Archive for the ‘Her (2013)’ Category

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Distributor: Warner Bros.

Release Date: May 13, 2014

Region: Region A

Length: 126 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

5.1 French Dolby Digital
5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: DVD and Ultraviolet copies are included with this Blu-ray disc. This title is also available in a DVD only edition.

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“…It definitely has a lot of ideas about technology and the way we live with technology, and the way technology helps us connect or not connect. But I think what I was really trying to write about was the way we long to connect with each other. I really tried to make more of a relationship movie—or a love story and a relationship movie in the context of right now.” – Spike Jonze (Interview Magazine)

Set in Los Angeles in the slight future, Her follows Theodor, a complex, soulful man who makes his living writing touching, personal letters for other people. Heartbroken after the end of a long relationship, he becomes intrigued with a new, advanced operating system, which promises to be an intuitive and unique entity in its own right. Upon initiating it, he is delighted to meet ‘Samantha,’ a bright, female voice who is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny. As her needs and desires grow, in tandem with his own, their friendship deepens into an eventual love for each other.

In some hands, this could easily turn into a mere gimmick. However, this is a Spike Jonze film, and he has delivered something altogether different. He has done such a fine job that the Academy saw fit to honor the film with 5 Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song). Jonze took home the Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay, and managed to take home a Golden Globe Award in that same category.

Joaquin Phoenix was cast as Theodor in the film and gives an incredibly layered performance.

“Within five minutes I fell in love with the idea of [Phoenix] being in the movie. Then we started rehearsing together, reading the script over and over and over again. We’d spend five days at a time, and I’d go off and write for a few months, then we’d meet up again. In that year we got to know each other really well.” – Spike Jonze (The Telegraph, February 3, 2014)

Phoenix actually had an incredible impact on the shape of the final film. Jonze would alter his script to fit Phoenix so that it was more natural for the actor to perform.

“We rehearsed a lot. Not necessarily like rehearsal where we’re acting out the scene, but rehearsal where we’re just reading the script together and stopping and talking after each scene about what worked—or didn’t work. It’s a rehearsal that’s more about both him understanding what my intention is, and me getting his reaction to the script and doing rewrites based on his comments—his gut instinct is so strong. So maybe he’ll say, ‘This doesn’t feel right,’ or ‘I don’t know about that …’ I mean, he never says anything should be changed, but I can tell when he doesn’t feel something or believe it, so I keep asking questions: ‘What did it feel like? What didn’t feel right?’ And he’ll tell me what it feels like, and sometimes he has a suggestion on how to fix something, but usually not. Usually, he’ll just say why it doesn’t feel right.” – Spike Jonze (Interview Magazine)

Scarlett Johansson was eventually cast as the voice of Samantha, but the role was performed by another actress during the film’s production.

“Originally, on set, we’d cast Samantha Morton as that character. So she was with us on set every day, and she was in [Joaquin Phoenix’s] ear, and he was in her ear. And she was in another room, and they were just speak-talking. And so a lot of what he did was listen to her.
Then in post-production we realized that what Samantha and I had done together wasn’t what the character needed, or what the movie needed. And so at that point we recast. And then, although Samantha’s not in the movie … her DNA is still really in the film, because she’s so much a part of Joaquin’s performance. But in post, when Scarlett came on, we basically re-created that same intimacy that we had on set, with Scarlett in the sound studio.” – Spike Jonze (NPR, December 16, 2013)

K.K. Barrett’s Oscar nominated production design on Her adds to the film’s overall feeling of isolation and loneliness.

“When we started designing the movie we realized that we didn’t need to make a movie about the future. We’re not predicting (but) creating a world that felt right for this story; creating, on the surface at least, this utopian setting for loneliness and isolation. That seemed particularly painful and poignant.” –Spike Jonze (Tampa Bay Times, January 7, 2014)

Her has enjoyed a mostly positive critical reception. Scott Foundas’ review in Variety is typical of the praise that the film has received.

“…A truly 21st-century love story, Jonze’s fourth directorial feature (and first made from his own original screenplay) may not be Middle America’s idea of prime date-night viewing, but its funky, deeply romantic charms should click with the hip urban audiences who embraced Jonze’s earlier work, with some cross-pollination to the sci-fi/fantasy crowd.

