Her (2013) Review

HerReleased: January 10, 2014 (wide release). Directed by: Spike Jonze. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson. Runtime: 126 min.

Love is sometimes a strange, but such a beautiful thing. Oftentimes, one can’t help who they love romantically – the heart wants what the heart wants, as some say. In “Labor Day,” Kate Winslet’s Adele falls in love with a fugitive (weird), and in “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore falls in love with his operating system (even weirder). Yet, the dynamic in the sappy former has been done to death; the dynamic in “Her” is quirky and charming, and totally new. This film follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely writer in Los Angeles recovering from a recent divorce with his ex Catherine (Rooney Mara). Theo develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that is designed to meet his every need.

Theo’s operating system is named Samantha and is voiced by Scarlett Johansson. In the ad for the OS1, it is said to not only be an operating system, but a consciousness. She’s an artificial intelligence with a programmed personality that is very charming. Since Samantha in new to the world, she has a refreshing perspective about everything – and she gets excited about all the little things, and she wants to know what it’s like to be alive. Sam may not have a face, but Johansson portrays emotions well with her compassionate voice, and the wonder that is apparent through it. I think the really crappy thing for Phoenix is that he actually doesn’t get to have a sex scene with, you know, Johansson’s body. If I were Phoenix, that’d piss me off to no end!

I think Jonze thinks of a creative dynamic to solve that whole no body problem. At least he doesn’t think of a similar way to “Movie 43,” where there’s a human version of an iPod called the iBabe, that’s a hot girl who plays music. And when a lonely guy buys it, and it’s a realistic hot girl, you know how that’s going to turn out. Let’s count our blessings this isn’t a story about that, and by the way all, I’m sorry to remind you of that bad film. Speaking of lonely guys, Samantha is a great thing for Theo because it seems to me the OS1 is a great way to reduce loneliness because these artificial intelligences are funny and they have charming personalities (that are based on personalities of programmers), so it seems like incredible company. Theo has also been in a bit of a dark place lately after his divorce (he is skeptical to sign his divorce papers because it further symbolizes a chapter in one’s life closing), and he hasn’t been having enough fun lately. He’s an everyday character because of his fear for real emotions, and he’s relateable – and he’s embodied so well by Joaquin Phoenix, and it’s a real joy to watch him experience new things with the help of Sam. He’s such a likeable character that you really root for him, even though he’s in a bittersweet romance that is way worse than trying out long distance.

Her 1It’s an uplifting story that love can bring someone out of their shell, and since he writes letters for couples; he gets way more into in his work when he is in a relationship. One would think such a likeable guy deserves love. The characters help the quirky film always entertain and often sadden, making it a great blend of romance, science fiction, drama and comedy. It’s a science fiction because of the artificial intelligences and futuristic technology and it’s a comedy because it makes the audience laugh a lot with its unique sense of humour. I think it has a great blend of drama and comedy, often blending the two genres (and adding in some intensity in scenes) and one might not expect the chemistry between a man and an operating system to be so great, but it truly is. Spike Jonze is the right person to make such a unique story come to life, because it breathes new life into all of these genres.

Another thing that helps bring this story to life is the incredible score that rouses emotions, a primary objective of film’s scores; and there’s some great music, here, too. It’s also brought to life by great editing, beautiful settings and cinematography. I think some people might be offput by this film’s great premise, because, admittedly, it is a bit strange – but myself, I was hooked when I first heard of it. It’s just so brilliantly original. One other character I haven’t mentioned is Amy Adams’ character, Theo’s best friend – a documentary filmmaker named Amy.

In one scene she is discussing an idea for a documentary about her mother simply sleeping, posing the idea that people are at their most free when they are dreaming (meaning we don’t have to deal with the real world,  and we take a break from it); Samantha also says a line where she wonders if her personality is just programming or if her feelings are real, which made me think of humans. Sometimes I wonder if people are legitimately feeling their emotions, faking them, or like they’re just on auto-pilot and going through the motions of feelings, if you see what I mean by that. It seems to me that technology is diminishing some of our social capabilities in that perspective, and technology is advancing so much that we don’t have to deal with human interaction as much as we used to; which contributes to Theo’s fear of real emotions. These two quotes are directly linked together, and Jonze uses them to make a smart and honest assesment of humans.

One other hidden meaning that I picked up on was that this whole human-operating system relationship might be a whole new sort-of sexuality (for a lack of a better word) that gets talked about around the office in hushed tones. Is this a new thing society will have to accept in the future, if this sort-of relationship ever comes about? Falling in love is said to be, by Adams’ character, a socially acceptable insanity; but could this be accepted by most? All I know, this premise makes for a thought-provoking, original and special film.

Score100/100

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Labor Day (2013)

Labor DayReleased: January 31, 2014. Directed by: Jason Reitman. Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith. Runtime: 111 min.

Warning: If you don’t want to know a lot about the film before seeing this, there might be more minor spoilers in this review than my usual review. But I guess there’s always that spoiler risk when reading a review. Anyway, enjoy! 

Jason Reitman’s newest film “Labor Day” is set in 1987 in a town with a lot of nice landscapes. It follows Adele (Kate Winslet), a depressed single mother who has been divorced for a few years now. She’s both depressed about the divorce and about the fact that she feels as if she has lost love forever. Her depression has gotten so bad that she only goes out of the house for a monthly trip to Price Mart. Her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) is starting 7th grade on Tuesday and he needs a new shirt, and they might as well do their supplies run. It doesn’t go as planned when Henry runs into a wounded man (Frank, portrayed by Josh Brolin) who menacingly yet not-so menacingly demands a ride to their house. He ends up being an escaped convict – ruh roh! As police search the town for him, he takes refuge in their home and the mother and son learn his story while their options become increasingly limited.

