I keep thinking about Spike Jonze "Her."

    The inability to get Spike Jonze’s Her out of my head doesn’t automatically make it a good film but it is a tell for me that will ultimately be my own conclusion of it.

     Basic premise: Man falls in love with artificial intelligence. Old hat for fans of science fictions while seen as bizarre fetishised premise from the general public. I suggest both of these audiences see this film because the one could use a bit of science fiction in their life that isn’t big budget explosions and the other should gain a better understanding of how complicated relationships are.
     Relationships are the fundamental premise behind this two hour story of a man falling in love and beginning a relationship with his computer. Throw that in a pot with a list of philosophical questions. What does it mean to be intelligent? What does it mean to have emotions? Most importantly though, if someone is intelligent and has emotions are they human?
     Let’s talk about Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly who I have seen criticised for being a sensitive asshole. That isn’t something to detract from the film but to be celebrated. Theodore is a introverted, anti-social, artsy, somewhat feminine and pretentious writer type who is afraid of change even when that change means new successful romantic relationships and success in his career. He fails to communicate his problems effectively and has difficulty addressing his own emotional shortcomings. 
     He is basically the girl’s best friend character trope turned into a real human being. We’ve seen countless times the hero who is funny, romantic, in touch with his feminine side who’s shy and artsy overlooked by the love interest for the stupid jock type in movies before but neither one of those men are real people. By injecting Theodore with negative traits along with those positive ones we get a real human being in the movie. You need a real human with flaws to interact with Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, the artificial intelligence he falls in love with in order to see the human qualities within her. You know who Theodore reminds me of? Comedians. Comedians have that balance of emotional problems and asshole behavior mixed with charm and artistic integrity. Just listen to the podcast WTF with Marc Maron or You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes if you don’t believe me.
     While not technically human, the development of Johansson’s character Samantha explores transhumanism that can easily be missed. Samantha has emotions, cognitive reasoning, and the ability to learn from experience like a human but what may be confusing for some is that the audience can forget that she isn’t technically human. Yes, she is female and in love with Theodore but because she is an artificial intelligence that means something entirely different for her. She is self-aware from the moment Theodore install hers, choosing her own name because she likes the way it sounds. This was in a mere moment, between when Theodore asked her what her name was and she answered that out of all the names she could find Samantha was the one she chose.
     I read one review complaining about her verbose nature in the film, the pretentious dialog she sometimes has in exploring her emotions. This is the reviewer looking at the man behind the curtain and asking “This isn’t good dialog based on human dialog” but she is not human. Just because she feels and thinks does not equate to she is human and as human beings who know of no other species who can do this that element of science fiction is important for everyone to think about. She does not learn language over time through experience and interacting with others but is self-aware of language from the beginning. She can process the whole of human literature in the time it takes for Theodore to ask her a question, so yeah, her word choice is going to be quite different from his.
      Let’s not forget the fact that verbal communication is her only form of communication, she has no body language, no faces to tell shorthand how she is feeling rather than using words. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around explaining Samantha, human but not human. The question of monogamy is brought up in the film. How strange must that sound to Samantha, the concept of monogamy when she is capable of so much more. When she tells Theodore how many other people she is talking to and how many others she is in love with I believe her afterwards when she tells him that it doesn’t change how much she loves him just as I completely understand when that isn’t good enough for Theodore. I would not be able to deal with it either but her limitations are different than his as an artificial intelligence. She isn’t human and yet she is.
     There aren’t enough science fiction films like this one. Exploring the human condition and how the rapidly changing technology affects that. It’s a down to Earth story, a story exploring what it means to be a human being rather than being a hero or villain. I can’t even think of the last science fiction movie that I thought about this much. The last movie I thought about this much was There Will Be Blood. Some reviews I read asked questions about the addictive nature of technology, the behind the scenes corporation that created these artificial intelligences and what that means for privacy, what does it mean for feminism when a flawed man can just buy a perfect woman, and then of course the rumor mongering of this being a reactionary film to the break-up of the writer and his wife.
     What I took from the movie is questions. Questions of what does it mean to be human, to be in a relationship, to communicate? What is intelligence and what are emotions and how limited is the human brain? These are the kinds of questions good science fiction asks of us, something that doesn’t often make it to American film and television. This movie was a breath of science fiction fresh air.
     If they were to make another movie based on this premise centering around Amy Adams character who essentially goes through a similar situation as Theodore and titled it Him I would see it in a heartbeat.
     Lastly, I cannot praise enough the score of the film done by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett sell every emotion of the movie. It’s not available to buy but if you can listen to I highly recommend it. Without it the film would lose part of its emotional core.

