The Scarlett Johansson Project — #7

I could not wait to get to this one. This is actually the one performance that made me officially choose Scarlett Johansson this year over my other choice.

Casting my mind all the way back to 2014, I remember walking out of the theater a total wreck. For anyone who has ever had an ex, it should leave a significant impact. This in my opinion is the pinnacle of romantic drama. I’m not saying this particular film is the one to beat all-time (although one could probably make that argument), but as someone who prefers emotional realism to the rom-com formula, it doesn’t get much more real than this unique look at the state of modern relationships. Plus the score provided by Arcade Fire is something else, too.

And while this is a post dedicated to Scarlett Johansson, I am compelled to give a shout out to her actually-on-screen co-star. The notoriously strange Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely tremendous here, putting in a sensitive and melancholic performance that proves why he is among the more interesting actors working right now.

Scarlett Johansson as Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her 

Role Type: Supporting*

Premise: In a near future, a lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with an operating system designed to meet his every need. (IMDb)

Character Background: In a not-so-distant future humans are more socially distant than they are in a real-world global pandemic. There are no six-feet-apart policies at play but instead everyone is attached to their computers — quite literally — as they walk around in their own private one-person bubble. Everything is in reach and yet everyone is inaccessible. Spike Jonze’s smart directing and incredible — indeed, Oscar-winning — writing makes it feel entirely plausible this is the natural course the river of human interaction will take with the advent of hyper-intelligent A.I. In Her, it comes in the form of the OS1, a virtual companion tailored to our unique personalities and that has its own consciousness. (Yeah, in your non-face Siri!) This new tech is designed to keep us on schedule, keep us motivated and focused, and most significantly, keep us company.

An emotionally distraught writer named Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, decides to invest in one. He prefers his OS to have a female voice. Upon boot-up, and after quickly thumbing through a book on baby names (some 180,000 options in a literal split-second), his new friend christens herself Samantha. As the ice is quickly broken, Theodore becomes fascinated by Samantha’s ability to grow and learn. Before long, he’s starting to feel something more than pure admiration for the tech. A friendship evolves into romance and soon Samantha finds her bodiless self experiencing things she never knew she could and as well developing into something far more than anyone could have expected.

What she brings to the movie: a disembodied voice. That is literally it, at least in terms of the tools she has at her disposal to create the character. What she brings to the movie emotionally is truly profound. Jodi Benson had the hovering Weebo. Rose Byrne had an eerie resemblance to HAL-9000 as ‘Mother.’ Now, “Sexiest Woman Alive” Scarlett Johansson has no body as Samantha, a stunningly complex realization of a Somebody who is seeking connection and purpose and wholeness of feeling. It is a deeply affecting performance that encompasses the full spectrum of emotions and that becomes all the more impressive considering it required Johansson to be isolated in a sound booth. She and Phoenix never crossed paths on set.

Johansson’s distinctively husky timbre here becomes an aloe for an aching, bruised soul. Yet it isn’t just the physical qualities of her iconic voice that makes this one of the all-time greatest disembodied performances. The chemistry she shares with her co-star is utterly beguiling and convincing; the ubiquitousness of her presence both strange and comforting. Though in reality she’s a device often tucked into his shirt pocket, she feels like a real person sitting right in the room with Theodore, arms around him, chin on his shoulder.

In her own words: “Samantha makes [Theodore] realize that he can love again. I can’t imagine that I’ve ever had that relationship with my Blackberry. I guess the only thing that has changed my life, or had a positive effect on my life, is Skype or Facetime. Any of those video chats that you can do with your family or your partner or your friend are so life-changing when you are away from home for months and months shooting. It makes all the difference in the world to be able to see somebody.”

Key Scene: From the moment Samantha greets Theodore, with the most bubbly of “Hello’s”, Johannson has us in the palm of her hands.

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work): 

* A fun bit of trivia that I did not know when I first saw the movie back in 2014: Johansson was not the original voice for the part of Samantha. She in fact joined the cast in post-production, replacing Samantha Morton after Jonze decided the part needed something more. With Morton’s blessing, Johansson stepped in and the rest was serious tear-jerking history.