Not least among Jonze’s achievements here is his beautifully imagined yet highly plausible vision of a near-future Los Angeles (exact year unspecified), where subways and elevated trains have finally supplanted the automobile, and where a vast urban center crowded with skyscrapers sprawls out from downtown in every direction (a clever amalgam of location shooting in L.A. and Pudong, China). Just a few months after Elysium foretold an Angel City beset by enviro-pocalypse and class warfare, Jonze cuts the other way, envisaging a society where green living has triumphed and most of the world’s (or at least America’s) social maladies seem to have been remedied — save, that is, for an epidemic of loneliness…

…But what begins like an arrested adolescent dream soon blossoms into Jonze’s richest and most emotionally mature work to date, burrowing deep into the give and take of relationships, the dawning of middle-aged ennui, and that eternal dilemma shared by both man and machine: the struggle to know one’s own true self…

…And where so many sci-fi movies overburden us with elaborate explanations of the new world order, Her keeps things airy and porous, feathering in a few concrete details (a news report mentions an impending merger between India and China) while leaving much to the viewer’s imagination.

Working for the fourth time with production designer KK Barrett and costume designer Casey Storm, Jonze hasn’t just made a movie about how we might love in the years to come, but where we might live (in sleek high-rises decked out in leather, hardwood and modern furniture), what we might wear (beltless wool trousers seem to be all the rage for men) and where we might eat (in pretentious Asian fusion bistros, because some things never change). And through it all, we will still strive — in the words of one of the world’s telecommunications giants — to reach out and touch someone.” –Scott Foundas (Variety, October 12, 2013)

Richard Corliss wrote an equally flattering review in Time magazine.

“…With his new movie Her, which has its world premiere tonight as the closing attraction at the New York Film Festival, Jonze creates the splendid anachronism of a movie romance that is laugh-and-cry and warm all over, totally sweet and utterly serious. Or, if you will, utterly Siri. For Theodore’s girlfriend is a computer voice named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). She’s his ‘IT’ girl…This is a movie about the nicest, prettiest people, and the love and hurt they dish out and take.

In a future Los Angeles so near-Utopian that no scene takes place in a car, the palette is gently muted — not broiling sun burning through corrosive smog but, as Jonze said at today’s press conference, ‘the colors of Jamba Juice.’ (Many of the city’s exteriors were shot in Shanghai.) The people in her take their behavioral cues from the color scheme. Theodore’s friend Amy (Amy Adams) her husband Charles (Chris Pratt), and his coworkers at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters are gentle, tender and affectionate, as if they had majored in the modulations of caring.

Of course, even among perfect people, nobody’s perfect. Marriages sunder and dates go wrong, especially for Theodore…

Like Sandra Bullock in Gravity and Robert Redford in All Is Lost, Phoenix must communicate his movie’s meaning and feelings virtually on his own. That he does, with subtle grace and depth. At one point in his bedroom, Samantha asks him, ‘What’s it like to be alive in that room right now?’ Phoenix shows us what it’s like when a mourning heart comes alive — because he loves her. And I loved Her.-Richard Corliss (Time, October 12, 2013)

Manohla Dargis joined the chorus and sang the film’s praises in the New York Times.

“…There are times when Her has the quality of a private dispatch, like a secret Mr. Jonze is whispering in your ear. Part of the pleasure of the movie is its modest scale, its hushed beauty and the deliberate ordinariness of its story. In contrast to the hard shininess of so many science-fiction movies, Her looks muted, approachable and vividly tactile, from Theodore’s wide-open face to the diffused lighting and the ravishingly lovely sherbet palette splashed with mellow yellows, tranquil tangerines and coral pinks. This is a movie you want to reach out and caress, about a man who, like everyone else around him in this near future, has retreated from other people into a machine world. In Her, the great question isn’t whether machines can think, but whether human beings can still feel.” –Manohla Dargis (New York Times, December 17, 2013)

Peter Travers went as far as saying that Scarlett Johansson’s performance was award-worthy in his review of the film for Rolling Stone.

“Some movies need to hold their secrets close. So I’ll tread lightly with Her, a love story between a man and technology, and a gloriously inventive gift from Spike Jonze. In his fourth feature, following Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are, director Jonze (in his first original screenplay) imagines a near-future where we live green and our digital commands can become as intimate as a whisper…

…Johansson’s vocal tour de force is award-worthy. So is the movie. Ignore the soft ending. Jonze is a visionary whose lyrical, soulful meditation on relationships of the future cuts to the heart of the way we live now.” –Peter Travers (Rolling Stone, December 18, 2013)

Rafer Guzman’s review also fell in line with the majority opinion.

