Spike Jonze

Love in the Modern Age Short Film

Why Watch? Sharing your life with somebody. Science fiction aside, that’s what Spike Jonze’s Her is all about, and in this talking head doc, creatives like Marc Maron, Charlene Yi and Olivia Wilde answer the difficult question of how we view love in a world with smart phones in hand. Her: Love in the Modern Age is a fantastic, thought-provoking short film, but it’s also the kind of thing that should be made for dozens of movies every year — responses that replace the lobby and end up online to create an even larger conversation. Ultimately, it’s such a gargantuan concept that every entry here feels like a grain of sand trying to describe the beach, and that provides an intrinsic element of frustration. You might find yourself irritated with or angry at some of the conclusions that these people come to about love, but its those differences that propel and reveal the labyrinthine complexity of something that is boiled down to chemicals and placed on a pedestal above all others. Funny how a conversation about love ends up creating an open door to human frailty and failing.

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HER

There are two things that are probably beyond contestation about Spike Jonze’s Her: It’s a critical darling (as evidenced by its many rave reviews, its presence on end-of-year lists, and its continued haul of awards season recognition), and It has an immersive, thoroughly realized vision of an unspecified near-future. It’s hard to think of a science-fiction movie in recent memory as invested as Her in what the future will look like, feel like, dress like, and what effects this will have on something as intrinsic and everyday as human relationships. But beyond these two points, there is much to be found that’s worth debating in Jonze’s film. Her diverts from science-fiction’s tradition of painting an overtly dystopic future of constant surveillance and centralized control familiar to any Philip H. Dick fan, yet as sleek, inviting, and even beautiful as the film’s immaculate surfaces and evolving technologies are, there seems to be an insidious coldness and emptiness that lies beneath the surface, a sense that something is lost between the glass walls and mobile devices that separate people in Jonze’s Los Angeles.

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SpaceCamp 2

It may not have cracked the top ten this weekend after finally entering wide release, and it probably will be left empty handed at the Golden Globes tonight, but Spike Jonze‘s Her is one of the best movies of last year (it was #4 on FSR’s aggregated top ten, #3 on resident critic Rob Hunter’s list, #2 on our best sci-fi list…) and if you haven’t seen it already, you must go out as soon as you can and fall in love with this movie about love. If you don’t already know from our coverage and praise, the futurist sci-fi film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man recently separated from his wife who rebounds with his computer’s sentient operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. That plot has reminded me of other movies since I first heard about it, and I’ve continued to recall related recommendations before, during and after seeing it. It’s not necessarily derivative so much as the next step for cinema that deals with the idea of love as a concept, what it means to be in love and how much it’s in our heads as opposed to heart and how much is really a mutual experience. This week’s list of movies to watch mostly involve those same themes, though not all. As usual, some come from connections made by others. I’ve decided to leave out one particular movie, WarGames, as it’s not about love and I already highlighted it in relation to Her in the special year-end […]

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Her

Editor’s note: Our review of Spike Jonze’s brilliant Her originally ran during last year’s NYFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens tomorrow in wide release. A lonely man meets an unattainable woman, falls head over heels in love, and is forced to grow through the trials of their romance – it’s a story as old as time, but director Spike Jonze gives it a fresh, timely update with his Her, imagining said unattainable woman as, well, not even really a woman, but a highly intelligent computer operating system. Modern love is complicated. The twist of Her, however, is that Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, just plain heartbreaking here) and Samantha’s (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) relationship is prone to the same troubles and anxieties as any other romantic bond (all-human or not), and its plot is moved along by very recognizable twists in their road to (maybe) happily ever after. Sure, Her is about a guy who essentially falls in love with an ever-evolving piece of artificial intelligence meant to help sort his email and keep track of his calendar, but it’s also a deeply relatable love story about falling in love with anyone (or anything).

