Her

Joaquin Phoenix in Her

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

22 August

 

Storm botnet maximum, 2007

Today marks the day when, in 2007, activity by the Storm Worm Trojan horse reached its maximum. Having been identified in January 2007, the worm spread via emails with catchy subject lines such as “230 dead as storm batters Europe”. Once the recipient had clicked on it, the Trojan horse would go to work, replicating itself and emailing itself out to others as spam. No one is really sure where the Trojan horse came from – some suggest the US, others Russia – but it was designed to work on Microsoft Windows systems, turning each infected one into a bot. The network of bots, once established, takes orders from servers whose domain names change frequently. These servers also frequently re-encode the worm, making detection difficult. This makes the botnet efficient at both attack and defence; it can “know” when it is being attacked by anti-virus investigators and can even deny them access to the internet, taking them out of the game. It is estimated that on 22 August 2007 this activity reached a maximum, with 57 million infected messages being sent out in a single day. The Storm botnet went into decline in late 2008, though it probably wasn’t as a result of Microsoft’s efforts to flush out the virus with security updates, more likely it was the result of tools like Stormfucker (a “white” or “ethical” worm), which effectively uses the Storm Worm’s own protocols to make it disinfect itself.

 

 

 

Her (2013, dir: Spike Jonze)

Having read an article about a web application called Cleverbot, which uses algorithms to have conversations with humans, Spike Jonze decided the idea would be ideal for a film. Her is that film, the story of a guy who falls in love with his computer’s operating system. And it with him, or so it seems. The guy is played by Joaquin Phoenix and the OS’s voice is provided by Scarlett Johansson. And it all starts so easily, Phoenix’s Theodore deciding to buy the “world’s first artificial intelligence operating system”, and at first being amazed as it/she starts sorting out his life, decluttering, adding entries to his diary, getting his life back on track. To make his life more efficient the OS starts asking questions about Theodore’s likes and dislikes, wishes and desires. The recently divorced single man (day job: writing emotional messages for other people’s significant “together” moments) and the OS start to get to know each other. Gradually, this turns into something more personal. In as much as he can, Jonze makes Her a traditional romance – the meet cute, the walks in the park, the mad sex, the first argument, the flaming row, the break-up. Some of this he has to finesse slightly and force into a box it doesn’t quite want to go into (it’s the walk in the walk in the park rather than the sex which sat ill with me) but you can’t deny that Jonze is doing it absolutely straight. This is no comedy, no freak show, but an exploration of a human relationship with a thing which isn’t human – though the extent to which it isn’t human (or is) is definitely territory that writer/director Jonze is all over.
What sort of a world would it be where such a relationship was possible? Jonze builds it convincingly – it looks hi-tech (much of it is Shanghai), the fashions are different (high waisted trousers seem to be in), realistic 3D video games are the sort of recreation a man comes home to after a day at the office. But for the most part it’s a world of recognisable humans and recognisable relationships – we have already seen Theodore having phone sex with someone called SexyKitten (voiced by Kristen Wiig, whose “choke me with a cat”, shouted in the throes of a well simulated orgasm, is worth a snort).
Talking of orgasms, the fact that Johansson replaced Samantha Morton as the voice of the OS – in post-production, Morton having done the whole film from inside a padded plywood box – might have something to do with ScarJo’s sexy rasp. I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past Morton to be able to purr with the best of them – she can do most things – but Johansson is the perfect choice and the film marks out the beginning of her sudden moment as the go-to woman for sci-fi oddness – Under the Skin and Lucy were both just a moment away.
It’s a simple film, a romance, with a conceit that Jonze follows right through to the end, and there’s no point detailing all the plot – though there is even an attractive, real human girl next door (Amy Adams) who Theodore doesn’t take any notice of because he’s so infatuated with this unattainable woman/machine/thing. Watching Jonze play through these film clichés is actually the point of Her. Does an extended joke need to be two hours long? Absolutely not. There’s a better, punchier 90 minute film in here somewhere. But Jonze didn’t make that film, so let’s enjoy the one he did make.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Another great everyman performance by Joaquin Phoenix
  • The peripheral casting (Kristen Wiig, Amy Adam, Olivia Wilde)
  • Scarlett Johansson’s note perfect performance
  • The cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Her – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Her”

  1. This film is the best thing I have seen all year, and I saw just about every good film to hit theaters in 2013. I think it's because it is so representational of what it's like to be human.

    There are so many things that make this movie special, but I'll just mention a few.

