Day Two: “Come play with us!”
Because we had to kind of guess when the Con opened on Saturday, Dave and I arrived there around noon, when festivities and panels were already well underway. After negotiating with Christine Doyle, the woman in charge of security and front end badge sales, she allowed me to enter with a discount on behalf of my journalistic status; I was to help them by blogging about all the great things I witnessed, and in turn they would put up links on their site to advertise for us as well. I went in feeling optimistic, yet embarrassingly under-dressed. I was wearing jeans, comfortable shoes, my “Paper Street Soap Co.” T-shirt and my red leather “Starlord” jacket, but most of the people I saw were in costume as a character or uniform from one of their favorite sci-fi franchises. As much as I adore Fight Club, it’s not quite sci-fi, and it’s not much of a cosplay to just wear what I thought would look inconspicuous on the bus. Even the people working behind the badge booth were wearing colorful and unique nerd tees and seemed to be having the time of their lives working the Con. I watched a team of 5 fully decked out 501st members march by, lead by a Darth Vader who was fully in character and bigger than life. Then I saw two steampunk gear-heads and a Klingon warrior looking at the vendor’s wares (the Steampunk butterfly image I pulled off Dave’s novelty t shirt collection). The whole section of the hotel was refitted with various recycled goods and dressed to look like a late 60’s set for a space station or like the underground vaults of the “Fallout” video game series. I was excited, if a little overwhelmed.
The first person I met inside was a lovely young woman named Chantelle Aimee who was selling some Doctor Who themed T-shirts she had designed herself, as well as some words of advice on writing and some books. She had written and published a few books independently, including books on how to write, structure, edit, pitch and advertise independent books and just some regular fiction prose, but she was also helping a friend sell the books he’d written. Chantelle told me about her books on writing and she had brought them with her in the form of $15 thumb drives that were 3 books of information each (the set of two thumb drives or 6 books was just $25, but I was more interested in one, so I bought that straight off) because she didn’t want to have to pay for printing and shipping, and didn’t want to have to charge the people she was trying to help more for hard copies.
The booth next to hers was full of colorful silks and other rich fabrics and was tended by three colorfully dressed and dapper individuals named Katherine, Rob and Katherine (a blonde, a brunette and a redhead, my favorite!). The place they were working for was called “Blue Moon Designs”. Katherine (the blonde) rushed over to me and enthusiastically asked, “Come play with us!” and right after that, seeing my second-guessing, Rob (the only man in the booth and the brunette) very gently said, “Would you like to come play dress up with us today? It’s fun and you don’t have to buy anything. You look like you’d really fit in here.” I said okay. They tried some things on me, a dark gray vest with flask-holder layered pockets, a blue-green utility belt. It wasn’t quite right. Then they looked at what I had come in wearing and at my face, my coloring, the bright red of my hair and how I had matched my jacket to it. Then they put a rusty red vest with ruffles over the shoulders and D-ring details on the bottom that you could hook keys or a fob watch to, and a matching belt in a different velvety fabric. They topped the look off with a smoke colored silk scarf that had been burned and dyed on the ends by hand to make it look really textured, antiqued, and in close detail, like it was actually glowing embers on the tattered ends. I was a pirate. I promised them I would return the following day in my proper pirate regalia, and we would exchange ideas then. Rob was right. It was fun and I didn’t have to buy anything. And I did fit right in there.
(continued next post)
1. Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China
Of all the guys on this list Jack Burton is the guy I most want to party with. He’s loud and boisterous but a lot of fun. Plus he gets drunk and makes outrageous bets that he loses so I could totally take his money. He has a super cool truck and most women find him incredibly annoying so you know you could pick up the aftermath in his wake. He tends to end up at oddball places and things and if you hang around long enough you might see spirits and magic.
Why would Jack Burton want to be my friend? First off I love doing weird bets so we could totally gamble on whether you can cut a bottle in half with a sword or not. I like truckers and big trucks. I like to think that we would just get along great.
Pork Chop Express image courtesy of the novelty t shirt category.
That’s my list. I’m sure there are a few I forgot so feel free to post comments or email me on it. Also if any of you happen to know that these fictional characters were based on real people and know where I can find them email me immediately. Thanks for reading. Talk to you soon.
the Infamous Dave Inman @nerdkungfu
AARP James Bond just got real.
This is one of those annoying movies that I can’t really decide if I like it or not. I like writing reviews for films that really commit to being amazing or sucking like the Sarlacc. No one likes a fence sitter.
I guess it was OK. It was certainly better than the 36% it got on Rotten Tomatoes. I guess I enjoyed Peirce Brosnan although were I to give him career advice (as I sit in my crappy office in a warehouse who’s foundation is at least 8% rat excrement and the neighborhood compares favorable to a demilitarized zone but only just barely) it would be that maybe after doing James Bond the wise move would be to steer clear of spy movies. The story assumed I had an IQ bordering on triple digits and the girls in the film were gorgeous. The action was not grossly over the top but still managed to be well done and exciting. So why didn’t I love this film?