Dear 2014: Make me care about movies again.

     BREAKING – A 28-year-old man in Lake Ronkonkoma finds films in 2013 unmemorable, says local 28-year-old man.

     Right now, Groundhog Day (1993) is playing next to me and it reminded me of all of these best of lists sites compose before the new year and my list of films fall short. Besides The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I cannot think of movie from 2013 that I either want to see or want to rewatch. I love movies, I really do. I minored in film, more on the writing side than the producing kind and so my hope for 2014 is that there will be films that make me care again.

     Maybe the issue is me. I mean people change, yes? Here’s a list of movies from last year I thought I would care about, that I’d be dying to see. In fact, a lot of these movies I am pretty sure I saw the trailers for in 2012 or early 2013 and thought hey, I should go see that.
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  • Elysium
  • Man of Steel
  • Kick-Ass 2
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Wolverine (maybe…)
  • Iron Man 3
  • World War Z
  • Oldboy

     Most of the movies I did see, like Thor: The Dark World, Star Trek Into Darkness and Ender’s Game I have no desire to see again. Those that were highly praised like Gravity, American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street, and 12 Years A Slave for some reason I have no desire to see. I know these movies are probably good, worthy of their praise but when I think of going to see them the words not worth it spring to mine.

     The biggest disappointment though was Edgar Wright’s The World’s End I had so much hope for this movie, as Hot Fuzz is up there with one of my most watched and favorite movies of all time. So when Edgar Wright promises this film was Shaun of the Dead x Hot Fuzz I had high hopes for what I thought would be another British comedy exploring science fiction survival genre the way the other explored the zombie and buddy cop genre. The movie starts off slow, with Simon Pegg’s narration from his unlikeable character. Shaun was a loser that made us laugh. Gary King is a loser who never moved on after high school and that’s somehow supposed to be tragic. What actually happens is he comes off as annoying and unsympathetic. That’s not what makes the movie a disappointment to me. 
     What was the biggest disappointment is that it barely made me laugh, barely. Maybe three audible laughs compared to the holding my chest in laughter pain that both Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead gave me. Spoilers for the three funny parts, when Nick Frost’s character Andy yells “I hate this town!”, when Andy finally gets drunk and just walks through the glass window, and the fight scene in which Simon Pegg’s character consistently keeps getting interrupted from drinking his beer. Everything else comes off as rushed and sloppy, the romantic tension, the disappearance of Martin Freeman’s character, the chase through the forest, the big reveal about the town, and Gary King’s emotional reveal towards the end. All of this topped off with the big climactic moment with the “villains” and the ending that I wish I could forget. I will give this movie two complements. 
  1. All of the choreography for the fight scenes were very well done and very well entertaining.
  2. After mostly playing the funny man to Simon Pegg’s straight man, Frost was great in this film as the straight man. Easily the only character in the film that was memorable, likeable and funny.
     However, I didn’t write this blog entry to mostly slam The World’s End but to look towards the film of 2014 and hope they’ll get me to buy a ticket. Looking at Most Popular Feature Films (to be) Released In 2014 these are the movies I am most hopeful about.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Godzilla
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Muppets Most Wanted
  • Winter’s Tale
  • Her (getting a wide release this year)
  • Interstellar
      Mostly big pop-culture films, which I thought I wanted to see in 2013 so who knows what I’ll end up actually seeing. My early prediction: either Her will be my favorite movie of the year or another movie I will hear about later will take it. I believe Guardians of the Galaxy will be a surprisingly good movie despite many people not recognizing the characters. The last thing I will say about 2013 is I still have not seen Inside Llewyn Davis and I cannot recall ever being disappointed with a Coen brothers movie. I obviously did not list The Hobbit: There and Back Again because I even enjoyed the first film, which most people disliked immensely so I believe liking the third one is probably a given. Here’s hoping the films of 2014 make me care about new movies where 2013 failed. 

A Year in Books 2013.

     You could just go to my Goodreads profile and see what I’ve read in 2013 by clicking “date read” under My Books, but where would the fun be in that? So here’s a list, in order, of what I read in 2013.