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HER-FP-0870

Spike Jonze‘s Her hasn’t even hit wide release yet, but everyone has been talking about its futurist concepts for months. And not only talking about them, but desiring them. It used to be that we had to dream about flying cars and hoverboards as being decades away, but in the past ten years smart science fiction has given us more plausible tech and production design. Minority Report‘s promise of touch screens and personalized ads came rather quickly, and now our impatient culture will demand the stuff seen in Her immediately. We’ve already got some fashions inspired by the film, but how about the artificial intelligence? And more importantly, the artificial intelligence boyfriends and girlfriends? Well, that may not be right around the corner. It might not even be possible at all, at least not to the degree it’s seen in Her (I’m skeptical about full AI ever existing). But this generation tends to be satisfied with replicas if not the real thing. We’re not only fine with fake self-lacing Nikes like those seen in Back to the Future Part II, but we’ll even pay thousands of dollars for them. Same goes for light-up flux capacitor models that don’t really transport us back in time. So why not a special smartphone that features Scarlett Johansson‘s voice to make us feel like the “Samantha” OS from Her is real? After all, there’s been a HAL 9000 theme available for the iPhone, although it doesn’t really replace the Siri voice or alter the […]

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When it comes to Her, the movie-going public is a little like a kid ignoring his giant new RC car to play with the cardboard box it came in. Here we are, with a film that asks so many questions that are so relevant to our own lives- questions about the ever-increasing influence of technology and its impact on our relationships- and all anyone cares about are the high-waisted pants. Don’t get me wrong, the high-waisted pants are great. I love the pants. And it does make sense that people would be falling over themselves to editorialize about Joaquin Phoenix‘s fashion choices instead of his digital romance. Not a soul in Her ever speaks aloud about men buckling their trousers above the bellybutton; the inclusion of the pants is both subtle and on the nose at the same time. So when those in the audience realize why the men of Her look so oddly futuristic, they get a fun little feeling of discovery, and immediately decide to write about it on the internet.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA

Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass friends have an appreciation for the classics. In their movies they’ve paid tribute specifically to Buster Keaton and Busby Berkeley, and more generally to the many slapstick comedians and masters of choreography — of both the stunt and musical varieties — who’ve come long before them. Now with Bad Grandpa, they honor another old-fashioned hero, Allen Funt. This is basically a feature-length version of Candid Camera, with the pranks linked together through a basic fiction plot involving a horny old man (Knoxville in age-disguising makeup) on a road trip with his profanely precocious 8-year-old grandson. It’s not just that the shtick here is influenced by Funt’s long-running and oft-recycled hidden-camera shows. Most of the gags are familiar old tricks that likely were first done on Candid Camera or its copycats. In one well-worn bit, the grandpa, Irving Zisman, is having a tag sale in his home and shocks customers with a demonstration of his adjustable bed, which keeps collapsing, folding his body in seemingly harmful ways. Later he pays a visit to a UPS Store (or similar) to ship the kid to his deadbeat dad’s house in a giant box. I’m sure we’ve seen that kind of thing in numerous incarnations on various hidden-cam shows over the years.

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her trailer

Spike Jonze returns from a four-year hiatus from filmmaking to fuck us all up with the trailer for Her, the story of a woe-begotten Joaquin Phoenix who falls in love with the AI in his computer, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It’s dreamy, creepy, uncomfortable, and like the poster proclaims: it’s a Spike Jonze love story. Heartbroken Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) decides to cheer himself up with a fancy new operating system that promises to be incredibly intuitive and unique to each user. What he gets is “Samantha,” a chipper female voice who interacts with him as a friend and confidant, and who seems to grow more lifelike every day. Samantha is the woman of Theodore’s dreams, and it’s unsettling how easily you find yourself rooting for the “couple” in the trailer when you see him laughing and smiling through hazy shots of sunshine and blue skies. But just as soon as the happiness appears, reality kicks in when it’s a phone that Theodore is twirling with on the beach and, you know, not a human lady. Dammit, Jonze! The trailer only continues to spiral and become more sinister from there as Samantha becomes more sentient and their relationship gets more “serious.” I’m just worried about getting emotionally invested in a story about a man and a computer program. Check out the trailer below and see what you think.

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Siri

We’ve been following along with the development of Spike Jonze’s next project for a while now, and with good reason. For one, it’s a new Spike Jonze movie, and that should be enough to get film geek blood pumping on its own. But when you factor in the cast that he’s compiled, which includes names like Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, Samantha Morton, and Olivia Wilde, well, it doesn’t take long before the anticipation hits a boiling point. There is one cloud of uncertainty that’s been hanging over the project’s head ever since it got announced, however, and that’s the fact that it has been sold as being a story about a man who falls in love with Siri. Yeah, the iPhone thing.