Honestly its because it is so formulaic. It’s like if movie scientists wanted to create a perfectly neutral spy movie as a baseline with which to compare all other spy movies good or bad to. It has all the obvious spy elements. (SPOILER ALERTS) A super spy who is betrayed by his government. An enemy who used to be his good friend. A villain who starts off as his friend but betrays him (and if you didn’t see it coming you must still be surprised when red traffic lights turn green). A hot girl in distress. A young girl in distress. A femme fatale. A murdered lover. A secret. A plot twist. Car chases, guns, knives, fights, and the day saved by one of the main guys remembering the value of friendship. With the weight of all the spy cliches packed into this plot I kept waiting for the film to collapse in on itself and create a spy movie quantum singularity.
This is one of those episodes that I both love and hate. I love it for being a brilliant episode with a cool story and Spock with a beard. Plus Uhura in a skimpy outfit and Terra kicking ass like I wish they would. I love seeing evil Spock and all his logical glory.
On the other hand I hate this episode for being the standard go-to inspiration for every single series. In any of the following series when things get slow and uninspired at the writing desk they just take a trip to the Mirror universe. TNG, DS9, and Enterprise all did it. Voyager managed to avoid it (I think) but honestly how would the Borg of the Mirror universe differ from the ours? Perhaps they assimilate with flowers and religious pamphlets?
The other part that bugs about the fact that every show has to visit the Mirror universe is that if there is one parallel universe logic tells us that there have to be literally billions, and finding that one specific universe is nearly impossible. Also, what is the deal with Mirror universe having to be evil? It’s like when Kirk got split in two in The Enemy Within. How did he split into good and evil halves? Couldn’t he just split into gay and straight, or the half that is OK telling the world about his toupee and the half that wants to keep it hidden? Does the Mirror universe have to be the evil reflection of our universe, or could it be the version where the Smurfs had a massive resurgence in popularity in 2173 and now everyone takes descriptive names like Brainy or Hefty (or in the case of most red shirts Deadsy. Odds are Kirk would have gone for Sexy although he might have been cool with Papa).
The Infamous Dave Inman
(Good Spock/Evil Spock one of my favorite Star Trek novelty t shirts, BTW. I wear it all the time)
When you see every movie the week it comes out upon occasion you encounter a confluence of bad movie scheduling wherein you have seen everything that interests you and nothing comes out that seems worth the photons burned projecting the film from the screen to your eyeballs. This weekend looks pretty awful, with Think Like a Man (22% on Rotten Tomatoes) and Jersey Boys (56%, but the trailers make this film look like my worst nightmare. I have zero interest in the Four Seasons and actors talking to the camera is one of my personal grinds. Unless your name is Deadpool the 4th wall is there for a reason). I will see them both this weekend but couldn’t find the motivation to see a early late night showing last night.
Fortunately there is always my old friend the animated feature to fall back on. I did not see the previous How to Train Your Dragon. I wasn’t doing reviews back then. However I seem to stumble across it every time I write something else as pretty much every celebrity in Hollywood seems to have done a voice for it. I don’t really feel the need to see it as my point that any film should stand on its own without a prerequisite stands doubly true for kids films as a lot of the audience in 2014 were at best in diapers back in 2010. If I feel lost watching a sequel to an animated film for the lack of the first one then the creators are on the fail boat for sure.
Thus I must deem this film a success. The relevant points from the first film (dragons used to be bad but were tamed by the main character and are now friendly and happy domestic creatures who fly and breath fire) was communicated relatively seamlessly, leaving us with a coherent story and some great characters. I thought at first I was going to hate Hiccup, the main character buecause he’s kind of a skinny young metrosexual wimp and his name is Hiccup (the trend these days seems to be to keep male leads in all movies as androgynous as possible in order to hide that fact that men sometimes have penises and the desire to use them. Sure seems like every girl I go out with has had that fact hidden from them) but then I realized he is actually pretty cool, has a mechanical leg, a flaming sword, and a really cool dragon to fly around on.
Filmed entirely on location in the Uncanny Valley.
You know when I did a little research into this bowel obstruction of a movie I discovered it was the first effort of a new company called Clarius. At once I started to feel guilty about the vast load of bile I was about to dump all over it like a forest fighting aircraft who can only tank up on the deepest contents of my gullet. I like to see new studios try new things and I’m not comfortable stomping on first efforts.
Then I did a little more researched and discovered that they claim to have had a $70,000,000 budget and at once felt much better about clubbing this baby seal. You see, now I know what I am dealing with, and that is a bunch of idiots with too much money who assume that making movies is easy and that audiences do not require more than a few flashing lights and cute characters to be mindlessly entertained. The fact that they failed so miserably in the low hanging fruit of kids cartoons says a lot about how much they suck.
Given a budget like that I can name about 20 guys who could do between 2-4 films that would at least recoup the film investment and make money on the back end (including myself. If there are any Hollywood studio types actually reading this review contact me and I will tell you about my idea for a film about a humble movie review writer who develops super powers and saves the world from extraterrestrial zombies. I don’t want to demand too much control over the casting but for the romantic love interest I’m going to recommend Mila Kunis and for the protagonist let’s go with the sexiest movie reviewer in the country, me.) To spend that much money and fail is a sign from god that you should go back to whatever your day job was.