    1. The score is INCREDIBLE. The music paired with the beautiful sound design make you FEEL the movie. Sure, you see everything on the screen, which is already beautiful, but then that music hits you and the emotions just start to run. I laughed, I cried, my brain got all tingly. It was an emotional roller coaster, and the score assisted in that so well.

    2. The script. I knew how this movie was going to end 30 minutes in. And unlike most who would then say that it's predictable and not worth watching, I consider that awesome, because it means that the script is tight enough to tell a good story with a believable arc. Every scene in this movie is straight up powerful! Like it will fill your heart with sadness and happiness and pain and guilt and confusion. And then rinse and repeat. For 2 hours. It moves through all of the most complex and interesting questions that we should be asking ourselves about what it means to be a human being. About what it means to be alive. This film is about all that life is. And after the screening, as well as during, I found myself questioning things in my own life that either don't make sense or don't have to make sense. Like love and thoughts and emotions. They're all so natural and yet none of us truly understand how they work. In my opinion, moreso than any other film this year, Her has the perfect mix of complex ideas, story, and character development. One of the best scripts ever written.

    3. Cinematography. My personal favorite shot to see and use is the extreme close up. And that shot was all over this movie. The reason I love it so much and believe it works so well is because it allows you to see the emotions of the character so plainly. Like their face is right in your face, so you just have to look at it. And that's where Joaquin shines. He delivers such a powerful and emotional performance and the close ups are there to capture it all. They also make great use of the natural backlighting of Shanghai, and the colors all fuse to make it a really pretty movie. I'd say the cinematography is on par with like Drive or Lost in Translation in terms of the style. It looks like every shot was photographed with the intent to make it the most beautiful shot in the film. And I admire the DP's work. He did a really great job.

    More than anything though, this film just made me feel. Everything about it was so beautiful. I didn't want it to end. I felt like the film was controlling me – playing with my mind as if it were a joystick. And that's just something you don't get every day. Very rarely am I awe- stricken by a movie, and this film made my jaw drop. It is without a doubt the best film of the year, and upon just one viewing, one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time.

    Also, the Alien child is so funny. And video games in the future look awesome.

  2. Science fiction has been dominated by 'space westerns' for so long that the occasional concept- based story situation hits a big number on my personal richter scale.

    What does it mean to be human? And if we create near-humans what is our responsibility to them and what is their relationship to us? These themes underpinned Blade Runner and Spielberg's A.I. And Sci Fi of the 50s and 60s dealt with machine self awareness. None of the films that touched on this subject in the past presented it so thoroughly, intimately and believably.

    Her is in the near future, but everything we see is within reach now: the isolation and starkness of the "business district," the oppressive scale of the architecture (with thin, clumsy attempts to soften its sterility) and the need for continuous connection to remote voices.

    A personal assistant that learns independently and takes initiative for its hapless user, "Her" is at once the ideal tool and — who knows — perhaps closer to the next level of evolution.

    Pitch perfect performances and direction kept me in the story. As others have said, the locations, cinematography and even music shine in the fabric of this film. Spike Jonze is a master story weaver at the top of his game. Joaquin Phoenix is utterly credible as are all the other leads. Even Scarlett Johansson, who has not always seemed a strong actress to me performs utterly convincingly.

    It's an adult-themed film in more ways than one, but especially in the best way: it makes you think about a reality that's right around the corner.

  3. Talk about closing with a bang. Spike Jonze's long-awaited original film about a writer that falls in love with his operating system is not only the best film to play at this year's New York Film Festival; it very well could be the very best film of the year. "Her" is the finest writing and directorial endeavor of Spike Jonze's career. And then there's the towering and crowning work of Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix who proves once again, he's the finest actor working today, hands down. You can't find a more dynamic and compelling story about the human connection and where we're headed as a society.

    When "Her" opens up, it snaps you immediately into the story. Phoenix plays Theodore, a writer for a website that makes letters for just about anyone. As he tries to find life during the midst of his divorce from his wife Catherine (played by a beautiful Rooney Mara), Theodore finds solace in a friendship with a new OS (operating system) named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The two develop a relationship in a world where OS's are becoming the norm with society.

    Jonze's has never been the conventional director as we've seen in his other brilliant efforts "Being John Malkovich" and "Where the Wild Things Are." Jonze sets out to tell a story and deliver all the intricate details for us to understand each character. His focus on Theodore, giving him a real sense of loneliness without falling into cliché character ticks and beats that we've seen countless times in other romantic films, Jonze constructs a real man living in a world where technology has taken precedent over human connection.