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: IMDb; interview excerpt courtesy of Julie Miller/Vanity Fair

 

Four Years of DSB

dsb 4 bday irony

. . .being a Brit.

Roughly four years ago today I gave birth to DSB. In case you were wondering, yes, it was an immaculate conception. There was no one else who helped make it happen.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but I’m proud of what this has become. I think I might have said this before, but I was surprised I ever returned to this page after I took a year-long hiatus from mid-2011 until March of 2012. I remember having just . . . such an embarrassingly emotional reaction to Todd Phillips’ bacchanalia Project X that I felt the need to go and write my thoughts down. That was a review that makes my recent Jurassic World rant tame by comparison. I’m going to try in the future to not let those emotions get the better of me. I’m sure I have annoyed a few readers in the process of doing that, and I kind of regret it. Sometimes I have this feeling that I do more harm than good by coming on so strongly. That’s why the blog has lost its original slogan: ‘Rants and Raves.’ I want to take the focus off of the negatives and focus more on the positives!

Regardless, I’ve appreciated having this space to vent. I thank WordPress for being such a tool . . . a good one, that is. 😉 You can bet I’ll be signing up for another year with you. Since consistently posting from around early 2013 and onwards, this has become quite the addiction. I love the feeling of getting to write something and then have like-minded people ‘Like’ and leave feedback on my stuff. It’s truly great and that energy is what is helping propel me into the future.

Speaking of which, my next moves are going to be a tad scarier and undoubtedly more expensive. The goal is to relocate to Salt Lake City. Not only is that town a killer place to be for those attracted to the outdoors (as I am) — as well as Mormon fundamentalism (as I am not) — but every January there’s a little film festival that takes place known to some as Sundance. I have loved covering mainstream releases — and there are a lot to be found here — but I would really like to start digging into the world of independent cinema more often. I’d love to have exposure to things that could prove to be harder to access outside of the film festival circuit. So, I’m setting that as a goal for me to achieve within the next two years. I think that’s reasonable. Right . . . ?

Alright I was promising myself I wouldn’t ramble on with this post and here I am doing just that. I shall use the rest of this space to list a few little tidbits and factoids in celebration of the blog’s fourth birthday/anniversary. And is it just me, or does time really fly when you’re having fun blogging. . . ?

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DSB’s original banner image

Four of my Favorite Films I Saw in 2011

  1. Drive – Ryan Gosling, meet Nicolas Winding Refn
  2. Win-Win – first of all, how many people saw this? And second, Paul Giamatti – awesome.
  3. Cedar Rapids – another under-seen and under-appreciated film, this time starring Ed Helms.
  4. Crazy, Stupid, Love – a crazy, not stupid and lovely date film

Four of my Favorite Films I Saw in 2012

  1. The Dark Knight Rises – a near-perfect end to a near-perfect trilogy. Tom Hardy gave me chills
  2. Marvel’s The Avengers – . . .do I really need to qualify this?
  3. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson’s made a lot of good ones, but this one’s hard to beat
  4. Skyfall – Sam Mendes’ apology for Marc Forster’s indiscretion with the convoluted Quantum of Solace

Four of my Favorite Films I Saw in 2013

  1. The Way, Way Back – so awkward it becomes adorable. I. Love. This. Movie.
  2. Rush – Ron Howard concocts a classic racing film, least in my eyes. And that casting — wow!
  3. Safety Not Guaranteed – an excellent and beyond-quirky little gem starring one of my biggest celebrity crushes, Aubrey Plaza
  4. The Place Beyond the Pines – too quickly forgotten, this sprawling epic proved an acting showcase

Four of my Favorite Films I Saw in 2014

  1. Her – Spike Jonze’ deeply personal and witty commentary on our relationship with technology is one of the most impressive films I’ve ever seen
  2. The Skeleton Twins – pairing Bill Hader with Kristen Wiig in this deeply touching and moving dramedy worked like a charm on me
  3. Godzilla – a refreshingly restrained monster movie in an age where we seem to demand we get all the good stuff up-front without question
  4. Winnebago Man – this docu is amazingly insightful and hilarious. Underrated is how I’d describe it.