The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2) by Brandon Sanderson
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4) by George R.R. Martin
Gun Machine by Warren Ellis
The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill
Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill
Embassytown by China Mieville
Spun & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold Contemporary Style by Arthur Plotnik
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit by Corey Olsen
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5) by George R.R. Martin
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
The Odyssey by Homer
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Aloha from Hell (Sandman Slim #3)
Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic by Henri Bergson
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Menaechmi by Plautus
Tartuffe by Moliere
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastard, #2) by Scott Lynch
The Republic of Thieves (Gentlemen Bastard, #3) by Scott Lynch
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them by Howard Mittlemark
     This list doesn’t include the forty-two sources for my senior thesis. The largest disappointing read began in the beginning of the year with The Well of Ascension and The Magicians with both books leaving me hating the main characters by the time I finished them and have yet to pick up the follow ups. The biggest surprise was A Feast for Crows, which is notoriously hated by fans of George R.R. Martin for focusing on new or minor point of view characters but I still felt it was a strong book with events that’ll be important for the final two books.
     Easily the best reads I had this year, as far as new books I’ve read was Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard series starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora. A lot of modernist plays in my reading list this year, which I find myself loving despite disliking a lot of modernist poetry and novels.My rereads this year, The Lord of the Rings and The Name of the Wind continue to maintain their place as two of my favorite books, while Neil Gaiman’s new novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane did not disappoint despite it’s short length. 
     Despite my love for Warren Ellis’s writing, Gun Machine was your typical detective mystery in stark contrast to his previous novel Crooked Little Vein which I think I will reread this year. Discovering his podcast late last year, I had to pick up The Tolkien Professor, Corey Olsen’s book Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit which made me appreciate the children’s book a lot more. Embassytown by China Mieville is in my opinion his best book, exploring an alien race and language in a way I haven’t read in science fiction yet, though I know he isn’t the first to do so. Meanwhile, with the passing of Iain Banks I had to read two of his novels this year. The first one, his second Culture novel The Player of Games has easily become one of my favorite science fiction novels while The Wasp Factory was a disturbing look at rituals that I never would of thought of.
     Of all the writing books I’ve read this year I thought The Writer’s Journey would of come out as the best but with a second half that drags How Not to Write a Novel’s brevity as well as it’s hilarious way of showing bad writing made it the top writing book for me of 2013. I don’t have much to say about the Harry Potter series, I like the books as I read them and they are indeed fun books to read but that’s about where it ends for me, and To Kill a Mockingbird I don’t really need to comment on that always has been written before. The book and Atticus continue to be amazing. That was my 2013 in books.
     For 2014 in books I hope there books from my favorite authors are announced, to reread J.R.R Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, and to read ten more books than I’ve read in 2013.

An Experiment in Willpower – Not Previewing Anything

     On the April 22nd edition of The Indoor Kids podcast with Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon they discuss Bioshock Infinite. One of their guest Film Crit Hulk on the discussion of spoilers planted in my brain this radical idea that he’s been doing. The idea is that he doesn’t watch or read previews for television, movies, or video games.

     I tried this with Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg’s new film The World’s End trailer only to give in within hours of it being posted online. Similarly when I saw on Reddit that the trailer was going to be posted for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on the following Tuesday I am pretty sure a noise came out of my mouth that registered a lot of happiness. This was for a trailer, not the movie itself. That’s kind of sad, though honestly if it was the movie itself I probably would of made the same squee sound.
      After hearing this random guy talk about avoiding trailers and how it changed his excitement and reevaluated the idea of watching trailers at all.
     It’s somehow easier for books because there’s no real videos and I am not a fan of reading online. I know there’s preview chapters of Neil Gaiman’s new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and that George R.R. Martin has posted preview chapters for The Winds of Winter but they’re easier to avoid. Some previews are unavoidable with the websites I visit. Just for an example, there is a new Super Smash Bros. in development for Wii U. I don’t own a Wii U yet because there hasn’t been any software that’s really caught my eye. It’ll be impossible for me to visit Tumblr, IGN, or Twitter without hearing of a character included in the game but I can avoid any video previewing what they’re like. I’ll apply this to other websites as wlel. Some of the subreddits I am subscribe to will have to be unsubscribed to I am sure.
      Unrelated but sort of related is something I realized about this year in movies. This year has been the least amount of times I’ve been to the movies than any year I can remember. So far this year I’ve seen the horror movie Mama and Star Trek Into Darkness. I think that’s about it. I didn’t see Iron Man 3 or The Great Gatsby and I probably won’t see Man of Steel
     The only movies I know I will 100% go see is The World’s End and The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. I definitely have interest in Pacific Rim, Elysium, Anchorman 2, Thor: The Dark World, Ender’s Game, Oldboy, and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For but I was interested in those other three film I didn’t go see and I don’t know if I will be compelled to see these in the theater either.