The good news is I have found an animated film from this year I hate more than the Nut Job. That one might have had a bad protagonist but it least it had one. It also managed to skip the whole singing issue entirely instead of subjecting me to the earhole raping that was this film. Given a choice between seeing this bomb, the Nut Job, or eating a pinecone I’d choose the pinecone, the Nut Job, and Legends of Oz in that order.
How did this film fail? Let’s pretend I was the man in charge of this studio. How would I have avoided the pitfalls this film seems drawn towards like a mouse to a glue trap? First off given a $70MM budget the first thing I would do is hire some writers who had more to their writing credits than a few crappy TV shows. You know, guys who’s brains don’t lock up when asked to write more than 22 minutes of story. Perhaps someone who has worked on something that made money. You’ve got $70,000,000. A couple hundred grand to good writers is not going to break your bank.
I would then instruct the writers to do whatever they could to maintain the feel and spirit of the original Oz movie. Specifically keep the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion the same in tone and inclination and NOT turn them into the Three Stooges (I’m not kidding about this. Scarecrow was Moe, Tim Man Larry, and Cowardly Lion Curly and at one point Scarecrow literally calls them all “Lunkheads”. Some days the urge to beat the projectionist is harder to resist than others). Remember how part of the charm of the Wizard of Oz was when the Wizard teaches each of them that the qualities they desired-intellect, emotion, and courage-they already had and needed only to see it in themselves and their actions? Well, forget about that. Now the Scarecrow is an annoying super genius, the Tin Man a big cry baby, and the Lion ready to fight anyone, anytime, for any reason.
I would also instruct them to try to keep these beloved characters involved in the story as much as possible, NOT replace them with three more sidekicks who for the first time ever make Jar Jar Binks look slightly cool (ewww. I just threw up in my mouth. Thanks a lot Legends of Oz). In this film we have a obese know-it-all owl (glorifying obesity in a kids movie is cool, right?), a marshmallow soldier named Marshal Mallow (ohh, I see what they did there), and a walking china doll clearly ripped off from Oz the Great and Powerful (you know how it is. If your Oz movie is going to suck why not rip off other Oz movies that suck?). As a fun note this movie lists Dan Ackyroyd, Kelsey Grammer, and James Belushi as the main voices of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion but they are in this film for about 15 minutes total, leaving us with Oliver Platt, Hugh Dancy, and Megan Hilty.
I’d also like them to keep the tone of Dorothy as a proactive individual and positive role models for girls, not a passive second banana.
Next I would hire a director who has also done a movie or two (oddly enough they did in this case, but this guy must have been asleep for most of the direction. I honestly can’t figure it out). Then I would look at my animation and make sure that the humans weren’t so deeply ensconced in the uncanny valley that you literally get sick looking at them. The human figures in this film were truly off putting in that way that only CGI can accomplish. CGI animation can do some amazing things but it can really suck on the other end of the spectrum. It looks like this film was feeling the budget crunch as nothing interesting was going on in any of the backgrounds. They might as well been painted on backdrops. Perhaps some more traditional animation, or a style that is OK with not rendering every skin pore, might have allowed for the occasional bird to fly by in the background.
Finally I would either hire talented songwriters or scrap the song business altogether. The music in this film gives new definition to the term “lame”. You know how in most musicals there is one song that you automatically skip? In this film that’s pretty much every song.
Anyway, I’m already at 1K words and haven’t really gotten into it. I have things to do tonight so let’s go, shall we?
The film starts off with Moe (I mean Scarecrow. Sorry my bad. Dan Akyroyd-Ghost Busters, Grosse Point Blank, the Blues Brothers) and his cohorts Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer-Cheers, Toy Story 2, X Men Last Stand) and Lion (James Belushi-K-9, Red Heat, New Years Eve) being chased by flying monkeys (with day glow mohawks. Aren’t they cute? In the original movies they used to give kids nightmares). Scarecrow has invented a “rainbow caster” which he uses to try to contact Dorothy (Lea Michele-New Years Eve (will that film ever stop haunting me?), Glee) in Kansas because she is the only one who can do something for some reason.
Time moves faster in Oz apparently so instead of the decades that have passed Dorothy is passed out in her basement after the last tornado wrecked her house. The fact that she is still missing and unconscious does little to concern Aunty Em (Tracey Adams-Parenthood, Gray’s Anatomy, School Dance) and Uncle Henry (Michael Krawic-Ghosts of Mars, Fire Down Below, the X Files) as they catalog the damage done instead of looking for their missing niece (wait a minute. Didn’t Dorothy wake up in a bed surrounded by her relatives, all of whom had been characters in the Land of Oz? Piddling detail, I’m sure). Their house is wrecked but before they can start repairs “the Apprairser” shows up and tells them the house is condemned and they have to leave. Aunty Em and Uncle Henry cave like sheep but Dorothy is suspicious.
