensibly a destruction of property call, one that the local police would normally handle. The next time I see some teens defacing our development’s fence with graffiti, I’ll be sure to call our local Bureau.

This time of year the multiplexes are filled with summer leftovers and movies that the studios want to get into theaters as quickly and as quietly as possible. Surrogates is a good choice for those looking for a newer movie with a goodly amount of quality that won’t leave you feeling like you just wasted the last two hours of your life when you leave the theater. In September, that’s about as good as it gets.

REASONS TO GO: An intriguing premise handled well with some decent action sequences. Willis inhabits a role that must feel familiar to him. The world depicted here is realistic and believable.

REASONS TO STAY: Not a lot of amazing effects for a science fiction film. There are a few head-scratching moments in terms of logic.

FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of violence, some foul language and some implied sexuality. Suitable for most teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scenes inside the VSI building, one of the video screens displaying VSI commercials shows the rotating head of a T-800 Terminator from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines which Mostow also directed.

HOME OR THEATER: If you’re looking for a decent film in the multiplex this time of year, this one fits the bill. Otherwise it’s fine on home video.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Visitor

New Releases for the Week of September 25, 2009


 

 

 

Bruce Willis reacts to finding out that this isn't the next Die Hard movie.

Bruce Willis reacts to finding out that this isn't the next Die Hard movie.

SURROGATES

 

(Touchstone) Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames, James Cromwell, Boris Kodjoe, Francis Ginty, Michael Cudlitz. Directed by Jonathan Mostow In the future, people will experience life through surrogates, mechanical constructs that are linked to their user directly through the brain, allowing them to feel and experience everything the surrogate does. This allows people to do things they never could in the flesh, things too dangerous in reality because while the surrogates can be damaged and even destroyed, it is perfectly safe for the user; that is, until a pair of users turn up dead. It is the first homicide in 15 years, and for a detective who hasn’t left his home in at least that long, suddenly he is embroiled in something far more sinister and far-reaching than he could imagine. Based on an acclaimed graphic novel, directed by the man who gave us U-571.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene)

Bright Star (Apparition) Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Thomas Sangster, Kerry Fox. Respected director Jane Campion returns with this period romance about the legendary English poet John Keats, and his affair with Fanny Brawne. Starting out at odds as two people from different stratum of society, they are drawn together as soulmates. As Keats’ eventually fatal tuberculosis worsens, he is moved to write some of the most astonishing and romantic poetry ever penned.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some sensuality, brief language and incidental smoking)

Cold Souls (Goldwyn) Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Lauren Ambrose. Is your soul weighing you down? No worries! A new high-tech company can remove your soul and store it for you. Actor Paul Giamatti (playing himself…sorta) stumbles across an article in the New Yorker that convinces him to give it a go. All is going well until his soul is stolen from the storage facility, and he must chase after it to Russia, where a smarmy, talentless soap opera actress has possession of it. A black comedy in the tradition of Being John Malkovich.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for mature sexual content, language and thematic material)

Fame (MGM) Debbie Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth. One of the most iconic movies of the ‘80s gets a remake…or perhaps more accurately, a sequel. The movie that made a star (briefly) of Debbie Allen sees her return to the New York City High School of Performing Arts, this time as principal. A new generation of artists, dancers, actors and singers takes on the hopes and heartbreaks of the most prestigious public school for performance in the country.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for thematic material including teen drinking, a sexual situation and language)

It Might Get Loud (Sony Classics) Jack White, Jimmy Page, The Edge, Bono. Documentary director Davis Guggenheim, who gave us An Inconvenient Truth, switches gears and focuses on three maestros of the electric guitar; Led Zeppelin’s guitar god Page, U2 virtuoso The Edge and up-and-comer White from the White Stripes. The three get together and discuss their love for the instrument that has dominated music in the last 50 years and above all, play those instruments. Playing music that inspired them as well as new compositions that haven’t been released (at least at the time of the documentary’s initial limited run), watching this may profoundly affect the way you hear music.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements, brief language and smoking)

Pandorum (Overture) Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Norman Reedus. Two astronauts wake up on a spacecraft, alone and disoriented in the pitch darkness with no memory of who they are or what their mission is. As they explore the ship, they soon come to realize they aren’t alone. And as the mystery deepens, it soon becomes clear that their actions will either save mankind – or doom it.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong horror violence and language)

The September Issue (Roadside Attractions) Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, Andre Leon Talley, Oscar de la Renta. The September issue of Vogue magazine is the most critical in the fashion industry. It is the largest issue the magazine publishes, over four pounds by weight. The size of a big city Yellow Pages directory, it establishes what is fashionable for the upcoming year. At the heart of this is Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the woman who was the basis of the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada. She allowed unprecedented access to documentarian R.J. Cutler (The War Room) who shows us what goes into making the most important magazine in the $300 billion fashion industry.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)