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Over Under - Large

Being John Malkovich was an amazing success story upon its 1999 release. Not only was it a critical darling that got nominated for a bunch of awards, but it also successfully launched the big screen careers of a music video director named Spike Jonze and a lowly TV writer named Charlie Kaufman. In case you didn’t know, those guys have gone on to be big names, and Being John Malkovich earns quite the pedigree by being the start of their careers. On a personal level, I walked out of the movie in ’99 shocked at how unique and inventive it was, and loving how it melded progressive filmmaking with a comic sensibility. Revisiting it all these years later though, I realize it hasn’t aged as well as I’d hoped, and I find myself wondering if it still deserves the level of reverence that it gets. Mabrouk El Mechri’s 2008 film JCVD didn’t get near as much buzz or recognition as something like Being John Malkovich. Maybe that’s because a big chunk of it wasn’t in English, or maybe it’s because it just wasn’t as good—that’s debatable. But the opinion that it showed us a different side of its star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, was pretty universal, and it seemed like it was going to be something of a rebirth for the action star’s career. It’s four years later though, and nothing has really come of it. The man has still been largely relegated to straight-to-video action movies, and any of the […]

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Paul Dano interview

“I don’t really know what kind of actor I am,” Paul Dano said when we spoke to him a few weeks ago while discussing his latest film, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farsis‘s mildly dark romantic comedy Ruby Sparks. When Dano stated such, it came as a bit of a surprise, particularly because Dano has always come off as an actor who goes fairly deep into a character, from reading books to finding a character’s favorite band. What was also obvious is that he isn’t the artistically tortured character we see him play in the film. The character, Calvin, is a bit of a jerk: a narcissistic, condescending, and neurotic nerd who wants control over everything. Dano, who spoke of his fear over expectations and other Ruby Sparks-related themes, seemed satisfied leaving all that control in the hands of all the accomplished directors he’s worked with. Here’s what Ruby Sparks’ star Paul Dano had to say about the nice surprises you get when making a film, his process for creating a character, and the time he wrestled with Spike Jonze on the set of Where the Wild Things Are:

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Spike Jonze’s upcoming follow-up to Where the Wild Things Are doesn’t yet have a title, but it has a cast in place. Or, at least, it did. A while back we reported that Jonze’s next film was going to be about a man who falls in love with a computer voice, a sort of forward looking commentary on the dangers of developing a Siri fetish. Joaquin Phoenix was already on board as the male lead, and Carey Mulligan, Amy Adams, and Samantha Morton were negotiating to come on in other capacities. The negotiations stuck, because all three ladies became official members of the cast. But now that’s changed. According to Variety, Mulligan has been forced to drop out of the film due to scheduling conflicts. All is not lost, however. Signing up Adams and Morton is still a pretty good haul in and of itself, and there’s word that Jonze is in final negotiations to recruit a more than acceptable replacement for Mulligan.

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We’ve been in need of a new Spike Jonze feature since 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are, and it looks as if the filmmaker is planning an interesting new film with a stellar cast. The untitled feature (written and to be directed by Jonze) will center on a man “who falls in love with the voice of a computer, similar to the Siri feature on the new iPhone.” With Joaquin Phoenix already on board, we can only guess that he’ll play that love-struck techno-wonk, but just who of the reported three new female cast members would play the tantalizing voice? Deadline Cupertino reports that Carey Mulligan, Amy Adams, and Samantha Morton are all in talks to star in the film alongside Phoenix. My bet for the voice? Adams, because who else has the same pep and charm? Also adding to my complete speculation – the fact that Morton and Mulligan bare a striking resemblance to each other that I cannot help but think would work quite well in the “real world” confines of the film. This project is not to be confused with another Jonze film  that will star Phoenix and Mulligan – that’s the one that is being penned by Charlie Kaufman. That film is reportedly “a satire about how world leaders gather to figure out all the seismic events that will take place in the worlds, from oil prices to wars that will be waged,” which sounds particularly wonderful.