There’s tons of drama and some suspense sprinkled on each day in an attempt to keep everyone interested. The suspense is practically just a lot of people visiting (especially for someone who’s practically a recluse!) in a town where the people can be perceived as helpful or really freaking nosy. Some of them don’t even knock before they come in. That’s inconvenient for someone who has a fugitive in their home. Since the suspense is so simplistic, and the story is so simplistic and predictable (for the first two-thirds, at least), it only rarely increases the heart’s bpm. To add to the drama and the attempted suspense, this is a cheesy romantic flick, extra cheese.

The depressed Adele sees Frank as a chance to love again. You know, because it’s statistically proven that Stockholm’s syndrome is nicest on labour day. Those leaves are just so dang romantic! And don’t get me started on the peaches! Oh the peaches! A kind neighbor (J.K. Simmons) brings by a whole basket of peaches and they can’t eat them all! They’re only three people; so what do they do? They bake a peach pie! The way Jason Reitman directs the scene with Brolin directing Winslet’s shaking hands running through the peaches is horribly reminiscent of that pottery scene in 1990’s “Ghost.” When it’s with pottery it’s okay, but when you’re guiding someone’s hand mixing peaches up, it’s getting silly. It’s not as awful as the scene where Brolin feeds Winslet some beans, though. Winslet has to be fed because she is tied up, because Brolin is still a big bad kidnapper.

Come on guys, it's baking time!

Come on guys, it’s baking time!

Brolin portrays a relatively kind character, for someone who was convicted for murder. We see his crime through flashbacks that are randomly shown throughout the film; it’s not as if it’s shown and then right after he’s waking up from a nightmare, and it’s not like he’s sitting down Adele and Henry and telling them what happened.

Frank teaches Henry how to do things that a father figure teaches their son. It’s nice that Frank tries to be a father figure, but it’s just a weird situation with so much attempted sweetness shoe-horned in here. Personally, I see Frank as one of those stepfather figures I’d want the hell out of my house.

I’ve bagged on this film a lot so far, so here are some things I liked about this. I enjoyed this one incredibly random character named Evelyn (I had to look that up because I don’t think they actually say her name in the movie) looked her up; she befriends Henry, and she’s just comic relief on random days. Tobey Maguire’s narration is also good; I think he has a good, calming narrative voice. Another good thing about the film are the performances; I think the actors are talented, but just acting in a different, but very strange film where the basic emotions are anxiety and depression in the beginning, and things get more inspiring and sensitive as it goes along. It’s always welcome to have these bursts of enjoyment in a slow-moving, bland snoozefest.

You might like it, but since I am not all that familiar with Reitman’s style, I could have easily confused this for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Yep, it’s one of those. Since we know love is such a sweet thing, there’s not much use for a flick like this. There are a few things I took from the film, though: 1) If you go to Price Mart often enough, you’ll pick up someone who’s a pretty good handymad; and 2) You learn a tip if you ever harbour a fugitive: You should keep him inside and not play sports with him in the backyard or do chores in the front yard; because it defeats the meaning of hiding someone.

Score: 40/100

January 31 to February 2 Box Office Predictions

The two films being released the last weekend of January is “Labor Day” and “That Awkward Moment.”

The idea of a film called Labor Day being released in January is a bit of a funny idea. At 2584 theatres, this is the widest initial release for any Jason Reitman film yet. Similar films debut at $9.7 million. I doubt this film will hit double digits this weekend – I saw it yesterday, and I wasn’t a big fan of it. My review will be posted late Friday or Saturday. This is starting the February romantic craze two weeks early before Valentine’s Day, but I wonder how many are in the romantic mood. Anyway, my prediction for this is $7.7 million.

But if people are in the romantic mood, I think “That Awkward Moment” might be a better date night choice. It looks funny and it’s about relationships where people are in that state where they ask “Where’s this going?” It seems like one of those “The do’s and do not’s of dating” sort-of flicks. I’m sold on the cast, practically, well three out of four of them – I like Efron, and Michael B. Jordan especially – I still have to see him in “Fruitvale Station”, though – and Imogen Poots is good, she’s one of the only things I liked about “All is By My Side.” I’m undecided about Miles Teller, but I’ve only seen him in “Project X” and “21 & Over,” and since I hated both of those – I’ve only seen Teller work with shitty material. I might have to wait to see “The Spectacular Now” to form a stronger opinion about him. Anyway, films similar to this open at $13.7 million. What I’m curious about is, will this open closer to “21 and Over’s” $8.7 million, or “Project X’s” $21 million? Since it has Zac Efron, I think it’ll open to $18.3 million.

As for as the first holdover for “I Frankenstein,” I think it’s likely it’ll drop at least 50%, probably more like 57% since when it grosses such a low number – at $8.6 million – it usually just shuffles out of theatres. It seems to me that it will be in its second-rate theatre run by February 7th, depending on how it does this weekend. But if you want to see it in theatres, I’d get on it!

Here’s how I see the Top 10:

1. “That Awkward Moment”: $17.3 million
2. “Ride Along”: $13.4 million
3. “The Nut Job”: $8.3
4. “Lone Survivor”: $8.2 million
5. “Labor Day”: $7.7 million
6. “Frozen“: $7.3 million
7. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”: $6.3 million
8. “American Hustle“: $5.3 million
9. “I, Frankenstein”: $4.9 million
10. “The Wolf of Wall Street“: $4.5 million