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Spike Jonze

Videophiled: ‘Her’ – Love in the Digital Age

HerHer (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD, On Demand), the first film from Spike Jonze since his underrated take on Where the Wild Things Are, returns to the territory of his debut film Being John Malkovich but without the satirical edge. Like his fellow filmmakers and former collaborators Michael Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Jonze is narratively playful and challenging, but his interest as a filmmaker is in the human experience: unresolved emotions, emotional pain, longing, disappointment, and the need for love and affirmation. Jonze wrote this original screenplay himself and won the Academy Award for it.

As you probably already know, Her is a love story between a man and his smartphone operating system, a science-fiction conceit that springboards off Siri and the plugged-in culture to create an artificially intelligent operating system that picks up on vocal cues and emotional states, responding empathetically to its user. Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore, an emotionally wounded man who armors himself from personal contact after a break-up and divorce, and the only person to break through that is not a person at all but this bodyless entity. It’s the logical step since he communicates with his computer and its voice-activated system more than he does with people, one-sided a relationship that prevents him from interacting with the world. When it becomes an interactive entity, a personality that responds to and bonds with him, it’s seductive. It’s also, unexpectedly, a way back to the rich pageant of human existence around.

Jonze creates an almost idealized vision of Los Angeles here, a clean, handsome urban cityscape of affluence in cool colors and an austerity we don’t expect to see in L.A. This is a city with litter, no gridlock, and no overcrowding, a beautiful but strangely lonely vision of city life that only becomes energized when Samantha, as the system is named, takes Theodore into the crowds of public spaces. Samantha grows exponentially, reaching out into the world to experience all she can, and she leads Theodore back into the world with her even as she evolves far past his limitations.

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‘Her’ a conventional look at a virtual relationship

Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Her’

Who is Her?

In the most literal sense, I suppose she is an operating system that goes by the name Samantha, a futuristic computerized program that takes an important place in the life of ordinary guy Theodore Twombly.

But Her might also refer to any woman who comes into Theodore’s life, because he clearly hasn’t figured out how to understand and relate to the opposite sex. He’s the main character of “Her,” the new film by Spike Jonze, and he’s played by Joaquin Phoenix in a technically tricky performance.

The setting is the near future, and things look different — in a wonderfully visualized way. Los Angeles is a city of elevated sidewalks and soulless towers (an effect created in part by shooting in Shanghai), men wear pants without belts, and the streets are full of people more engaged by their personal devices than by the world around them.

Continue reading at The Herald

DVD/Blu-ray: ‘Being John Malkovich’

Being John Malkovich, a mindgame of a bizarre fantasy ostensibly about a marionette puppeteer who discovers a hidden tunnel that carries spelunkers into the mind of actor John Malkovich (played by John Malkovich) where they vicariously enjoy his life for their alotted 15 minutes, was released in 1999, at a time when our obsession with celebrity was mainly fed by gossip magazines and entertainment programs and the new paradigm of reality TV had was just about to explode. Over a decade later, as intrusions into the private lives of entertainment stars has reached new depths thanks to portable video devices and hackers targeting celebrity cell phones, and a longer reach thanks to a proliferations of bottom-feeding websites, it is as timely and topical as ever.

Because Being John Malkovich, the debut feature from both director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, takes identity theft to an existential level (forget hacking into cell phones, they’re hacking into someone’s mind!), but it is not really about celebrity stalking, or obsession, or even envy. It has been called quirky, clever, funny, and satirical, and it is all that, but behind all of the madcap invention and creative playfulness is a terrible sadness, a portrait of people so miserable in their own skins that they will do almost anything to become someone else. That it presents them with such humor and imagination and, yes, even empathy makes it all the more devastating portrait of the human condition. What better way to explore the vicious things we do for love than through laughter?

John Cusack’s sad-sack marionette Craig Schwartz could be the poster boy for the self-absorbed artist, shaggy and self-important and unemployed, defiantly creating chamber dramas and performance art pieces in his miniature stages. They are at once rarified expressions of angst (his performances are as much modern dance as puppet plays) and wish fulfillment fantasies: tortured art from the tortured artist acting out the life he’s unable to live. Kaufman’s subsequent films are filled with simulacra of lives, from the fading memories of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to the elaborate theatrical recreations nestled one within another of Synecdoche, New York, and characters who, unable to control their own lives, resort to obsessively revisiting their past and fix it, erase it, or simply observe. It all springs from here.

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