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Over the course of the year, curating the Short Film of the Day feature has given me a deep and affecting appreciation of the art form. Before, I hadn’t given much thought to the little bastards, but the truth is that they are incredibly versatile and representative of the boundaries that film can break. They can be jokes told well or human dramas driven home. They can be a perfect bite or demand to be expanded into a full meal. They can feel classic or break out into the long, strange realm of experimentation. They are so much more than movies with short runtimes. There’s one difficulty in judging them, though. With such variation, pinpointing how one can be better than another gets to be tricky. So, no matter the order, the one constant is that all the movies listed here are outstanding at what they do. The other (small) problem is that sometimes short films spend a long time touring festivals and otherwise being unavailable online. Thus, eligibility here is based solely on when a movie hit the web for us to digest. In that way, it’s the best short films from 2010-2011, but I have a feeling that that trivia won’t matter once you sit glued to the screen at the talent on display here.

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Why Watch? It’s from Spike Jonze. There’s no reason you should need to know more about it, but in case you’re curious, this inventive short film (which channels a few of the old Merry Melodies shorts set in libraries) was born out of a partnership between Jonze and artist/purse designer Olympia Le-Tan. With co-director Simon Cahn, Jonze tells the stop-motion story of a skeleton and a young woman from the covers of two famous novels, falling in love and getting into trouble. Vibrant and sweet, it’s a must-see. What does it cost? Just 7 minutes of your time. Check out Mourir Auprès de Toi for yourself:

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If you’re interested in seeing veteran actor Brian Cox slit a few throats and chop off a few heads, then Ironclad is definitely the film for you. It’s got fantastically gory kills, Paul Giamatti looking angry in every frame and chewing apart every inch of scenery with each glare, and blood hitting every inch of the screen imaginable. Sound promising? Director Jonathan English has captured a tone that revels in both gore and laughs. Brian Cox, thankfully, gets to partake in English’s bloodbath. I knew within the first few seconds of speaking with Cox that I was going to enjoy the chat. Cox got a hearty laugh from the site’s name right from the start and had a few questions about its origin, a part I desperately wish I recorded. It was a nice icebreaker, to say the least. Calm and thoughtful, the actor made for a quick and pleasant interview. We discussed the fun tone of Ironclad and, mainly, the different directors he’s collaborated with, including the likes of Bryan Singer, Doug Liman, and Rupert Wyatt.

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We’ve reported before about billionaire heiress Megan Ellison, who has used her fortune to start Annapurna Pictures, a company whose sole purpose seems to be giving awesome filmmakers money so that they can make awesome movies. Well, it looks like she’s at it again. Deadline Sandy Fork reports that she is negotiating to take on an as-of-yet untitled film that will reunite the writing/directing team of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze. When those two men teamed before we ended up getting Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. I don’t know about you, but I thought both of those movies were just the bee’s knees. The film they are set to make is said to be a parody-heavy take on things that Alex Jones has been trying to convince us are really happening with his conspiracy theory documentaries. It will be a dramatization of the world’s most powerful leaders meeting in a secret room to plan out all of the upcoming happenings that will steer the course of human history. Marry that with Jonze’s innovative visual style and Kaufman’s mind-bending writing style and it looks like something special is in the works. We’ve seen the duo do darkly funny and strangely interesting before, but we’ve never seen them try to tackle something that looks this political. I was entranced enough watching them tell a story about orchids, but when they take on issues like impending wars and global oil trading prices we might get an enduring classic the likes of Dr. Strangelove […]

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Many folks have been anticipating the DVD and Blu-ray release of Spike Jonze’s visionary adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. Well, it has hit the streets, and it’s time for the wild rumpus to start. Because the movie is more for adults who remember what it was like to be a kid, I’m sure the audience is old enough to play the game. Who wouldn’t want to be king of the Wild Things, after all?

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Just in time, the folks at South by Southwest (SXSW) have released their final additions to this year’s festival. Taking place from March 12 – 20, 2010, the 2010 edition of the film festival will feature a wide range of films. It will open with Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass. And as we know now, it will close with Chris Morris’ Four Lions, a highly acclaimed film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Also on the list of additions are Spike Jonze’s great short I’m Here, a tale of robot love; Elijah Drenner’s American Grindhouse, an exploration of American exploitation films; and more…

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published: 12.23.2014
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