Four of my Favorite Films I’ve Seen so far in 2015 

  1. Love & Mercy – achingly nostalgic and filled with spectacular performances, the biopic of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys is a definite winner
  2. What We Do in the Shadows – painfully funny stuff brought to you by one-half of the musicomedy duo Flight of the Conchords
  3. Almost Famous – a classic from the turn of the millennium which I have no excuse for putting off for so long. This is a fantastic film from Cameron Crowe
  4. The Guest – suspenseful, artistic and bloody in equal measure, this is a crazy awesome film that snuck under a lot of people’s radars

Four Films I’m Most Anticipating in 2015

  1. Spectre – I’m excited to see where Sam Mendes can take the gritty James Bond next. Trailers so far hint at the darkest chapter yet.
  2. In the Heart of the Sea – set to the tune of the epic tale of Moby Dick, this film will reunite director Ron Howard with star Chris Hemsworth
  3. The Revenant – with a mind-glowingly awesome cast under the direction of last year’s Oscar Best Picture, I’m really curious to see what this will be like
  4. The Green Inferno – I wouldn’t call myself the biggest Eli Roth fan, but no joke . . . his latest film looks bloody and bloody brilliant. Sign me up.

What are four of your most anticipated this year? What are four of your favorites so far? 

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Four new things about the blog

  1. Expanded menus – I finally figured out how to customize menus in the editing page and now you can access all that DSB has to offer through a variety of drop down menus located above the banner. That only took me four years to figure out lol
  2. The introduction of character studies in the form of 2014’s The Franco Files and 2015’s John C. Reilly Factor. If you’re a fan of these folks, check these pages out!
  3. The DSB Spotlight – this new ‘feature’ represents the first paid contribution to this site and it makes me very proud to be able to feature a fellow movie fan’s writing on here. This is validation that others beyond the blogging community have been reading and accessing what I have to say about movies and it is humbling to say the least. You can check out this article here.
  4. With the help of esteemed blogger and friend Mark Fletcher of the fantastic Three Rows Back, I co-hosted my very first blogathon — The Decades Blogathon — which turned out to be a great experience and led to even more exposure to both film titles and film fans/bloggers alike. This was a great experience, and hopefully not the last for me.

Thank you as always for reading my stuff. It’s an honor and a privilege to still be doing this. Onwards!

The 86th Academy Awards Afterparty: Will there be pizza?

Despite my fascination with film, I consistently have never really cared for the awards ceremonies as I’ve always seen them as rather trifling procedures. The night of Sunday, March 2 barely amounts to more than a shallow beauty pageant. The proceedings inside L.A.’s famed Dolby Theater are in effect an incredibly expensive circus in which wealthy people converge on a single venue to watch their extremely well-off colleagues accepting gold statues as a way of validating that their work was actually experienced by more than just the people in that stuffy little room.

And don’t even get me started on the actual reporting on the event beforehand. Christ, the quality of the news on the Red Carpet makes a mockery of journalism to the highest degree. There isn’t an apology to be found or heard. Ever. Cameras (and conversations) prefer to be aimed towards fashion trends, intentionally converting performers into walking billboards for the young and impressionable. People aren’t really people in these moments. But that’s okay. . . .I guess. After all, these centers of attention are the same folks who gave us those great moments in the films we liked over the past year. Now it’s fun seeing Jennifer Lawrence stumble all over her real-life awkwardness. Or how about seeing sworn on-screen enemies pal-ing around together over a drink? That’s the stuff that causes the warm, fuzzy feeling in your tummy to grow intensely, apparently.

In spite of my ranting, the end-of-the-film-year presentation is actually greatly entertaining to watch. Why is that, you ask, understandably now confused.