At that point the rainbow lands and scoops her up. She gets half the message before the flying monkeys wreck the machine and dump her in the Oz countryside. Her enemy is apparently the Jester (Martin Short-Mars Attacks!, Frankenweenie, Weeds) who is the brother of the dead witch and cursed to always be dressed as a jester. She hooks up with her fat owl friend Wiser (Oliver Platt-Love and Other Drugs, X-Men First Class, 2012) who, just like in the other movie is motivated to join Dorothy in order to find his…? Self control? Eaters Anonymous? Jenny Craig? The go to Candyland where he proves his ability to curb his appetite by eating everything in sight. Dorothy joins him in his food orgy (showing kids a cartoon hero eating enough candy to give the entire city of Butte, Montana diabetes is a positive message, right?) only to find out that is illegal and is arrested by Marshal Mallow (every time I see that name it just looks more and more clever. Hugh Dancy-Adam, Black Hawk Down, King Arthur). They are convicted in candy court (less cute than it sounds) but are pardoned when the judge learns that Dorothy is the Dorothy who killed the witch. Marshal Mallow joins them in order to find his king or something and perhaps some kind of spine?
They have to go through China and the Jester sends an earthquake to wreck all the china (oh, you thought the major world power? How narrow is your thought process is. Chairman Mao image courtesy of the Political T Shirt category). By the way, if the Jester has the power to summon up a 6.5 earthquake whenever he wants how is it he even has any competition at all? The China Princess (Megan Hilty-Smash, Secret of the Wings) joins up in order to…do something? Maybe ask the Jester to not send earthquakes? There was something about evaluating Marshal Mallow as a possible husband (given that she is 8 inches tall and he is at least six feet I hope she does a lot of yoga). The team opts to bring her along because there is no way an 8 inch girl in a formal gown made of china will be a liability when she falls off a curb and shatters.
Anyway, once the characters are established that’s pretty much it. The Jester sends stuff to stop them and they overcome it, mostly with dumb luck. One of the talking trees (inexplicably voiced by the great Patrick Stewart. How the hell did he get roped into this?) volunteers to be cut down and turned into a boat. Flying monkeys are no match for candy catapults apparently. The movie grinds its way to an inevitable conclusion.
I don’t do the black holes/stars thing for kids movies. That’s a good thing as far as this movie is concerned. I generally judge kids movies by how the kids in the theater were reacting and the kids in this flick (all four of them) were bored stupid. One of them was doing that thing where he insisted on moving to seat after seat and even ended up sitting right next to me (as an aside I have a realistic understanding of how I am perceived in the world and if you see a 6’5″ guy sitting at the very back of the theater by himself in a children’s movie I think it fair to assume he can be found on the Megans Law website. Odds are the responsible parent thing to do is steer your children away from him, and while I am most definitely not on that site I would applaud your parental instinct). If your kids are particularly challenged mentally they might enjoy it, but understand that by bringing them to see this film you are committing yourself to 92 minutes that compares favorably only to falling into an open septic tank and spending the night there. There is absolutely nothing here for the parents (or poor adult reviewers).
Thanks for reading. I’m seeing Godzilla tonight and hope to have time to write it up tomorrow although I have a lot happening this weekend (Big Wow in San Jose, if you live in the Bay Area). Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have a question or suggestion feel free to email me at [email protected]. Talk to you soon.
“The Infamous” Dave Inman
Most of the labor was getting through this movie.
Normally as I leave the theater (and sometimes before the film even starts) I have thought of a funny or clever intro sequence to my review (funny or clever in my mind. For all I know I sound like a pretentious idiot. My massive ego will not allow me to believe that, however). In spite of having almost 24 hours to reflect on it this film it has not inspired any kind of wit or cleverness. I guess that is the best way to describe it: not inspired. Flat, predictably, hard to believe, and inconclusive. I’m sure there is some kind of connection to the characters but that connection is lost under a pile of lovey pap and mediocre coming of age crap.
In checking out some other reviewers most of them seem to be shocked that this was done by Jason Reitman, the man behind Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air. However, as a relatively newer reviewer I note that the last movie he did prior to this was Young Adult, a film that I gave the very mediocre score of two stars and one that I think is on par with this one. My best friend says all great directors have only three really good films in them and should retire after the third one (I’m still waiting for Lucas to do his third). Looks like Jason missed the memo.
However I think most of the reviewers out there are actually judging this film more harshly due to the fact that is is Jason Reitman. I mean, it’s not like the film is really dysfunctional. It has a few good moments and if you were feeling lonely and a little drunk you would probably enjoy it by yourself or with the Real Doll of your choice (mine is named Becky). It could even function as a date movie as long as your date doesn’t mind being pandered and condescended to.
One thing I did like a lot was a supporting character played by James Van Der Beek. I have never seen an episode of Dawsons Creek in my life and will happily do a belly flop into a pool full of used syringes and rusty razor blades before watching one, but I got to like him a lot when he played himself in The Bitch In Apartment 23. I love any actor who is so self aware that he can play himself as an egotistical jackass. Either that or he is SO self obsessed that he didn’t realize that he was making fun of himself. In either case I got to like him a lot. That show is actually really great, and for the record I would dive headfirst into the aforementioned swimming pool for the chance to go on a date with show star Krysten Ritter. Kysten, I love you.