“…Welcome to the very near future, as depicted in this strange, funny, slightly unsettling and utterly visionary film written and directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich)… Her has moments of loopy humor (other voices come from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader) and touches of cultural satire (the OS1’s manipulative ad campaign looks like a Zoloft commercial). But Jonze’s movie is nothing short of profound. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s vivid cinematography suggests a technology-infused future, but we get the feeling that it has already arrived. Nobody here seems worried about intelligent machines conquering humanity; nobody even quibbles much about the very definition of human. Her goes light-years beyond science-fiction clichés. As the story progresses further into unexpected territory, Her sometimes feels like an out-of-body experience…” –Rafer Guzman (Newsday, December 16, 2013)

Todd McCarthy praised the film as well, but took a more cynical tone and seemed to have plenty of reservations about the film. His main problem seems to be the film’s length.

“Visionary and traditional, wispy and soulful, tender and cool, Spike Jonze’s Her ponders the nature of love in the encroaching virtual world and dares to ask the question of what might be preferable, a romantic relationship with a human being or an electronic one that can be designed to provide more intimacy and satisfaction than real people can reliably manage. Taking place tomorrow or perhaps the day after that, this is a probing, inquisitive work of a very high order, although it goes a bit slack in the final third and concludes rather conventionally compared to much that has come before. A film that stands apart from anything else on the horizon in many ways, it will generate an ardent following, which Warner Bros. can only hope will be vocal and excitable enough to make this a must-see for anyone who pretends to be interested in something different…

… Although the final stretch is devoted to the resolution of Theodore and Samantha’s intimate relationship, the dramatic limitations of the film’s presentational one-sidedness become rather too noticeable as the two-hour mark approaches. The director’s visual panache, live-wire technical skills and beguilingly offbeat musical instincts work overtime to paper over what can only be conveyed in extended conversation. (Not collaborating with cinematographer Lance Accord for the first time, Jonze benefits from great work behind the camera by Hoyte van Hoytema, while the score by Arcade Fire casts a spell of its own.) The feeling at the end is that of a provocative if fragile concept extended somewhat beyond its natural breaking point…

…The film is beguilingly sincere and touching in how it approaches loneliness and the compulsion to overcome it, and it asks the relevant question of whether technology fosters distance from others, helps surmount it, or both. It also inquires into the different sorts of satisfactions, and lack of same, offered by human beings and machines in an age we’ve already entered.” –Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter, October 12, 2013)

Stephanie Zacharek was one of the few critics to write a negative review of the film. A close reading of her review betrays the fact that Zacharek interprets the themes in Her much differently than do most of the other critics.

“…In case you haven’t guessed, Theodore is using technology to avoid the pain of real human connection. And that’s the problem with Her, too: Jonze is so entranced with his central conceit that he can barely move beyond it. This is a movie about a benumbed person that itself feels chloroformed, zonked out, even in those moments when Jonze is clearly striving for depth of feeling. Its metaphors are more obvious than the bricks that cruel mouse Ignatz used to hurl at poor, lovelorn Krazy Kat, and yet not nearly as direct. Instead of just being desperately heartfelt, Her keeps reminding us — through cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s somber-droll camera work, through Phoenix’s artfully slumped shoulders — how desperately heartfelt it is…

…There are many, many feelings stuck into Her, pin-cushion-style, but the result is a kind of overstuffed stupefaction. Jonze and Van Hoytema take great care with the visuals, working hard to hit notes of longing and mournfulness. At one point, a shot of airborne, sunlit dust motes transmutes into a field of falling snowflakes. How serene! How lovely! But what do dust motes have to do with snowflakes? Sometimes a technical trick can be too gorgeous, so pre-visualized that it comes off as a contrivance.

Much of the dialogue sounds premeditated, too. (This is the first picture Jonze has written as well as directed.) There’s an old journalism rule about always using ‘says,’ never ‘opines’ or ‘sighs.’ Her opines and sighs all over the place. ‘Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever going to feel,’ Theodore confides glumly to Samantha. ‘And from here on out, I’m not going to feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.’ In the guise of being direct, the movie is actually maddeningly coy…

…Johansson’s voice, as plush and light-reflecting as velveteen, is the movie’s saving grace; Samantha is the one character in Her who seems capable of delight. Samantha Morton was originally cast in the role and had completed the movie when, at the last minute, Jonze substituted Johansson. Morton is a terrific actress, but in this instance Jonze’s instincts were golden. The movie isn’t just unimaginable without Johansson — it might have been unbearable without her…

…Theodore, like James Stewart in Vertigo, is in love with an illusion. The difference is that this spectacle and all its ideas would fit on the screen of your iPod.” –Stephanie Zacharek (Village Voice, December 17, 2013)

Mick LaSalle was another critic that seemed to dislike the film, and his main problem seems to be the subject matter. It seems as if LaSalle took a philosophical dislike to the themes in the film.