Perhaps its partly because of the phenomenon of the fourth wall still protecting these successful and talented individuals from the claws of the public. We have a right to see our favorite action hero star stripped of his/her dramatic veil so we can get a better look into that person’s mind and see how they do what they do so well. Harrison Ford struggling to look sober during this year’s Oscars is one such insight that might well cause an obsession-fueled Twitter thread. Then there was Ellen Degeneres doing something as mundane as delivering pizza to certain members in the first few rows of the audience while Brad Pitt humbled himself by serving plates and napkins that caused us to nearly soil our pants from laughter.

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They aren’t on the silver screen at the moment, yet the likes of Amy Adams, Chris Hemsworth, the aforementioned Lawrence who can’t seem to catch a break from intentional or unintentional public embarrassment as Degeneres appeared to roast her before kicking off the ceremony this year, or a legend like Robert DeNiro — they all still possess a mystique we can never hope to chip away completely because they are in some way, shape or form still performing for us, the humble viewers. They give possibly the most honest performances of their lives before these particular cameras, but we will never get to be at the Oscar afterparty with them when they all shed the burden of the pretense and of the pomp and circumstance. And, possibly their clothes, too.

As a person who loves film I have been notorious for either accidentally or purposefully avoiding these sorts of events because a great majority of the time I either vehemently disagree with the ultimate selections or I just have no comment on what is going on at the time. There’s also that little issue I have with the false emotion surrounding it all. But nevermind that for a bit. This year I watched the Oscars from start to finish, even tapping into the Red Carpet action (which I will probably never do again, based on the intro paragraphs above). But with a few staggeringly honest acceptance speeches delivered by gold statue recipients, my faith in what these people are doing with their lives has been reinvigorated.

There were obviously the requisite number of speeches that dragged on for far too long, some that became dangerously close to sounding arrogant, and some that were borderline unintelligible. But thanks to highlights in Jared Leto (who took the stage for his snagging of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Lupita Nyong’o (with her remarkable work in 12 Years a Slave garnering her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and the potentially crowd favorite Matthew McConaughey (the McConaissance can now be officially acknowledged following his Best Actor prize) this year’s Oscars offered up strong doses of humanity and humility, a display of appreciation that extends to those who have spent any amount of time paying attention to them — that includes us bloggers! There comes that warm, fuzzy feeling again. . .

Dedicating three hours to watching the awards ceremony proves that this movie-watching business is indeed an addiction. It is equal parts exciting and frustrating knowing that famous names are to receive even greater plaudits than they have already earned in being cast into money-making machines. Such is the nature of their jobs. Everyone should save themselves a pat on the back for me. Especially Mr. McConaughey. I say good for him.


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: google images 

Her

Her-Movie-Poster

Release: Friday, January 10, 2014

[Theater]

When Spike Jonze makes a film this intelligent, it’s pretty difficult to comprehend the fact that this is the same guy underneath all that ghastly ‘Old Granny’ make-up in Jackass. Even though that was a pretty minor role Jonze played in the show/movies, it was still a semi-recurring one. Yet, it couldn’t be a more polar opposite experience to what he’s presenting here.

His Her is destined to be a modern classic, an enchanted fairytale for the iPod generation. Stylish, comical and surprisingly poignant, this original screenplay from Granny Jonze captures human interaction and emotion like few films have before. For every decent (or even great) romance film or love story that has preceded this and the missteps they have taken in their efforts to affect audiences a certain way, Her manages to learn from those errors and simply avoids making them.

Seeing as though virtually everything that could possibly work for a film does work for this one, let’s start at the main menu, with the performances, for they are astonishing.

Joaquin Phoenix dons a pair of thick wire-framed glasses (yes, this pair actually does have lenses) and a funny mustache as he transforms himself into yet another peculiar lead. This time it’s Theodore Twombly, a lonely Los Angelino in the middle of a painful divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). His performance is one of the man’s most earnest and vulnerable; this is a person who doesn’t know what he wants out of intimate relationships. That’s true of the past and certainly his biggest conundrum looking forward. Phoenix disguises a complex range of emotions within his furrowed brow, occasionally expressing the more irrepressible of them with a wide-eyed, slack-jawed look of disbelief. The nerd-glasses are particularly effective in conveying his discomfort on a number of occasions.