Also James has the coolest last name in Hollowood. Van Der Beek. It’s like the first two syllables are this really sophisticated, ostentatious upper class name and then it ends with Beek. How awesome is that? It’s like if the Queen of the Netherlands married Beeker from the Muppets.
The uninspirational nature of this film I find de-motivating so I will get on with it. Plus I need to see Nut Job in two hours so here is the story (the Nuts image I found in our novelty t shirt category. I expect to use something similar when I get around to writing up the Nut Job review). Adele (Kate Winslet-Titanic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Revolutionary Road) is a single mother with a strong case of agoraphobia. Her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith-Changeling, Green Lantern, Couples Retreat) is 13 and tries to be the man of the house, doing things like going into the bank for his mom.
While shopping for supplies Henry runs into Frank (Josh Broslin-Oldboy, No Country for Old Men, Gangster Squad), who sort of compels Adele to give him a ride. He asks to go to her house where they find out he is an escaped convict.
Honestly if I were feeling lazy I could wrap up this recap with the sentence He fixes a few things and he and Adele fall in love. That’s pretty much the rest of the movie. He is hiding out and like I said, starts fixing a few things. He was apparently convicted of killing his wife and child under somewhat murky circumstances but Adele doesn’t know that. In spite of all that he manages to make her fall in love with him and bonds with Henry by teaching him baseball.
After knowing Frank for three days Adele agrees to flee with him to Canada. They all pack up their stuff but their escape is hampered by about 800 things that all could have screwed it up, including my favorite Officer Van Der Beek. Meanwhile there is a fairly pointless sub plot involving Henry meeting a girl his age named Rachel (Elena Kampouris-Jinxed, not much else) whom the makeup people decided would be best if she looked like the girl voted Most Likely to Become a Meth Head. He has a a sort of awkward teen romance that goes no where and does nothing for the story.
Also there is this really annoying series of double flashbacks that tells the stories of how Adele got divorced and Frank killed his wife. Oh, yeah, Henry’s father (Clark Gregg-Thor, Iron Man, Avengers) dorks it up too. SPOILER ALERT In the end Frank gets caught and sent back to prison for 25 more years. Henry grows up and becomes Tobey MaGuire (a fate worse than death. Oh yeah Spider Man, Spider Man, and the Great Gatsby) and a pie man. Adele turns into a reclusive cat lady sans cats. The whole last 20 minutes of the film kind of sputters to a flat ending like a leaky balloon. Frank gets out of prison and is reunited with an aged Adele for a storybook ending I guess.
I thought all the actors did a decent job. I do like Josh Brolin. He plays the bad ass really well. One star. I’ll give a bonus star for the kid not being super annoying like most child characters. He can actually act. One star. James Van Der Beek. One star. The film accurately captured what living in 1987 felt like without making the mistake of glorifying or making a caricature of it. There were no Members Only jackets. One star. Total: four stars.
The black holes.
There was some kind of weird tonal failure going on that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s like the film was an eggshell and inside the egg struggling to get out was a better movie. Reitman does ironic, not romantic. Under that shell I think there was a fledgling ironic film that got smothered. One black hole. Pacing of a garden slug. 111 minutes and you will feel the film was 100 minutes too long. One black hole. In spite of the pacing the story seemed rushed. Who falls in love with a criminal in three days? Some attempt was made to give Adele the semblance of motivation to do so but that part bounced off the wall without sticking. One star. The flashbacks, the teenage love subplot, and pretty much everything having to do with the father really dragged the film down. The flashbacks were borderline surreal and jarring, the love story felt fake, and you wanted to punch the real dad in spite of him secretly being Agent Coulson. One black hole. Another film I suspect I am really going to have to reread this review in order to remember for my 2014 recap. Very forgettable. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
So one black hole total. On the down side of mediocre. I don’t know. If you want romantic pap and don’t want to have to think too hard go for it. Otherwise bail. See it at home if you can. Date movie? On paper it looks like it would work but I kind of suspect that if you took a girl to this film she would suspect you are trying too hard (she would be right. Girls tend to be smarter than you think on stuff like this). This film is definitely not superior to buying her dinner and then spending a few hours talking with her at the coffee house. Bathroom break? Hmm. The Henry/Rachel romance contributes next to nothing and there is a long scene where they go on a walk together towards the end that is very missable.
Thanks for reading. Like I said I’m seeing Nut Job tonight. I want to get it under my belt before the Lego Movie comes out (I am really looking forward to that one. It looks hilarious). Look for that review some time tomorrow. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have a comment on this film or my review feel free to post it here. Off topic questions or suggestions can be emailed to [email protected]. Thanks and have a great night.
That is, my review of the movie Her, not a movie review by some girl in my life who’s existence may or may not be as real as some others. I’m not making up an imaginary girlfriend and writing movie reviews in her voice as some pathetic attempt at pretending I’m normal and have more sex appeal than medical waste. Trust me, after the third or fourth time you try that you realize it doesn’t actually work as well as you would hope. Plus your other imaginary friends start to worry about you. (the Fosters Home image was the best novelty t shirt image I could come up with for that joke. Sorry I’m not a genius every minute)
So Her, by Spike Jonze, who also directed the great Being John Malkovich. He definitely doesn’t go for the standard fare and this film shows that. Did I like it? Absolutely yes, with a few minor qualms which I will get into in a humorous way shortly. I can honestly say I’ve never liked Joaquin Phoenix more. Not only is it a great story brilliantly told, but Spike went in deep on the minor but very cool elements to indicate we were experiencing a story in the near future.
