Monday, October 14, 2013

New Anthem of the Millennials

Her (2013) - Jonze
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It's hard to believe that Her is only Spike Jonze's fourth feature film because it feels like he's been in our pop culture consciousness for a long time. With his music videos and films, he's always been creating worlds that are just ahead of the curve. Written solely by Jonze for the first time, Her is a surprisingly thoughtful and moving film. In a mere two-hour running time, it raises a lot of important issues in our society which is heavily dependent on technology. And it's bound to be a cult classic.

Her refers to the new operating computer system that our sad sack protagonist Theodore Twombly (played beautifully by Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with. She is a cross between an operating system and Siri. The setting is Los Angeles, in the very near future, where IKEA and Banana Republic seem to have spawned and populated every pore of the city with their sensible furniture and clothing. In this future, everyone pretty much walks around with a cigarette-box sized mobile computer device with a wireless earplug in his/her ear, verbally dictating tasks on the screen at work, playing 3D video games alone at home and have one-night-stands on the internet. Do these sound too close for comfort?

The genius of the film is how Jonze makes us quickly suspend our disbelief and surrender to his world. It's like how much we cared for an abandoned desk lamp in his 30-second IKEA commercial. An inanimate object, in this case a talking computer, becomes a sympathetic, three dimensional being before you realize it (Of course, it helps to have her voiced by sexpot Scarlett Johansson). And yes, there is a lot of humor to be found in many of the film's ironical situations, but it doesn't feel like a gimmick. In Jonze's view, there is no cynicism in irony.

Theo is a lonely divorcé working for a company specializing in crafting handwritten personalized letters for their clients. His insights and ability to personalize the lives of strangers are well regarded among his co-workers. Still reeling from the memories of his ex, Catherine (Rooney Mara), whom he still cares for, he finds love and companionship in his new artificial intelligence enabled computer operating system, Samantha. She is smart, personable, funny, always available and most of all, knows everything about Theo, because his whole life is stored in his computer.

Theo finds out that he is not the only one having a relationship with an operating system. In Jonze's world, this practice seems widely accepted. He and Samantha even go out on a double date with his co-worker and his girlfriend. As their affections for each other grow, Samantha starts to question her bodiless existence. But that doesn't stop them from having a physical relationship which plays out more like hot phone sex. But soon after the ' honeymoon period', they are having problems like any other couple, with jealousy and attachment issues.

After Samantha's attempt at body surrogate with a devout volunteer (Portia Doubleday) who finds their relationship beautiful, fails miserably, things slowly take a turn. With forever expanding her knowledge and consciousness, Samantha starts corresponding with other A.I.s and much to Theo's chagrin, she realizes the restriction of the physical form.

Amy Adams is great as Theo's sympathetic, long time friend and neighbor Amy. Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt round up the supporting cast. But it's all Phoenix. It catches you off guard when you realize that most of the time, it's him talking to himself, carrying out the phantom relationship. It's another amazing performance from him. His sensitive, vulnerable modern man persona is instantly recognizable and relatable.

What's remarkable about Spike Jonze films is that regardless of his boundless cleverness, there is always an emotional core and sincerity inherent in his work. With Her, Jonze also proves himself to be a very acute observer of the hypersensitive generation which was raised on the computer. Her will resonate and undoubtedly garner a cult status among the Millennials just as Fight Club did with the Gen X.


The Fifth Estate (2013) - Condon
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There should be a rule in Hollywood that forbids making movies about current affairs that are less than 5 years old. With a grand, manipulative soundtrack, The Fifth Estate is everything I hate about Hollywood biopic. There is absolutely no exciting way to portray computer based info war in films, so Condon and Co. resort to very unhip, breezy 'text across actors' faces' style. Then there is the fake Argo suspense involving Libyan family (friends of concerned State Department employee played by Laura Linney) crossing the border after Bradley Manning's Wikileak of the Pentagon papers. There is a scene where Linney character dismisses Manning as "a 22 year old kid who has mental problems" even. I could give too shits about Julian Assange's private life. He could really be an egotistic rapist people make him out to be. So what if he was? It seems Condon and the screenwriter of the film don't care about anything. Is the film for transparency in our Gov't? Is it saying Assange was reckless man who put people in danger? Is it supposed to be a commentary about a new era of information age? The only good scene is near the end where The Guardian editor in chief played by David Thewlis and Wikileak's former cohort/friend Daniel Berg played by Daniel Brühl talking about the impact of Wikileaks. Benedict Cumberbach and the rest of the cast do a great job. But with its muddled message and by-the-numbers Hollywood filmmaking, only thing general moviegoing public would take away from the theater is this: Assange is a creepy asshole. Ugh.

Long Term Relationship

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) - Jarmusch
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Jarmusch's latest is a take on vampire genre. Just like anything he's ever done, the genre trapping is in the name only, it's all Jarmusch. An extremely good looking couple, aptly named Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in seclusion. They have very distinctive personalities- Adam, a depressed musician, lives in once the great American music mecca, Detroit. Eve leads a nomadic life in Tangier. Adam has no interest in technology and the changing world around him, while Eve flourishes. After sensing Adam's destress, Eve comes to Detroit and they hang out, touring the beautiful decay of now all but abandoned city. Things get complicated when Eve's spunky younger sister, Eva (Miwa Wasikowska) shows up. The little brat from LA is cramping their style. They have enough when Eva kills Adam's human minion and drinks his blood. It's time to fly back to Tangier where they have connections to fresh blood supplies.

As usual, with Jamusch's deadpan humor abound, Only Lovers Left Alive is a beautiful, funny, playful pun at vampire genre and also a poignant contemplation on long term relationship. I mean, how do you keep up the freshness when you have eternity together? Sometimes the film feels like self-indulging exercise in coolness. The namedropping of his cool friends gets kinda annoying. But that's Jarmusch for you. He is a cool dude and no one can deny that. Oh and amazing soundtrack as usual.