    Christopher Nolan should take notes from Jonze on the assembling of female counterparts in a story. Catherine and Theodore's friend Amy, played by the always dependable Amy Adams, both feel genuinely authentic. Mara, who's already delivered one other powerful performance in "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" earlier this year, is finely utilized. She shows once again that she's a true professional, with limited screen time (many in flashbacks); she can staple herself in your memory.

    Amy Adams is always the sprinkle on top in all of her films. As "Amy," the awkward friend and neighbor who sympathizes more with Theodore more than she'd like to, Adams expertly executes. With four prior Oscar nominations to her credit, her stunning portrayal is just another fantastic pin to add to her credits. She could find traction during the awards season if the film hits in the right way. That's also part to the petty Oscar rules about rewarding voice performances because if that wasn't the case, Scarlett Johansson would be on stage holding an Oscar of her own next March. As "Samantha," Johansson has never tapped into the essence of her abilities as an actress the way she does in "Her." As an OS, full of wonder and curiosity, "Samantha" is essentially a child. Learning at a rapid rate and studying the behaviors of the human mind, she looks at the world through the eyes of Theodore. Johansson holds our hand in through the tale, even when her voice isn't on screen. This is the type of work that could convince the Board of Governors to rethink the eligibility of an acting performance. This is a masterful work that I'll remember for years to come.

    And then there's Joaquin Phoenix…oh, Mr. Phoenix. Fresh off his historic performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" just a year ago, I didn't think he could impress me so soon and yet here we are. His sensitive and perceptive take on the role is what films are all about. It's one of the best things that 2013 has offered and a performance that could land him his first Oscar. I think Phoenix himself was impressed with the work he and his colleagues have accomplished. At the press conference, he actually gave an answer to one of the questions from the audience. If anyone was in attendance at the conference for James Gray's "The Immigrant" – a prickly, disengaged Phoenix put on his sunglasses and put the microphone on the floor. This is a performance that you can identify with. He's not simply awkward for the sake of being, he has baggage and connection issues. There's sincerity in his words and mannerisms. A getaway in a cabin, alone but with "Samantha" encapsulates everything about Theodore. Phoenix achieves the impossible and is an instant Oscar contender.

    But "Her" isn't just about the writing and performances; it's an all- around technical marvel. Most notably the Production Design of K.K. Barrett, who has worked on "Where the Wild Things Are." Our story takes place in a futuristic (though never said how far ahead) Los Angeles and with shooting overseas, Barrett captures the clout of the city and its inside counterparts. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema's use of colors and smooth palettes are things of a dream. Affectionately snuggling up to Phoenix as he whispers the sweetness of words to "Samantha" or the sweetness of a new letter at work, Hoytema has quickly become one of my favorite DP's, especially following "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Let the Right One In." Arcade Fire and Karen O. are simply magic in their music that accompanies our story about love. A modern yet classical composition that in key scenes could move you to tears.

    "Her" is one of the best love stories I've witnessed in some time. Charlie Kaufman will always have the honor of penning my favorite love story of all-time "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" but Spike Jonze and "Her" are giving it a true run for the money at the moment. Warner Bros. must know what they have with a limited release in late November; this…

    Read More @ http://www.awardscircuit.com

  4. While the idea behind the movie is sorta-kinda unique (Smart House, anyone?), the actual romantic plot line was so poorly executed I couldn't even believe it.

    I tried to sympathize with Samantha, really I did; at first her character seemed very promising. But it turned into the most stereotypical, bland romance ever. The number of times Samantha and Theodore sighed only to have the other ask "What's wrong?" followed by "Nothing, I'm fine" was way too painful. The interactions between the two of them were so plain and boring and predictable that I found myself not caring about either of these characters at all.

    By the end of the film, when Samantha decided to leave, I wasn't even upset, or interested, or anything. It didn't feel as though anything significant had changed or happened.

    I'm sorry but two hours of watching Theodore talk to Samantha/himself was really hard to enjoy.

    Don't even get me started on the sex/cyber scenes. I understand what they were going for. But again, just about everything in this movie was so awkwardly executed, that simply knowing what they were intending to portray was not enough.

    TL;DR I just don't know what to say. The previews for this film made it look really interesting, something that might get you thinking… but ultimately it was a depressing movie all around, honestly a waste of potential, this could have been something great; instead it became a weird and melodramatic story. They could have replaced the AI Samantha with a real human being and in the end not much would have been different. I'm not sure why this film has been getting the praise it has, it was cheesy, it was awkward, it was obscene at times, it was simply not enjoyable.

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