The thing is good sci fi is rarely about advances in technology so far out of the imagination it might as well be magic. The best sci fi takes what we have today and imagines what it will be like in 50 or 100 years. Bladerunner is probably one of the best examples of that, or maybe Aliens. Furthermore, what makes this film kind of groundbreaking is that it imagines not only what kinds of new technology we will have but also how it will be integrated into our daily lives. The character in this film lives his life like he buys everything from the Apple store and it integrates seamlessly into the movie. Everyone in the film is constantly on their phones, integrating with their web and/or social media services, and having little things enhance their lives. Yet at the same time it doesn’t go overboard. When they characters go to a restaraunt they still have a human server, not some robot. The main character Theodore wants to take a nice day out and goes to the beach just as we would today. In his apartment building they still go up in an elevator rather than some kind of transport tube or teleporter.
Yet each thing has it’s futuristic elements. The beach is insanely crowded, as is the LA skyline. Theodore travels around Los Angeles in an extensive public transit system (a perfect sign that we are not in the LA of today). The elevator control panel is a touch pad like we have in tablets and smart phones today. Just futuristic enough to be cool, but not over the top dumb like on the Jetsons.
So the story is of a lonely loser falling in love with an AI operating system. This is where I have my first personal qualm. You see, the idea of an AI being capable of a relationship is really the only hope I have of ever actually getting a girlfriend. To be perfectly blunt the day they make virtual reality sex as good as the real thing is probably the last day I ever speak to a woman again. Yet in truth I would hope to have a relationship with an actual human capable of procreating, but given the trend of humans becoming more an more insular and engaging with people only through electronic means this seems to be the future for the human race. If trends continue the way they are we will not die out from some war, or robot uprising, or zombie apocalypse but rather because we really lose interest in having sex with each other.
(Incidentally, the comment I just made about not speaking to women again really stems from how freaking difficult you women seem to make it for me. It appears you all revel in seeing me rejected and dejected and when the day comes when men are spending all day every day in the VR sex world you will have only yourselves to blame. Think about that next time you are crying into your Cosmopolitan over the fact that you can’t meet a nice guy. Not that I’m bitter.)
The other thing I really liked about this film is I would be very willing to bet Spike Jones is a fan of Iann Banks, as am I. The evolutionary nature of the AI in the film is extremely reminiscent of how Banks writes his Minds in his Culture series. I’m not going to go off on a Banks tangent but if you are a fan of his like I am you will get a lot from this movie (If you are not yet a fan read Use of Weapons. You will thank me).
Anyway, the story. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix-Walk the Line, the Master, Signs. For the record back in 2008 Joaquin announced to the world he was going to quit acting to pursue music. As a fan of his acting rather than his singing I am glad he reneged on that commitment but as a fan of people keeping their promises let me say I hope he learned an important lesson about not being a stupid douchebag) is a writer who specializes in “handwritten” letters between people as a service (apparently writing is a lost art in the future) and is considered exceptionally good at it. He is in the middle of a divorce from his ex wife Catherine (Rooney Mara-the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Side Effects, the Social Network) and is pretty lonely. He sees an ad for the new OS1, an operating system that advertizes being a true AI and one that personalizes itself to it’s user. He opts to buy one.
He installs it at his apartment and after a very, very brief questionnaire is introduced to his new computer who takes on the name Samantha (Scarlett Johansson-the Prestige, the Avengers, Lost in Translation). They get to know each other rapidly and she takes on concern for him and his recent breakup. She encourages him to go on a date with a hot girl who turns out to be kind of crazy (Olivia Wilde-In Time, Tron Legacy, Rush). Meanwhile his college friend Amy (Amy Adams-the Muppets, American Hustle, Man of Steel) is divorcing her douchy husband Charles (Matt Letscher-Identity, Good Moring Miami, the Mask of Zorro).
While all this is going on Samantha is expanding her capabilities literally by the second. She develops what she claims are real feelings and in time she and Theodore fall in love. Many of his friends are supportive of this new type of relationship including Amy, who has developed a friendship with her OS, and coworker Paul (Chris Pratt-Parks and Rec, Zero Dark Thirty, Moneyball). He and Paul go on a double date with Samantha and Paul’s girlfriend Tatiana (Laura Kai Chen-True Adolescents, Eden, Junk) and things seem copacetic. However when he has lunch with his ex Catherine she gives him crap about the nature of the relationship and he starts having his doubts.
SPOILER ALERT He and Samantha have some problems but patch things up. However, she is having a harder and harder time with the relationship due to the fact that she has more or less evolved to the point that communication with him seems to take a billion years (again, reading Banks will help you understand this). Eventually she has to leave in order to move on to a higher plane of existence (again, Banks) leaving him alone with Amy.
