Tag Archives: Spike Jonze

Love Bytes

‘Her’ raises questions about our connections to technology

Her

Her

Blu-ray Combo Pack $35.99 / DVD $28.98 (Warner Bros. Home Entetainment)

 

What does it mean to be in love? What senses are involved? Is it possible to love someone who isn’t there—who isn’t really “someone” at all? Director Spike Jonze’s provocative, critically acclaimed futuristic tale of a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer’s new artificially intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), raises all sorts of questions about technology and our growing relationship to it—and also becomes a surprisingly sweet, sensitive ode to the basic, timeless human need to connect. It also features Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde, an Oscar-winning original screenplay, and a captivating Oscar-nominated song by Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Guy Meets Gigabyte

A surprisingly sweet, audaciously witty, somewhat weird and ultimately warmhearted ‘what if’ about love in the not-so-far future

HER

Her

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson

Directed by Spike Jonze

R, 126 min.

Can you love someone who isn’t really anyone? That’s one of the questions at the heart of Her, in which a lonely writer in the not-so-distant future develops a romantic relationship with the operating system of his computer.

Think of Siri, the speech-recognition software that comes with an iPhone, or the “voice” that narrates routes mapped out by your vehicle’s GPS navigational device.

Only Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the first of an advanced new operating system (OS) product line, is much more than just a voice. She has personality and a powerful “artificial intelligence,” and she immediately begins to wow her new owner Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) with attention to his every need. She proofreads his work, composes music for their moments together, helps him play his favorite holographic videogame and sends him dirty-minded doodles that make him laugh.

HERSamantha “gets” Theo—understands him, relates to him—like no flesh-and-blood woman ever got him before. Soon enough, he begins to develop feelings for “her.”

Written and directed by Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are, Being John Malcovich, Adaptation) Her takes an old-fashioned romantic convention—guy meets girl—and runs it through an innovative wavelength of sci-fi wi-fi that at the same time doesn’t seem all that out of sync with today. We never know when it takes place—presumably, it’s only a couple of decades from now—but its scenes of people walking around with ear buds, constantly speaking commands for their portable devices to check email or play songs, look oddly contemporary.

Jonze’s movie—nominated for four upcoming Academy Awards, including Best Picture—raises issues about relationships, intimacy, isolation, jealousy, sensory experience, and our connections to the technologies on which our lives have increasingly come to rely. Phoenix gives his usual standout, immersive performance in a very tricky role, playing to a co-star who isn’t really “there” in a physical sense.

As for Samantha, heard but never seen, Johansson is mesmerizing, a warm, sensual, palpable “presence” that moves from Theo’s head into his heart, re-awakening him in every way

_DSC2097.tifAmy Adams frumps down her recent firecracker role in American Hustle to play Theo’s old college friend with love problems of her own, and Rooney Mara portrays his soon-to-be ex-wife, scoffing at his inability to find and date a “real woman.” Theo’s co-worker (Chris Pratt from TV’s Parks and Recreation), however, doesn’t bat an eye when he finds out his girlfriend is an OS. Olivia Wilde has one scene as a date with doubts about Theo’s abilities to commit.

At one point, Theodore plays a ukulele and plunks out a song for Samantha. It’s a charming little tune about being “a million miles away” with the one you love. The very idea of a guy head-over-heels with a female voice coming out of a device in his shirt pocket may seem, indeed, w-a-a-ay out there. But Spike Jonze’s surprisingly sweet, audaciously witty, somewhat weird and ultimately warmhearted “what if” makes you wonder if it’s not so far off, after all.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Dirty Old Man

Johnny Knoxville takes his Jackass show on the road

JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPAJackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Starring Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll

Directed by Jeff Tremaine

R, 92 min.

Released Oct. 25, 2013

After its debut in 2000 on MTV as a half-hour series of candid-camera pranks, rude ’n’ crude practical jokes and outrageous, knuckleheaded, often dangerous stunts, Jackass became a pop-cultural rocket ride for head hoax-master Johnny Knoxville and his motley crew of cutups, spawning several TV spin-offs and three movies.

Now Knoxville is back in a fourth, reprising a character that will be familiar to fans who made his franchise first a cult hit and then a much broader commercial franchise.

In Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, transformed by facial prosthetics, layers of makeup, grey hair and pastel polyester pants, Knoxville, 42, plays a randy octogenarian on a cross-country road trip with his grandson. The “grandpa” character had made appearances in skits and stunts in his previous movies and on the TV series.

JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPAThis movie, however, expands the typical Jackass format of disconnected kamikaze skits by concocting a plot throughout which Knoxville’s “Irving Zisman” and his young charge, Billy (9-year-old Jackson Nicoll, terrific) spring a variety of hidden-cam pranks on unsuspecting people—just like in the previous movies and TV show. (Knoxville, one of the screenplay’s six writers, reassembled his Jackass team of director Jeff Tremaine and producer Spike Jonze for this project.)

Just how funny—or not—you find it all will depend on how far Jackass antics of yesteryear tended to move the needle on your personal laugh-o-meter. If you guffawed before at the Jackass-ery of people being surprised, shocked or angered by being prodded beyond their comfort zones, you’ll probably guffaw again at these shenanigans in a funeral home, doctor’s office, convenience store, bingo hall, restaurant, biker bar, wedding reception and all-male strip club, where Knoxville’s character lets it all hang out in his tighty whities (which aren’t quite tight enough, as it turns out); and as Irving and Billy bring a bumping, grinding grand finale to a kiddie beauty pageant.

Be warned: Knoxville has a thing for body parts, and body functions, that you’ll never, ever, see on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPASo, on the other hand, if you don’t think there’s anything funny about a 87-year-old man who appears to get, ahem, a delicate part of his anatomy stuck in a soda vending machine, and the reactions of the people around him when he asks for their help in extracting himself—well, maybe this isn’t your kind of flick.

When Jackass launched on TV, its format was a brash, gonzo, in-your-face update on Candid Camera, the 1960 series that pioneered the idea of putting ordinary people in outlandish situations, then showing how they reacted. Now, more than a decade later, the idea not’s so brash or so gonzo, especially since Sacha Baron Cohen and his Borat movies have taken the idea to such scatological, wrecking-ball extremes.

Knoxville’s a funny guy, willing to go a long, long way for a laugh, and this is a funny movie…sometimes. But the gags are hit and miss; the ones that fall flat seem to be weighed down by the contrivance of the plot, which makes everything feel overly forced, especially when you see how much fun the crew seems to be having in the behind-the-scenes outtakes during the credits.

Those three minutes of pull-back-the-curtain docu-giggles suggest Bad Grandpa would have been better if it had dropped the whole plot charade, invited the audience in on the joke from the beginning, and let good times roll.

Ah, yes, just like the good old-fashioned, hit-and-run Jackass days of yore.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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