Phoenix is no doubt the focus here, but it’s what Scarlett Johansson is able to accomplish with a disembodied voice that will come to distinguish this production.

In this more impersonal society, technology has spawned an operating system that is intended to help people stay more organized and on task. Code-named OS1, Theodore can’t help but get one of his own since he figured it couldn’t hurt him anymore than he already is. Beginning as a mere sentient program, she quickly develops a genuine personality in which Theodore feels comfortable confiding. She even names herself ‘Samantha.’ In fact, technology has reached a point to where the OS1 learns to feel exactly as a person does or would in any given situation, but because it is a highly-advanced program, it has an obligation to learn so much more. In fact, it’s not even obligation — this is just what computers do. Samantha’s capacity to learn, to feel and experience proves to be far greater than Theodore could have imagined, the more they get to know one another.

Johansson’s role may seem limited — even off-putting — but this ethereal, beautiful voice couldn’t be more entrancing. The ease with which she stores herself into the viewer’s long-term memory is, in all honesty, haunting.

Not fully convinced that two incredible central performances are sufficient, Granny Jonze cleverly thrusts the story into a latter-21st-century context. The L.A. of the future doesn’t look so radically different as to be unrecognizable, but there’s an oh-so-slight dystopian accent which enhances this sense of distance between people. The fact that most passers-by caught in any given shot all seem to be engaged in an OS1 chat of their own is intended to give viewers pause for consideration. Never before has having a conversation with someone who’s less than ten feet away from you seemed like such a quaint idea.

And yet the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha proves an utterly beautiful contradiction to the environment in which their relationship has been established. The fact that it’s possible to feel some emotion towards what even the least discerning of audiences recognizes as a very intelligent computer system, is a testament to the quality of the screenplay and the respective performances. And while the leads are certainly unforgettable, there are a couple of contributing performances that help realize dear old Granny Jonze’s vision.

Olivia Wilde’s brief appearance as a blind date Theodore meets one night (at Samantha’s request, actually) is well-placed. In a few brief minutes we gain a deep understanding of the type of relationship she’s looking for, and simultaneously a better understanding of who Theodore is. . .and isn’t. This cast isn’t exactly extensive, and because it isn’t, the film benefits further from the only other main character’s strong presence in Amy (Amy Adams), who is Theodore’s friend from college and currently a colleague at the letter-writing company he works at.

A couple of others get to (literally) phone it in, with Kristen Wiig connecting briefly as one of the film’s arguably funniest moments; and Chris Pratt gets to be the weird receptionist guy who takes an unusually strong interest in Theodore’s writing skills. Though slight, each little quirky character adds to the awkwardness of the experience.

The director clearly trusts in his cast enough to let them do the heavy emotional lifting, but as a writer, he steps in with an unusually perceptive script that builds (and demolishes) characters and situations in completely believable ways. Attention to detail is at a level unparalleled in many films as of late, manifested in everything from the color palette (mainly reds), to the pillow talk Theodore has with Samantha, to the way Phoenix scrunches his eyebrows in reaction to things.

Granny should know the effort that went in does not go unnoticed. Her. . . excuse me, his film, Her — if there’s any justice in the world — should stand as one of the proud cinematic achievements of the 21st Century. Not only a deeply emotional film, it’s a conversation about the future that we needed to have.

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5-0Recommendation: Neither strictly romance nor dedicated to being simply sci-fi or comedy, Her dramatizes elements of each while incorporating a refreshingly earnest take on relationships and it strikes an emotional chord while doing so. Anyone who has ever considered themselves in one of those, well. . .you should probably see this one. That does sound like a lazy recommendation, but honestly it’s the truth. This is one of the best films I personally have ever seen. (Too soon?)

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com