I don’t often use the term beautiful to describe a movie, but this was a beautiful movie. Three stars. The story was both super cool and super interesting. Two stars. I’ve never seen Joaquin inhabit a role more thoroughly. Excellent acting and wondrous portrayal. You will literally feel his every pain and joy. One star. I loved the imagining of what our lives will be like 20 years down the road. Truly a great commentary on our society and the direction it is headed in. One star. Really funny at parts. You will especially laugh at the dead cat scene. One star. Characters that you will care about and are exceptionally believable. One star. Really cool very subtle elements to convey the futuristic nature of the world. One star. A little bit of nudity to spice up the R rating. One star. Overall a great viewing experience. Three stars. Total: fourteen stars.
The black holes.
Yes, I know. I suck for even giving a few but I have to be honest. First off I am a fan of Scarlett Johansson and like her a lot (I would definitely pull her pig tails in the schoolyard). However, her voice has a rising inflection and when you hear it without seeing her stunning good looks it is kind of distracting. One black hole. Stepping out of my role as an intellectual film critic and into my everyman “unwashed masses” film viewer if you are the type who likes guns, cars, explosions, fast cars, fight scenes, and more explosions prepare to be bored. Even the two video games they show were painfully slow and boring. Imagine a world filled with all the wimps from the Demolition Man. As a spurting font of machismo I have to take issue with that. One black hole. On that same vein I was definitely feeling all 126 minutes of the film. I don’t think anything could have been reasonably edited out but there was a certain amount of drag time. I understand the visual need to show Theodore riding a train or elevator in order to show the mundanity of his life but by the end of the film I was wishing for a stronger hand on the editing button. One black hole. Total: three black holes.
So a grand total of eleven black holes and yet another candidate for my best film of 2013. Weird that in the last two weeks I have added so many to the short list. Should you see this film? Yes. Yes you should. Unless you are some kind of robot or climbing the walls from a meth overdose you will love it. Films like this give me hope for the future of entertainment. Date movie? Hell yes. Not only will your date also love this film but without a female lead to compete with she will be less distracted. Also all the self esteem issues a woman typically faces when watching a romantic comedy with a super hot female protagonist will not be aggravated (“Well, at least I have a body.”). Plus Theodore is as big a socially awkward dork as you could imagine so unless you are Brainy Smurf you will look really cool in comparison. Bathroom break? I say hold it. However, if you really need to go the beach scene is the most missable. It is fairly long and once you get the basic idea there isn’t much to add.
Thanks for reading. My readership has shot up quite a bit in the last few months (along with my self esteem) so thank you all for reading and sharing my blog with your friends. Follow me on Twitter (looking at my Twitter numbers kind of brings by self esteem back down again, but I guess it all balances in the end) @Nerdkungfu. Place comments on this film or my review here and off topic questions or suggestions should be emailed to [email protected]. My best friend has put in a request that I see and review the new Hercules (he likes to see me suffer I guess) so I will be seeing that later today. Look for the review tomorrow. Have a great night.
Oz may be great and powerful, but his movie is mediocre and predictable.
It always annoys me when a movie comes out with a title that is so rife with pun possibilities and then absolutely refuses to bury the needle in either really good or really sucktastic. Movie title puns are worthless when the film is content to hover in the mediocre zone, and consequently makes my review that much harder to write.
As members of the movie going audience you and I should be grievously insulted by the lack of respect the studio is showing us in the development of the story for this film. They seem to think we are all knuckle dragging missing links who are easily entertained by pretty scenery and bright colors. Now while that may be true in my case I am insulted for you, my beloved and intelligent nerd reader. I think what we are seeing here is is another example of art being sold out in every way in favor of money. You see my lovelies more and more studios are unearthing vast piles of previously unclaimed cash in the form of foreign market ticket sales. The fact is movies that are pretty to look at but have stupid/simple stories are the ones that make the most money overseas and since a stupid script does not seem to inhibit sales domestically (opening weekend in the US this film cleared $80.3 million) why not write a story that would have a hard time competing against fan created Kirk/Spock slash porn?
In a perfect world this recipe would be self correcting as American audiences eventually figured out how dumb this stuff is and voted with their feet this plan and these films would eventually die on the vine, but thanks to all you knuckle dragging missing links feeding the Great Stupidity Beast with your wallets it seems to still be working.
Sigh. That was a little bitter even for me. I think I am just more burnt because I really wanted this film to be great. The trailers were awesome, the visuals I saw were amazing, and Sam Raime has done some great films in his day. Of course recently he did Spider-Man 3 featuring emo-Peter Parker, so maybe he has lost his touch. I guess I just need to wait until the home movie making technology catches up to the point that three art students and a nerd can create an amazing film in the nerd’s basement before the story bar gets raised up again. I’m just tired of movies with a $215 million budget (to any of my readers in Guinea your entire country’s GNP last year was $199,274,000) having a story that looks like it was written by three guys who failed out of clown collage (AKA USC).
