Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Hopper #8

“her” (2013)

I can honestly say that Spike Jonze is the strangest and most off-the-wall filmmaker I have ever seen. He has an uncanny ability to take the weirdest premises and make them seem mundane, but also to take an everyday-average premise and turn into something that will mess with your mind until you have no choice but to appreciate it. 

Sometimes this works to his advantage, such as “adaptation.” which is a one-of-a-kind movie with some well-crafted dialogue and wonderful performances by Nicholas “Cagerage” Cage and Meryl Streep. Other times, it leaves the audience unsure of what to make but still feeling entertained through many hilarious moments and ideas, like in “Being John Malkovich.”

This brings us to Jonze’s newest film, “her.” This one is certainly different from the previous work of Jonze, in that it exchanges his usual quirky and unearthly presentation and style for a more quiet and restrained piece. Oh, the film is still weird and unsettling at times, but it has an air of dignity and care for its characters. It lets events play out naturally without anything feeling forced, especially the dialogue and actions of our heroes. 

“her” feels more human than most other movies I can think of. 

Set in Los Angeles of the not-too-distant future (insert MST3K joke here), Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), whose job is to write love letters for those who can’t, tries to break out of his shell after recently breaking up with his wife (Rooney Mara). Things take a turn for the bizarre when the first artificial intelligent operating system (or OS) is released to the public. 

Theodore, of course, purchases an OS (voiced by Scarlett Johanssen) and the two quickly develop a friendship. The OS, naming herself “Samantha,” shows signs of a personality and quirks that any human would show and Theodore is attracted by her upbeat attitude to explore the world and know everything. So much so that he begins to fall in love with Samantha. 

If there’s one thing I hate about romantic movies, it is a forced romance between the two leads, who have little to not chemistry or compatibility, and this happens way more often than it should. Some of the best examples of romance in movies are the more offbeat ones, like Charlie Chaplin’s silent comedy “City Lights” or the animated sci-fi feature “WALL-E.”

The romance in these films rely, not on a physical attraction or love at first sight, but intrigue and wanting to learn more about this unique individual. Simple exchanges and gestures can turn into lasting images that stick with their opposite and the audience. 

This is what makes the relationship between Theodore and Samantha so lively and refreshing to see. 

Their love for each other progresses naturally, with the two learning about each other and both influencing one another. Theodore initially questions a piece of machinery that has instincts and takes a breath of air before speaking, while Samantha is enthralled by Theodore’s outgoing and quirky personality that she wants to know more about the world through his eyes. 

This aspect is enhanced further through the dialogue and banter between the two. Every line of dialogue flows without feeling forced or over-the-top. While often producing a laugh, that’s only because of their personalities and love for each other. 

Yet the two also have their flaws. Theodore is an introvert and has a difficult time letting any one in, because, as his wife says, he can’t deal with others emotions. Samantha is often nosey, sticking her proverbial nose where it doesn’t belong, and a constant attitude that begs to be more than just an OS, leaving her confused about her existence. Not to mention she gets jealous rather easily.  

Because of the charisma that leaps off the screen and their flaws as individuals, Theodore and Samantha feel like actual people. 

On top of that, the world in which “her” sets up is all-too familiar and yet so alluring. From the way in which artificial intelligence is used as tools and companions, to the letter writing company designed to help those who can’t fully express their emotions, down to the advancements in video games having characters that react to everything you say. It is so beautiful in its simplicity and innovative ideas. 

That is probably the best way to describe “her.” Simple, yet innovative. It understands the human condition and interaction of people, but also introduces just how much technology as changed and evolved over the years, and how it will continue to evolve. It doesn’t shove that in our faces, but presents as a comforting way that shows that we can change alongside our technology. 

That we may not have a perfect existence or be able to read an entire book in 2/10 of a second, but we can appreciate the joy that life can bring. 

Final Grade: A

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” (2013)

This legend should have stayed right where it was. 

I have a question for everyone, but let’s see if you can come up with an answer: Can you name one good movie that is a sequel to a comedy?

I ask this because, I honestly can’t think of any good comedic sequel. The problem is that they will always tread the same ground as their predecessor, and hardly do anything new or amusing. For example, “The Hangover: Part II” is the same movie as “The Hangover,” except they change the location and made the humor even more crude. 

If a film is going to do the same thing as another film, then what is the point of watching the copy at all? I can just watch my copy of “The Hangover” and get the same experience, if not better.

There are many things wrong with “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” but the main problem is that it does the same thing as any other comedic sequel: Telling the same jokes in the vain hope of recapturing the wit of the first film, or tells brainless jokes that are more cringeworthy than laughable. 

Just so we’re clear, I love “Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy.” I still feel that it is Will Ferrell’s best movie, set in a transitional time where the kind of humor towards women remains funny without going over the top. Full of surprises that still catch me off guard and wonderful performances from Paul Rudd, Steve Carrel and Christina Applegate. 

With “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” comes jokes that make you want to scream, terrible performances and a story that is either nonexistent or brain-dead. 

Set years after the events of the first film, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) has now divorced his wife, Veronica (Christina Applegate) and is too heartbroken to hold up a job. When he is approached by an agent from New York to be an anchor for a 24-hour news channel, Ron jumps at the chance. He tracks down his old team (played by Paul Rudd, Steve Carrel and David Koechner) as they move to New York to be apart of this new experience in news. 

An important thing to remember about joke-telling is context. Letting the audience know at least a little bit about where the joke is going, and not to just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. “Anchorman 2” seems to forget that, and makes every character act like Steve Carrel’s character by saying completely random nonsense.

Hell, at least Carrel had many memorable lines from the first film. Not so much in this one.

Ron has many moments in the movie where he falls into that trap, like when he meets the family of his new girlfriend and talks in nothing but jive. Or when Ron decides that, in the middle of a broadcast, to start smoking crack. Why? I don’t know, and I feel like the writers didn’t know either.

The plot seems to do whatever it feels like, so long as it gives them an excuse to get to the next reused joke. When it does try to be serious, there are so many holes that it falls apart. 

There’s a scene where Ron has to tell one of his friends that the network directors won’t air his story, and all of his friends blame him for only caring about the ratings. Wait, what? How is that Ron’s fault? Then Ron yells at Steve Carrel’s character for no good reason, causing his friends to storm out. 

There’s contrived plot points, and then there’s pulling unforced emotions and reactions out of nowhere. 

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” turned out this bad. Will Ferrell has been trying to recapture the laughs he got in the first film for years, and rarely succeeds. This was still disappointing considering how bad it really was. Not once during the film did I laugh and I often found my head between my hands, groaning in frustration. 

It is disappointing because of the lack of thought and charm throughout the film. The film never tries to do anything new and many jokes overstay their welcome. It is childish, rude, insulting and disrespectful. 

If you wish to watch “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” just watch the first “Anchorman” and you’ll get the idea. Other than that, stay away from this movie.

Final Grade: F+

Next Post: The Best of 2013

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