“What can be said for a movie that’s a lot more interesting to think about than watch? Her, the latest from director Spike Jonze, embellishes its clever premise – about a man who is in love with his operating system – with little touches of the unexpected. Yet the best things in the movie aren’t transporting or diverting but merely incite intellectual recognition: Yes. OK. That’s amusing.

The story is too slender for its two-hour running time, and the pace is lugubrious, as though everyone in front and behind the camera were depressed. But the biggest obstacle is the protagonist (Joaquin Phoenix), who is almost without definition. He is just some average guy of the near future, totally bland, someone with no obstacle he needs to overcome and no powerful desire he needs to satisfy. As such, he is a storytelling problem, but he might be something more.

He might be where we’re heading, and that might be the point…

 Her is suggesting something awful, something truly ghastly, that our emotions might be just like our bodies – that it doesn’t have to be real, that all we need is a workout. Theodore (Phoenix) is a melancholy guy with romantic aspirations, who already sells fake emotion, working in a business that devises customized greeting cards. Still not recovered from a recent breakup, he gets a new operating system – the voice of Scarlett Johansson – and ‘Samantha’ becomes the center of his existence…

 …The film is glum yet light, an odd combination, and periodically it short-circuits its seriousness with flashes of half-hearted absurdity: ‘We haven’t had sex lately,’ Samantha broods. ‘And I don’t have a body.’

Though talk of an Oscar nomination for Johansson’s vocal performance seems excessive in the extreme – drummed up by unseen publicists and picked up by suggestible critics – her casting as Samantha was brilliant, for one simple reason: We know what she looks like. Hence, we buy into Theodore’s fantasy and start thinking, ‘If only.’

But if only what? She had a body? She were real? This were actually happening? Such thinking is demented, and that’s the idea. We’re getting there.” -Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle, December 24, 2013)

Her is a rare film that is rich enough to be interpreted differently by different people. These differences might even be quite contradictory in nature. Where one person might find the themes optimistic, another might see them as overwhelmingly pessimistic. This is because Jonze is wise enough not to try to answer the questions that the film raises. He is content to simply ask them. Spike Jonze addressed this issue in an interview.

“I think the other thing that’s been really exciting about it is that as I’ve talked to people, the variety of reactions for what the movie is about is wide. You know, like some people find it incredibly romantic, some people find it incredibly sad or melancholy, or some people find it creepy, some people find it hopeful.

That makes me really happy to hear, you know, because to me it’s everything. It’s all these different things I’m thinking about, and a lot of them are contradictory. And I like hearing what it is to you.” – Spike Jonze (NPR, December 16, 2013)

This statement perfectly sums up everything that is good about the film. If Her sounds like a film that would appeal to you, it probably will.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray and DVD discs are held in the standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork. A slip sleeve with the same artwork slides over the case. The animated menu features film-related footage and is easy to navigate. The footage used looks like it might be a sort of deleted scene from the film. In any case, it makes for an attractive menu.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Warner Brothers offers a wonderful 1080P AVC transfer that does not disappoint. The picture exhibits a stunning amount of detail and clarity at all times. Jonze’s unusual color palette for the film is consistently accurate and the transfer makes good use of contrast. There are no digital anomalies to mar the transfer either. Everything here is as it should be.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

This 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also quite impressive. The sound is quite immersive and spreads evenly and naturally across the speakers. The track is perhaps not as dynamic as one might expect from an action film, but it serves this film perfectly well. Dialogue is consistently intelligible (even as it is mumbled by Joaquin Phoenix), and is well prioritized.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

The Untitled Rick Howard Project – (HD) – (24:19)

There is plenty of ‘behind the scenes’ footage here from the production of Her, but there isn’t any interview material (or commentary) to put the footage into context. It is certainly nice to have the footage included on this disc, but it would have been nicer if it was edited in a more digestible fashion. A proper ‘making of’ documentary would have been preferable.

Her: Love In the Modern Age – (HD) – (15:10)

Various people are questioned about various aspects of love in the modern world. People expecting this to be a featurette about the film will be disappointed.

How do you Share Your Life with Somebody– (HD) – (3:55)
At a little under four minutes in length, this feature was never going to amount to very much. One might describe this best as a kind of trailer with snippets of ‘behind the scenes’ footage, and snippets of the film that play over two long dialogue excerpts from the film.

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Final Words:

With his Oscar winning screenplay, Spike Jonze has created a film that begs to be seen at least once. It will probably be an essential purchase for many people. The exceptional image and sound transfers make this Blu-ray purchase an easy recommendation.

Review by: Devon Powell

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