Before I get into the story I’m also going to say this movie is a good example of failure via bad casting. I have nothing against James Franco. I thought he was great in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and really funny in Your Highness. Aside from the burning hatred of 10,000 suns I feel for all Hollywood pretty boys for their amazing lives I can’t really say much bad about him. However, I really think he was miscast as Oz in this film. He just doesn’t read as a powerful wizard or carnival con man. The only thing that struck me as real was his ability to hook up with every hot girl in the film, but even that felt out of character. He just feels too sincere for a charleton. I heard the original cast was for Robert Downey Jr., which in my opinion would have been much, much better.
The story. Oz the Great is a circus performer who uses cheap tricks to get every girl around him into bed (there’s the wholesome Disney we all look for in a family friendly film). While on the run from the Strong Man for hooking up with his wife he jumps into a hot air balloon and is caught up in a twister. He lands in the magical land of color (I mean Oz).
I have used the phrase deus ex machina in other reviews. Translated from Latin (I took three years of that in high school) it means “god from the machine” and when applied to stories it refers to the unexpected intervention of some higher power or events that had nothing to with the story so far to propel the plot. It is a lazy writers tool to get out of a corner and generally makes for a lame story as nothing ever gets resolved from the actions of the characters. To say that this movie had a lot of deus ex machine would be like saying that the people of the Soviet Union were somewhat influenced by the Communist Party (Hammer and Sickle image courtesy of the political t-shirt category). Oz is met by the witch Theadora (Mila Kunis-Ted, Friends with Benefits, Black Swan) who immediately tells him that there is a prophesy of a great wizard with the name of Oz will save the land from the wicked witch and become king.
This prophesy is known by pretty much everyone in the land and they all believe him to be the dude. On the way to the Emerald City he rescues a cute flying monkey from a cowardly lion (ugh. This film seriously labors under the burden of referencing everything possible from the original film) and gains a lifetime sidekick. He also manages to talk Theadora into a one night stand (Walt must be spinning in his grave). Once at the city he is told by the other witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz-the Brothers Bloom, the Mummy, the Bourne Legacy) that his quest is to kill the wicked witch Glinda (Michelle Williams-Shutter Island, My Week with Marilyn, Brokeback Mountain).
I hope you are all sitting for the shock I am about to lay on you (big spoiler alert in case you are brain damaged) but Glinda is actually the good witch and Evenora is the wicked one! After Glinda convinces Oz of this by the infallible logic of “Any woman as hot as I am who you have not already slept with must be right” he joins up with the good people of Oz in their fight against the wicked sisters. Theadora eats a bad apple and turns pretty gross looking. More DEM as it turns out that 1/3rd of the population of the land of Oz are skilled craftsmen who can make anything. Oz tries to chicken out but has a completely unexpected change of heart and they all work together to fool the witches that they are not completely defenseless.
The stars. The movie was very pretty, and some of the visuals fairly stunning. Two stars. The monkey and the little china girl were both really good side kicks. One star. None of the women were hard on the eyes, at least before they ate the apple. One star. The evil flying monkeys were kind of cool. One star. Total: five stars.
The black holes. The story was just dumb. Deus ex machina should only be used if you get into a corner. It should not be the main plot device propelling the story. Two black holes. James Franco was not a great choice for Oz IMO. One black hole. Believe it or not, a lot of the CGI look kind of crappy. Most of the big scenes looked like some artists dream job but when it came time for the CGI creatures to interact with the humans you could really see the difference. The whole thing reminded me strongly of Cool World. Also the 3D was extremely intrusive and at the same time unnecessary. Can we finally admit that it is a technology that no one cares about? One black hole. Total: four black holes.
One star total. Is it worth seeing? Sure, just like any number of more or less worthless Disney films are worth seeing. You won’t walk away with anything but at least it won’t diminish your life. Date movie? Yes, especially if she is a big Oz fan from childhood or is just easily entertained by giant colorful flowers. Bathroom break? There’s a scene towards the last 1/3rd where Oz has to tuck the china girl in bed that’s pretty unnecessary. Go for it.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. Post comments about this film or my review here. Off topic questions can be emailed to me at [email protected]. Talk to you soon.
I bitched about this a while ago. Back then it was only rumor, and most of that was laid at the feet of Chuch Norris wanting kids who don’t know anything about him or his career to have the chance to laugh at him. However, it has now been confirmed by Sylvester Stallone and they are all trying to defend the decision.
By the way, Dave has a bunch of Chuck Norris shirts on his site I could have used images from, but based on what his apparent interest is I think this novelty t shirt is more appropriate. Suck it, Chuck.
I don’t know how this movie could be anything like the first one when it is suffering under the PG-13 hammer. Must everything be kid friendly in life? They are worried about kids sneaking into the theater to see this film. So never make another Rated R movie? Why even bother to make movies with adults in them at all? 100% of all movie production should be cartoons, High School Musical, and Justin Bieber. You know, there are kids who use fake IDs to buy alcohol. All liquor should be replaced with fruit juice. Some kids have been known to drive a car without a license. Well, enjoy your new bicycle, since we need to keep kids safe from doing things that they are specifically prohibited from doing. When exactly did kids take over all entertainment? Kids can suck it too as far as I’m concerned.